Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 20
I stand up to begin my questioning of Jed Marks but Jack Holt, Brian’s dad, hands me a sheet of paper. Even though he’s the supervising attorney for the trial, so far he’s let me handle the entire thing on my own.
I frown, wondering if he’s going to step in to do the big cross-examination, or if his interference means he no longer thinks I’ve been doing a good job, even though he’s been assuring me for the past week that everything has been going even more smoothly than he expected and that he’s very happy with my work.
“You’re doing great, Riley,” Mr. Holt assures me in a whisper. “But there was a sudden change in strategy and I’ve put together these questions to ask instead of the ones you prepared and we went over last week.”
Sudden change in strategy? When was there time for the managing partners to meet about this case between yesterday’s full-day trial session and this morning, and why? He put together new questions? Did he not like mine?
It makes no sense. We had painstakingly gone over my prepared questions until neither of us had any doubt that they were perfect. And now he’s handed me one sheet with questions for our witness and on the back questions for the opposing witness, and they’re completely different than those that we had planned out.
I’m not prepared; I haven’t had time to practice my direct questioning since I didn’t even have these questions until now. How could he sandbag me like this? And why?
As I quickly scan the questions, the answers become a little more clear, but not much. It appears that someone at my firm was given information about the other side’s case, and I doubt that it was done above board. There is no way we could know all of this information unless someone had discovered it unethically or had been provided the information unethically.
And the worst part is that the notes clearly indicate that our client was guilty of trading insider information. It looks to me as if someone at our firm is trying to sink our own client. The new information completely ruins our case in the civil lawsuit and means I’m not supposed to be questioning the client on the stand. I’m not allowed to let him lie, and if I know he’s lying, I’m supposed to withdraw my representation as his lawyer.
“Go on,” says Mr. Holt, impatiently, in a hissed whisper under his breath.
He actually wants me to do this. I’m not sure what’s happened but he wants me to be unethical in order to win this case. If I’m ethical, I’ll lose it.
And perhaps I’ve been set up the whole time. I’m the associate handling the trial so if I do the wrong thing, it’s my bar license on the line. On the other hand, Mr. Holt would still be responsible as my supervising attorney instructing me to be unethical. So I guess he just doesn’t care.
What did you think? I ask myself, while trying to decide what to do. That he built the richest law firm in the city by being some moral upstanding citizen?
I know deep in my gut that this behavior is probably par for the course for my law firm. This trial is likely some test or initiation, to see if I have what it takes to be partnership material.
I flash forward to the future in my mind and I see my father shaking his head disapprovingly at me, not for being unethical but for no longer having a job. And my mother’s face in tears, asking me what’s to become of all the money they spent to put me through law school. They thought my career was set, and now I’m fired, and they don’t even know or care why. They just can’t believe that their baby girl would disappoint them like this.
I clear my throat and ask the first question.
“Mr. Marks, have you ever traded insider information about your company’s stocks?”
“No, of course not,” is his quick answer from the witness stand, just as I’d expected.
But the paper I’m looking at tell me that he has. It also tells me a lot of damning information about the other side that I’m not sure how the firm got its hands on— but apparently the strategy is to deny, deny, deny while muddying up the waters with all the things the opposing side has done wrong that we somehow know about now.
I pause. This is where I’m supposed to recuse myself. I suddenly wonder if it’s a test in the opposite direction— maybe the firm wants to make sure I’m ethical? It’s a laughable thought but I don’t know which way is up anymore.
Mr. Holt reaches up and points a finger to the next question, angrily, as if he thinks I suddenly can’t read. But I just can’t do it. I can’t go through with this because even worse than having to look at my parents’ disapproving faces if I don’t would be having to look at my own face in the mirror every day if I do.
Hopefully this is a test in the right direction, but even if it isn’t, hopefully Mr. Holt will understand. He truly wouldn’t want an unethical associate or partner in his firm. And I will just have to convince him of that, once we are outside of court.
I take a deep breath and look from the unabashedly lying face of my client to the bored face of the judge beside him.
“Your Honor? May I approach the bench?”
“Certainly,” he says, looking relieved to have something to listen to besides allegations of stock market tampering.
But at the same time Mr. Holt says, “Your Honor, I need to have a word with my associate.”
“Well which is it? Does your firm want a bench conference or a recess?”
“No recess is necessary, Your Honor,” Mr. Holt. “I’ll proceed with the questions from here. Ms. Morrell isn’t feeling well, and will need to be excused from the direct examination she just started.”
“Fine, but no more last-minute switches,” says the Judge. “This isn’t a baseball game and you’re not a pinch hitter.”
I look at Mr. Holt in disbelief, but he motions to the exit of the courtroom, his eyes dismissive and annoyed. Just like that, I’ve been tossed out.
As I gather my briefcase and walk out, my client looking at me in confusion, Mr. Holt continues the line of questioning from the notes he had given me.
