Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pepper Spray v. Smelling Salts: A Cure for the Legal Vapors

I'll be the first to admit that it is often hard to reconcile a mannerly Southern upbringing with the day-to-day life of a criminal defense attorney.  If a gal didn't find some way to deal with the constant insanity and circus-like atmosphere of District Court, she'd stay laid out with the vapors like Aunt Pitty Pat when a "mourning" Scarlett danced the Virginia Reel with Rhett.  The already overworked bailiffs would have to pack smelling salts next to their pepper spray...and I think we can all agree that would be a disaster waiting to happen.

I remember when I started at the firm and got my first court appointed client.  The gentleman was a...guest...of the New Hanover County Jail and I packed up to go and see him right away.  Interestingly, I wasn't nervous about going to the jail, but I was terribly nervous that the man was counting on me to help him. 

Somehow, my mother caught wind of the news that I was heading to "Time Out for Grown-ups" (thank you Baby Belle 1) and I can almost hear her dulcet tones to this very day:  "STEVE!  You aren't letting your daughter go to the jail with...with...criminals!"

I also remember my father stepping safely out of swinging distance when he answered in carefully measured tones, "Well, Bonnie, she's a lawyer.  It's what she's supposed to do."

Indeed.  It was blunt, but no one has ever accused my father of flowery prose:  I'm a lawyer and it's what I am supposed to do.  Accordingly, I scurried down to the jail and I zealously represented my client in court.  I continued to represent my client in court for his next twenty-three charges, although I admit to growing a little suspect at his uncanny ability to being in the wrong place at the wrong time so very often.

I chanted my little mantra fervently when a client of mine became frustrated with the Judge's inability to get her name right during a guilty plea.  In what I can only describe as desperate attempt to provide a reference point, she ripped open her shirt and pointed to her name that was, in fact, tattooed across her ample bosom.

When I tried an assault and theft case between two manicurists and had to introduce a bag full of fake fingernails as evidence--thereby causing the judge, the bailiff, the courtroom clerk and the court reporter to jump back in disgust and horror--I calmly told myself that I was a lawyer and I was doing what I was supposed to do.

I tried to chant the mantra through the searing pain and suffocation of an accidental snoot-full of pepper spray.  I was unlucky enough to stand next to an inmate who--for some reason--thought that being wrist and ankle shackled, clad in a neon orange jumper sporting the fashionable "Inmate" logo and being surrounded by bailiffs in a secure courthouse would be an ideal time to make a break for it.

I really tried to chant when my cross-examination innocently re-kindled the ire that two hookers felt for their pimp (think Martin and Aykroyd's "Wild and Crazy Guys" skit) as they exited the courthouse, but I was laughing too hard.

The truth is, boys and belles, that being a lawyer is a serious business.  For every funny story, there are two heart wrenching tales where you're left feeling like you didn't do enough and you carry the hurt home with you in your heart.  Every lawyer has their own survival skill and I guess that mine is looking for the humor in the insane situations that my job so prolifically provides.

Accordingly, I will submit to you that a Southern hothouse flower has no choice but to blossom into a steel magnolia if she wants to make it in this business.  Wait...let's make that "diamond magnolia" instead.  Diamonds are even tougher than steel and I think we can all agree that they suit a girl much better.

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