Trial of Conscience
Sydney stared intently at the burnished steel door of the elevator, her mind racing. Where did she go? The law student had searched all the likely places in the building that she thought Evin might be, but hadn't succeeded in finding her. Not on the balcony. Not in the library. Not in the break room. None of the conference rooms. I feel like I'm playing Clue.
Did she leave? Her head shook at the thought. She wouldn't leave. The elevator door opened and she stepped into the elevator again and pressed the button for the bottom floor. Still...better check to see if her car is still here.
During her search, Sydney had feverishly reviewed the events of the last few minutes to determine what had caused Evin's reaction, but came up blank. I was just talking. It's not like she hasn't heard any of this before. We've been over everything that's happened a thousand times. Maybe she feels sick. She looked like she'd seen a ghost.
The elevator car stopped and the door opened. As she stepped out, she spotted Evin leaning against the trunk of her car, her hands supporting her. She picked up her pace and started to jog towards Evin, but stopped abruptly as a loud string of curses spilled from her lover's lips, punctuated by a fist slamming into the trunk.
Uh oh. "Honey?"
"What?" Evin growled as her head snapped around.
Deep breath, Sydney. Take a deep breath. "What's wrong?"
"There's a...problem." A problem? You're so very funny, sometimes. Disaster is more like it.
"A problem? With what?"
Little alarm bells started going off in Sydney's head. She's got that same look she has every time she thinks it's something I'm not going to like. "What do you mean?"
"I'm sleeping with you."
The words were like a blow and Sydney involuntarily took a step back. That's not really what I expected to hear. An evidentiary problem, a procedural problem, some other problem, but not that. "And you have a problem with that? But I...I thought...." A note of uncertainty colored her voice.
Christ, Moran, you are such a fucking idiot. "I...I didn't mean it that way." She pushed off from the car and walked over to Sydney. "Come here," Evin requested softly as she wrapped her arms around Sydney and pulled her close. "I love you, Sydney Parker. Please don't doubt that."
A relieved breath escaped as Sydney leaned in to Evin. "You...do you regret what's happened...between us?"
Evin felt like drowning in the pools of green that looked at her expectantly. Those eyes...the way she looks at me. Sydney's eyes were filled with hope, the only blemish being a trace of fear. I just want to take her and go far away from here. Forget that any of this ever happened."Please...believe me when I say that I would...could never regret you...what I feel for you...what's happened between us. You...there's nothing I've ever done in my life to deserve you...what you make me feel." 'And that's part of the problem isn't it? She makes you feel good things, and it's been so long since that's happened,' the little voice said quietly. The silent question went unanswered as she gave in to the urge to kiss the redhead, her head bending down and her lips meeting Sydney's.
The law student could feel the muscles under her hands start to relax and she rubbed the attorney's back soothingly as she got lost in the kiss. The feelings that Evin evoked with one look...one touch...one kiss...sprang from some well deep within her that no one else had ever tapped. And at times like this, when the tenderness was so evident that it was almost painful to experience, that she closed her eyes and felt as if she was inside Evin's heart.
The kiss broke, and with a sigh, Sydney rested her forehead against the attorney's chin, letting herself enjoy the feelings for a moment before she asked her next question. "Why is our sleeping together a problem for the case?"
"The theory...Harwood and Pratt...their participation in the plan to defraud. It's...." She drew her head back and looked down at Sydney. "The only one to testify against them is you."
"I...." Sydney paused for a moment, then murmured, "Yeah, I guess I am."
"There's no other way to get it in, and it's part of our theory. I'm sorry."
"Evin, I know you don't want me involved in this. You...I appreciate that you think that you have to...shield me from it." She looked into Evin's eyes for a long moment. "And if I'm honest with myself, sometimes, I wish you could. But that's not something that really can happen, nor is it what I want to happen. If I have to testify, we'll deal with it."
I wonder if she realizes all the possible ramifications of this. "Do you...." Evin hesitated. "I'm sleeping with you."
"Yes, you are. And that makes me happy. Very happy. I just don't see...."
"How's that gonna look to a jury?"
Sydney's brows furrowed. "Why would the jury care about...." Her voice trailed off and then her eyes widened. "Oh God...no," the law student groaned. "I never even thought...."
"Neither did I. And I should have. I...it's...I was just...I don't know where my head was." Evin looked helplessly at Sydney. "It's all my fault. I'm...sorry."
"Evin, please stop saying you're sorry." Sydney looked up into shuttered blue eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry for. "
You are so wrong."Yeah, Syd, I do," she said regretfully. "I should have seen this coming. And I was too damn caught up...in everything else."
"How could you have seen this coming? This entire case.... Evin, it's all been so strange, so unpredictable. Are you going to tell me now that you knew about the explosion before it happened, too? If you are, I'm going to be pretty angry. That was...agonizing." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I almost lost you before I even had you." She laid her head against Evin's chest. "Please don't do this 'I should have known' thing. I...I did that to myself for years after Jenny died. It's a wonderful exercise in self-torture, but all it did was stop me from dealing with what had happened. I...made a lot of mistakes because of that and I swore that I would never do that to myself again. Can we please just deal with what's happened?"
"No choice, Syd."
"How big of a problem is this?"
"Evin, please be specific. Every problem with this case has been big enough."
"We'll have to tell the Doleses...see what they say. This...we've got a duty to disclose this to them. It materially affects their case. I...I don't see any other way. Then it's their decision. I'm...sorry."
"What do they need to make a decision about?"
"Whether to keep me on as counsel." 'You should tell her.' I hate it when you're right. "Syd...you need to know...that my recommendation to them will be to fire me."
"They're not going to fire you, Evin. That would be stupid."
"What would be stupid would be for them to keep me as counsel. This materially affects their case." Evin's eyes closed as her arms tightened around the smaller woman. "Tomorrow, we tell the Doleses everything...about what we've found, what can be done and about...us. Then it's their choice."
