I recently caught up with an old law school friend who was lamenting that a particular Superior Court prosecutor did not like him very much. No matter how hard he tried, his clients seemed to constantly get bad pretrial offers. "The guy is a jerk" he blasted. "He hates me." My friend sounded like a dejected elementary school student who was convinced his teacher was out to get him. He ranted about how he was always sitting around in court for hours waiting for his case to be called. For some reason, his case always seemed to end up at the bottom of the pile. "That prosecutor is on a power trip. They all are. You know what I'm talking about right?"
I disagreed with him. I thought the particular prosecutor he complained about was tough, but always pretty fair. “Maybe he’s just not that into you.” I reasoned. "Have you considered changing your cologne?"(Editor's note: If any of our fine Connecticut State prosecutors happen to be reading this, I consider the state's attorney's office in Connecticut among the better...nay....the finest in the nation).
Olfactory issues aside, my interest was piqued in how he handled himself in court. I volunteered to shadow him on a day we both had criminal matters in a courthouse outside Hartford County. We were both making straightforward continuance requests in our cases. Nothing complicated. As the day progressed, it would not take me long to deduce the error of his ways. It soon dawned on me that it had nothing to do with his ability as a lawyer. It was elementary, dear Watson. Simply stated, the guy was a complete jackass. For the purpose of our story, let’s call him Richard.
Our journey began at the courthouse entrance. Entering the grand structure, Richard and I made use of the special “VIP” access many lawyers enjoy at some local state court houses. (If you are not familiar with this practice, attorneys are often given the courtesy of being able to jump the line or enter the court through a separate attorney entrance. It always makes me feel like Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" as he is being led through the kitchen of the Copacabana to his front row table. Sometimes, I feel like I should be tipping a doorman. But I digress) Unfortunately, a visibly pregnant woman did not realize we were "made men" and she started to complain that we were cutting the line. Richard's response to her was “you should have gone to law school, lady." I let the poor woman go ahead of me and pretended not to know Mr. Entitlement.
Of course, King Richard was in a rush and decided to focus his charm on someone else. He started giving a hard time to the poor court marshal manning the metal detector. “I don’t have all day.” The court marshal shared a disapproving glance with me and then proceeded to examine Richard as if he was the offspring of Osama Bin Laden and Bill Buckner. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Richard taking off his shoes, belt, and cufflinks. While he was standing in his socks emptying the coins out of his pockets, I entered through a separate detector. I greeted the marshal by name. Despite being there almost everyday, Richard never bothered to learn it. “Go right ahead Adrian” was the reply. As I walked through, it appeared Richard was getting a full body cavity search that put the current stringent TSA searches to shame.
Our next step was to proceed to the courtroom. The procedure was to first obtain your client's file from the marshal and then to stand in line to see the next available prosecutor. Richard gave his client’s name to the marshal with the suggestion that the retired cop "pick up the pace." The marshal told him to wait a moment and proceeded to instead hand me my files. "How's the wife?" he asked. "Great." I thanked him by name and proceeded to the state’s attorney where I asked for a continuance so that I could review a videotape that had just been made available. “What date would you like counselor?”
It was now Richard’s turn. Upset that it took a bit longer to find his file, , Richard threw it on the prosecutor's desk. It landed with a thud as Richard started making demands. “Listen, I have another matter I need to get to. Just give me a new date.” Without raising his head, the prosecutor's face began transforming into that of an old rugged cowboy. His eyes began to squint as he chomped down on the dangling Bic pen in his mouth. It resembled a well chewed cigar. I could have sworn I heard the haunting whistles of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
“Counselor, do you have your appearance form as required by the Connecticut practice book?” he asked with the low gravely voice of a weather beaten cowboy. "Seriously?"
With a huff, Richard got out of line and hastily prepared the pink form. When he returned, another lawyer was already speaking to the prosecutor. “I was here first” he stammered. The prosecutor looked up at Richard and admonished him to wait his turn. Richard made his second pass. “Counselor, do you have an additional copy of the appearance for the clerk as required by the Connecticut practice book. Well do you?......punk" (Editors note: OK so the prosecutor did not actually call him a punk and I do realize that line comes from a completely different Eastwood film. ) "Come on!" he grumbled. Richard returned with the additional form and was told again to stand in line. He finally made it back to the prosecutor's table. "It looks like we are going to have to put your continuance request on the record. You’ll have to wait for the judge. Unfortunately, he's running a little late today.” I smiled at Richard and told him I would catch up with him at high noon.
Richard’s unfortunate court demeanor reminded me of a guy named Billy Zabka. From Back to School to the Karate Kid, Billy was the actor that appeared to play the consummate bully in virtually every teen movie produced in the 80s. Although the actor was a nice guy in real life, the parts he played gave the impression that he was a jerk. It's the same reason actors playing soap opera villains get slapped in the street by angry housewives. Richard's act fit the same mold. Truth be told. Richard is actually a good guy. Although I would never let him date my sister, I considered him to be a pretty decent human being. Unfortunately, he has this odd notion that, as an attorney, he must appear as an aggressive blowhard to get an "edge".
From the moment he enters the court house, Richard is rude to everyone from the marshals to the court clerks. He acts as everyone is beneath him. He comes off very aggressive. While there is a time and a place for being aggressive and you should advocate fiercely for your client, this doesn't excuse you from being a decent human being. You would be surprised how far a little civility will get you. In any event, I think Richard picked up the obnoxious trait from his dear old mother (And I will surely suffer for this comment). His mother is the type of person that yells at waiters thinking it will lead to better service. She doesn't realize that the waiter is probably spitting in her food.
What Richard failed to realize was that courthouses can be pretty tight knit. Marshals talk to prosecutors. Clerks talk to judges. People tend to notice how you treat people. Pretty soon, you have a reputation for being a mean spirited bully. It is a reputation you do not want to have. Clerks hold the key to scheduling matters on busy dockets. Court marshals have the ability to usher you in the court faster when you are running late. Secretaries have the judge's ear for the better part of the day. Is it really a good idea to piss these people off? Besides, didn't you learn anything from 1980s cinema? The bully never wins.