Dead Lawyer



SO SUE ME

A short story by: Jack Kean

My name is Clifford Davenport Collier III and I’m a lawyer in this pissant little Mississippi town. Don’t get me wrong, being a lawyer was always my ambition and this pissant town is where I used to find respite from a job that provides damn little in the way of personal gratification.

Three times every year the local university spews out a hundred or so new lawyers who want to make the world a better place and sincerely believe they have been given the knowledge to go forth and conquer evil. In a couple of years they will have traded that belief for one more grounded in the reality that being a lawyer means getting down and dirty with the hogs and the only goal that counts is not ending up as bacon on some other lawyer’s plate.

Like I said, three times a year the law school turns out freshly minted lawyers and those are sad days for me. I usually put four fingers of Makers Mark in an ice tea glass and sit out here on the Gazebo thanking God I made my money while these newbie lawyers were falling off a jungle gym at some country grade school.

People say there are two kinds of lawyers; honest and crooked. Most folks think they are the opposite side of the same coin, but that’s not true. You see there are also wealthy lawyers and poor lawyers. One coin won’t tell the story. It takes two. The first coin has honest on one side and poor on the other. The second coin is left with crooked and wealthy. Oversimplification and harsh indictment of the legal profession you think? Well let me tell you that for almost thirty years I’ve been practicing law and it ain’t far wrong.

So what kind of lawyer am I? The gazebo I’m sitting in with my Makers Mark and lap top computer is behind an antebellum home surrounded by five acres of landscaped lawn and a hundred acres of pasture. My Hummer is parked in a three car garage with room for my wife’s Volvo and a perfectly restored 1970 Corvette. There’s a special garage out towards a Magnolia tree that looks like it was in the ground before Mississippi was even a state; it houses an RV big enough to live in fulltime. You can’t name a computer or electronic toy I don’t have and this isn’t bragging, just the facts.

It wasn’t my intent to go on about being wealthy but that’s part of the story. On this sad day when a hundred bright young minds start down a path that will destroy their faith in humanity and replace it with cynicism I want to tell you how this happens. My last case has all the elements which have taken me down this path.

I’ve never had the tort case lawyers dream about where a big, rich company with total disregard for the safety of others puts some church going father, responsible for a family of six and two elderly parents, into a lifelong coma. Haven’t been able to glom onto one of those product liability, class action suits that brings a pittance to thousands while enriching the attorneys beyond even their greedy hopes. No, I’ve been a civil defense attorney almost my whole career.

For the first year I took anything and anyone who could walk into an office and write a check that might actually clear the bank. Doctors have the Hippocratic oath thing going for them and lawyers have their own oath. First you get paid. Immediately after receiving that coveted diploma and passing the bar exam you learn the lawyers’ oath. Getting paid is not just the first thing, it is the only thing.

Once back in the day I was at The Varsity, a local pub and gathering place, looking for a wife beater, who moonlighted as a drunk, to make good on the last and ? swear to God ? only check I’d ever take from him when I spotted a gaggle of lawyers drinking and talking about this new delivery company that was expanding and might be a boon for an eager attorney looking for money. Since I hadn’t yet worked my way into this upper crust of esteemed attorneys, in fact it would be several years before I’d told enough lies to be considered for membership, I just sipped a beer and listened until they mentioned the company’s name.

Two days later I was in Atlanta talking to some Vice President in a pin stripe suit and promising him nobody would ever collect a dime no matter if their trucks ran over naked children in the streets of Mississippi, and for good measure I threw in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana. I charged a pittance of my present income and was hired on a temporary basis for just Mississippi work. What I made in the first year wouldn’t pay for this gazebo, but after winning a case where one of their drivers got drunk and ran a school bus off the road hurting a dozen kids I was made a permanent member of their extensive defense team.

It was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made, I’ve saved that company millions and millions of dollars. In my opinion a lot of people still think the civil justice system is about truth, but its not. The civil justice system is about money, the plaintiff wants some and the defendant doesn’t’ want to pay any. You can dress the pig up in high heels and a dress, but that don’t make it a prom queen. Money is all it’s about and if someone tells you different they’re not sitting behind a million dollar house sipping Makers Mark and knowing they wouldn’t have to work another day unless the mood hits them. If a lawyer says the civil justice system is about truth then you damn well better get another lawyer, and fast.

Please excuse the rambling, but it’s sure to get worse as the Makers Mark and sun disappear. So some woman sued this fine parcel delivery company. Since there’s got to be dozens of hotshot attorneys on their payroll waiting for a reason to sue, I’ll just call them the American Parcel Service. Even if their suit won’t hurt me one bit, I’ve got to think of my children and grandchildren. Of course American Parcel Service is not the company’s real name and as far as I know nobody else uses that name. When you think of the American Parcel Service just remember a certain color truck running all over God’s creation.

