Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Musings, 29 September 2012

Good morning,

I lumbered through a brutal week and skidded to a stop last evening, my brain numb, my legs beyond hope, my ego dizzy from satisfying moments alternating with dark seconds when I doubted the virtue of my very existence. I cannot even say that I suffered being dragged from a coma each morning, because worry tore me from fretful dreams hours before the moment when KCUR would have slammed into my subconscious. I would flip the switch to prevent its awakening my spouse, and stumble down the stairs, where even the old brown dog seemed confused by my early rising.

My most recent trial sputtered to a close an hour or two before the end of the three days allotted by the court. Highs and lows of the event include my losing my temper and accusing the opposing counsel of lying -- and learning, on the resultant recess, that she in fact had not, leading to my apologizing on the record with a grandiose tempered only by its sincerity. At other times, that ignoble occurrence paled next to a fifteen-minute dance with the judge, ending in his apology, the next day, for seeming to treat me more harshly than my opponent -- an apology somewhat dampened by his insistence on blaming my ineptitude at phrasing objections, a qualification that I neither disputed nor begrudged. He had, after all, also reversed himself on a ruling that resulted in the striking of a long series of questions designed to impeach my client, questions that I knew were improper. He hasn't given his judgment in the case yet, having taken it under advisement, but I am left with a sinking feeling that his reconsideration of that legal point signals his intention to rule against me. Cleaner record, less chance of reversal on appeal.

On each of the three days of trial, I took my mid-day meal at a nearby cafe, with pleasant, aromatic coffee and warm, good food. On the first day, I spent the noon hour preparing my client for cross-examination for the third or fourth time, fearing that his self-righteous indignation would play as guilt. On the second day, I traded pleasantries with a witness whom my client had identified in the days before trial as knowing both himself and the opposing party, with whom I had traded voice mails. The forty-five minutes during the noon hour allowed only a brief assessment of any contribution that he could make to my client's tale, but I took a chance and used his testimony. Only time will tell if he played well, but he certainly broke the tension, sandwiched between a vicious cross-examination of my client and the sad, unimpeachable, quiet utterances of my client's father. At noon on the last day of trial, I talked at length with my client and his wife about a pending motion to interview the children, filed a couple of years ago by my predecessor, which I knew the judge wanted us to withdraw. I ate half a brownie, drank three strong cups of coffee, and convinced my client that his daughter had been through enough.

Early each morning, and at the end of each day, I made the hour journey from my home to the small town where the trial took place. I tried each of the available routes, finding varying degrees of traffic and construction. Regardless of how I traveled, the trip took the same amount of time, and afforded me the same views of long, sweeping fields, small clutches of farm buildings, the occasional Quik Trip and the battered vehicles of fellow commuters. I sipped coffee in the car, once from home, twice from QT, and ate breakfasts of protein bars and grapes while I traveled. My six decades sat heavily, awkwardly, like the lead shields draped against me in my child-bearing years when I had to have X-rays. Adjusting the car seat had no impact on my comfort. I'm too old for this, I told myself, as the miles fell behind me. Too old to rise before five o'clock for anything but bird-watching; past my prime; on the downhill slope.

On the second day of trial, on a stretch of state highway resembling so many others, I experienced the peculiar sensation of confusion, a momentary lapse of coherence, when I could not have said whether I was, in fact, coming or going. I continued forward only because I knew that I had journeyed without stopping and so must be on the correct route. A mist hung over the fields on either side of me. I could have been anywhere, at any time: Newton County, Arkansas, on my way to Fayetteville; south of Kansas City, traveling to Memphis; or passing the long stretch of green before the "Watch For Fog" bridge, in mid-Missouri, on my way to St. Louis.

A trial is often the anti-climax for the lawyers conducting it. The hours, and days, and weeks before the judge raises the curtain by uttering the first words of the record consume the advocates who stage the play. By the time I unpack my trial bag, unloading files and tablets onto the counsel table, I have already played each scene a thousand different ways. I have already analyzed my performance, and relentlessly critiqued the evidence on both sides, as well as every decision that I have made since my client signed our contract. In half of the scenarios, the judge rules in my client's favor; in half, against us.

The truth, as the whole world knows, lies between what one side wants and what the other fights to claim. Family law cases have no clean resolution. No jury eyes the witnesses and says, "Find for the plaintiff, award fifty thousand dollars", and no judge's gavel ends the dispute. No check can be written to satisfy anyone but the lawyers who shuffle papers. There are no winners; and there are too many losers.

I used the extra hours on Thursday to settle back into my office routine. I drove the hour into town and parked in the space behind my customary place, behind a car with no handicapped license or placard, the driver of which obviously has no regard for the rights of disabled people or the sanctity of the law. I photographed his license plate with my too-Smart phone, uploaded it to Facebook with a caustic comment, and dragged my crippled legs from the cramped confines of my little Vue. Thirty minutes later, nursing a cooling cup of coffee, I answered my assistant's request that I talk to a couple of clients in the conference room with a long, heart-felt groan. But I went, and forty-five minutes later, as I shook the hand of a young father and Air Force corpsman who only wanted my assurance that I would fight for his right to see his son even when he went on active duty, I felt no remorse.

Now the weekend has already given me a pleasant dinner, a trip to the book store, and nine hours of much-needed sleep, albeit with an extra hit of pain medication to quell my protesting, lily-white spastic legs. My husband planted a kiss on my coffee-tinged lips and went off to tennis, leaving me to browse the paper, figure out what's happened to one of my favorite silly comics, and listen to the semi-annual pledge drive on the local public radio station. By and by, I will, with some reluctance, start the weekly house-keeping, but for the moment, I am content to pretend to read the headlines of the morning newspaper, and pour myself another cuppa Joe.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.