a mystery novel
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Chapter 14 -- Time is of the Essence
Monday morning I sat beside Tanya in the courtroom. In between my glances back at Meg and Marion for encouragement, my second chair and I were quietly going over our plans for this, our first hearing before the legendary judge Lester. It was almost an hour past our appointed time, but Tanya seemed not at all surprised. She emphasized again that it was most important to address the judge respectfully, including 'Your Honor' in every sentence (California Superior Court judges, uniquely, reject any other form of address including 'Judge' with or without the judge's name appended). “Hey, Tanya, is the proper protocol to go to one or both knees when genuflecting to this deity?” Despite all our time together, she had yet to develop real appreciation for my humor.
The judge's door opened, everybody stood even before the bailiff so instructed us, and the judge took his seat at the bench. With all the buildup, and despite the web photos, I still expected someone imposing. Instead I saw an ordinary man of fifty-something, medium height with whitish hair retreating from a quite commonplace face. This is what I'd been fearing? Then after the bailiff told us to be seated and the clerk recited the case information and the purpose of this hearing, the man himself spoke and it all became clear. Damn, he had a voice! If God really did speak to Moses, He borrowed Lester’s voice for the occasion. I was mesmerized, half standing, half sitting until Tanya pulled me down. “See,” she said, “I told you he was impressive when he spoke.”
“Yeah, you also implied he was a god, but I didn't believe you – until right now.”
The judge quickly ran through the motions and discovery requests before him, granting or denying them so rapidly I couldn’t keep track. Then he got to the main one: the prosecution's request to extend time and our opposition thereto. The prosecutor rose to expand on his written argument, but the judge waved him down, saying, “You've made a good case for an extension, counselor, and the defense has argued against one. Maybe we can compromise at…”
“Excuse me, Your Honor,” I managed to avoid Tanya's restraining hand, “But my admittedly unschooled reading of the law indicates I am entitled to trial within sixty days of arraignment, unless extraordinary circumstances cause the prosecution to require more time to prepare. The reasons they gave in their brief seem not at all extraordinary, especially as they are precisely the same arguments they have made in the last twelve cases where the defense has asked for their right to a speedy trial – probably more than the last twelve, actually, but that's as far back as I went. I have copies of their motions from those cases, if Your Honor cares to inspect them. The right to a speedy trial guaranteed by law to defendants in this State means little if the prosecution can expect to be automatically granted an extension whenever they want by simply photocopying a standard set of excuses. Your Honor. They claim the case is complex, but they knew that all along and should have resolved those complexities before charging me. They have virtually unlimited manpower and other resources, while I have only myself and my family in addition to the very able but still single person of Ms. Barnes. If we can be ready, and we can, then they should be also. If they do not have a case against me that can be prosecuted in the time allotted to them by the law, then they should not have arrested me unless and until they did, assuming they ever would have. Your Honor. I therefore respectfully request Your Honor hold them to the letter and the spirit of the law and uphold my right by scheduling trial as the law dictates.”
The prosecutor jumped up, said “But Your Honor…” and he seemed at a loss for words, then muttered, “This is unexpected.”
“What, that you would actually be requested to follow the law for once? Oh, I'm sorry, Your Honor: I should have addressed my remark to you and not to the prosecution. I apologize.”
“Ah, well, yes, Mr. MacIntyre, see that you observe the courtroom formalities in the future. You make a good case and I am inclined to agree with you to an extent. I will grant the prosecution motion for an extension,” he held up his hand peremptorily before I could protest, “but only for thirty days. You both may revisit this matter at the next motion hearing one week from today at the same time. Court is in recess for thirty minutes,” and he banged his gavel and left the bench before either side could comment further, although the prosecutor seemed still in too much shock to say anything. I did a quick calculation: with the four-day Thanksgiving holiday, next Monday would work. It seemed prudent to keep my options open.
Tanya and I joined Meg and company and we all walked out together behind the prosecution trio who were having an animated discussion complete with hand gestures: it did not seem a happy discussion. “Sorry to blindside you in there, Tanya, but I had to see how he would handle me as my own attorney. How did we do?”
“About as expected on motions and discovery: we got as little as he could give us without fear of appeal problems – he's very proud of the fact he's never been overturned on appeal. But you shocked the hell out of the prosecution about time.”
“Yeah, that didn't go as well as I hoped. He agreed with me, then gave them their extension anyway.”
“Are you kidding? They always ask for six months and he gives them four, and then they come back and ask for another three and he gives them two, so they always get their six months in the end. And that's when the defendant is being held in jail. You got him to cut it down to a month, and I don't believe he'll give them more than a week or two more at the most. Right now the prosecutor's office is in as much turmoil as if a hurricane just went through. That is one major victory,” and she actually gave me a high five.
Meg commented, “This is one sorry legal system, if it's a major victory when the judge actually sticks to the law on the defendant’s side for once!”
“You have no idea,” Tanya answered.
* * *
That night the voice sounded different from last time but that didn't mean anything. It started off, “Glad you called. We have news. There's something strange about the vic: the fibbies are being very tight-lipped but they have a real interest in her.”
“Positive or negative?”
“Positive. It’s really weird because nothing hints she ever worked for the bureau or was even a CI, but they pulled strings to get her a new job with the county after she was in the hospital for a couple of months from a work injury. And just about then a trust fund with a life annuity was set up for her and we haven't been able to trace the source of the funds.”
“Damn, what the hell is going on here?”
“Don't know, but you stepped in it big time, old man. Thought you were retired and keeping your nose clean.”
“I am, and I am! I didn't even know her. I'd level with you no matter what with the mess I'm facing, but I haven't got clue one. She had to be the principal target, but who the hell was she? And why are they so intent on framing me?”
“No answers yet but we'll keep digging. You always did keep things exciting. Thanks for the most interesting shit I've worked on in years. Out.”