Letter from LaLaLand
Guest Writer: Marlan Warren
Our Day in Court
As for the judge, he looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell-type
painting entitled "The Judge" with looks so bland he almost
blends into the back wall. Gray hair, wire frame glasses, and the
obligatory stern face. He lacks the stage presence of the judge I
saw when I was on jury duty last year, and looks more like a paper
The Deputy D.A. is a
young woman with hair straight out of "Sex and the City."
Yesterday Jack told me that when they spoke on the phone, this D.D.A.
asked what the "T" stood for in his middle name. It stands
for a Hebrew name, he replied. This made her mention that she's
also Jewish and has relatives in Israel. Then Jack told her that
he'd worked on a kibbutz before going to Law School, and pretty
soon she was agreeing with him that the bail for his client was
indeed too high.
Now he's saying to the
"Your Honor, bail
has been set at $750,000 for my client and we would like to request
it be lowered to $200,000."
The judge looks at Sex
in the City: "What says the D.A.?"
Her attitude is almost
cordial: "We are agreeable if it pleases the Court." Looking
at my boss like they're partners. Switch hitting.
The expression on the
Judge's face does not change. He looks down at a paper and back
at the attorney. "The Court sees no reason to lower bail based
on the OR report I have in front of me."
"Your Honor, that
is the worst OR I've ever read in my entire career." His voice
is casual yet firm. Not overdone. Not outraged. As if he were talking
to me across the desk in the office.
(Note for all you non-crimmies:
"OR" means "Own Recognizance" as in "He
was released on his own recognizance"...i.e. He's not a threat
the judge repeats. "Explain why."
I find that I'm praying.
As if I'm on a plane about to go down. Jack has blithely assured
his clients that he can probably get this man released from jail;
the bail guy is ready to go; the wife has arranged for transfer
of money. But what if he can't?
I think we're all holding
our breath as my boss answers without a ten-second delay. He points
out the "errors" in the report with the alacrity of someone
who rehearsed ahead of time in front of a mirror. It states that
this man was previously accused of similar crimes, which is not
true. And it states that he's dangerous and mentally unstable.
"My client has
been examined by the psychiatrist Dr. Sharma who found him stable
and not at all a danger to himself or others."
The report by Dr. Sharma
seems to be the straw that opens the door of the jailhouse. It was
Jack's idea to have him examined by this particular "court"
psychiatrist (it was done in the three days between Jack Steel being
hired and coming to court today). And turns out to be excellent
"I have great respect
for Dr. Sharma's opinion," says the Judge. And he lowers the
bail to $200,000.
(Note: Several days
later we get the bill from Dr. Sharma: $900.)
A wave of relief sweeps
across the row where I'm sitting. Chickie's bail bond son jumps
up and runs to the front. The girls next to me are whispering happily
in Chinese. The expression on our client's face (he has managed
to put his glasses on during the proceedings) has not changed, although
I'm sure he's the most relieved.
I follow the bail guy,
but head off in the opposite direction -- out of the damn courtroom
-- suddenly aware that I can barely stand on my feet. Jack is right
behind me (he moves fast), following: "So what d'ya think?"
"My legs are weak,"
I answer. I had no idea how much adrenalin must have been pumping
through my body during that judge-attorney interrogation. But my
legs feel like rubber and if I don't get out of there, I feel I
might pass out.
Out in the hallway,
Jack is quickly surrounded by the wife and company. I return to
my post at the wall by the Exit sign. It dawns on me that I haven't
eaten for a while, it's lunchtime and that could account for most
of the spacey weakness I feel. I'm also contemplating the enormous
triumph in the air. Watching my boss's genuine happiness as the
girls congratulate and fawn over him.
is saying. "The dim sum's on YOU."
On our way to Jack's
SUV, he tells me how nerve wracking it was for a "moment."
We replay the incident for our own pleasure. "I figured he'd
bring up the OR..."
What struck me was that
his argument to the judge was the same as when he talks out loud
to me about his defense strategy ("Cops didn't find the gun
until after it was impounded, but they claimed it was during the
stop..."). That must be his "rehearsal."
