“Five thousand bond, cash or commercial surety,” Judge Cohen pronounced while signing orders without looking down from his lofty perch at the seventy-two-year old man before him. The old gent would have to put up five thousand dollars cash or come up with at least five-hundred cash for a commercial surety bond, neither of which he had.
Judge Marvin Cohen so wanted to imitate his mentor and former law partner Judge Earl Lefebre. Lefebre had ascended to the bench two years before Cohen. Soon after his robing ceremony, Lefebre gained the reputation of being tough on crime and handing out maximum sentences whenever possible. Lefebre’s behavior embittered him with the criminal bar and caused his brother and sister judges consternation, since Lefebre’s docket would backlog to the point that other judges would have to take his cases to dispose of them. Lefebre could pull off such ridiculous behavior better than Marvin, because he was twenty years older than his former law partner–and smarter.
Once Lefebre threatened to dismantle the firm in which both were partners when Cohen had entered into a particularly stupid and disastrous business arrangement without consulting his mentor. Cohen panicked and with tears in his eyes beseeched his older partner to keep the firm together. The younger lawyer promised never to do such a ridiculous thing again. Lefebre’s fatherly instincts kicked in and he relented and kept the firm in business.
Neither of the two men had seen the inside of a courtroom much during their practice together. Both left the unpleasant duties of appearing in court to associates in their small firm. Earl and Marvin were content to make a lot of money from other assorted businesses, such as fast food franchises, long-haul trucking, and building beachfront condos. Eventually they tired of playing at the law practice, and sought the prestige of becoming judges. Both used their considerable fortune to purchase political influence and the expensive campaign consultants necessary to win their elections to the bench.
“The silly bastard is at it again. He still thinks he is Judge Roy Bean sitting west of the Pecos,” Victoria McNeil muttered under her breath to Catherine, her young friend from the District Attorney’s office. Vicki’s criminal defense practice made her aware of old people’s propensity to engage in kleptomaniac behavior, but no one could ever explain to her why they did this. She had a soft spot in her heart for the old folks afflicted with this compulsion.
Vicki’s contemptuous protests were not audible enough for the judge to throw her in the slammer, which he would have done with relish. During her first five years of practice, Vicki had clashed often with judges. Only Cohen brought out her true ire.
Victoria came from a family of attorneys who handled mostly lucrative personal injury, workman’s compensation and Federal Employee Liability Act cases. Vicki didn’t fit into the mold of the family firm, or in any mold for that matter. For sure, on occasion, she liked mixing it up in the courtroom with some of the good old boy trial lawyers, as they were known before they acquired the more refined title of litigators. Her salty language could make even these courtroom-hardened attorneys blush. Some assessed her as lazy, but Vicki had a keen sense of justice and mercy. She pursued these ideals in the most direct manner, avoiding complicated, time and energy wasting trials when possible.
“I will represent Mr. Duferene pro bono,” Vicki announced as she sprang to her feet in from where she sat in the back benches of the courtroom, among attorneys awaiting their business before the court. Vicki tossed her curly blond hair, stared at the judge with her robin’s egg blue eyes, adjusted her perpetually rumpled polyester suit, and supplicated “May I have a few minutes to confer with my client?”
Cohen responded,”You may, but let’s move this docket along. You know it is Christmas Eve and the Sugar Bowl is just around the corner.” Since Cohen only worshipped when it didn’t interfere with golf or business, Christmas meant little to him except to provide him with more holidays.
“Thank you your Honor.” Vicki forced the traditional title of “Your Honor” from her throat but couldn’t miss the opportunity for sarcasm by continuing, “I will not interfere with the Court getting to the Christmas party or the football game.” Cohen jerked his head up from his paper shuffling at the sarcasm. But, he knew from past experience not to engage in verbal battle with the sharp-tongued, fast-witted, feisty Vicki. Above all, he wished she would stray into the realm of contempt, but he also knew she would only go up to that fence and not cross it, so he just let the caustic remark pass.
After a three-minute conference with her bewildered client, Vicki again addressed His Honor. “I respectfully request a modification of bond to allow Mr. Duferene’s daughter, who is present in court, to sign his bond as a personal surety.”
The judge had returned to shuffling his papers and without lifting his head responded with two short words, “Motion denied.”
“But your Honor,” the complimentary title gagged Vicki again, “my client is indigent. Mr. Duferene is a seventy-two-year-old widower surviving only on Social Security and living with his daughter. He has lived in this community all his life, he has no previous convictions, or even arrests, he has a daughter who is willing to sign his bond and he is charged only with is a minor misdemeanor.”
“There is no such thing as a minor crime in this court, Ms McNeil. You know that,” the flustered Judge Cohen admonished Vicki.
Always one to have the last word, Vicki replied, “I know that only too well—Your Honor.”
“Be careful Ms. McNeil,” His Honor sternly advised, then re-asserted his ruling “Motion for bail modification denied.”
“Well, Your Honor, I guess you will miss that Christmas Party after all.” McNeil knew all too well he would be on the golf links with some of his rich friends and not at a Christmas Party, “Because I hereby give you notice of my intention to take a writ to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal on the issue of the excessive bond you have set in this case, and I am requesting that you provide reasons for your ruling.”