It seems one of their overworked delivery drivers came rushing into a store with his dolly containing 22 boxes piled so high he couldn’t see what was ahead of him. This woman moved to get out of his way before he ran her down. While trying to get out of his way she fell down a flight of stairs and as you would expect this caused some trauma. Now I knew immediately when the papers arrived the truth of what happened. The American Parcel Service doesn’t deliver all those packages without working its employees like field hands. The stories I could tell would make your hair stand on end and encourage you to stay the hell away from their drivers for fear of life and limb.

She fell down the stairs about one o’clock in the afternoon and our driver had been running since before eight that morning without even a stop for lunch. Of course he would later testify that he didn’t take a lunch break by choice, but that was a lie. He is a black man with a good paying job in Mississippi and if missing lunch is what it takes to keep that job he’s damn well going to do it.

Actually nobody in the company tells the drivers not to take lunch. They just keep putting on more stops and punishing anyone who fails to make them all in time. Talk about anal, these folks tell their drivers what finger to keep their keys on and how to get out of the truck and how many seconds it should take them to blow their nose and how many times a day they can blow. God help anyone who needs to use a bathroom.

The American Parcel Service has a policy that they don’t pay civil suits. So our job is not to find out the truth of what happened and try to make it right, but to make it as difficult and as expensive as possible for the plaintiff to see the inside of a courtroom. I filed motions for her medical records since she was born. Getting these records allowed me to pull an old stunt in court, but that’s for later.

We deposed the woman and her husband and asked every lawyer question we could think of. By the time we got around to that procedure, having delayed until I had another reason to be in their town, they had forgotten a few details. That’s the main purpose of delay. Memory fades and those little inconsistencies are the heartbeat of the defense attorney. The old saw from law school goes like this: If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If neither is on your side, pound on the table. Much of what I’ve done is pound on the table. I forgot to mention they also sued the store where the stairs are located. That’s what you do if you are a plaintiff. Now after looking at the stairs I could fully understand why they sued the store. In the first place the stairs were located about twelve feet inside the front door at a ninety degree angle. To say the least it was an odd place for stairs. Then there was the low lighting and nothing to mark the presence of stairs. But all of that is pretty much irrelevant to this recitation except the store’s lawyer, a little weasel annoying guy who would piss off the Pope, managed to get in a few low blows.

That Kentucky bourbon gets smoother with every sip, but I digress. The store involved had a set of doors that open just opposite of the way most doors open, so both the man and his wife forgot which door the driver had come in. Of course since the doors were side by side, it didn’t make a hill of beans, but we made it seem like nothing they said could be believed because they didn’t point to the right door. That’s just one of the little tricks we use when pounding on the table. It pretty much seemed like these folks thought they could win by telling the truth, but you and I know it’s not about truth.

All in all it was to be a simple case. The plaintiff and her husband would testify to what happened and one store employee along with the driver would testify. The only other witness would be the doctor who treated her. Yeah, we knew there were real damages but who the hell cares? American Parcel Service doesn’t pay.

Doctors don’t like to testify in civil cases, and in fact they usually don’t have to be present, most of the time their depositions are just read into the record. Of course the plaintiff had to get that deposition and we played games with the schedule for months, hoping of course the plaintiff would give up. In this case she didn’t and we finally trotted over to his office and used up as much time as possible, knowing he was charging hundreds of dollars an hour and the plaintiff wasn’t rich. That’s the good thing about representing a big company, they don’t really give a damn about how much the suit costs as long as no bad court precedent is set.

When we had played as many games as possible, and I won’t bore you with a full list, the judge ordered us to mediate the suit. Now in my mind that meant he thought there might be a case and we should work it out. This is the good part. The plaintiff had to travel hundreds of miles and spend a night in a hotel and pay for part of the mediation cost. Hell, we didn’t intend to offer her even half of her medical bills, but once again we made the plaintiff pay. Being a son of a bitch has its rewards.

Mediation was made even more laughable by the mediator’s total unwillingness to do anything but serve lunch. When it was quickly over that left us with just one little problem, the judge who ordered it was likely to be ticked off. He made it clear the case should not go to trial, but he doesn’t know my boss, American Parcel Service. It was damn well going to trial unless we had thrown up enough roadblocks to make the plaintiff give up. Does that ever happen? Damn right it does. You give me a reasonably poor person and even with the plaintiff’s lawyer working on contingency I’ll make them miss so much work and incur enough expenses that they’ll throw up their hands in disgust.

What was the deal with the mediator? Well, in the first place his office is a block from mine and we’ve been members of the same liars club of lawyers for over two decades. He’s a wimp and wasn’t about to push my employer. American Parcel Service is no company to screw around with. They could send him plenty of business. You’ve got to ask yourself what the plaintiff could do for my old friend?

