So the PTI came back in mid-December, and it was set for trial.
Matt was still married to the 37 years at this point, so there was really nothing left to do but try it. Or at least, that was the party line. Although we wanted to try the case, we weren’t going to do it until everything had fallen into place. And Raymond didn’t feel the case was positioned correctly at that point, so he had no intention of trying it on the next date.
We prepared the file for trial. “Prepared,” because we all had a strong feeling it wouldn’t be going. Meaning, we were going to do whatever we could to get it kicked. The first time, it was kicked on a technicality that, if you really looked at it, didn’t have anything to do with us or our scheduling. This time, it would have to be our side that took the blame.
Matt had subpoenaed the five complaining witnesses. Several of them showed up. We had some of their pictures in the criminal background reports, but those were mostly old mugshots, and as several years had passed, we weren’t entirely sure who was who. Plus, there were lots of other spectators in the gallery that were there for the other cases on the judge’s call.
With us was our investigator, Angelina, a statuesque blonde wearing an immaculate skirt-suit outfit who carried herself through the halls of the Cook County courthouse with the presence of a trial attorney. She was a sweetheart, and we connected instantly.
She was around to scope out our witnesses, and try to connect with them, because when you’re in that situation, it’s best to have a prover.
Four of the five witnesses showed up. Both of the men that were in the apartment at the time that Morgan and his buddy allegedly burst in were there, and two of the three girls were there. None of the other witnesses – neighbors – had responded to the subpoenas.
There were a couple cops in the back room who had been subpoenaed for trial, but other than noting how many, I didn’t pay too much attention to that. I was more focused on the complaining witnesses – the CWs.
We had talked to most of them on the phone before. Neither man was interested in testifying, but knew they had to comply with the State’s subpoena by at least being physically present. Word on the street was that these were known drug dealers, and so their incentive to cooperate with the cops and the State and testify at trial, on the record, was minimal. The girls were still upset about the incident, but one of them had recently found Jesus, who told her to forgive and forget, so she was very pleasant and chatty with us and indicated in previous phone conversations that she didn’t want to testify against Morgan; she just wanted him to go on and have a good, God-fearing life and all that.
But there was a problem on trial day.
Like I said, we weren’t too sure who our witnesses were when we walked into the room. There were probably about 20-30 people seated in the gallery in the courtroom, and most of them were Black like our CWs, and … the pictures we had on file were old and we had no idea who was who.
Angelina quickly pinpointed the men, and discreetly pointed them out to me and Raymond. We told the deputies she was with us, so she got to hang out in the attorney section of the courtroom, where we could all whisper discreetly.
Morgan and Dad were seated in the gallery, next to two pretty young women. I hadn’t made contact with Morgan that morning, because I had nothing to say, since Raymond was the lead and always talked to them, and he’d already done that before I arrived at the courthouse.
So when we saw Morgan and Dad sitting there, next to two young women, we didn’t think much of it. Everyone seemed pretty chill in general, except that I could tell from the line of Morgan’s shoulders that he was tense. He knew that the trial probably wasn’t going to go, but he was still obviously stressed by it.
Matt stepped out of the prosecutor’s room and we made small talk until we were ready to get the case called. We were up front with him – there’s no reason not to be in this situation – and indicated that we were not prepared to answer ready.
(In order to proceed to trial, both parties have to “answer ready” on the record before the Judge.)
Matt wasn’t surprised, and I think he may have been a little relieved. I know the way these courtrooms function, and I doubt he had taken the time to prep his CWs as fully as we would later prep Morgan for trial, as fully as we always prepped all of our witnesses for trial. The State is overworked, underpaid, and underloved. Matt was probably just pleased that people responded to the subpoena instead of fucking him over, and planned on talking to them real quick to firm up the story during the breaks before the trial actually started.
Having squared things with the prosecutor, we all stepped up in front of the judge. I was shaking in my heels, basically, and so, so grateful that I would not be expected to say a word. At that point, I was stepping up on my own court dates and even my own little cases, so I was becoming quite used to talking to the Judge and handling different prickly personalities in a courtroom … but I knew we were in for it today.
