“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” (William Butler Yeats)
The morning was cool and rainy. The new leaves were appearing on the trees downtown by the river, and a few brave flowering plants winked up at the gray sky. Flashes of bright Kelly green could be seen on the garb of various downtown workers hurrying along the street: green ties, green cuffs below the wrists of black suits, green and white skirts, sweaters, blouses over neat slacks, and the occasional green wig on a restaurant employee. In the courthouse, a few judges’ chambers were decorated with festive shamrocks and green tinsel. This city was ready to celebrate its Irish heritage! What were the odds that the only court case the Legal Beagles had on St. Paddy’s Day would be a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) with Open Container? Yep, the luck of the Irish.
Upon entering the courtroom, Robert and Justice made their way through the swinging gate to find that the Great Arm of the State had not yet arrived. No matter—why worry about arguing with prosecutors when there was a gallery full of nervous defendants behind the bar? Robert turned and with his built-in amplifier and his best Irish accent (which is pretty darn good, by the way) wished all a very hearty, happy St. Patrick’s Day. “You all look marvelous!” The room erupted in laughter at the man in the shamrock tie who nearly tripped over his seeing-eye-dog as he felt his way from the tables to the bar railing where he could size up the audience a little better. “Remember, true justice is blind, so next time you’ll hire ME.” More chuckles as the crowd relaxed and some even smiled. “It’s going to be a great day!” More attorneys trickled in, the court coordinator and reporter appeared, the bailiff came in and gave his stern instructions about cell phones, hats, standing when answering the docket call, etc. The prosecutors unpacked the state’s files and began their negotiations. The judge himself finally entered and took his place on the bench. “ALL RISE!”
The defendants began to look uncomfortable again as the judge called out their names. As Henry’s name was called, Robert popped to attention and notified the court that he was counsel for the defendant. The young man looked at his court-appointed attorney with a mixture of fear and disdain. He mumbled a few words as Robert introduced himself, and his discomfort showed as we led him to an empty bench out in the hallway for conference. Yes, he had been drinking. Yes, he had an open container in his car. His father was a rotten SOB who had just heaped all kinds of abuse on him hours before. “OK, I get that. You’re not a bad person. People make mistakes. You were just being silly. It’s no fun when you have losers telling you what a loser you are. The question is, what are you willing to do to fix your problem?” This, of course, is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of what transpired as the kid began to relax and realize that here at last was a person who genuinely cared about what happened to him and was willing to spend the time connecting as one human being to another. As Robert laid out the options and we discussed the state’s offer (1 year of probation for 1st time offense, Interlock system on his car, alcohol treatment course, 48 hours of community service, a fine of $750, and a couple of routine evaluations for alcohol-related offenses), the light began to dawn on Henry that maybe this wasn’t The End Of All Things and he wouldn’t have to go to jail, and maybe he could even get his car back eventually.
Back in the courtroom, I sat in the gallery with a much more relaxed and positive young man than the tense, tattooed punk kid with the spikes in his ears whom we had met just an hour previously. “I never thought I’d meet anyone in here who cared what happened to me,” he said. “I woke up early this morning and started praying. I haven’t prayed in a long time. I never knew lawyers could be like that…he’s so happy, and he’s BLIND!” Yeah, how about that? More light was beginning to dawn.
As Henry’s name was called and he stood before the judge, Robert’s hand on his shoulder, he listened to the state’s charges against him. He received his probated sentence, we accompanied him back to the judge’s chambers to file his probation orders, and he shook our hands, smiling. “Thanks for everything. I’m going to do everything they tell me so I can go back to school and hopefully get a better job. Thanks again!”
Would this kid follow through? We truly hoped for the best for him. The alcohol treatment classes would be a good start. Robert had talked with him like a stern uncle. What he needed was some strong intervention in his life and just a little luck. The luck of the Irish. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!