So, back in law school, I really enjoyed my Criminal Law class. And then I took Criminal Procedure I, and REALLY enjoyed that. Then I took Criminal Procedure II, which was basically just adjudication, and then I took Federal Criminal Law, and then in my last semester I took a Sex Crimes seminar.
Man, I just realized that I REALLY overloaded on crim classes, without even realizing it. Huh. Without even seriously believing that I could one day actually be a defense attorney. AND NOW I AM ONE. Funny how that worked out, huh?
Anyway, at some point in there somewhere, I read this awesome book, Defending the Damned: Inside Cook County Public Defender’s Office by Kevin Davis. (Weird. The copy I have has this title on the jacket, but it’s up under a different title on Amazon. It’s the same book, though, I promise.)
That book follows the public defenders on the Murder Task Force – the small, elite group of PDs that only dealt with death penalty cases. (Devotees will remember that Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2010, thank goodness.) These attorneys worked at 26th & California, a courthouse where I appear several times a month.
(26th & Cali is basically my favorite courthouse because the main floor always smells of hot dogs. That’s basically the only requirement to get me into a building of any sort: it should smell like meat. Even questionable meat, i.e., hot dogs.)
One of the attorneys featured in the book is Andrea Lyon. She also wrote her own memoir about her time on the MTF, entitled Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer. As soon as I was done reading DtD, I looked up the different attorneys featured in it to see if any of them had written their own books. I quickly found Andrea Lyon’s memoir and absolutely devoured it. It was great! If you read DtD, I highly recommend AoDR if you wish to continue down that road.
It’s all pretty disturbing, though, in general, so it’s not for the faint of heart, and I don’t think less of anyone who can’t handle it. I’ve had friends who started reading DtD based on my recommendation who then quit and told me they thought I was nuts for not only finishing it, but seeking out similar material. Heck, when my father learned that DtD was what made me yearn to be a criminal defense attorney, he grabbed my copy and started reading it … and stopped after literally 17 pages. He has not picked it up since.
Just to tease him about it, I once commented on whether or not he’d finished the book and what he thought of it, and he was basically like,
But even as I was reading all these books and eagerly tearing through the reading for all of my different criminal law-related classes and dreaming of being a CDL one day in the same way I occasionally dream of riding my pet unicorn through a field of sunflowers, I never actually seriously thought that I could actually be a CDL.
(For those not familiar with acronyms I commonly use, CDL = criminal defense lawyer.)
It was a dream I had. I thought that was what it would always be, you know? I went to a law school that is known regionally, not nationally. I graduated into a terrible economy and basically the worst market for lawyers. I was entering the legal work force with out-of-work attorneys who had been laid off after practicing for any number of years, and that’s stiff competition. There weren’t any jobs. I had no reason to hope for getting a job I even liked, much less one that would basically be a dream come true. I was preparing myself for years of bankruptcy shit just to put some money in my bank account.
That’s not to knock bankruptcy lawyers. Plenty of them absolutely love what they do. But I would not have been one of them. I would have wanted to fall off a cliff every single morning if I had to be a bankruptcy or foreclosure or family law attorney.
But due to several twists of excellent luck/fate/Divine Providence (pick your favorite), I landed a job as a CDL with Raymond G. Wigell, a solo practitioner who’s been practicing at the state and federal level for almost forty years. He’s fantastic and I love working for him. I love the work we do, even when it’s disgusting and complicated and devastating and makes me heart-sick. I love it all.
During my first interview with Raymond, he mentioned his “best friend Andrea Lyon,” and a case that they were working on together as part of the Innocence Project. And I swear, my face must have just LIT UP when he said he had been super close friends with her for decades. I was like,
And he caught the way I perked up and was like, Oh, do you know her? And I was like NO BUT I WANT TO WHY ARE EXCELLENT THINGS HAPPENING HERE.
So fast forward, and I’ve been working for Raymond for about a month. It’s late December, and it was that morning that some huge snowstorm was supposed to blow through the Chicagoland area. I live in the burbs about an hour out, and I had to be at 26th & Cali that morning, so I decided to skip my normal skirts/dresses and heels in favor of pants and my winter boots that, thankfully, don’t look too clunky-winter-boot-ish under pants, and I trekked out towards the city.