The Judge took the file from her clerk and the proceeding was underway. She asked if the State was ready to proceed, to which Matt responded that they had witnesses present under subpoena, which isn’t really responsive to the question, but they always phrase it that way. Whatever.
“And you, Mr. Wigell?” She glanced off the bench and down at Raymond. “Is the Defense ready?”
There was a pause, and then Raymond replied. “…We are not, Judge.”
I can generally handle confrontation – I’d be a shit lawyer if I couldn’t – but under some situations, when tensions are high and there’s yelling, I become a little turtle retreating into its shell. I just … it’s strange to describe it, but it’s like I’m paralyzed. Not when it’s happening to me, because I can lash back as appropriate, but when I’m observing it. I don’t like people yelling at each other in my presence. I’ve never been able to deal with it well.
Once Raymond spoke, I just kept my head down and furiously scribbled notes on my pad, or pretended to. I was barely aware of Morgan standing behind me, his hands clasped in front of me. He always dressed handsomely for court, in slacks and crisp button downs. Today, for “trial,” he was wearing a tie. I kept myself very still so he wouldn’t think anything was amiss with me, but I don’t think I looked up for the entire proceeding. It was brief – just a couple minutes – but when you’re up there, it always feels like it’s taking eons.
Raymond was the only one speaking – Matt, having answered ready, busied himself with shuffling paperwork, presumably relieved that the Judge’s ire wasn’t directed at him. Raymond explained to the Judge that the Defense simply wasn’t ready to go to trial today, and required a continuance.
The Judge was not pleased. That’s putting it mildly. I cringed and rapid-blinked my way through the entire proceeding, and I’m pretty sure I repressed most of it (I really don’t like yelling, you guys), but Raymond got our necks out of the noose, as I knew he would.
The Judge gave us another date. It was mid-December, and we took a mid-February date to put together what Raymond called a “detailed mitigation report” to tender to the State. The Judge made her notes on the file, glaring at us all the while, and excused us.
So you know when we got the case called, and Morgan’s full name was read aloud by the clerk, and he stepped up in front of the judge with us? There had been a minor disturbance in the gallery when he did that.
As it turned out, and as I’m sure most of you have already figured out, the two young women seated next to Morgan were two of the three young women that had been in the apartment when Morgan and his friend allegedly burst in.
Morgan had been seated next to two of the CWs the whole morning. Two women who were prepared to testify against him. He didn’t recognize them, and they didn’t recognize him – until the clerk read his name aloud and they realized who he was.
They had left the courtroom when we walked away from the bench, and were standing outside, being comforted by a deputy sheriff. Angelina had seen all of this and flanked the deputy. I could see her nodding sympathetically, and reaching out to pat one of the women’s shoulders, and I knew she was in detective mode, already working them over for information.
One of the male CWs was seated in the aisle. He watched as we approached and, as we passed, he grabbed Raymond’s arm.
“Yo, uh, can I get your business card?”
We had asked him earlier that morning if he wanted to talk to us and he had declined, so this was a breakthrough. It meant he was willing to connect with the Defense and whatever information we got out of him, we could use to help Morgan.
Raymond always has a card on hand. “Many years ago,” he has told me many times, “my mentor told me to always have two things on me: a card and a pen.” He grabbed his card from his jacket pocket and handed it to the CW, still walking out of the courtroom.
The entire exchange took mere seconds, and was very fluid. Raymond didn’t stop to try to talk to the guy there, and the guy didn’t try to follow him. It was a very, very brief exchange in passing.
But not brief enough to escape the Judge’s notice.
I had never heard her that angry and I wondered which attorney had pissed her off enough that she interrupted her call – with another attorney and another defendant standing at the bench already. I looked around and noticed that Raymond had turned and was staring at her.
“In chambers. NOW.”