It definitely wasn’t a test of any kind, I realize. It was just business as normal. Somehow— most probably in an unethical way— Mr. Holt got his hands on this information and decided to use it to our client’s advantage.
He doesn’t care that the client is guilty of what the other side is accusing him of and he doesn’t care that he’s not supposed to let him lie under oath. He just needs to win the case, which is the end goal.
He was going to let me do it but since I wouldn’t, he stepped up. I begin to question how unethical the situation really is, and I remind myself that I have no idea who wrote those notes and that I personally don’t know that my client did anything wrong.
Why didn’t I just continue asking the questions? I didn’t have to get on some high horse and act like I knew he was lying.
Sometimes practicing law feels like an exercise in an ethics test. I’m supposed to zealously represent my client, but I’m not supposed to let him lie. I’m supposed to deal truthfully and with candor to the court, but not about anything that would prejudice my client’s case. And I suppose I should tell Jed Marks what exactly is going on, so that he knows his own firm may potentially sabotage his case.
But I don’t even know if I work there anymore. I don’t know if it’s still my firm, and it never really was. It belongs to my bigshot father-in-law, as my dad calls him. The same one who just put me to the test, and I failed. It must have been some test of loyalty to the firm. And I was not loyal enough.
With my head held low in shame, I exit the courtroom. I want to cry, but more than that I want to dig a hole in the ground and never come out. I’m so afraid I’ve just completely ruined my legal career, or at least my legal career as I know it. Just when everything was starting to go right in my life, everything has suddenly gone horribly wrong.
My feet grip hard metal and my hands pull me up faster, faster, to the top of the forty foot high training tower. I’m the first one to the top— as I should be, or I wouldn’t deserve this job— and as soon as I’m secure
“Trainees, you have less than a minute to get up here!” I yell down at the men clamoring to the top of the tower behind me.
Some of them make it but there are quite a few stragglers, arriving at the top winded and out of breath. The last one is obviously a bit overweight and I wonder how he didn’t already get weeded out.
“You! Trainee Garrison!” I yell at him, after looking at the name emblazoned on his uniform. “What makes you think you have what it takes to be a United States Air Force Pararescueman?”
“I… uh…” he stammers, panting, red and visibly embarrassed. “I passed the physical tests and…”
“That’s nothing, you sack of shit loser,” I shout at him, getting up in his face and daring him to push me away.
I think of all the times my buddies saved me and others while we were at war— and all the times I saved them— and I can’t imagine this portly pathetic excuse of a trainee doing anything like what we did. It’s better to kill any false hope that he has now, instead of stringing him along making him think he’s got a chance.
“And all the rest of you, listen up!” I shout, and everyone stands straight at attention, as if I’m their superior.
But I’m not. I’m something better. I’m a trainer working for a private contractor employed to teach these new recruits what I spent years learning and practicing as a pararescueman. The normal rules of the military don’t apply here, and for once I’m glad I’m no longer a part of it.
“If you didn’t clear this tower in time, there’s no way I’m letting you out on the rocks. Here you’re grasping cold, hard metal but in the real world it’s slippery and unpredictable terrain. There’s a rigorous test you’ll have to pass if you ever want to make it off this tower and onto the mountain. We don’t let just anyone do this.”
“Yes sir,” they mumble, most of them looking earnest and eager. But Tub of Lard just looks scared. I snarl at him and nearly spit in his face, trying my best to show him he doesn’t belong here, before he fails the test and gets sent home anyway.
“Do you understand, Trainee Garrison?” I yell into his face. “This is no place for stragglers. There is no room for you here.”
“Yes sir, Yes Trainor Bradford,” he huffs, looking as if he’s going to cry. Good, I hope he goes home to cry to his mommy and never comes back.
I look away from him with disgust and notice my new boss staring at me from the observation deck. I inwardly wince, prepared to be “talked to” about my “unpredictable and sometimes out of control” temper. But instead he gives me an approving nod.
Whew. I’d forgotten this isn’t the military. This is the private, civilian world. They like my “craziness” here. So I guess I’d better embrace my new circumstances.
“When you get down to the bottom, have a good think about whether or not you really have what it takes to be here. And that goes for all of you. I’m going home. You pussies aren’t worth my time.”
On my way home, I call my brother Ramsey. I took my car to work so that I could bring all the equipment I can’t load onto my motorcycle. But I sure wish I could be riding the open road right now instead of enclosed in a car. I always think better on my bike.
“What up, lil bro?” he asks, his strong, deep voice sounding knowing and reassuring. “How’s the world of the evil private enterprise treating you?”
Even though Ramsey is only my older brother by a little more than a year, he’s always been my rock.
“I can’t complain,” I tell him, and realize it’s true. “You know, I really wanted to stay in the unit with you and Harlow and all the guys. But my style of leadership is accepted here instead of punished. So I guess it was meant to be.”
“Well, you got out just in time,” Ramsey says, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. “There are rumors that you might get convicted of that assault charge, and that would have only lead to a dishonorable discharge.”