"And what if they don't want to fire you? Will you stay on as their counsel? We'll work on the case and when it's my turn to testify, I will. And you said it yourself...it may never get to trial."
She doesn't realize.... "You...we can't influence them in any way. It's going to be bad enough.... Syd, look at me, please." Evin waited for a moment as Sydney raised her head. "Sweetheart...if I stay on the case, I can't have any more contact with you until the trial is over. I mean, I'd get to see you at the deposition, but...no working together, no phone calls, no contact of any kind...nothing."
"You've got to be kidding me." She waited for Evin's response and didn't like the answer she could see in the blue eyes. She stepped back out of the embrace and felt the anger start. "Evin, tell me you're kidding. That's...it's not...I...bullshit!"
"Syd, calm down." Evin almost flinched as the anger flared in her lover's green eyes. When am I gonna learn not to say that?
"I will not calm down, Evin Moran. The damage has been done. What difference is it going to make now?"
Evin threw her hands up. "How the hell should I know?"
"You're the lawyer with all the answers," Sydney shot back.
Oh, Christ, how can our conversations go downhill so fast? "I...."
"I'm sorry, Evin. I didn't mean...I don't like this at all."
"You think I like this any better than you do? It's...if the Doleses decide they want to keep me as counsel, then it's important that we be able to show that once we realized that you were a witness, we took action to correct the situation."
"I don't consider us a 'situation.'"
"I don't, either, but the jury will. Look, Sydney...I...."
The law student interrupted. "I know, Evin, rule number one. Whatever it takes. I don't need to be reminded."
Evin closed her eyes and mentally finished her sentence. I love you. "Let's call it a day, Syd. Go back upstairs. Tell Jeffrey and Andrew to go home."
"Isn't there more to do today?"
"Nothing that can't wait until Monday." I think figuring out that my sex life will possibly be the basis for a malpractice claim is enough for one day. 'It's ironic, isn't it?' the little voice asked.I know I'm going to regret asking, but what? 'All the things you've done in the past with all those women and this is the one that lands you in hot water.' Just shut up. "At least we can relax for a while before we have to get dressed and go to that damn party."
"We don't have to go to the party."
"Yes, we do," Evin said firmly. And I thought the day couldn't get any worse. I have to put on a judge's robe and lace collar. You should really stop thinking, Moran. "We'd never hear the end of it. Besides, you deserve to have some fun. You've been working very hard, Syd."
"So have you," she reminded.
Not hard enough. "Come on, baby. Let's go shut it down for the day."
Sydney glanced to her left, her eyes taking in the profile of her lover who was guiding the BMW towards the Dolese farm. Her hand moved to her mouth as she tried to suppress a yawn. Four hours of sleep is just not enough.
They had finally made it back to the loft a little before three this morning, hot and sweaty from dancing for hours. She was right. Those damn robes were hot, and that wig didn't help. Sydney had worn her wig, but no amount of teasing, cajoling or outright challenging had convinced Evin to wear hers.
Saturday night had been a much-needed break, and she had laughed, helpless to stop, at the site of Evin dressed up in a judge's robe and lace collar. Her comment about the lace collar looking so dainty on the dark haired woman had earned her a scowl that had stayed on Evin's face until Sydney promised to remove the collar, the judge's robe and everything else the attorney had on, later and in a manner that would certainly violate judicial ethics.
It had been an interesting time. The atmosphere of the party was oddly dreamlike, the inside of the Municipal Auditorium transformed into a fantasy world for the partygoers. Thick, white fog billowed from smoke machines as a laser light show cut through it, creating a kaleidoscope of light. Huge, animated figurines moved up and down through the fog, giving the impression of jack-in-the-boxes on steroids. More than five thousand bodies were packed onto the dance floor, each moving to the pounding beat of the club music.
Costumes varied from pristine, white angels to leather clad Bears, with a wide variety in between. Sydney noted that, while there was a smattering of traditional Halloween costumes, the main thrust of most of the costumes seemed to be how much skin could be shown without getting arrested. She found out that it was quite a lot.
There had been plenty of distractions at the party, but Sydney felt slightly off balance most of the night. Her emotions had run the gamut, and she couldn't seem to get a handle on exactly what she was feeling. Thoughts of the Dolese case, of not seeing Evin until it was over, and the pounding her senses were taking from the music and the sights all seemed to assault her in a random fashion.
She suspected Evin had been off balance as well. The attorney's mood and behavior certainly hadn't helped ease Sydney's loss of emotional equilibrium. Evin had been cordial enough to their friends when the limousine picked them up, although Jeffrey and Tom both had asked Sydney at varying times during the night what was wrong with the attorney. But when the music had started, the woman seemed to transform. The undertow Sydney often felt around Evin pulled her under so fast that she had no time to resist. She found herself on the dance floor, moving in time to the music with her lover in ways she hadn't thought her body capable of moving.
The insistent bass beat, the scantily clad bodies dancing around them, losing herself in the movements, just enough alcohol to take the edge off her inhibitions...bacchanalian, her mind had whispered. Blue eyes glinting with a touch of wildness had captured her own, and she let herself get lost in them for the rest of the night, finally managing to forget about the case and everything else that had happened or would happen in the future.
"Thank you," she said to the profile.
"Um...you're welcome." Evin's eyes flickered to the rearview mirror and back. "What are you thanking me for?"
A soft laugh mixed with the music from the CD that was playing. "Sorry, that was out of the blue. I was just thinking about last night. I had a really good time."
"I forgot about everything for a little while. It felt so good to do that."
"Yeah...sometimes, it does."
Sydney's eyes moved off her companion to look at the road ahead. "Right after the billboard, honey."
"Thanks, Syd." Her lips quirked into a half-smile. "Um.... Are you sure you want me to take the lead with the Doleses?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I don't know enough to have it make sense to them. I...." A small sigh escaped. "I don't know that I trust myself enough not to try to influence their decision."
