CHRISTMAS COMES TO THE LAW OFFICE

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Early one morning in December, before the time anyone usually came into the office, long before the receptionists had arrived to unlock conference rooms, sort mail, or answer phones, the phone rang. Now please understand that on a normal day, the door to the office would have been locked, and I had given Megan our only extra key on the previous evening as I wasn’t sure what time I would arrive. But this was not a normal day. The door had been left unlocked the night before, I know not how, though it probably had something to do with the post-Christmas-party carbohydrate overload. Back to the phone call: I heard the automated voice of the County jail system asking if a call from an inmate would be accepted. Still being a little new to it all and not knowing any better, I accepted. The voice on the other end was a little frantic: he wanted to know his court date for a criminial trespassing offense, and since Robert was his court-appointed attorney, would we please help him find out if his social security debit card had been stolen or used. He was a trustee, and only had one more phone call. This one was about to be cut short, as the automated voice alerted me, so I told him to call back in about half an hour, at which time he could possibly speak with an actual attorney. He said he would try.

The office suites gradually hummed to life over the next half-hour, and the scheduled child-support hearing at the courthouse took our attention for the rest of the morning. The court-appointments were printed out and calendared, and we realized that the early morning inmate didn’t have his hearing until sometime in January; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to be exact….a holiday. Robert made a phone call to the jail to ask about the man’s personal property and to get assurances that it was safely locked away. The homeless inmate had food and shelter for now. All was well.

Fast forward 2 days: Megan and I were in the office the Friday morning before Christmas, tying up loose ends on the “to-do” list, reviewing the case for the mid-afternoon client meeting, and wondering when Robert’s Christmas cookies would arrive, since we ordered them a few days previously. Aforementioned attorney was down the hall, intensely engaged with a colleague regarding an upcoming case near and dear to his heart. All at once, from seemingly nowhere, Megan looked up, drew a sharp breath and stated very matter-of-factly, “We’ve got to get down to the jail to see Homeless Javier RIGHT NOW.” Within a fraction of a second, as if the communal light bulb had just been switched on, I nodded agreement just before the back of her head could be seen breezing down the hallway. I stood up and put on my coat (which is almost always a signal to seeing-eye-dog Justice that life is about to get hard). Robert came along willingly, and within half an hour the four of us were face to face with our distressed inmate.

As it turned out, his wallet and belongings had not been confiscated by the police. It was even worse: they had been deliberately left behind on the loading dock where he had been sleeping before his arrest. His Social Security Debit card, his Lone Star card and other I.D. papers were gone. All of his belongings, clothes, Bible, personal items…gone. Robert counseled him to get a prisoner I.D. while in the jail and asked him about any contacts he may have had on the outside. Our client had a diagnosis from a physician for not only bi-polar disorder, but schizophrenia as well. Would he take deferred adjudication in order to get the conviction erased from his record? His only other conviction had been public intoxication. Would he rather just go to jail court, accept a conviction, and get out of jail, maybe by Christmas? Yes, he said, he just wanted out. He would take the conviction, he said; just please get him out of jail so that he could try to get his life back on track. We left, thinking out loud to ourselves about how the homeless/mental-health patients in the greatest country on earth could really get the shaft.

Later that afternoon as we sat in a clean, comfortable conference room enjoying our delicious warm lunch from the deli across the street, graciously ordered-in by another attorney friend, U.S. Code 42 § 1983 came up in conversation. The negligence of the police in this particular case was debated. Things could get pretty complicated, really. We hoped for the best. Then came the email: Our client Homeless Javi was suddenly set for jail court on December 24th, Christmas Eve. What better time to spring someone from the smelly Bexar County Jail? But, then we wondered, where would he go? How would he find transportation to get anywhere if he did go? Who could help him with all the bureaucratic red tape necessary for reinstatement of his government benefits?

When Christmas Eve rolled around, we piled into the designated staff car and drove over to the jail for the 10:30 docket. Justice’s nostrils flared as we entered the odiferous court area. There was our guy, his hands and feet shackled, wearing the striped prisoner uniform of the jail trustee and a worried expression on his lined face. After a few words with the prosecuter, Robert proceeded to go through the formalities with the client. His name was called and the judge heard his plea of “guilty.” Robert made sure that the court made a note of the missing items the client claimed were in his possession at the time of the arrest. “What’s your point, Mr. D?” snapped the judge. That pesky U.S.C. 42 § 1983 came up again, but the judge allowed it to stand in the record. Homeless Javi’s facial muscles relaxed as he signed the bailiff’s orders. He shook hands with Robert and wished us a Merry Christmas as he and the other prisoners were led back out of the court for processing. He told us he was headed down to the Social Security office first thing. Again, we wondered how it was all going to come together for him.

As we drove back to the office, I kept thinking that surely there was more that could be done for a lonely, ill homeless man at Christmas with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a prisoner I.D. to his name. I started to feel very inadequate and helpless. That’s when it occurred to me that the Baby born in the lowly manger over 2,000 years ago was announced first to some lowly, dirty, smelly shepherds out watching their flocks in a field one night. That Baby would become a King someday. The King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor. Wonderful Counselor! We needn’t worry, I thought. Javi already had an attorney—a Wonderful Counselor. Was it a coincidence that I just happened to be in the office to take the frantic call on a morning when there was not even a key to open the door? Was it only happenstance that prompted Megan to get us physically down to the jail one day last week when so many other things were vying for our attention? Was it only a fluke that Robert received the Jail court notice that very afternoon? Was it synchronicity that a blind attorney didn’t take a vacation day on Christmas Eve? Or was it….

To quote from one of our favorite movies, Miracle on 34th Street (when the lawyer thought that he had just “proven” that Santa Claus was real), “maybe I didn’t do such a good thing after all!” So there would be others out there who needed a good reminder of Christmas, and the Wonderful Counselor would not withhold it from them, just like He did not withhold it from us. He would spread the cheer around this Christmas Eve by using others as His hands and feet, and we were thankful to have been a little part of it.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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