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   Long Letter from LaLaLand
Guest Writer: Marlan Warren

Our Day in Court

March 26, 2004

Dear Panama:

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?" he asks.


"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 too.

This is the first day I will see my boss in court since I started working for him a year ago.

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 SLAM SHUT."

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. Yes.

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 to $750,000.

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 on cue.

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 to dance.

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 Bail Bonds."

(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 I am).

The sign on the wall next to us warns:


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 legal system.

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."

Part Two >

Editor's note: The e-mail address of Ms Warren, whose somewhat dizzying misadventures have been recounted here before, is