Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jaywalker's there for a sentencing. A client of his, a wiseguy-wannabe named Johnny Cantalupo, pleaded guilty to possession six weeks ago, in order to avoid going to prison for sale. It was cocaine, and not that awfully much of it, and Joey's white and had no record to speak of, so the assistant D.A. and the judge had agreed to probation and time served, specifically the two days Joey had spent while he was in the system.
In the system.
Whenever he hears the expression, Jaywalker can't help picturing a huge beast, gobbling up the newly arrested, digesting them for a day or two, and then, well, the rest is a bit vague. Spitting them out? Undigesting them into a courtroom?
Although he was the first lawyer to show up this morning, and Johnny (under penalty of death by Jaywalker) the first defendant, they have to wait to get their case called. A written probation report first has to complete an arduous journey spanning three entire floors of the building, a feat that can take hours, sometimes days or even weeks. Never mind that the report will have no impact whatsoever on the sentence; its presence is mandated by law. In fact, the appearance before the judge this day promises to be a perfunctory one, the precise details of the sentence having been long ago worked out, recited on the record, and promised to the defendant on the sole condition that he show up today, which Johnny dutifully has. Consequently, Jaywalker will barely speak, having no need to convince the judge to do anything or refrain from doing anything. He's therefore allowed his attention to wander from the half-finished crossword puzzle in his lap to the defendants who one by one are brought out to face the judge, stand beside their lawyers, and hear the charges they've been indicted on by a grand jury.
The first thing that strikes Jaywalker as out of the ordinary is when the clerk calls a particular case and a lawyer, instead of simply rising from his seat in the audience and quietly making his way up to the defense table, shouts out, "Defendant!" Now thisThis immediately brands him as a civil lawyer, unfamiliar with how they do things over here on the criminal side.
The guy even looks like a civil lawyer, Jaywalker decides. Not just that he's short and bald; those descriptives apply to plenty of criminal lawyers. No, it's more than that. There's something decidedly shifty about him, something just a touch too practiced. Something that suggests ambulance chaser, or fixer. The old term shyster even comes to mind, but Jaywalker immediately banishes it, half forgiving himself only because he himself is half Jewish. Sort of like how African Americans are free to call each other nigger, but others need not apply.
They bring the guy's client out from the door to the pen, and Jaywalker's attention shifts to him. He's a kid, a kid who looks no more than sixteen or seventeen. Tall, though, with good posture for a teen, pale skin and closely-cropped blond hair. A couple of years older and he could be a marine recruit, thinks Jaywalker, or in his first year at West Point. But the thing that really stands out is how good-looking the kid is. Beautiful, almost. Though having grown up in the homophobic 70's, Jaywalker still has a bit of trouble applying the term to a young man. Handsome, yes. Striking looking, sure. But beautiful? No need to get carried away. But that's how good-looking the kid is, even after a day or two in the system.
He misses the kid's name, but leans forward and is able to catch the word "murder" as the clerk reads off the charges and asks the young man how he pleads, guilty or not guilty.
Now the thing is, the answer to that question is "Not guilty." Always. Even if immediately after the phrase is spoken, the lawyers were to approach the bench, huddle with the judge, work out a plea, and sixty seconds later the not guilty plea were to be withdrawn and replaced by a guilty plea to some lesser charge with a reduced sentence. Precisely as had been the case with Joey Can-talupo, six weeks ago.
Only that's not what happens now.
Instead, as soon as the clerk asks the question, the civil lawyer answers for the kid, "Guilty with an explanation," he says.
Now that may work in traffic court, or in the summons part. But here, what happens is the entire courtroom—and it's a big courtroom, pretty much filled to capacity—goes stone cold quiet.
"Excuse me?" says the judge, a white-haired old-timer named McGillicuddy.
"Guilty," the lawyer repeats, "but with an explanation. It's my feeling that probation would be an adequate sen—"
He gets no further than that before McGillicuddy waves him and the assistant district attorney to come up. Which, to Jaywalker's way of thinking, is a pretty decent thing on the judge's part, deciding not to show the guy up in front of a roomful of onlookers.