"You may not trust yourself, Syd, but I do," Evin assured the law student as she switched the blinker on and prepared to make the turn onto the gravel driveway leading to the Dolese house. "You've always kept their best interests at the forefront." Even when I haven't. "Jump in at any point you want to, Syd."
"Okay." Why do I feel like I'm doing the death walk to the electric chair? Another small sigh escaped. Okay, Sydney, buck up. This is not the end of the world. You will deal with what happens.
"It...Syd, it's going to be okay. You do realize that, don't you? No matter what happens, it's going to be okay."
"Yeah, baby. I...." Don't do this, Sydney. The Doleses could very well decide to hire another attorney and then you won't have to go through any of this. The car pulled to a halt in front of the house. "I know it's going to be okay."
Evin shifted the car into park and turned the ignition off. All right, Moran. Time to be a lawyer. Do what it is you do best. "It will be." The words were said as much for herself as for Sydney.
Evin stood at one end of the kitchen, her tall frame leaning back against the counter. She had just finished relating everything they had found out in the past few days to the Doleses. Her eyes swept from Willie to Emma before they finally settled on Sydney.
"I can't believe it." Emma spoke first, a note of incredulity in her voice. "They killed people so they could build a casino?"
Great. We have clients who don't believe our theory of the case. This is gonna go over real well with a jury. 'And you haven't even gotten to the good part yet,' the little voice chimed in. Shut up.
"That's what we think," Sydney confirmed.
Willie's fingers tapped lightly on his coffee cup as his elbows rested on the kitchen table. "What are the police gonna do about it?"
"It's a little more complicated than that." Sydney glanced at Evin.
A little? Aw, Syd, that's the understatement of the century. "The police...." Jesus, how do I explain this? "Their authority is usually criminal, not civil. We...the case in state court...that's a civil matter. Until the police are convinced that a crime has occurred, and then take it to the district attorney, there's nothing that they can or will do to stop your case from proceeding."
Emma spoke, her tone disbelieving. "The police won't do anything?"
Sydney could see Evin's fingers tighten around the edge of the kitchen counter. "Emma, it's not that they won't do anything. They can't do anything...right now. The law won't let them do anything without more proof."
"So these people can use this here legal system against us, but the police can't use it for helping us?"
Welcome to the real world, Willie. Ain't it grand? "Yes, but...." Three sets of eyes looked at Evin. Here's where I get to get their hopes up again. "We think we've come up with a way to buy the police the time they need. It involves filing a lawsuit against all the people we told you about. If you can get an injunction, that should buy you the time you need." And for the second time in as many months, she watched the same three sets of eyes look at her as hope chased belief in them.
"Hynes rejected the settlement offer that I sent them. Pratt hinted that they would send us an offer, but they haven't, and based on what we've learned, I don't think they will. As I see it, you have four options: continue on with the present case; file a lawsuit in state court and ask for an injunction; file a lawsuit in federal court and ask for an injunction or file bankruptcy."
Blue eyes glanced at Sydney before she continued. "Bankruptcy is always available and should be the last option...the safety net. Continuing on with the present case is problematic. What we found out...we'd have problems getting any of it admitted as evidence and we would probably still lose. Filing a lawsuit in either federal or state court and obtaining an injunction is the next logical step. I would recommend filing in federal court. If you filed in state court, the suit would be filed here, in this parish. Getting the injunction is going to be difficult enough without running into a Hynes-friendly judge. You've already experienced the good old boy network with Keller."
And here's where I get to tell them I fucked them over because I couldn't keep my dick in my pants. I really need to get rid of that thing. "You both need to make a decision on how you wish to proceed." No other way to do it but say it, Moran. "I need to inform you that there is a...problem...with my continuing to represent you should you choose to pursue a lawsuit in state or federal court. I have a...personal...relationship with someone who will be a witness for you in that case. The defendants will find out about it and will use it in an attempt to discredit that person's testimony. I strongly recommend that you retain other counsel to handle the case. It is not in your best interests that I continue as your attorney."
Evin took a sip of coffee as she observed Willie's and Emma's looks of confusion and dismay. Shoulda told 'em to bend over and grab their ankles first, Moran. You really are a piece of work.
"A personal relationship?" Willie asked. "With who?"
"Me, Willie," Sydney said in a soft voice. "And I'm the only one who can testify that Pratt and Harwood stalled when it came to talking to Angela Battiste."
"They can make a big deal out of y'all being friends?" Emma shook her head. "I tell you what...I'm glad we're farmers. I don't know how you deal with all this, Sydney. People are just crazy. And the law...seems just as crazy. I don't know why that surprises me none, though. People make the laws."
That's the first sane thing I've heard in two months. "Emma, we're, um, involved. Sydney...and I are...um, seeing each other." Naked.
"Seeing?" Willie's brows furrowed as he thought. "Oh." Then he added another, louder, "Oh."
"Oh, that explains it," Emma added.
"Explains what?" Sydney questioned.
"The way y'all look at each other. I told Willie I thought you two liked each other. You know, in more than a friend kind of way. I told Willie I thought that would be good for you."
She's rattling on like I'm not even here.Evin felt a blush starting to rise as she gaped at Emma who continued to talk.
"You're so nice and smart and beautiful. I worry about you, leaving your family and living down here alone. That's got to be hard. I was thinking a while ago of setting you up with my cousin, Clyde, but then I noticed how y'all was looking at each other. Seemed to me to be a matter of time before y'all realized it. So now I don't have to worry. Evin seems to be a nice person. Smart, too. And with you both being in the law field, it gives you something to talk about, kind of like Willie and I talking about farming." Emma's head tilted slightly and she leaned closer to Sydney as she almost whispered, "You could do worse, Sydney."