I tell him: "I
can never be a lawyer. My rich relatives still won't talk to me
because I refused to let them send me to law school. But now I know
that I could never make it through a day in court."
"Well, there are
other forms of law," Jack says. "It takes a special breed
to be a trial attorney. You have to get off on the wrangling..."
My brother is a trial
attorney, I tell him. Now I have an idea of what his life is like.
Jack doesn't respond to this tidbit about my background.
I ask him to drop me
off in Chinatown so I can get my car and go to work. "I thought
you were taking the bus..." he says. When we get to the lot,
he stops at a corner and says: "Come with us to dim sum...I'll
take you back here after."
I thought they were
kidding about the dim sum, but I say sure. Also it pleases me to
be invited. He likes to chase things, so I'm glad I thought it was
a joke -- made me look like I was running away.
Chinatown has been my
stomping grounds for the last thirteen or fourteen years. It's where
my friends live, where I've spent thousands of days and eaten at
countless banquets. And now here I am with my boss who was married
to a Chinese woman and has a couple of Chinese-Jewish kids.
Now we're parking at
the Empress Restaurant where I performed the Plum Blossom fan dance
in their plaza for Chinese New Year a month ago (wearing my red
silk Chinese pajamas). I mention this to Jack, but again he doesn't
respond. The only time he ever perks up is if he thinks I'm going
to tell him something racy about my sex life.
The whole dim sum takes
two hours. We have to wait for the girls to do the bail thing at
the courthouse. Meanwhile, G's cell phone goes dead and he has to
find a pay phone to check messages. I practice self-control and
try not to eat even though I'm hungry.
I don't remember much
about the wait (I was so damn hungry) except sitting next to Jack
at this huge round table near a window. Trying to tell him about
Chinatown and my experiences and feeling like it's falling on deaf
ears. He keeps looking into my eyes and he's either thinking about
how green they are or wondering if his eyes have bags under them
today (a common worry of his).
I change my own subject
with: "His wife is so pretty...She's made for a kimono. Western
clothes don't do her justice."
Jack replies. "Did you notice her eyes have no flap of skin,
you can't even see the eyelid...?"
It amazes me how much
he takes in and what.
"I've decided to
hit them up for an extra $23,000 on my bill," he tells me.
"You're worth it.
And I think they can come up with it."
"Yeah, they'd agreed
to pay the first lawyer $35,000 for pre-trial," he says. "Pre-trial!"
When the client's wife
Hannah arrives, she sits next to him and I have a chance to really
take in her features. Long hair pulled back, accentuating her heart
shaped face. Her voice is that soprano singsong that is considered
"feminine" in China. But she's intelligent, aware.
She won't know when
he is released. They can't tell her. If they take him back to the
County Men's Jail, it could be ten or eleven that night.
The next hour is full
of thanking and laughter and dumplings. All three of the girls (they
are all around 20 or younger) are artists. The youngest barely speaks
(I think she's unsure about her English) and is a graphic designer
who just quit her job. Suzy, the sister with the glitter lip gloss,
used to work for a film production company. And the wife, reveals
that her undergrad degree was in film production.
I talk to them about
my own film background and about the Chinese adventures in my life.
They ask questions, act interested -- without any of the condescension
I'm used to getting in this type of Chinese-Caucasian conversation.
And I know this is more information than my boss has ever known
about me. But of course he doesn't add to the questions or remark
on my answers. He's probably wondering why his cell phone doesn't
Near the end of the
hour, he gets up to use the restroom which means crossing the huge
room to the other side of this first class restaurant. He's gone
for a while. When he returns and says: "You'll never guess
who's eating dim sum on the other side..."
"The Deputy D.A.?"
Seems looking at that
Chinese lineup in the audience must have given the Judge a craving
for dim sum. Jack said he sat down and schmoozed a bit with him.
This is how law gets
done. God help you if you can't afford it.
The dim sum bill is
$45.00. My boss scoops it up and waves his Platinum card over Hannah's
protests ("I was going to pay!"), "No, no...this
one's on me."
