Authors: Phillip Margolin
For Randee Gerson, who left us way too soon,
and Amanda Margolin, my new daughter-in-law
Amanda Jaffe had no court appearances or client meetings scheduled for June 7, so she set aside the whole day to work on a brief that was due in the Oregon Court of Appeals, but something told her that she was going to have to put her plans on hold when she walked into the reception area of Jaffe, Katz, Lehane and Brindisi and saw Christine Larson sitting next to a worried-looking man she did not recognize.
Amanda was tall and athletic, with broad shoulders that were the end product of years of competitive swimming. She didn't have the slender figure of a magazine model, but her grace, high cheekbones, and clear blue eyes attracted male attention whenever she entered a room. Since Amanda had not expected to meet anyone professionally, her long black hair was tied in a ponytail and she was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
Christine presented a sharp contrast to Amanda. She was five four, slightly overweight, wore her dirty blond hair short, and was dressed in a severe black Armani suit and white silk
blouse. Christine practiced business and tax law at Masterson, Hamilton, Rickman and Thomas, a large firm in Portland, Oregon, and her no-nonsense, analytical personality fit her specialty.
The man sitting next to Christine looked uncomfortable in the suit he was wearing, which most likely came off the rack. He was a shade under six feet, with muscular shoulders and a narrow waist, and he wore his brown hair in a military cut. He was clasping and unclasping his hands nervously, and Amanda noticed dark circles under his tired brown eyes.
Christine stood up when Amanda walked in.
“Hi,” Amanda said. “Are you here to see me?”
“Yes. Do you have some time to meet with us?”
“Sure,” Amanda answered with a smile.
Christine didn't return the smile, and Amanda could see that she was worried.
“Amanda, this is Tom Beatty. He's a paralegal at my firm.”
The man stood up slowly. He seemed unsure of himself.
“Pleased to meet you,” Amanda said as she held out her hand. Beatty paused for a moment, then shook it. His palm was sweaty and he withdrew his hand quickly.
“Hold my calls,” Amanda told the receptionist as she led the way down the hall to a corner office with a view of the hills that towered over downtown Portland. The walls were decorated with her law school and college diplomas, certificates proving her admission to Oregon State and federal bars, two abstract paintings she'd purchased from an art gallery near her condo in the Pearl District, and a photograph of downtown Portland in the years just before World War I.
“So, what's up?” Amanda asked when they were seated and the door was closed.
“Tom was arrested last night on an assault charge stemming from a fight in a bar,” Christine said. “I bailed him out this morning and suggested that he hire you to represent him.”
Amanda turned her attention to Beatty. He was staring at the floor and looked embarrassed. Amanda decided that they needed to have privacy if she was going to gain his confidence.
“Tom,” Amanda said, “I'm going to ask Christine to step outside while we talk.”
“I'd rather have her here,” Beatty said. He spoke so quietly that Amanda had to strain to hear him.
“I've known Christine since law school, and I trust her completely,” Amanda assured Beatty, “but I have to protect your attorney-client privilege. Christine is a lawyer, but she's not representing you. If she's present when we talk, she could be subpoenaed by the DA and forced to tell a jury everything we say in private.”
Christine stood up and touched Beatty on the shoulder.
“It's okay. I'd do the same thing if Amanda brought you to my office and asked me to represent you. Amanda is an aceâshe'll take good care of you. I'll be in the waiting room.”
Christine handed Amanda a copy of the complaint and left the room. Amanda studied it. Beatty was charged with causing a man named Harold Roux serious bodily harm by striking him with his fists and feet.
“Before we discuss the facts of your case, I want to go over the attorney-client privilege. Anything you tell me is confidential, with a few exceptions. That means I can't be compelled to reveal anything you tell me, even if you confessed to being a serial
killer. It also means you can be completely honest with me without having to worry that I'll run to the DA the minute you leave.
“Now I need you to be honest with me because a lot of what I'll do for you will depend on the facts of the case, but you need to be aware that in addition to being your attorney I'm also an officer of the court and I'm bound by the ethics of my profession. So I can't condone perjury. If you're charged with bank robbery and you tell me you robbed the bank, I can't let you testify in court that you were in Idaho and don't know anything about the crime. I wouldn't tell on you, because we have the attorney-client privilege, but I would ask the judge to let me resign from your case and I
keep your retainer.”
Beatty looked Amanda in the eye, and the look was intense. “I do not lie and I did not start this fight,” he said forcefully.
“Okay. Why don't you tell me what happened.”
“There's a bar, the Lookout. I go there sometimes to watch a gameâI don't have a TV. I got to the tavern early, around five. The game had started already and it was the second inning. I got a beer just as the Yankees loaded the bases. There was one out and the Yankee batter hit into a double play. The guy on the stool next to me jumped up and jostled me and I spilled some beer on him. That's all there was to it. But he had to . . .”
Beatty's breathing accelerated, his face darkened, and his fists clenched.
“Are you okay?” Amanda asked.
“I shouldn't have done it. I should have walked away.”
Her client was in so much distress that Amanda grew concerned.
“Do you want some water? Should I have Christine come back?”
Beatty squeezed his eyes together and took some deep breaths. His shoulders sagged as he put his head in his hands.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered.
“It's okay. You're under a lot of stress. I'm going to get you some water. That will give you a minute to pull yourself together.”
Amanda left her office and walked into the reception area. Christine stood up.
“Your friend just had a meltdown in my office. What gives?”
“Oh, shit,” Christine muttered to herself, then said to Amanda, “Tom's got a background.”
“What kind of background?'
“He was in the military in combat. He won't say what he did but I think it was bad. I'm guessing Delta Force, Navy SEAL stuff. He's seeing a psychiatrist at the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder. I know that makes him sound dangerous but he's really a decent person. And he's a hard worker, very conscientious. When he got back to the States he put himself through community college and learned to be a paralegal. And he's good. In fact, he's probably brighter than half the attorneys in my firm. I've suggested that he go to law school but he doesn't want to do it. He says it would be too stressful.”
“What do you think happened in the bar?”
“I think someone who had no idea what they were getting into picked on Tom. I can't imagine he'd start a fight but someone with his training . . . He might have reacted on reflex.”
“Okay. I'm going back in, but you wait. I'll probably want to talk to you after I'm done.”
Amanda went to the break room and filled a tall glass with cold water. When she reentered her office Beatty seemed calmer.
“I'm sorry,” he said when she handed him the glass.
“No need to apologize. People who have been charged with a crime are under a lot of pressure, especially if they're not guilty. Now, why don't you take a drink of that water, then take a deep breath and tell me what happened at the Lookout.”