Could do worse? 'Sounds like an insult to me, big girl.'Evin swore the little voice laughed.Shut up! Time to get this back under control. "Our seeing each other is a problem...a big problem for your case. Our relationship calls into question Sydney's credibility as a witness. I take full responsibility for this. I did not take into account the fact that Sydney might end up being a witness. My actions are inexcusable."
"But Sydney won't be lying. She always tells the truth."
"Willie, we know that, but the jurors won't, and they're the ones that will ultimately make the decision. What they'll hear is that Sydney and I have a relationship and what the defense attorneys will say is that Sydney is lying because of that. They'll claim that I've influenced her testimony. And then the jury will start to question everything else that I've told them." Evin's voice rose. "All it can do is hurt your case. And if we lose, you could lose your farm. Nothing is worth that. You should fire my ass and sue me for malpractice," she added disgustedly.
Sydney's voice broke in. "Evin, why don't you and I take a walk and let Willie and Emma talk about all this." Glancing at the Doleses, she asked, "If that's all right with y'all?"
"Um, well." Willie looked at his wife, and slight nods were exchanged. "We, um, we don't need to talk. There ain't no reason to change."
"There is a very good reason to change," Evin countered. "Sydney, what would you tell them if they came into your office and told you the facts?" Come on, Syd. Leave your feelings about all this out of it.
"I would tell them that they should find another attorney," Sydney admitted. She's not going to like this part. "I would also tell them that there are other factors to consider."
"There are no other factors, Sydney," Evin snapped.
"I disagree, Evin." Straightening in her chair, the law student marshaled her argument. "As a practical matter, the timeframe this all needs to happen in is a problem. I doubt another attorney could make it happen in that timeframe. You've already prepared the lawsuit and done the investigations. No one knows the case better than you do. Taking a case on of this magnitude pro bono is a lot to ask and I don't know how many resources another attorney would be able to devote." She paused and smiled warmly. "I'm just a law student, but when I ask myself if Willie and Emma would be able to find someone else willing to take these people on, I have to say that it's a slim chance they would, at best. Besides, there's always the bankruptcy option if a jury would return an unfavorable verdict. Am I wrong?"
Oh God, she is good. Throwing the bankruptcy back at me. "The bankruptcy option is always available. However, getting another attorney improves the chances of prevailing at trial. This...conflict...could prove to be very damaging." Her eyes moved from Sydney to the Doleses. "In order to get certain things into evidence, I'm going to have to call a lot of witnesses who will be hostile. There will be enough doubt raised before I call Sydney to testify. I will have to ask Sydney about our personal relationship. If I don't bring it up first, the defense most surely will. And as soon as I ask that question, the jurors' ears are going to perk up and they're going to start questioning not only Sydney's veracity, but mine as well. Please...think about this very carefully."
"But we don't...." Emma turned to look at Sydney.
Willie cleared his throat. "Okay, Evin. We'll think about it some more. How long do we need to, um, can we think about it?"
"I would like to know, at the latest, by Tuesday. I'll continue working on the case until you find someone else."
"I'm sorry that our actions have put y'all in this position," Sydney offered softly. "If we had known that anything like this would have happened, we...." Her voice trailed off.
Emma shrugged. "Who knew, Sydney? We all thought this was a mistake in the beginning. It's not your fault."
No, but it's mine. "You both need to know that I will not leave you hanging out to dry. If you want me to continue, I will. But you deserve the best shot at this that you can get, and I'm afraid that having me as your attorney is not in your best interest."
"We know you wouldn't leave us hanging," Willie answered with a nod. "You both done a lot for us. Emma and I...we're very grateful for that. We'll make sure to let you know what we decide by Tuesday."
"Fair enough." Blue eyes tracked to Sydney. "Do you have anything else, Syd?"
"No." Sydney stood and pushed her chair back. "I guess we'll get going. If y'all have any questions, please call. You've got all of our numbers."
Unbelievable. Sydney looked at the small army of attorneys off to her left. Her head ached, the muscles in her back tightened even further and the butterflies in her stomach swarmed.
Monday morning had dawned in all its rainy glory, and Evin's mood had matched the dismal weather. Not that mine was really any better. This morning was the contempt hearing in which Sydney was scheduled to testify against her co-counsel and lover. The events of the past few days had already stressed the law student past the breaking point and she found herself fighting with Evin about the toothpaste as they both jockeyed for position in front of the bathroom mirror. The ride to the courthouse had been mostly silent, but the meeting in the hallway between all the attorneys now involved in the case had been anything but quiet. Sydney had finally stepped to the side as they argued over the best way to present some point of law. I've got no clue what they're talking about and I don't even know if I care.
She sat down on a bench and glanced at her watch. Five more minutes, and they would all troop into Judge Dupuy's courtroom for the hearing. It's gonna be a circus. It had already been a mini-circus in the hallway with Evin, two attorneys from her office, Alice Schell and Paul Nunez, Vicki Rosenthal, Richard Rayburn and G. Edward Bishop, an attorney representing Loyola Law School and the Law Clinic. Each attorney didn't want Sydney to testify for a different reason.
I still can't believe I have an attorney. She was pretty sure that she had heard Vicki mutter several unflattering comments about Dorinda Pratt's pale green outfit. Sydney had been standing by Professor Rayburn at the time and all she caught was something about Vicki wondering if Evin had any Kleenex and a reference to mucous. Whatever Vicki had said, Evin had responded with, "Now, Vicki, be nice," but Sydney had seen the devilish gleam in the blue eyes.
Her eyes fell onto her right shoe, noting a small scuff on the side. Damn it! How did I do that? The light was suddenly blocked and Sydney looked up to see Evin towering over her.
An aggravated sigh escaped. "Yeah."
Evin gave her lover an apologetic look. "I...the toothpaste thing...I can be a real asshole sometimes, Syd."