I remember that exact moment when I realized she was talking to us. Us. Everyone had stopped to stare, even the deputies, and I was just frozen in place. Raymond shrugged, and when he rolled his shoulders, I snapped out of it. He ambled forward, following the Judge into the back hallway that led to chambers, and I quickly followed.
My thoughts were a blur as I half-trotted to keep up, staring at Raymond’s back. What was the judge so pissed about? What did we do? Did this sort of thing normally happen? What was this all about?
Morgan was standing in the back of the room, a stricken and confused look on his face, and I remember abruptly waving a hand at him to sit down, to just hang tight while we dealt with this.
One of the prosecutors, not Matt but the second chair, saw that the judge was heading back into her chambers with defense counsel but without the State, so he dropped his file and took two large steps into her office so an ex parte communication wouldn’t be a concern.
The judge spun around as soon as she got into her chambers, and I almost collided with Ray when he stopped suddenly in front of me.
Her mouth was set in a grim, tight line and her hands were on her hips, above the (surprisingly cheap-looking) black robe judges wear.
“Did I just see you hand money to a trial witness?!”
I’ve never been good at poker faces. I have very expressive eyes and a very expressive face. You can always tell from the way I narrow or widen my eyes, or arch or furrow my brows, or set my mouth or tilt my head, what I’m thinking. It’s not difficult. Even new inductees into the FBI in some dingy office in Quantico would find me too elementary an exercise in reading.
This time was no exception, because my jaw just dropped to the floor.
Thankfully, I was in good company, because even the second chair prosecutor was gaping.
Raymond, however, was another story. Every line in his body was rigid, and he looked like a tightly wound coil about to spring.
“ABSOLUTELY NOT,” he fairly roared at the judge. “And I take tremendous offense that the Court would accuse me of a thing like that, which I’ve never even thought of doing in all my forty years as a defense attorney!”
I was frozen solid at this point, but inwardly cheering Raymond on wildly. I’m so used to pussy-footing around Judges and kissing the asses of the prosecutors (Ray is, too, unfortunately) because often times that is what is best for our client, and I was so glad that he was having none of it the second the Judge questioned his character and ethics.
I mean, the man was a chairman of the Illinois ARDC, our governing body of professional ethics. He had the power to disbar attorneys for misconduct. He also frequently advised attorneys accused of misconduct. He trained the folks that were currently at the helm of the ARDC. His character, as far as an ethical attorney, was unimpeachable.
And the Judge’s accusation was ridiculous.
Raymond may have had a few other choice words, but I can’t recall them. All I know is that the Judge softened in the face of his anger, until at the end she had her hands up slightly, palms exposed, and was almost trying to soothe him.
“I just had to make sure,” she said more gently. “I can’t have even the hint of that going on in my courtroom.”
Raymond said nothing for a few beats, just looking at her sternly over his glasses, and let the silence speak for itself.
“Are we excused, Judge?”
“Yes, Mr. Wigell. Have a nice day.”
I’d already backed out of chambers so that I was safely out of the way when Raymond spun on the heel of his polished Prada shoes (the man has a great shoe collection, seriously) and strode out. I always try to be mindful of placement – it would never do to spoil someone’s dramatic exit.
We walked back into the courtroom, the Judge behind us. I followed Ray’s lead: look forward, shoulders back and straight, walk tall. Folks seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when we walked out, placid-faced, and the Judge calmly took her seat once more and resumed the call in a normal, friendly tone.
A discreet tip of my head told Morgan and Dad to follow us out in the hall and into one of the private attorney-client conference rooms.
“Technically, the Judge had a point,” Raymond murmured to me. “Everyone gets real tense when it’s an attorney and the other side’s witness, especially in the courtroom. Normally – and that’s just the culture here – you might wait until you got outside the courtroom to hand a witness your card. So if you’re ever in that position, I want you to do that, just let them follow you into the hall.”