I got there a half hour early, as I always do, and just picked a seat in the jury box. My boss told me to meet him in that court room, but I wasn’t standing up on the case because it wasn’t mine – it was him and Andrea. And then the two of us had a couple of status dates for our state cases in other rooms in the courthouse, so he wanted to basically make his appearance in the room, see if they could get called up first so they could file their huge PC, and then bounce so we could handle the rest of the stuff we had up that day.
Now, I’ve never seen a picture of Andrea Lyon in person. I think there might have been a small black and white picture of her on the inside back jacket for her book, but I’d read that so long and barely glanced at the author picture, so what did I know?
I just sat in the jury box, listened to the clerk annoy the living fuck out of the deputy in the room (he was really sweet about it but I could hear him gnashing his teeth from across the room, which was kind of funny), and worked on some other crap I had to get done.
The glass doors opened and I looked up as a tall woman in a brown suit, with thick, wavy brown hair and a rolling briefcase. And you know those moments where you just know something, intuitively? I knew that was Andrea Lyon. I just knew it. At that moment, it could not have been anyone BUT Andrea Lyon, as far as I was concerned.
So, my boss had told me that Andrea would be there that day, and I’d have a chance to meet her. I knew he’d introduce me and say lots of favorable things, because he’s a nice man and for reasons I don’t quite understand, he likes me a lot. (I think.)
But … to hell with that! Andrea Lyon was sitting just a few yards away from me! :O WHAT.
So she’s sitting there at the defense table going through her files for the day, and I dumped my crap back in my bag, stood up, straightened my blouse, and made a beeline for her. I was kind of aggressively creepy about it, too. I was basically like,
And so I introduced myself and told her I was Raymond’s new associate and I was a big fan of hers and she inspired me to be a CDL after I read about her in DtD. And she was like, “Oh, you read that book? You should read my book!” And I was like “OH TRUST ME I DID!”
So I took a seat next to her and she was just so sweet. Seriously. She talked a bit about Raymond and how awesome she thought he was and how I was going to learn so much, and how it was good to see more women CDLs, and this work is so important, and then she told me about the case that they were filing the PC in, and all of the different aspects of it that inspired her and Raymond to take the case as part of the Innocence Project.
And I’m just sitting there, basically being supremely creepy. Like this:
It was basically a miracle that she didn’t ask for me to be removed from the room.
Anyway, I’m basically soaking up everything she says just as I do with Raymond, and all I can think is, holy shit, I’m an attorney and a CDL and I’m sitting at the defense table at 26th & Cali with ANDREA FRICKING LYON and we’re talking about the law and cases and important things!
I was having a moment, you guys.
Especially since I’m not exactly the sort of person that HAS feelz, you guys.
But it was seriously just so awesome. And I know I’ll remember it for a long time. Heck, every time I’ve seen her since, I still get a little star-struck. She’s Andrea Lyon, you guys!
And there really is something so powerful about having a dream, one that you never thought would be fulfilled, and then to get to live it out every single day, and then one day be sitting at the defense table, discussing finer points of law with one small but integral part of that dream, like it’s no big deal. It seriously just blew my mind when it happened.
I just love when the people I secretly look up to turn out to be really nice. I mean, I do my best not to admire people or look up to them, because everyone’s human and everyone’s flawed, and it’s not fair to force unrealistic expectations onto a single, fallible person. So instead, I admire qualities that I see in people, rather than the person him or herself. But still, it’s really nice when a person that has a lot of qualities I find inspirational and admirable also turns out to be a truly sweet person who has no problem sitting around with me and just chatting.
My boss showed up while we were talking, and seemed pleased that I possessed the nerve to just walk up to Andrea and introduce myself. (Probably because he’d seen how star-struck and fluttery I got when her name was so much as mentioned around me.) And then their case was called and they filed their PC and set a date, and we were out of there. Ray made some plans with Andrea and said a few things about me by way of belated introduction, and it was just really pleasant. Then we all said our goodbyes and I’m basically gushing at this point as I shake Andrea’s hand. I should be embarrassed about it, but fuck it. She’s Andrea fricking Lyon, and I get to talk to her. So when we’re leaving, I’m basically like,
I hugged you in my mind, Andrea Lyon, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
…Ugh. One of these days, I will stop being so gallopingly creepy.
BUT NOT TODAY!