"It's not about the toothpaste, Evin." Memories of last night's dinner, where they both had been quiet, almost distant, flashed through her mind. "I...all this...I don't like what's happening." She stood and straightened her blazer. "And I don't like that we haven't talked about it."
"Well, we don't have time right now."
"Really?" the law student snapped.
Irritation flared as Evin shot back, ""I'm not the fucking enemy, Syd. You think I like all of this?"
Sydney didn't respond.
"Well, I don't." Evin's briefcase dropped with a thud as blue eyes pinned the law student with an intense glare. "This has been fucked up from the beginning. Your God damned clients will probably keep me on as counsel, and what's even worse is that I'm gonna do it and I have no idea why. Then my life, as I have come to know it these past two months, is gonna change drastically because you won't be in it." Evin's voice rose as she continued. "So to answer my own question, Sydney Parker, if you think I like any of this, you're dead wrong." Her head shook disgustedly. "My malpractice carrier's gonna drop me like a hot potato," she muttered. "Fuck!"
The butterflies left and Sydney felt the pounding in her head lessen. "I...your life...is it that different with me in it?" God, Sydney, you can be so insecure at times.
"What do you think?"
Sydney's eyes dropped and focused on the floor. "I...I...don't know."
"Aw, Syd, I'm...shit, I'm sorry. I didn't mean.... We're both...stressed." Evin leaned closer. "Please, look at me." The law student's eyes lifted. "My life before you was nothing. Now, with you, it's everything. So, yeah, Syd, it is that different, and now you know. I really need to get better about telling you things."
"You do just fine." Green eyes glanced around and settled on the cluster of attorneys who she now realized had been watching them. "Although you pick the strangest places to tell me these things. We've got an audience."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Vicki broke off from the group and approached them. "Your little tete-a-tete finished? We need to get in there."
Evin picked up her briefcase and started to walk towards the courtroom as Vicki and Sydney followed. "Let's go and get this over with."
"Sydney, did I actually hear the words 'I'm sorry' come out of Evin Moran's mouth?"
Evin called over her shoulder, "Shut up, Vicki."
Sydney laughed for what seemed like the first time in days. It's all going to be okay, Sydney. Just hang in there.
Judge Dupuy's law clerk appeared through the doorway of his chambers and approached the deputy. After a brief exchange, the deputy called out, "Judge Dupuy wants to see all the attorneys on Hynes versus Dolese in his chambers." He blinked as nine people stood up.
Sydney stood between Evin and Vicki as they sidled their way out of the bench seats. She whispered, "Why are we going to his chambers?"
"For coffee and beignets," Evin answered.
"Hope he has bagels," Vicki countered.
A whisper from Sydney again. "This isn't normal, is it?"
"Well, I can't speak for Vicki, but judges invite me to their chambers all the time. I'm such a good conversationalist."
"Uh huh," Vicki retorted. "That's why I'd call you into chambers. To answer your question, Sydney, no, this isn't normal. I can't wait to see what this is about."
I can, Sydney thought as they crossed the courtroom and went into the judge's chambers. The way my luck with this case has been running, I'll have to testify against Evin, the judge will fine her a million dollars and she'll never speak to me again.
Judge Dupuy sat behind his desk with the court reporter situated in the corner. "Good morning, counsel. Please be seated."
There was a scramble for seats in the semi-circle of chairs located in front of the judge's desk as his greeting was echoed. Evin ended up sitting between Dorinda Pratt and Vicki Rosenthal. Scott Harwood was to Pratt's right and Sydney was to Vicki's left. Next to her sat Alice Schell and Paul Nunez, followed by Professor Rayburn, with G. Edward Bishop occupying the last chair. Evin smiled at opposing counsel. "Good morning, counselor. Really nice suit." The color brings out the pallor of your skin. She thought she heard Vicki snicker.
The judge's eyes traveled around the room, resting for a second on each of the occupants. "This hearing will be conducted in chambers, if there are no objections."
Murmurs of "No, sir," and "No, Judge Dupuy," ran around the room.
He looked directly at Sydney. "You must be Ms. Parker. I know all the others."
Sydney regarded the man sitting across from her. He was of average height and a somewhat stocky build; at least from what she could tell, considering the black robe that he wore. Dark brown hair sprinkled with gray covered his head and gave him a distinguished look. "I am, sir."
"You're in law school, correct?"
The judge's hand indicated a thick stack of documents on the corner of his desk. "Seems like some people object to you being called as a witness. Why would that be, Ms. Parker?"
Shouts of "Objection!" filled the room.
"None of you can object," Judge Dupuy stated. "The hearing hasn't started yet. Ms. Parker?"
"Well, Your Honor, I don't think that it's really me or the testimony I would give that's the problem." Sydney shifted in her seat and leaned forward slightly as she looked directly at Judge Dupuy. "It's the principle that one attorney shouldn't be called upon to testify against their co-counsel on matters that amount to nothing more than strategy and a zealous representation of their client. Ms. Moran and I discussed every pleading that was filed in this case, and I concurred with her. Yet, no one is seeking sanctions against me."
"Because you're a law student, Ms. Parker," Harwood offered as an explanation. "You shouldn't be held responsible for Ms. Moran's actions. You don't know any better. You've been subjected to her influences."
It was hard for Evin to get angry at Harwood's words as she watched Sydney's jaw set and a slight flush creep up her neck. Oh, IBM, that one's gonna cost you.
Sydney ignored Harwood and addressed Judge Dupuy directly. "I realize that I'm just a law student, but that fact doesn't make me ignorant of procedure or ethics. I functioned as co-counsel, not a law student. I should be held to the same standard as my co-counsel. Ms. Moran and I discussed every aspect of the case and I independently concluded that the course of action we took was the right one. If you determine that Ms. Moran should be sanctioned, then I should be as well. Calling me as a witness adds nothing to the record that is before you. I doubt seriously that opposing counsel would sit by quietly if we had brought a Motion for Sanctions against only Ms. Pratt and subpoenaed Mr. Harwood to testify against her regarding things that are clearly within her discretion and not a violation of ethics or procedure per se. Mr. Harwood is, after all, just an associate with Ms. Pratt's firm. Her firm signs his paycheck. That's much more of a reason to be influenced by someone than I have."
