Letter from LaLaLand
Guest Writer: Marlan Warren
Our Day in Court
March 26, 2004
I park my car in the
lot next to the overpass bridge that connects Chinatown to downtown;
get out and walk toward the bus stop. My plan is to take a shuttle
bus to the Hall of Criminal Justice where I've never been. A bus
pulls up and I run for it.
I'm wearing a beautiful
gown, black jacket and a $10 designer knockoff purse.
I get on the bus and
ask if it goes to Temple Street. The driver stares at me. We're
at a red light so he can stare as long as he wants. I ask again.
He says yeah. I ask how much it is.
"To Temple Street?"
is right over that bridge," says the Latino driver. "Are
you so lazy, you can't walk?"
I laugh and say, "Look
at me, can't you see how lazy I am?"
"I am going to
take you for free," he says. "Because you admit you are
So he takes me the short
hop and lets me off with a smile and a have a good day. And I can't
believe this technique (letting the other person think they won)
that I learned from my boss, Jackson Gerson Steele, works for me
This is the first day
I will see my boss in court since I started working for him a year
Inside the Criminal
Justice courthouse, I get off the elevator on the floor where the
hearing will take place and suddenly feel like I'm in a dark tunnel.
Through the dim light, I can barely distinguish among the people
milling about, because most are either in black suits (lawyers)
or black uniforms (cops). You can tell the victims, the criminals
and their friends because they are the dots of color among the darkness.
As my eyes adjust, I
see that I am walking right toward my boss who is sitting on a wall
bench next to a tall, pudgy man with gray hair. Jack stands, takes
my hand and leans his cheek in so I kiss it. He introduces me to
the man beside him -- Bill from Chickie's Bail Bonds.
Before I arrived, I
geared myself up to play a part. So I now I play the upbeat devoted
secretary and brightly compliment Bill on all the great things I
hear about his company. "Jack thinks so highly of you,"
I tell Bill. "I heard him yesterday telling our client that
he trusts you more than any other bail bond company."
"That's nice to
hear," he says. "Well, we try."
"Did you get it?"
Jack asks me. Yes, I got the emery board, wrapped in the only gift
paper I could find at home (from a Greek tourist shop with girls
dancing on a charging bull).
A couple days ago, Jack
came back from visiting his client and said: "Just to show
you what kind of pussycat this guy is...We're talking in jail and
he says, 'Do you think you can get me an emery board in here? I'm
a pianist and the care of my hands is very important. My nails are
getting too long.' And I'm like, 'Uh, Bob...They don't allow files
in prison'...and he's surprised. He hadn't thought of that."
The hearing is in ten
minutes. I look for a place to stand and wait, and choose the only
wall space available, next to the Exit door and opposite the courtroom.
There's a taped hand-written sign on the door: "DON'T LET DOOR
Next to me with his
feet at an "at ease" position is an officer. I can't tell
if he's waiting to go inside a courtroom or watching the exit. Next
to him on a bench are two large officers -- both skinheads -- laughing.
All up and down the hallway is this militaristic mood with the uniforms
separating the cops & lawyers from the civilians.
Across from me a woman
is giving the toddler on her lap a bottle and looking worried.
A woman with simple
short brown hair and white shirt & pants comes out of the courtroom
with a clipboard, calls to a young woman who has two children hanging
off her. One of the children has a pixie face with big eyes and
his long green T-shirt hangs almost to his ankles as he weaves next
to his mother. The woman reads off the clipboard and keeps saying,
"Do you understand?" The mother -- her hair wild and long
in black waves -- keeps nodding in a kind of daze. Yes, I understand.
Where the heck is the
wife of our client? At ten, she shows up with two other young Chinese
women. They are exactly as I expected from the descriptions. The
wife is from Taiwan, married a year to this guy who's a professor
at a college. My friend Adam, who asked us to take this case and
helped us set it up, had described her as "seems fragile, but
is very tough."
I missed her visit to
the office. She came with her sister. Our black receptionist filled
me in: "The wife's nothing special, but her sisterreally seemed
to think she was all that."
The case: Head of the
Music Department has an affair with a child prodigy-student who
is such a genius she's in college by 13 and has her Ph.D by 17.
He breaks it off, gets married a couple years later. Entertains
several come-on emails from the girl wanting to be "friends"
and reminiscing about their times together (in detail which he confirms
in writing in his responses), but declines an invitation of hers.
A couple months later, she brings up charges of rape against him.
They get a lawyer off
the Net for the first hearing who doesn't know his ass from his
elbow and gets the judge so mad, he raises bail from half a million
Then Adam writes and
asks me ingenuously if I can recommend a good criminal attorney
(he knows who I work for).