The big thing for me was to get the American Parcel Service driver to testify right. That’s the tricky part of being a civil defense attorney. You see I couldn’t out and out tell him what it say, that might be considered subornation of perjury. For those of you who are not lawyers just think of it as knowing my witness is lying under oath. Truth is most of my witnesses lie on the stand, but they can’t hold me responsible.

It goes something like this: “Linus, when you entered that store you didn’t have those boxes piled up high enough to block your vision did you?” “No sir.” “You saw the plaintiff clearly and slowed down to avoid hitting her didn’t you?” “Yes sir.” “Now it must have taken you at least 20 seconds to walk the ten feet from the front door to the steps didn’t it?” “Yes sir.” Of course when he repeats it back fifteen times he’s ready for the stand. Look at your watch and count twenty seconds off. Imagine a parcel delivery man taking twenty seconds to walk ten feet. Pretty stupid isn’t it, but thankfully we had stupid jurors.

Now, what should we do about that judge who seemed to think the plaintiff had a case? Well it so happens that an attorney trying a criminal case before him was in the law firm of our little weasel friend. With a nudge and a wink weasel was able to convince his partner to slow down just a bit. With that criminal trial scheduled to end on Monday and our trial to start on Tuesday, it didn’t take much to make our judge unavailable. It worked, and on trial day a brand new, recently elected judge took the bench.

The thing about this judge is that he’d never read the pleadings and knew nothing about the case or how we had sandbagged the court ordered mediation. He did know that a nice contribution to his reelection committee from American Parcel Service would be mighty helpful to keeping his place on the bench. More importantly he knew that making them an enemy might make him a one term judge.

At the trial everything went pretty well as expected. Of the twelve citizens seated on the jury two of them looked like they could find their way home. The plaintiff’s attorney made a good opening statement and we talked about the plaintiff as if she were an idiot too clumsy to walk down a street and suggested she should be banned from walking up or down stairs.

The plaintiff testified and we hammered her about picking out the wrong door and going to numerous doctors over the years. Yeah, those doctor visits didn’t have a damn thing to do with her falling down the stairs, but we were earning our money.

The plaintiff’s husband testified and here’s where we had some fun. Sure we hit him about picking the wrong door, but then the real enjoyment began. I held up those medical records of his wife and I mean way up above my head. I even waived them around a bit while I asked him, “Did you know your wife visited Dr. Harralson in 1995 and complained of problems with her fingers and her back and her hip. Did you know she was treated for these problems years before she fell down the stairs?” He could only answer no. Hell I could have only answered no. It was all a pack of lies but the jury got the message I wanted to send.

In fairness it was the weasel who got in the very best trick of all. I still admire him for thinking of this one. You see the plaintiff’s husband wrote humor columns for several small papers and one of them was titled Get Your Story Straight Before Doing Something Stupid. He got to him to admit that he wrote the following: “If you ever think you might do something really stupid or even possibly illegal let me make a suggestion. Take a moment to invent a story that may be the least bit plausible or get you a whiff of sympathy.”

Now that statement was taken way out of context and the whole piece was actually pretty funny and of course had nothing to do with lying in court. But you see weasel was happy to use anything to keep his client from paying. Remember my little diatribe on what civil justice is really all about. We did such a good job that the judge dismissed the case against American Parcel Service. In spite of the fact the driver clearly would have run this woman over and never even saw her until she fell down the stairs.

So there you have it, a little tale representing my whole freaking career as a lawyer. Of course I’ve done worse, much worse, but the bourbon helps me forget details. I’ve seen plaintiffs confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives get nothing, thanks to my stout advocacy of, well of whatever the hell keeps American Parcel Service from paying out a dime. It was a deal with the devil, but the pay has been just what he promised.

I forgot to mention that my wife took our two children and left me yesterday. The trouble is that once you get into the habit of lying, of twisting facts to make your case and only your case, it is hard not to bring that habit home. Lying, rationalizing and all of that became more than she could handle and even more than the money could pay her for.

There’s a brand new 9 mm Glock on the floor beside my chair, just one of my toys. Today will be the first time it has ever been fired. After today there won’t be any more lies, or bourbon for that matter.

If you are reading this the Glock did its job. I ask only that you remember once I was one of those new lawyers who wanted to make the world a better place. What I wound up doing is spending a career protecting an arrogant company with no regard for doing what is right as long as I’m around to make certain they don’t have to pay. Somebody will take my place willingly, maybe one of those idealistic, freshly minted lawyers. What the American Parcel Service does is disgusting, but they have plenty of help. After today, that help won’t come from me.

(Clifford Davenport Collier III was found dead in his back yard shot with a 9 mm Glock. He left a wife, two grown children, three grandchildren, an estate valued at four million dollars and a laptop computer containing this story.)

Copyright 2004 by Jack Kean

 

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