Harwood's face was glowing red by the time Sydney finished speaking. Pratt started to speak, but was cut off when Harwood practically shouted, "I can't believe you're calling into question my ethics. At least I'm not sleeping with my co-counsel."
For a split second, it was as if time stood still.
The court reporter cleared her throat. She had heard stories about this case and it looked like she wasn't going to be disappointed. Pratt stared stonily at Harwood. Harwood at least had the good graces to look somewhat embarrassed. G. Edward Bishop leaned forward in his chair, a slightly interested look on his face. Professor Rayburn crossed his arms over his chest and maintained a neutral expression. Alice Schell and Paul Nunez stared straight ahead, waiting for the explosion they were sure would come from their boss. Vicki Rosenthal didn't move a muscle as she drew a breath to start to speak. She did, however, think several thoughts about Harwood that she quickly decided weren't appropriate for vocalization in a judge's chambers. Sydney froze momentarily as Judge Dupuy's eyes widened. Evin conducted a split-second internal battle, warring with herself over whether or not to simply reach over and deck Harwood.
A low, cold voice broke the silence as Evin turned her head and pinned Harwood with an icy stare. "I believe you owe Ms. Parker an apology."
Sydney shivered involuntarily as the words, spoken in a drawl, seemed to travel ever so slowly across the room, freezing the air as they went.
Harwood hesitated, unsure of which path to choose. He had seen the pictures of them together for himself, so he knew what he said was the truth. On the other hand, pursuing this might lead to questions about where he obtained that information and Pratt would have his head for that.
Judge Dupuy chose for him. "This is exactly the reason why this hearing is in chambers. None of you will turn my courtroom into a circus," he thundered. "The only thing that will be discussed here is the law and what's relevant to it. Anything else and every single one of you will spend the night in jail. Is that understood?"
Nodding heads were accompanied by several "Yes, Your Honors."
"Ms. Moran? Ms. Moran!?"
Evin forcibly ripped her eyes from Harwood. "Yes, Your Honor. I understand completely."
"Good. Now that we all know the ground rules, let's get this show on the road. Stacy, we're ready to start. Are you ready?"
"Yes, sir," the court reporter answered.
"This is a hearing in chambers on a Motion for Sanctions filed by plaintiff in the matter of Hynes Refining Corporation versus William and Emma Dolese, case number 98-2236, as well as several other motions in opposition to same, a Motion to Quash filed on behalf of Ms. Parker by Ms. Rosenthal and an amicus curae brief in support thereof filed by Loyola Law School and Clinic. Counsel, please state your names for the record."
The judge pulled a pleading from the file as the attorneys stated their names and whom they represented for the record. When they were done, he asked, "For the record, does anyone have any objections to conducting this hearing in chambers?" His tone clearly indicated that objections would be futile.
Another round of "No, sir" mixed with "No, Your Honor" was heard.
He nodded, pleased with the answers. "I was quite impressed with the number of motions filed objecting to Ms. Parker's testimony. Some interesting legal theories, I must say."
Evin listened as the judge spoke. They'd go through all the motions opposing the Motion for Sanctions first. Alice and Paul would handle the ones filed on her behalf, and Vicki and G. Edward Bishop would handle the ones filed on Sydney's behalf. That son of a bitch Harwood just signed his own death warrant. I hope to God the Doleses don't fire me because I want to be the one to sue his pathetic little ass. She looked his way again. I wonder how long Dupuy would keep me in jail if I hit him. IBM'd probably whine to the police and press charges. Can't anybody just have a good old-fashioned fistfight anymore to settle things without calling the police?
"Ms. Rosenthal, let's address your Motion to Quash first. No interruptions. You'll all get your turn."
"Thank you, Your Honor." Vicki opened the file on her lap. "The issue presented in plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions is a narrow one - did counsel abuse the process by filing frivolous and unfounded motions as a means to harass and delay? An examination of the record and the content of the pleadings themselves is the established standard for determining whether or not the process was abused. Your Honor certainly does have the discretion to question counsel as to their motives should Your Honor find that the record and pleadings themselves not answer the question of whether the filing of a particular pleading by counsel was appropriate. In this case, opposing counsel is attempting to subvert that standard and seeks to question Ms. Parker themselves. I could find no statutes or case law that specifically authorize this action. Filing a Motion for Sanctions against Ms. Moran and then subpoenaing co-counsel is tantamount to questioning Ms. Moran themselves. That usurps your authority." Vicki paused for a moment to let that point hit home.
"Further, allowing plaintiffs to subpoena co-counsel will set a dangerous precedence. Pitting Ms. Parker against Ms. Moran, especially in the middle of an ongoing case, could seriously compromise their working relationship and ultimately result in harm being done to the client. It is essential that co-counsel be able to trust each other and function in a manner that allows them to represent their clients' best interests. There is also the threat that opposing counsel may uncover information on direct examination that is protected by attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. For these reasons, we ask that you grant our Motion to Quash the subpoena. Plaintiff is not deprived of a remedy should the subpoena be quashed, Your Honor. You have the discretionary authority to question counsel and ascertain their motives. Thank you."
Sydney listened intently as Vicki spoke. She found herself using a trick she always used when reading cases - translating into a few words of plain English what it took lawyers thousands of words to say. Okay, first point - Pinkie and IBM are stepping on Dupuy's toes because he's supposed to be the one to ask the questions. Second point - making an attorney testify could hurt Willie and Emma. Third point - Pratt and Harwood might find out something they have no right to know, again hurting Willie and Emma's case. Fourth point - it's not unfair to Hynes because the judge can ask me questions. I'm paying a lot of money to learn what amounts to a foreign language.