I nodded but said nothing else because Morgan and Dad had caught up to us. We ushered them into a private room. I was about to step in when I noticed that Angelina was talking to the two female witnesses. I looked at Raymond and darted my eyes at the little group, and he nodded. I left Morgan, Dad, and Raymond in the attorney room and walked over to where Angelina was talking to the ladies.
I made quick work of my introduction and – once I informed them I was Morgan’s attorney and double-confirmed that they were willing to speak to me anyway – immediately moved into the apology.
“I noticed you guys were sitting next to Morgan before the case was called up,” I might have said at the time. “I’m so, so sorry. No one meant for that to happen. I had no idea what you two looked like, otherwise I would’ve grabbed my guy’s arm and gotten him into another seat so that didn’t happen. I can’t even imagine how upsetting that must have been for you, and I’m so sorry. Frankly, I’m surprised the State didn’t think to tell you guys who you were seated next to.”
Eh. Sometimes you drop the seeds as to how the State dropped the ball. At this point, any tension between the State and its witnesses would be helpful to us.
The two women were very appreciative of my apology. It was sincere. They chattered on about how shocked and surprised they were, how much they hated that they’d been sitting next to Morgan and didn’t know it, etc.
Angelina and I stood with them for a few minutes, with Angelina doing most of the talking.
The CWs were very friendly, and not put off by the fact that I was defending Morgan. They were a few years younger than me, and very willingly told us what they remembered happening that night, and their injuries (frostbite, from running out in various shades of undress into the snowy December night). We also learned that the State had not really prepped them to testify – just called them and told them that a subpoena was in the mail and they needed to come to court.
It’s always important to try to figure out what the State is doing with its witnesses, how well prepped they are. It varies based on county, based on type of case, based on the personality of the prosecutor. But it’s all important information to know, and I was soaking it in like a sponge so I could recite it all to Raymond later so he could use it at the right time.
The ladies gave us their contact information, and said we could get in touch with them if we wanted to talk to them about the case, so we were very appreciative of that. We only speak with the witnesses if they seek us out and want to speak to us – in fact, I always ask that explicitly in the beginning, before I say a word. “I’m Huma, ____’s attorney. Would you mind speaking to me for just a few minutes?” If they say no, I walk away. If they just want a card, they get a card and I walk away.
While Angelina was working on the two women, I made sure I tracked the State’s movements. Before too long, I saw Matt step out of the courtroom with the male CW that had asked for Raymond’s card. They walked into the attorney room right next to where Raymond and Morgan and Dad were, and Matt shut the door behind himself without noticing that I was standing a few paces away.
I knew what was going on in that room – he was explaining that the subpoenas were continued until the next trial date, that he’d be in touch, and he was prepping their testimony.
It didn’t take him very long – which wasn’t that surprising – and within five minutes they all stepped out again. The CW left. Matt stepped out and noticed me standing there. He paused for a moment and then headed back into the courtroom.
The female CWs were getting antsy to leave at this point, so Angelina and I thanked them for being willing to speak with us, and they left as well. We stepped into the room where Raymond was still talking to Morgan and Dad.
Raymond interrupted the conversation when I stepped in and let me explain what we had learned from the female CWs. Morgan and Dad nodded along as I spoke, and I realized Raymond had done that partially to inspire client confidence – in me.
We stuck around for a while longer, and before we released Morgan and Dad, I told Morgan that I would be in touch, because we needed to set up a telephone conversation so I could do my mitigation interview. He shook my hand with a small smile and I held the door so he and Dad could leave.
Ray sat down at the little table in the room, looking tired. I sat down across from him, proud that I remembered to unbutton my blazer before I did so.
He told me about another judge in the building, who he blamed for one of his former clients killing himself. He died clutching one of Raymond’s business cards to his chest. That was how the paramedics found him.
“So dramatic, wasn’t it?” Raymond murmured, closing his eyes.
He always told me stories because he knew I loved them. He told me stories when he thought I was ready for them, to slowly bring me into the deeper end of the pool, to help harden me against what he thought I might be experiencing for myself in the near future regarding our cases.
I still sometimes wonder why he told me that story on that particular day.