Earlier this week, I had the chance to grab a drink with Troy McKinney and a couple of other lawyers. During the course of the evening, Troy and I started swapping some of our favorite War Stories that have come out of being in the Criminal Law arena, and it occurred to me that some of those lesser known stories don't get told enough.
In the midst of our jobs as prosecutors or defense attorneys, the subject matter can often be depressing, gory, and stressful. We can have anyone from the Judge to the D.A. to our clients to the media breathing down our necks and second guessing our every moves.
But there are moments of levity and downright laugh-out-loud humor that happens every day in the courthouse as well, and those are what I define as a War Story. One that is much more likely to have everyone laughing at your missteps than praising your successes.
Criminal lawyers have some of the best War Stories (with the possible exception of cops). Face facts, if you're at a social event, how often do you see someone asking an accountant to tell them more about what he or she does every day?
So, in an effort to encourage the lesser known side of the courthouse, I'm encouraging you all to share your War Stories with the blog. You can post them in the comments, or you can e-mail me off-list. (NOTE: If you e-mail me off list, I will gladly keep you anonymous if you want. The point of this is to entertain. Just keep in mind that war stories are usually funnier when you know who is telling the story and the people involved.)
So, to start off, I'll tell one of my favorite War Stories, involving me and now-Judicial candidate Joe Vinas in a trial case.
Back then, I was the Misdemeanor Chief in County Court at Law # 5 under Judge Janice Law (which is a War Story all on its own). Joe was a brand new Misdemeanor Three. The policy then was that when a Misdemeanor Chief came back down from the Felony Division that they wanted them to try at least one jury trial so that their younger prosecutors could observe.
So I was lead counsel on a case with Joe as my second chair.
The facts of the case were that police had been called out to a domestic disturbance. When they got to the home, the Defendant was in his bed, pretending to be asleep. When the police went in and tried to wake him up, he reached toward a pistol, which the cops quickly knocked out of his reach. He then began reaching for a freaking Bowie knife, which they also knocked out of his reach. The Defendant then went reaching for (no joke) a tomahawk.
The police got all three weapons away from him and arrested him after a short struggle.
During the course of the trial, Joe and I were fascinated by the Bowie knife. The police had tagged it into evidence, and during breaks in the trial, we played with it. I mean, we played with it a lot. We mimicked as if we were going to throw it. We walked around the courtroom with it. I think at one point, I even acted like I was shaving my face with it.
There was no harm in that, right? It wasn't like it had been used in a murder or an assault case or anything like that.
So, Joe and I present our case, and the defense attorney, Frumencio Reyes, calls his client to the stand. I can't remember the Defendant's name, but let's just say he was very much on the heavy side and not really all that into personal hygiene.
Through question and answer, his client begins calmly explaining each of the weapons that the police had recovered from him -- starting with the gun.
"That wasn't really a gun. It used to be, but it was broken since the day I got it. It was an antique and the kids played with it. If you look in the barrel, there's a crayon stuck in it."
Sure enough, the gun was an antique, and you could see the red wax of a crayon jammed into the barrel.
So, Frumencio moved onto talking about the Bowie knife.
"Well yeah," the Defendant admitted. "That's a real knife, but I didn't have it because I wanted it as a weapon."
"Then why did you have it in your bed?" Frumencio asked.
"Well," the Defendant said. "I've got this really nasty rash on my leg, and when I go to bed, I just use the blade of that knife to scratch it."
Joe and I had to call a recess. Moments later, we were in the men's room scrubbing down like we were preparing for surgery.
To this day, its probably a miracle that we didn't just vomit in the courtroom.
And neither Joe nor I have forgiven Frumencio to this day.