"Mr. Bishop? Mr. Rayburn? Which one of you will present your argument?"
"Mr. Bishop will," Professor Rayburn replied.
"Thank you, Your Honor. In addition to Ms. Rosenthal's points, Loyola Law School and Clinic are concerned that Ms. Parker will not be granted the appropriate protections afforded to attorneys who have passed the bar. While she is a law student, in this matter, she functioned, and continues to function as co-counsel. The Louisiana Supreme Court has promulgated rules concerning the practice of law by law students, and in each, they are held to the same standard as attorneys. As such, they should be afforded the same protections. Case law has held that the work-product doctrine and attorney-client privilege are applicable to law students functioning as attorneys. These are currently extended to those who are agents for the attorney, such as secretaries, law clerks and paralegals and the privilege isn't abrogated without a clear showing of illegal activity. There are no allegations of that in the Motion for Sanctions. Surely, Ms. Parker's status as co-counsel is at least as great as that of a secretary and she should be afforded those same protections. As Ms. Rosenthal stated, quashing the subpoena does not deny Hynes a remedy. We respectfully urge you to grant Ms. Parker's motion to quash the subpoena."
That one was easy, Sydney thought. They're scared it will be open season on law students if Dupuy allows me to testify when he probably wouldn't even make a secretary testify.
"Ms. Pratt? Mr. Harwood? Which one of you will argue for the plaintiff?"
"I will, Your Honor," Pratt replied. "It is clear from the record that Ms. Moran filed duplicative pleadings in this matter. In particular, Ms. Parker had already filed for a continuance and it was denied. After coming on the case, Ms. Moran filed for another continuance on the same grounds."
"It wasn't the same...," Evin started to interject.
"Ms. Moran!" Judge Dupuy barked. "I said one at a time, and I meant it. Ms. Pratt, please continue."
"In addition to the continuance, Ms. Moran filed a number of motions which were clearly frivolous and without basis in law or fact. We can only infer that, since Ms. Moran is far from incompetent, the motions were meant to harass and delay plaintiff. Ms. Parker, as co-counsel, would be privy to the reasoning behind filing the motions. Her testimony is essential. I know of no statute or case law that prevents me from subpoenaing a co-counsel, and I know of no other way to notify a witness that they are to appear at a hearing other than to have the witness subpoenaed. As to any potential harm that may befall the Doleses, it is certainly within your authority to stop the questioning at any time. We are well within our rights and urge you to deny the Motion to Quash."
Another easy one. There's no law that says we can't so we did it. Sydney glanced sideways at Evin and Vicki. Neither appeared to be disturbed about what Pratt had argued. The tough ones are coming up. She had read the motions Evin's firm had filed, and was, quite frankly, amazed at the esoteric arguments they had come up with. There had even been a quote from a case in France, in French, and accompanied by the appropriate translation. Louisiana law's based on the Napoleonic Code. I wonder if I should have minored in French.
"Does anyone else have anything they wish to add?"
A variety of responses were elicited, all amounting to "no."
Judge Dupuy began, "It is well settled that a party may cause to be issued a subpoena to a witness in order to obtain that witness' testimony at a hearing or trial. The Court finds that the plaintiff does possess the necessary statutory authority to cause a subpoena to be issued; therefore, the subpoena issued to Ms. Parker is valid." He cleared his throat and settled back in his chair. "It is equally well settled that the standard for review as defined by the courts in this matter is as set forth in Ms. Rosenthal's brief. This Motion for Sanctions is a quasi-disciplinary proceeding and a matter that is solely within the Court's discretion. The Court has the power to question all counsel in the case should the record not be clear as to the motives and intent of the pleadings filed, affording plaintiff's interests ample protection. The subpoena, while valid on its face, would serve no other purpose than to allow plaintiff's counsel to question defense counsel in a situation where they would clearly not be entitled to otherwise. The subpoena issued to Ms. Parker is hereby quashed. Ms. Moran, since the subpoena is quashed, it is unnecessary to conduct a hearing on your motions, although it would certainly have been interesting. They were quite creative."
Sydney blinked at the judge. I think I won. A small pat to her hand and a smile from Vicki confirmed it. That was...too easy. There must be something wrong. She leaned forward slightly and glanced sideways at Evin. She looks okay. Another glance in the opposite direction revealed that Schell, Nunez, Rayburn and Bishop looked almost bored. No one's saying anything. Huh, I won. She leaned back in the chair and a little grin formed on her lips. Hah! Take that!
"Let's move on to the Motion for Sanctions. Any objections?"
"Your Honor," Pratt started, and then stopped. "Never mind."
"Okay, folks, remember, one at a time. And those of you not involved in this portion of the hearing may either leave or sit quietly."
There was a shuffle of chairs as Nunez, Schell, Bishop and Professor Rayburn got up. Professor Rayburn leaned over and whispered to Sydney. "I'll see you back at the school." Evin nodded at the two attorneys from her office, effectively dismissing them. Vicki Rosenthal remained seated.
After they left the room, Judge Dupuy continued, "Ms. Pratt? Mr. Harwood? Which one of you will present the motion?"
Pratt spoke. "I will, Your Honor. It is plaintiff's contention that defense counsel...."
Judge Dupuy interrupted. "By defense counsel, do you mean Ms. Moran alone or Ms. Moran and Ms. Parker, together, or Ms. Parker alone?"
"Ms. Moran alone, Your Honor."
"So you do not contend that Ms. Parker's actions violated any article or statute?"
"No, Your Honor. It is our contention that Ms. Parker, as a law student, relied upon the advice and recommendations of Ms. Moran who, as a seasoned attorney and Ms. Parker's law school advisor, would have held considerable sway over Ms. Parker."
Sway?Evin bit her tongue to keep from laughing. The only time I've been able to sway Sydney was when we were dancing.