“I’m not going to be convicted.” I want to reach through the phone and punch him. How dare he lose faith in me?
My mind flashes back to when he advised me to get out of the military right away, after everything had gone down that lead to the assault charge. He said the timing was right: I was up to renew or leave, and no questions would be asked.
But if I stayed past the time I was charged with a civil crime, I would be investigated and likely dishonorably discharged. I guess my big brother just wants to gloat and say I told you so.
“I know you’re not going to be convicted,” he says. “Calm down, Mr. Hotshot. I’m just telling you, brother to brother, what the word on the street is, so that if you hear it through the grapevine, you’re not surprised. They said your best bet is to go with the old PTSD defense, but couldn’t that stain your career as well, since you’ve mentioned possibly wanting to join back up?”
There’s something almost inquisitive in his voice, as if he’s doing a research paper instead of talking to me as his brother. It’s not like Ramsey to be asking me questions. But I have no time to dwell on it, because I’m beginning to get impatient.
“I’m not going with the PTSD defense.”
“Jensen, I know why you did what you did. I think everything will turn out just fine. Justice has to be on your side.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” My tone is half serious, half sarcastic. “I’ve gotta go. There’s another call I have to make.”
“Okay.” His voice sounds a bit regretful, as if he doesn’t want me to hang up. I think about asking him how he’s doing, but that sounds like such a silly question. He’s Ramsey, always a steady eddy type of guy. I’m the loose cannon, not him.
“Let’s meet up for a beer later,” I say, anxious to get off the phone.
“Sure. Or whenever works best for you.”
I hang up and call the legal organization. It takes a minute for Tim to come to the phone and I’m about to honk my car horn at him, as if that would help speed things up. I just need to do right this second what I should have done a long time ago.
“Jensen?” he says, as soon as he picks up. “I’m sorry for the delay, I was meeting with…”
“That’s fine, Tim. I understand. I just wanted to let you know, I’m going to need another lawyer.”
“Another lawyer? I don’t understand. Dylan is the best we have, and he’s done such a good job preparing your case so far.”
“You and I can agree to disagree on that,” I tell him. “But I know my rights and I’m entitled to fire him if I want to, even though the organization is footing the bill. I’ll take someone different please.”
I’m willing to take my chances with a less than subpar lawyer. There’s no way I’m going to get the reputation of being “crazy” around the unit I spent the last decade serving with. There has to be some other lawyer who will listen to me about not wanting to go with the PTSD defense.
Will it be the newbie with the hot ass? I both hope that it is and it isn’t, at the same time. I don’t want some part- time over- achiever on my case. But I’d sure like to tap that and I don’t see how I’d have any other opportunity.
Tim sighs, as if I’m driving him crazy. I have the tendency to have that effect on people.
“All right, Jensen. I’ll see what I can do to get a new lawyer up to speed in time for your pre trial conference that’s only two days away at this point.”
His tone is clearly meant to signal how much I’m inconveniencing him. But I say a sincere “Thank you very much, Tim,” and hang up, ready to toss a dice on a lawyer that will take me seriously about not wanting to use a bullshit PTSD defense just because it’s “the thing to do” and not because it’s what’s best for my case or for me.
The normally comfortable conference room chair feels like a block of cold, unwelcoming ice under me. Mr. Holt clears his throat, breaking the awkward silence.
“Ms. Morrell, I believe you and I both know why we’re here.”<
I nod, too upset to say anything. I still can’t believe my dismal performance during trial has cost me the Marks case and apparently my job.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” he continues. “I think it would be wise of you to take a leave of absence, to figure out if you have what it takes to work at this firm. And for the firm to figure out if you’re the type of lawyer we want to continue to employ.”
Leave of absence. My heart speeds up upon hearing that phrase. That means a break. Not a permanent firing. Perhaps I still have a chance. I’m not sure whether this is a victory or a defeat. I guess it’s something in the middle.
But yet. Even being told to take a mandatory leave of absence is embarrassing. What will my parents think? I try desperately, stupidly, to save my once- lofty position at the firm.
“Mr. Holt, I’ve always received exemplary evaluations,” I begin, half knowing it’s foolish to think I can persuade him— that his mind isn’t already made up— but half not caring in my desperation. “My billable hours are off the charts, and I’ve been handling all my own cases for some time now.”
I stop, realizing I’ve opened the door to the perfect opportunity for him to point out that he entrusted me with a top client only for me to blow everything. But luckily he doesn’t say that. He says something arguably worse than that.
“Your evaluations also repeatedly say that you have trouble… shall we say… fitting in with the firm. That this may not be the right… culture… for you. And that your connections and outside activities leave something to be desired in terms of the firm’s interests and goals.”
“But I met with the director of the Veterans’ Legal Alliance, to volunteer to represent their clients and bolster my ties with the military community,” I protest.
“Riley,” he says, with a frown, dropping all pretense of formality. “That’s nice that you went and spoke with the guy. But nothing ever came of it. And sometimes there are situations where the term ‘too little, too late’ applies.”