Richard Stephen Johansson shifted uncomfortably on the pavement. His tired eyes flicked between the shopping trolley that had become his mobile storage and an assortment of deadbeats eyeing it jealously. Now that supermarkets were increasingly trying to protect their investment by making trolleys coin operated shoppers were returning them to get their money back. But occasionally someone would not bother with their coin return and that’s when street dwellers fought for the prize to transport things around as city inspectors attempted to drive street dwellers away from areas where safety of commuters was given top priority. As city inspectors moved on to clear other areas street dwellers already dispersed would melt back to their favoured spots. It was important to retain their strategic positions on the street as occasionally someone sympathetic would put a few coins in their begging bowls. The city would prefer to keep them out of sight, but these unfortunates were resilient.
Other street dwellers kept their distance from him. He’d only been on the streets a matter of months, so still retained enough strength to fight them off when they entered that imaginary dividing line defining his territory. As Richard watched them he shivered, their wasted bodies would be what his would become someday and this was his greatest fear.
His eyes moved to downtown towers about five miles away. He strained to focus on one of the tallest buildings and looked for a familiar neon sign indicating the name of the building. Capital Tower was the sign prominently displayed so that even from this distance you could see it clearly. He shook his head sadly. There at the eleventh level was the floor occupied by Steggs and Cooper Legal. Hard to believe he’d been an aspiring partner there before his fall from grace.
It was there he’d met his wife when they were interns newly minted from university and even after marriage to Claire they’d continued working in the firm together. That had been a few years ago and as they’d no children they’d enjoyed the challenge of consulting together on cases each of them was given responsibility for in the evenings. Law was their life. He wondered where Claire was now since their divorce. They’d had an ideal life and tears came to his eyes as he recalled what had led to his present condition.
He remembered the watershed event that had changed his life. One of the senior partners had been watching his progress over the years and came to him with a difficult case the partner said could put him on the pathway to partnership if he could win the case. This firm had a reputation for winning unwinnable cases and only those with the fire in their belly who took on and won cases like this were deemed worthy of entering the inner sanctum of partnership. Richard was elated, this was his big opportunity and he would pour every ounce of his energy and intellect into this case.
That evening as he and Claire looked at the background to the case Claire was horrified and Richard’s enthusiasm began to wane. The one to be defended was a despicable character high up in the criminal world and presently in police custody. Newspapers had caught wind of the story having been monitoring the accused criminal history for years. Despite media attention however money had kept him out of the way of prosecution. But this was too horrific, and money would no longer satisfy a public clamouring for justice. Prosecution had a watertight case and Richard had to agree with Claire. This man should be jailed for life. The pictures of all those murdered mutilated children cried out for justice.
Richard remembered meeting with the senior partners next day and telling them he was unable to defend this man. There was overwhelming evidence and he could not conscientiously defend the indefensible. The senior partner nodded and put his hand on Richard’s shoulder looking him in the eye. He spoke.
“The basic premise of our law is no one is to be pronounced guilty unless given the right of a defence in the presence of a jury. They will make an appropriate decision and our firm has been appointed to manage that defence. Now if you wish to be promoted to partner in this firm you must take cases assigned to you no matter how distasteful. Yes, it looks like this man is guilty judging by all the evidence we gave you to review yesterday but our client deserves the best defence we can give and need I remind you our firm wins unwinnable cases. If you don’t feel you can fit in with this philosophy then you should never have accepted a position with this firm. Now are you going to take this opportunity or not?”
Richard remembers nodding his head numbly and gathering up the papers while the partners smiled approvingly. He’d stopped by Claire’s office and informed her of his decision to go ahead with the case. She shook her head sadly and returned to studying her current divorce settlement case for the client assigned to her. The parties were waiting for her in the interview room. That evening she sat silently through their meal then turned to face him.
“Richy I’m really disappointed you took this case. You’re too decent to even attempt a defence of this animal. It made me think about our office and the kind of work senior partners are called to do getting criminals off the hook. Yes, a person needs to have their defence heard before judgment is made but in this case it’s a matter of advising this evil man of his rights and not looking for ways to get such people back in the community to continue their depraved work. I think the partners have misinterpreted the spirit of our laws and so this afternoon I had a word with our law competitors across town. I’m handing in my resignation tomorrow and starting with them next week. I’ll be working mostly in property law so won’t have to sell out my convictions. I hope my leaving doesn’t jeopardize your employment.”
Richard remembered sitting stunned at the announcement. Claire was judging him and of course her departure would affect him. A wave of anger swept over him and he determined to put his heart and soul into this case. He liked where he worked and now it would be necessary for him to win this unwinnable case to keep his job and counter the unfavourable impression caused by his wife’s resignation. He rationalized it was part of the lawyer’s oath to gain a fair trial for his accused client.
Claire had watched with alarm as her husband underwent his change of heart. He worked on the case day and night and grew testy through lack of sleep. Money poured into the law firm from the accused criminal’s associates and enterprises to be used in defence. Richard interviewed witnesses and noted their fear. He realized they were being compromised. This alarmed him but at the same time it gave him ammunition to use at the trial as he realized those witnesses were beginning to cave under pressure. Then in an astonishing turn of events some of the documented police files and exhibits disappeared commencing another major investigation of those who were responsible for their safe storage. So, in the week of trial proceedings one after another of the absolute evidences fell away and after days of deliberations the accused was pronounced not guilty by jury on a technicality. Claire had been in court as an observer on that day. When he returned home that evening there was a note on the table and Claire had moved out.
Richard got his promotion to partner but it was a hollow victory without Claire at his side. He couldn’t sleep as he retraced each step of the case as prosecution wilted. Gifts in abundance were showered on him by criminal elements and he began to feel dirty by association. The pictures of those children haunted him in his dreams, and he knew he’d had a part in releasing this animal back into society to continue his evil work. Newspapers railed against him as the principal defence and the law firm by association.
To be continued.
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