Cohen flung papers aside, again glared at Vicki, and announced loud enough for the people in the next courtroom to hear, “You are at it again Ms McNeil. You try the patience of this Court. Someday you are going to go too far.”
Vicki stood before the irate judge in mock contriteness, stared at her scuffed shoes, folded her arms across her waist, produced a slight smirk on her lips that the judge could not see and said with a smattering of sarcasm, “Well, Your Honor, today, on Christmas Eve, I am just trying to get a little justice, or maybe even mercy, for an old man.”
A collective murmur arose from the audience of attorneys and court watchers, as if their collective thinking suggested, “Ah, Vicki you have gone too far now, darling. He is going to put your pretty little butt in jail this time for sure.”
Cohen was weary of the battle with Vicki. He knew that if he found her in contempt this would only prolong his day, and endear her even more with the members of the local bar association observing this encounter. This would not bode well for him at next year’s election.
Judgeship elections were not the genteel affairs of the past. Contested judgeship elections had become bitter and expensive. Also, if she perfected her writ, which she might or might not expend the energy to do, it would play havoc with the rest of the holiday season. Odds were about even on bets being placed by local lawyers in the back of the courtroom as to whether or not Vicki would really go to the trouble to perfect the threatened writ. Most of Vicki’s colleagues knew she was not keen on doing the necessary research and work of preparing briefs arguing dry and uninteresting legal issues. She would much prefer to do verbal battle.
But, in order to avoid his own inconvenience, His Honor found a way to save face by announcing, “Many other busy attorneys have important matters to be heard before this court today. I am not going to let you waste their time any more, therefore I grant your motion to allow Mr. Duferene’s daughter to sign his bond.”
“I thank the Court for its indulgence and hope Your Honor enjoys the Christmas Party and the Sugar Bowl,” Vicki said, once again playing with fire.
Cohen’s only response was a grunt, “Good day, Ms. McNeil.”
For today, Vicki had tired of the skirmish with the good judge. Besides, she needed to go home, have several strong drinks and tend to her nine dogs–five Irish Wolfhounds that weighed in the neighborhood of 180 pounds each, and four other assorted breeds. All of her children, as she called them, had documents proving their noble bloodlines. Vicki expended enormous effort and considerable money taking her charges to dogshows far and wide in her thirty-seven-foot Winnebago. They brought home many ribbons, a goodly amount of which were blue.
A few weeks after Vicki’s encounter with Judge Cohen, Catherine and her husband attended a dog show on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Much to their surprise, they saw Vicki there. Her five Irish Wolfhounds and other assorted dogs would compete for ribbons at the show. Surprised to see them there, Vicki greeted them with characteristic exuberance.
Unlike her courtroom attire, rumpled polyester or cotton suits looking like she had slept in them, Vicki was impeccably dressed in a cream colored silk suit and white blouse. Her hair was coiffed to perfection. Catherine had never known Vicki to give this much attention to her appearance and almost didn’t recognize her when she approached the couple. Vicki insisted that the two join her for a behind the scenes tour of the regional AKC-sanctioned dog show. Catherine and her husband had already observed massive RVs from all over the country parked in the parking lot. “Expensive goings on here,” Catherine’s husband said to her.
A storm of human and dog activity raged backstage in the old LSU field house. Hundreds of dogs of every size, description and breed were being prepared by their masters to be examined in detail by officious judges. Sprawled across the floor like vines in a dense jungle, extension cords of every color connected blow dryers, curling irons, strong lights and fans to their power sources. Catherine’s husband wondered what kind of circuit breaker could stand such a load. Scores of cages from Chihuahua to Great Dane size housed dogs awaiting their turn for grooming. Big dogs, little dogs, ugly dogs, pretty dogs, happy dogs and disgruntled dogs, stood dutifully on tables as their fidgety masters and canine cosmetologists chatted excitedly with one another while they primped and groomed the precious animals for their big performance before the serious judges.
The sound of dogs communicating with other dogs by means of barks and snarls filled the vast arena. Nervous dogs constantly went to and from the building on leashes with their handlers to the grass outside to relieve themselves prior to their big introduction on the show floor.
As Vicki escorted the couple through the sea of dogs, owners and handlers, she received warm greetings. She was obviously well known in these circles and called each pet by name as she petted and complimented each contestant. Catherine thought, “This, not the courtroom, is really Vicki’s world.”
After listening to Vicki’s conversation throughout the day, Catherine’s husband observed, “It seems like Vicki’s law practice is just the means to provide resources for her expensive passion of breeding and showing her dogs.”
Just then, an urgent announcement came over the public address system, “Three Irish Wolfhounds are out of their cages and running free. Their master needs to retrieve them immediately.”
With a “Sorry folks,” Vicki quickly interrupted her guided tour and rushed off to corral her giant children. Catherine and her husband observed the rest of the event on their own.
Vicki’s giant canines would go on to win a few ribbons that day, which would invigorate their mistress, allowing Vicki to return to the courtroom to battle with some beleaguered judge on behalf of some indigent soul being mauled by the Establishment.