Because the thing is, you can't get probation on a murder charge, not even if you had have the best explanation in the history of the universe. The ten best explanations. The range of sentencing on a murder count begins with fifteen-to-life, and goes up from there.
Jaywalker can't hear what's being said up at the bench, but he can see that whatever the words are, the judge is saying most of them, and is being considerably less charitable than he'd been a moment ago. The civil lawyer has been pretty much reduced to gesturing, mostly with upturned palms and shrugging shoulders. "Who knew?" he seems to be saying.
As for the A.D.A., a prettyish woman with dark hair, dark-rimmed glasses and a thick file under one arm, she's shown the good sense to back away from the two of them as far as she can get, evidently wanting no part of an irate judge chewing out an incompetent defense lawyer. Meanwhile, back at the defense table, the defendant has been given a seat by a thoughtful court officer who must have decided that this sideshow is going to take a while.
Actually, it doesn't.
It ends abruptly, with the judge suddenly standing up and ordering the lawyers back to their places. "Mr. Fud-derman is relieved," he announces. Then, scanning the front row of the audience, he looks for a replacement.
Jaywalker's instinctive reaction is to break off eye contact. He's been in the military, been in law enforcement, and learned long ago that you never, ever volunteer for anything. Nothing good can come from it, whereas the potential for disaster is virtually unlimited. So even as he senses colleagues to his left and right straightening up in their seats and subliminally begging the judge to choose them, Jaywalker locks onto his crossword puzzle, focusing all his energy on coming up with a six-letter word for annoy.
"Mr. Jaywalker?" he hears.
H-A-R-A-S-S, he pencils in, never quite sure how to spell it. It could be two r's or two s's, or even two of both. But if it's two of both, it won't—
"Mr. Jaywalker?" Louder, this time.
He looks up, feigning bewilderment.
"Come up, please."
He glances to either side and over both shoulders before looking back at the judge.
It turned out his name was Estrada, Jeremy Estrada. Jaywalker found this out in the pen, sitting across from the kid and conducting what might charitably be called a short-form interview. Judge McGillicuddy hadn't actually ordered him to do it, but up at the bench he'd made it pretty clear that in his book Jaywalker owed him as much and more, without spelling it out. As soon as Jaywalker had begun protesting (immediately) that he was much too busy (he wasn't), McGillicuddy had silently mouthed the word "Bullshit." The A.D.A. had smiled just the tiniest bit at that, but had quickly recovered by adjusting her glasses. No doubt she chalked up the incident as a pair of alpha males squaring off. But the judge's drift hadn't been lost on Jaywalker. About six months ago, in the midst of a run-of-the-mill larceny case, McGillicuddy had made a questionable ruling on a piece of evidence, and Jaywalker had muttered "Bullshit" loudly enough for the jury to hear it. The judge had ignored it, even pretended he hadn't heard it, though surely he had. Instead of clearing the courtroom, holding Jaywalker in contempt, and maybe even giving him an overnight to reflect upon his outburst, he'd simply filed the incident away, evidently determined to save it for a rainy day. And though it was clear and dry this particular May morning, it might as well have been pouring. The debt had been called.
That the kid turned out to have a Hispanic last name came as something of a surprise to Jaywalker; he'd figured from the fair complexion, blond hair and blue-gray eyes that he was dealing with a runaway from Iowa or Minnesota, or someplace like that. But when asked if he spoke English, Jeremy answered softly, "Yes, I was born here," without any trace of an accent.
"Do you understand what just happened out there in the courtroom?" Jaywalker asked him.
"No, not really." In a voice so soft that the words were barely audible.
"Well, for starters, your lawyer tried to plead you guilty to a life sentence. Where'd you manage to dig him up from?"
"My mother found him. She said he helped her after they shut off the electric in the apartment. And I guess there wasn't a lot of time, you know."
