Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mannerly Poker Face, Please

It is a rare thing when my two worlds collide enough to be able to glean similarities, but a parallel actually struck me just the other day.  Southern Belles are supposed to be unflappable in any circumstance and the same is required for attorneys. 

Although a Southern Belle may be nonplussed when an uninvited individual shows up to a party, all of that upset is firmly in check on the inside.  The only thing visible on the outside is grace and charm as the “guest” is provided with a drink and a seat at the table as though their presence had been expected all along.

Likewise, the late-in-the-case discovery that there is a security video of your professedly innocent client filming up ladies’ skirts in the library cannot appear to shake you.  Yes, on the inside, you are perfectly valid in your desire to throttle the little bastard and you may actually do just that once the door shuts in your office, but a nonchalant shrug and a “So what?  We’ll beat that, too,” approach is a critical show for all of the other parties. 

After viewing such a damning piece of evidence, it is my opinion that one of the worst things a defense attorney can do is turn immediately to the prosecution and say, “What kind of plea are we looking at, here?”  Just say, “Hmmmm.  Let me talk to my client and I’ll get back to you,” then go and perform the aforementioned throttling and enjoy every second of it.

Of course, in the world of the Southern Belle, some “oopses” can be real humdingers.  When I was little, there was some sort of children’s play that was put on by a ladies’ organization like the Junior League or the Friends of UNC-Wilmington.  Rest assured that any lady who was or is a member of such an organization is unequivocally a Southern Belle.

It’s been so long ago that I can’t recall the subject matter of the show, but a narrator was required to stand at a podium slightly to the side of the stage.  The lady narrator came out and the play started.  About three quarters of the way into the show, the narrator’s skirt quite suddenly fell to the floor.  I don’t know what caused the drop, but the lady stood there in her slip with her skirt piled around her feet and kept reading as if nothing had happened. 

Those of us in the audience didn’t know what to think.  Was this planned?  It didn’t really seem as though it would be a part of the show, but one never knows.  Considering that there were hundreds of children making up the majority of the audience, it’s quite impressive that no one laughed (or no one that I can recall, anyway).  

When her part was done, the half-clad lady smoothly stepped out of her skirt and walked off the stage, leaving the offending garment right where it fell.  The fact that she didn’t bend to pick it up or fuss with it quite frankly downplayed the “oops” to the point that it barely happened.  That’s a Southern Belle under pressure, ladies and gents.  Furthermore, the dear lady was able to stand there and carry on with her role because she was wearing a slip like every proper lady should, thankyouverymuch.

As I am sure you can imagine, “oopses” in the legal arena can be a touch colorful at times.  Early on in my District Court criminal practice, I was appointed to a gal who had been charged with two counts of Assault With a Deadly Weapon.  One thing about court appointed clients is that they rarely (like Halley’s Comet rare) speak to me before their court date and they never understand why I can’t mount a trial of the century in under half an hour. 

As usual, I first laid eyes on my client right outside of the courtroom on the morning of her court date.  She informed me that her victims where her fiancé and the lady she discovered him in bed with.  The Defendant further informed me that the “deadly weapon” was the duffel bag she was carrying her shoes in and she swung it at them.  When I expressed some confusion as to how in the world a bag of shoes would be a deadly weapon, she told me that they were very heavy platforms with sharp spiked heels (lovely).  I asked her where the shoes were and she told me that the police officer took them for evidence.

I asked her if she knew the woman that her fiancé was in bed with and she stated that she was a co-worker and that they both worked for her fiancé.  I met her fiancé a few minutes later and—although I was utterly floored that two women would see fit to fight over him—he seemed nice enough and he told me the golden words that every defense attorney wants to hear:  He wanted to drop the charges against my client.

All that was left was to try the case with the “other woman.”

The trial started and I began to realize that something might be amiss when the ADA introduced the “deadly shoes” into evidence.  One of the problems with being such a new attorney was that I didn’t ask to see them before the trial.  I cannot adequately describe the shoes to you.  I have no idea how the woman managed to walk in them, much less swing them like a mace.  I’ve never seen platforms that high and they had very pointy metal heels.  Not to pigeon-hole folks indiscriminately, but I started to wonder about my client’s line of work.

I was right to worry.

Shortly after the introduction of the shoes, it was discovered that both my client and the female victim were ladies of the evening and the hot catch—well, he was their pimp.  I was horrified at how little I knew and it was clear that the ADA didn’t know a whole lot more than I did.  Of course, I desperately tried to keep my cool and act like I expected everything seeing as I am a Southern Belle and all.

Suffice it to say that His Honor was not amused and he quickly called me and the ADA up to the bench to not-so-subtly suggest our collaboration on making the mess go away quickly and quietly.  After a rather desperate plea conference, we worked things out and sent everyone home.  Of course, our hard won peace accord unraveled the second all parties stepped outside of the courthouse and got ready to rumble, but that was a problem for another court day with another court appointed attorney.

See?  See the similarities?  See?  Hello?

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