"Ms. Moran filed numerous pleadings in this case on the day of the hearing on a Motion for Summary Judgment whose sole purpose was to harass plaintiff's counsel and delay the proceedings. They were without merit, otherwise. The pleadings filed included a Motion for Continuance, a Motion to Dismiss and a Peremptory Exception of No Right of Action. Particularly egregious was the Motion for Continuance that was based on the same grounds as a motion for continuance that had been filed two weeks before by Ms. Parker. That motion had already been denied by Judge Keller, and can only have been meant to be harassing in nature. The Motion to Dismiss and the Peremptory Exception were without basis in law or in fact. We are confident that a review of the record will support our argument and we ask that sanctions be given to plaintiff for all reasonable costs of these proceedings, as well as for attorneys' fees in the amount of three thousand dollars."
Judge Dupuy nodded at Evin. "Ms. Moran, your turn."
"Thank you, Judge Dupuy." Evin shifted in her seat and smiled, one of those smiles that was a cross between a snarl and a smile.
Leaning slightly forward in her chair, Sydney glanced at her lover as she started to speak. She looks so relaxed, but those eyes.... Evin did, indeed, look more relaxed than she had earlier, but her eyes still glittered almost malevolently.
Here goes nothing. "When these particular pleadings were filed, I was not yet enrolled as counsel of record in this matter. You'll note that Ms. Parker's signature is the only one. The time stamp on the pleadings clearly indicates that they were filed before Judge Keller granted my Motion to Enroll. Since opposing counsel brought the motion against me only, and absolved Ms. Parker of any wrongdoing, I move that the Motion for Sanctions be dismissed on the grounds that the Court has no authority to sanction me for actions I took before I was enrolled as counsel."
Both Sydney's and Vicki's heads snapped around to look at Evin. She never said anything about that. She didn't argue that in any of her motions, either, Sydney thought as she stared wide-eyed at Evin.
Son of a bitch!Vicki smiled.I need to take a course from her if I get elected.
"Ms. Moran was certainly functioning as counsel for the defendants when those pleadings were drafted and filed," Pratt countered. "Just because Judge Keller hadn't granted the Motion first, doesn't mean that she's not responsible for her actions. She even argued those pleadings before the court."
Evin interrupted, "The Motion for Continuance was the only pleading I argued before Judge Keller."
"Your Honor, she should be held accountable for her actions!"
"Calm down, Ms. Pratt. I'm denying Ms. Moran's motion. Nice try, though. Is there anything else you wish to add?"
"Yes, Your Honor," Evin flashed the judge a charming smile. Oh well, it was worth a shot. At least it riled up Harwood and Pratt. Gotta take life's little pleasures where you find 'em."While Ms. Pratt and Mr. Harwood certainly may have been more than a little annoyed given the circumstances under which those particular pleadings were filed, none of them were filed with the intent to harass them or their client. Each contained valid legal grounds and set forth good faith arguments that were based on existing law and statutes."
Pulling out two documents from the file on her lap, she continued. "The Motion for Continuance filed by Ms. Parker earlier in the case was based on the fact that a witness, Angela Battiste, could not be located. Judge Keller denied Ms. Parker's motion. We were able to locate Ms. Battiste in Lafayette the night before the hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment. Given the time frame, we were unable to secure either an affidavit or her appearance prior to the hearing. The second Motion for Continuance was a reasonable request for time to obtain same, since her testimony was crucial to the case. While the grounds may have been the same for both motions, the facts were different." Good try, Pinkie.
"With regard to the Motion to Dismiss and the Peremptory Exception of No Right of Action, we received conflicting information from bank representatives that it was not Hynes Refining Corporation, but Hynes Holding Corporation that had purchased the note from the bank. If Hynes Holding was the owner of the note, the proper party to have brought that action would have been Hynes Holding, not Hynes Refining. Again, given the fact that we discovered this information just before the hearing on the summary judgment motion, the time frame did not allow for any further investigation. We had no choice but to file the motions. If we hadn't, and the information had been true, we would not have done our jobs and our clients would have suffered. Through discovery, we have now found out that Hynes Refining was the party who purchased the note and we withdraw both the Motion to Dismiss and the Exception at this time."
"Ms. Pratt, I assume there are no objections to the motions being withdrawn."
"No, Your Honor, no objection."
"Let the record reflect that the Motion to Dismiss and the Peremptory Exception of No Cause of Action filed by defense counsel are withdrawn. Ms. Moran, do you have anything else?"
"Each of the pleadings clearly sets forth the grounds for filing of same and the supporting good faith legal arguments, all of which are based on existing law. Prevailing at a hearing is not a prerequisite. Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions should be denied."
Judge Dupuy rubbed his chin as he looked down at the file on his desk. "I've thoroughly reviewed the record in this case. The pleadings, on their face, demonstrate sound legal grounds for defense to have filed these motions. Ms. Moran's right. Prevailing is not a prerequisite. I'm going to deny the Motion for Sanctions." He looked up at all the attorneys seated in front of him. "I don't know what kind of circus this case was in Judge Keller's court, but this is what's going to happen in my court. You will remember that you are all officers of the court, and as such will act in a manner that is befitting same. I won't tolerate any of the shenanigans that went on previously. As I see it, since Ms. Moran withdrew the other motions, there's only one left and that's the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by plaintiffs. Is there any outstanding discovery?"
"No, Your Honor," Evin answered.
"Does either party anticipate filing any other motions or pleadings?"
Harwood answered, "No."
"We will file supplemental affidavits, Your Honor," Evin offered.
"This is what we're going to do. We're going to set that motion for hearing then we'll proceed to trial on this matter, assuming defense prevails. Take out your calendars and let's pick a date."
A shuffle of chairs and briefcases ensued while everyone reached for their calendars in order to pick a date. Sydney felt her stomach lurch as she realized that it was all about to come to a head. The war was about to begin.