On our way out, Jack
waves to the judge who is sitting with some other lawyers from court.
The judge manages a half smile and a nod.
Waiting at the elevator
together (without the girls), G asks: "So do you think Suzy
is a lesbian?"
"Why? Because she
didn't sit in your lap and kiss you?"
"No. But she said
she thought the waitresses were pretty at the Thai restaurant Chan
"I told you that
I thought Hannah was pretty...Does that make me a lesbian?"
The weather outside
is the epitome of a beautiful spring day. I already said that I
didn't feel like going to work, but he said oh no...you are going.
So we drive back to
my car and he's got this beautiful Latin jazz playing -- reminds
me of the Almovadar film where the women are in comas and the men
care for them. "Oh I saw that," he tells me. "If
I had a CD burner, I'd burn you a copy."
When I first came to
work for Jack, the primary issue between us was his inability to
thank me for anything or show his gratitude. The day before this
court day, he took me to a Four Star restaurant for lunch and said
that he has given this case extra attention, "Because they
are your friends."
So I drove an hour to
work after that, found it impossible to think between the after-adrenalin
effects and the MSG. Jack never showed up. Probably went to the
gym. After a few hours, I gave up and went home.
The following day, my
boss comes in and wants me to tell him again how scary the court
was for me, so I do. "But you know something?" he says.
"On a scale of one to ten for how hairy things can get with
a judge...that ranks a half a point."
I don't tell him that
later that night, I had a complete meltdown when my friend Tom came
to visit and I recounted the day.
It finally hit me that
the theme of being judged has run throughout my entire life. Often
figuratively, but also literally. From the crime & punishment
of my childhood (both parents were violent) to being locked in a
closet once by older neighbor boys who put me on trial and found
me "guilty" (I was about five) to being put literally
on trial by other children who accused me of something their brother
had done to being accused of "tampering with a vending machine"
at college in Florida when someone found me trying to get a stuck
pastry out with a clothes hanger (sentence suspended)...
And finally to having
to deal with lawyers as a way to make money -- and my own brother
who turned into a major asshole the day he started practicing.
"But instead of
rejecting all this legal stuff," Tom said. "Why not accept
"That's what I
just realized," I said as I cried. "That I must accept
judgment as part of life. I can't run from it, and I'm learning
to co-exist with it."
Well, thanks for letting me share, Panama. Keep up the good fight
and lemme know if you ever need a good bailout.
A couple days later,
the clients invited us to a "celebration" dinner at their
home. I didn't want to go, but my friend Adam insisted. And Jack
said he either couldn't make it because he had custody of the kids
that day, but if he did come, he would wear his Phantom of the Opera
-- because the client said he was going to play "Phantom of
the Opera" on his piano.
In the end, I went late
-- just in time to find my boss saying bye on their doorstep. "Ah,
there she is!" I thought I heard his regret at my not coming
earlier, but I knew it was better. By then, I'd seen the evidence
and was afraid I'd blurt out something confidential while talking
to him there. Jack was wearing his ice cream suit with his "Ten
Grand" mallard duck pin ("I had a client who couldn't
pay me except in this pinky ring he had -- so I had it taken apart
and redesigned into this pin...").
He hugged me a couple
times and left.
I spent the evening
talking to Adam. We talked about writing and Suzy joined us from
time to time. She petted my neck and complimented my sparkling shawl.
And the way she looked at me and kept touching me, I wondered if
Jack was a sharper judge of people than I give him credit for.
The next day when Jack
called me at the office to say he was going to be late, and he wanted
to know what I did at the party. I told him that I thought Suzy
might swing both ways (she had her boyfriend there).
"Oh, I see,"
he said. "If I say it, you tell me it's because she didn't
sit in my lap, but now it's okay for you to say it."
"No, I'm saying
it because she DID sit in my lap." Not really, but it's funnier
this way. As someone once said: Never let the truth stand in the
way of a good story.
Editor's note: The e-mail address of Ms Warren, whose somewhat dizzying
misadventures have been recounted here before, is RoadmapGrl@aol.com