So now the Chinese girls
show up -- two are waiflike and classic "submissive" types
(wife and friend), but the sister is a bit of a showcase, just as
the receptionist described. The way she carries herself, the streaks
in her hair, the glitter in her lipstick.
I hang back to let Jack
be the big "macher" (as they say in Yiddish). He hands
the wife the present for her husband, puts a light hand on her shoulder,
leans in to tell her the story behind it and I watch the girls giggle
Then Jack beckons me
to join them, and introduces me. The wife -- whose name is Hannah
-- is genuinely pleased to meet me. We've spoken on the phone several
times. I ask her where she teaches piano (I'd read about it in the
evidence we've been assembling) and Jack is surprised to learn that
she teaches at the Waldorf School. He's never heard of it. I find
it interesting that he spent time interviewing her and never asked
where she teaches. But sometimes I entertain the thought of saying,
"Jack, how much do you know about me?" When he's done
answering, we'd have enough room left on the head of a pin for angels
We don't go into the
court until 10:10. To kill time, I ask Bill how Chickie's got its
name. "My mother," he says, "was named Sophia but
when she was little, everyone called her "chickie" and
when she started this business 27 years ago, she couldn't call it
"Sophia's Bail Bonds" so she called it "Chickie's
(Afterward, in the car,
I ask Jack if he heard this story. He says he vaguely recalls it,
"Have you seen their logo? It's a chick breaking out of the
bars of a jail cell. I'll get you one of their mugs.")
The atmosphere is feverish
by the time they let us into the courtroom. The girls are silent,
except for some Chinese exchanges and we sit together in the middle
on the right side of the audience -- the side where they bring out
the prisoners and make them stand against the wall at a good distance
from the judge who is of course on an elevated platform. I am wedged
between the girls and Chickie's Bail Bondsman.
I take out a notebook
and jot down everything I can observe as quickly as possible because
I know that once our guy comes out, I can't be writing because it
will look like I'm taking notes for myself about this case (which
The sign on the wall
next to us warns:
NO GUM CHEWING
NO CELL PHONES
Bill points to the sign
and whispers to me, "I'm surprised it doesn't say, 'No breathing.'"
The first thing I notice
is the corn plant behind the judge's left elbow. It's not doing
too well. But at least it's real. The plants in the cafeteria are
all fake. Then I notice that the pothos in a little wooden pot on
a table in front of the judge is small but fine. And there's a professional
flower arrangement in a crystal vase near his right elbow on his
desk. On a table near the bailiff are some orchids in a vase.
I ask Bill if it's common
to have plants and flowers in a courtroom and he says no, but it's
a nice touch.
The first defendant
is a hapless Latino man. Large with bushy black hair, looking resigned
to his fate. Standing in handcuffs against the wall while receiving
his sentence through a plea bargain and netting six years ("For
the same crime as our client," Jack tells me later). Next to
him is a washed out looking woman with a stringy blonde pageboy
in white long sleeved shirt and brown pants, reading off a clipboard.
The man has a translator who talks while the Deputy D.A. talks.
The D.D.A. is a young Asian woman with long hair who reads off everything
in a dull monotone...and the "do you understands" are
answered with "Si" "Yes" "Si" "Yes."
I find out later that
the woman with the clipboard is a Public Defender. The contrast
between her and my boss with his Bel Air manicure and silk tie (a
geometric design of angles that he called "retro", specially
selected for this case and I forget why) says volumes about our
During the Latino's
day in court, our area is bustling with murmurs -- lawyers in worse
suits than my boss's are running up and down the aisle to lean over
audience members and speak in rapid, hushed tones. A clerk at the
front answers the phone and whispers into it (I've talked to these
whispering clerks for many years and never realized how softly they
must speak and how much noise goes on around them).
Finally, they ask the
bailiff to go down and get the next prisoners. I hear our client's
wife give a little cry and see what has to be our guy shuffling
next to two young criminals who are handcuffed to each other. They
stand against the wall, blank faced, as if traveling elsewhere by
astral projection -- our client's hands are resting before his crotch
and a bit later I realize they are handcuffed together that way.
Jack had told me the
day before that the wife had told him that she thinks her husband
looks like Richard Gere. "Then I see this guy and he's about
90 lbs., kind of wimpy and he looks like a celebrity all right,
but it's Mr. Rogers."
Editor's note: The e-mail
address of Ms Warren, whose somewhat dizzying misadventures have
been recounted here before, is RoadmapGrl@aol.com