Ugh. You guys. You’re going to have to bear with me, because I’m feeling kind of good right now. I have the warm fuzzies.
Well, either that, or I need to start wearing diapers.
This is going to be one of those posts where I ramble on about something that most people would probably rightfully consider small and meaningless. (So, basically, it’s like every other post on this blog.)
We have this one client who is currently in custody. He’s the one I’m really excited about – the federal trial in the Northern District of Indiana. Man, I’m so stoked.
My boss has been working this case for a while. He wasn’t the first (private) attorney on the case, but he stepped in to “negotiate” a plea agreement. I put “negotiate” in quotes because from what I’ve seen as I’ve worked this case with him is that there isn’t much negotiation going on in the Northern District of Indiana. At all. It’s the government’s way or the highway.
And it reminds me of what my boss told me once, on a prior occasion and unrelated to this case: “Your greatest power as a defense attorney comes from five little words: Fuck you, I’m trying it.”
So, we’re trying it.
But this client is … interesting.
He’s incredibly smart, and he’s familiar with a good deal of the procedural steps that have affected his case and their implications. He’s like-able and he’s shrewd and he just “gets it” really quickly. With some clients we have to sit there forever and explain everything to them over and over before it clicks. (Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.)
This client, let’s call him Thomas O’Malley, is not like that. He gets it right away, and that makes for great discussions when we’re sitting with him in a freezing contact room at the detention center, working on our theory of defense.
Now, Thomas O’Malley is accused of some really awful sex crimes. Probably the worst you could imagine, if you’re just an average person reading this blog.
(Why are you even reading this blog. What is wrong with you. Why are you wasting your life. You sicken me.)
A big chunk of our practice right now is sex crimes. I have no problem with that. People always assume that it bothers me, because I’m a girl and I’m pretty outspoken about things like rape, misogyny, patriarchy, and so on. But I have no problem with it, and I work very hard on all of these cases, regardless of how awful the facts might be.
But that’s a post for another time.
The thing is, many of our clients that are accused of sex crimes, including sex crimes that I don’t personally think of as sex crimes, like possession/distribution of child pornography, well … they’re kind of uncomfortable around me.
Sometimes, they’re just overtly uncomfortable in every way – and we have a couple of those. In those cases, they’re just so unnerved by my mere presence that my boss meets with them one-on-one, because I guess they don’t feel as awkward discussing their alleged predilection for child porn with a man.
But sometimes it’s a more subtle kind of discomfort. Sometimes, when we’re all talking about something sensitive, something that most men don’t want to discuss in front of most women, they’ll start fidgeting, or looking away, or rubbing their face or their eyes, or clearing their throats repeatedly, or just piling on euphemisms in a way that indicates that they REALLY want to be talking about something else.
My boss usually diffuses the tension in those moments by saying something crude. If I had a nickel for every time the word “butt-fuck” has been bandied around, well, I could afford yet another pair of shiny court shoes.
And it works pretty well. I never blink when he says something like that – mainly because it doesn’t faze me. Whatever. And the client will very often pick up on the fact that not only is my boss willing to say crude, vulgar, graphic stuff like that in front of me, but that it doesn’t bother me one bit.
So that usually diffuses some of the tension and that’s important, because then at least the client feels that he can speak a little more frankly and doesn’t need to come out of his skin over the fact that he has to discuss with a woman the child porn that might have been found on his computer, or the person he might have sexually assaulted or violated, etc.
OMG. I almost typed out this small aside that I thought was pretty funny, but as I was typing it, I’m looking at it and I’m like OMG THIS IS AWFUL WHY DID I EVER THINK THAT THIS WAS THE KIND OF THING I COULD SHARE WITH GOOD DECENT NORMAL GOD-FEARING PEOPLE.
I have problems, you guys.
Anyway, consider yourselves spared.
But then there are the other clients.
These clients don’t get so bashful that they want me excluded from the meetings. These clients don’t get awkward during sensitive parts of the meetings.
These clients test me.
And Thomas O’Malley was one of them.
God, that was awesome.
The first time I tagged along with my boss to meet with Thomas O’Malley, he decided to test me a little. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and not only that, but it was my first visit to any sort of detention facility.
So I’m sitting across the table from him and he’s talking about a certain aspect of the chain of events that the government alleges led to his arrest and subsequent incarceration, and the next thing I know, he’s talking about anal sex.
Specifically, his anal sex encounters.
Now, if I had been in my normal state of mind, ie, that of a wildly sexually repressed Muslim girl, I would have stared at him tearfully like, but, but, why are you telling me these awful things regarding the whereabouts of your dick when all I want to do is protect you from the world? Why are you doing this to me?
And he did it just to test me, to see what I could do.
Because as he talked about those things, he’d sneak a glance toward me, really quick. My boss noticed it, too, but didn’t say anything and didn’t stop him or change the subject. (Not that I needed him to.)
But what Thomas O’Malley the Alley Cat didn’t know was that I had spent the entire week prior to our visit – probably more than that – up to my eyeballs in nasty-ass porn.
I was writing a monster motion at the time for one of our other child porn cases, and I’d basically been living in our secure evidence locker. I’d spent that entire week, and possibly two weeks, just buried under stacks of pornographic contraband and also explicit narratives focusing very strongly on themes of incest and bestiality.
Very strongly, you guys.
I’d gone through that shit with a fine-tooth comb, because I had to regurgitate it into the body of my motion. Speaking of which, I hit my first square on Litigator Bingo that day by using the word “fuck” in a motion. Repeatedly. In a vile, vile context. YAY ME.
(Coincidentally, I hit another square on Litigator Bingo just yesterday, when I made a special prosecutor from the Sex Crimes unit blush like a teenage boy. YAY ME.)
So, when Thomas O’Malley was describing some very tame acts of anal penetration, I was sitting there like,
Minus the weird lip twitch, but yes.
Because whatever he was trying to pull, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t shocked or scandalized or near tears. I was thinking, “Wait, anal sex between two consenting adults who aren’t biologically related? Pfff. Call me when one of you is livestock.”
And when he failed to get a reaction from me (my boss was so proud of me, seriously), he moved on.
But this client is just … a little strange in that way.
I always get the feeling that he’s testing me, that he’s not sure why I’m here, that he doesn’t fully trust me. His handshakes felt dismissive for a very long time – he’d clasp my hand and let go, as if to just barely acknowledge my presence, rather than my agency.
I’ve visited him often enough, though, and I’ve realized that slowly, very slowly, I had made progress. He was starting to take me a little more seriously. He’d direct some of his questions toward me. He’d crack jokes with me. He’d accept my sympathy. He’d listen when I spoke to him.
And I visited him again very recently. And this time, like every other time, when we wrapped up the meeting and he got up to go back to his room, I offered him my hand.
My handshakes are always strong and direct, and I like to think, warm. I’m not overpowering, but I’m assertive and enthusiastic enough. I hate weak handshakes, I hate hand-clasping, and I don’t do that.
And this time, unlike every other time, when he shook my hand, he squeezed it for just a moment.
And I know that’s something that sounds … unremarkable. It was a tiny gesture, something easily lost, easily written off as inconsequential, meaningless. But after getting used to his weak, dismissive handshakes, let me tell you, I felt that squeeze. And it felt like a turning point.
So, yes. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.
I mean, I can’t very well talk actual details about a crime as vile and off-putting as child pornography, either in terms of the substantive crime or the details of my client’s case. So I’ll just talk about something vague and tiny that happened and doesn’t bear heavily on the actual case at all.
I’ll save all the real, juicy details for the salacious, filthy memoir I will probably write when I retire and don’t give a shit about anything or anyone.