Jaywalker didn't know, and was almost afraid to ask. He'd agreed to spend ten minutes talking with the kid before letting McGillicuddy know if he was willing to represent him at assigned-counsel rates. Jaywalker had tried to explain that he was no longer on the panel of lawyers who took assignments, having been kicked off some time ago for turning in his payment vouchers months after they were due, sometimes years. But the judge had brushed him off. "Maybe the family has some money," he'd said. "Or you could always do it pro bono. It certainly sounds like a manslaughter plea, from what that other clown was saying. In other words, an appearance or two."
That other clown, by which he had to be referring to the civil lawyer, seemed like something of a backhanded slap, but Jaywalker had held his tongue. More to the point, the shutting off of the electricity pretty much answered the question of whether the family had money. And as for pro bono, it was an old Latin phrase that loosely translated as "Okay, you get to do the work, but you don't get paid."
They spoke for twenty minutes, just long enough for Jaywalker to seriously doubt that the case was a plea to manslaughter or anything else, not with the way Jeremy was already talking about self-defense. So instead of being an appearance or two, it was just as likely to be a protracted negotiation or even a trial, which meant a year's worth of appearances and a ton of work.
What was the and yet part?
Jaywalker would ask himself that very question a hundred times over the weeks and months to come. And each time he'd asked it, the best answer he could come up with was that the kid was so damn likeable, with his soft voice and guileless expression, and the way he looked directly at you with those big, pale blue eyes of his. What was Jaywalker supposed to have told the judge? "Sorry, I won't do it"? "Go get some other sucker"?
No, McGillicuddy had known exactly what he was doing when he'd singled out Jaywalker from among the dozen lawyers sitting in the front row of his courtroom. He'd known full well that there was one among them who, no matter how easily he might mouth off to a judge in open court, simply didn't have it in his power to say "No" to a kid in deep trouble.
Talk about bullshit.
"So," the judge asked when the case was recalled. "Will you be representing Mr. Estrada?"
Jaywalker was standing at the defense table with Jeremy this time. Apparently McGillicuddy didn't intend to offer him the luxury of an off-the-record bench conference, where he might attempt to refuse in relative privacy. But the judge needn't have worried.
"Now, would you like to approach with Ms. Darcy, to discuss a possible disposition the charges?"
"Nothing personal, but no, sir."
"Very well. Fill out a notice of appearance. The case is assigned to Judge Wexler in Part 55. Three weeks for defense motions. Same bail conditions. Next case."
Back in the pens—Jaywalker never left a courtroom without first explaining to his client what had just happened and what was likely to happen between now and the next court appearance—he told Jeremy that later in the week he'd have him brought over for a real visit. The young man smiled at the thought. No doubt he and Mr. Fudderman hadn't spent too much time together.
"Can you do me a favor?" Jeremy asked.
"My mom's in the courtroom. Could you tell her I'm okay?"
"And…" And here Jeremy hesitated, as though embarrassed to ask.
"Could you ask her to bring me some socks? It gets cold at night."
"Yes, I can do that."
They both stood, though they'd shortly be heading in very different directions. Jaywalker would be going back into the courtroom and then, once Johnny Cantalupo's sentencing was done, out into the fresh air of Centre Street. Okay, relatively fresh air. Jeremy would be moved to another pen, there to wait for the one o'clock bus back to Rikers Island.
Jaywalker extended a hand, and they shook. In the age of AIDS, hepatitis C and drug-resistant TB, his fellow defense lawyers had long abandoned the practice. For Jaywalker, that was just one more reason to adhere to it.
"Thank you for taking my case, Mr. Jaywalker," said Jeremy, reading the name with some difficulty from the business card Jaywalker had handed him earlier, the one with the home phone number on it. Another thing that distinguished Jaywalker from his colleagues.
"Call me Jay."
Jeremy smiled. "Jay Jaywalker?"
"Just Jay." It didn't seem necessary to explain that once upon a time he'd been Harrison J. Walker, and that he'd dropped the Harrison part as too pretentious and rejected Harry as too Lower East Side.
"Thank you, Mr. Jay."
Back in the courtroom, Jaywalker found Jeremy's mother and ushered her out to the hallway. She was a short, stout woman who answered to the name Carmen. He relayed her son's message about being okay. He didn't mention the socks.