Adventure Crime Drama

I am godless, but I still pray just in case. Every time I walk into a courtroom, I am afraid I’ll be found out to be the fraud I really am. But I am the genuine article baby. 

The second I appear on the record, the man I am fades into the background and a much better man shows up. I don’t know much about him. But he is a force of nature. And he is the only reliable thing in my life.

So, when John McArthur asked me to show him how it was done, I honestly didn’t have anything for him. I just said, “You want to know how it’s done, kid. You want to see how the sausage is made. Come with me."

Judge Almeida’s courtroom is a tornado of activity. Public defenders call out the names of their clients from the well of the court. The assistant prosecutors sit at the lefthand table or in the jury box. Sheriff’s officers and clerks walk back and forth exchanging papers and a few short words. We all stand as Judge Almeida enters from his chambers at the far righthand side of the courtroom. A bailiff bangs three times on the door to signal the Judge is coming out and says, “All rise.”

Judge Almeida sees me and says, “James Osman Leary, what have you got on the calendar for today?”

“Cassandra Sanchez,” I say.

“Prisoner?” he asks.

“Yes Judge,” I say.

“Paul,” he says to my favorite sheriff’s officer, “are the female inmates up yet.” Paul nods, and the Judge says, “Bring her out.”

The Judge calls the docket number for the case and then says, “Mr. Prosecutor, what are we doing here today, arraignment? Plea?”

“Your honor,” I say, “If I may, James O. Leary, on behalf of Cassandra Sanchez, standing to my right. We waive a reading of the indictment, enter a plea of not guilty on all counts, and we’d like to move to dismiss the case for lack of probable cause.”

“Mr. Prosecutor,” Judge Almeida says, “What is the State’s position?” 

“Umm,” the frumpy, disheveled female prosecutor says, shuffling papers. “State would, uhh, point Your Honor to the Arrest Report for a demonstration of probable cause. This woman beat her daughter within an inch of her life [That’s a bit rich]… uhh, and choked her on another occasion [Oh, please, spoil the rod, ever hear of that—]”

“Please, Mr. Leary! Don’t interrupt Ms. Kosinski while she’s speaking,” the Judge says, with a wink. Then he says, “Very well, what is your argument for dismissal counselor?”

“Your honor, I read the statute. Just to be sure I had it correct—I re-read it three times. [Pointing to the statute book, open on the table before me]. New Jersey Statutes Title 2C, Section 12-1(3), of which Ms. Sanchez stands accused, says, and I quote: attempts by physical menace—there’s no allegation of physical menace here. Ms. Sanchez was simply disciplining her child, chasing her about the house with a mop handle—and a good thing she did. She had just found out that her thirteen-year-old daughter was dating an eighteen-year-old boy. Let’s not even get into what that implies or what the appropriate discipline there might be. Suffice it to say Judge—safe to say—I think—that if chasing your child around the house with a stick was a crime punishable by five years in State Prison—the two of us would have been raised by wolves. I can’t even tell you how many times my Mother—"

“—Point taken counselor. Point taken.”

Out in the hallway, I was a fraud again. With every step away from the counsel table, my confidence unraveled. John McArthur looked at me, eyes wide, seeing someone that simply did not exist.

I told John McArthur, “And that’s how it’s done. Now, before we go, we need to go in the back, and I need to say a few words to Ms. Sanchez.”

The two of us stroll back into the courtroom and I ask Paul, the sheriff’s officer, to let us into the back of the courtroom to the holding cells. I tell Paul, “Can Sheila come back with us, I need a Spanish translator.”

In the back, the floors are white tile, the walls are painted gray brick, and the steel cell doors of the holding cells are painted with the same gray paint. Paul looks on while we talk. The diminutive Spanish woman, Cassandra Sanchez, stands behind the bars looking out at me. Sheila translates as I tell her that it is going to be alright and I am going to get a plea deal from the State and get her out in two weeks, next time we are back in court. She holds out her hand through the bars, I clasp it in mine and say, “You did nothing wrong. I am going to get you out of this.”

She starts speaking in Spanish and says a few words to Sheila. Sheila turns to me and says, “She wants to know if you can get a message to her daughter.”

“Sure, I say,” a bit taken aback, as her daughter’s false allegations landed her here.

“She wants you to tell Linda that her mother loves her,” Sheila says.

“Anything else,” I ask Sheila, even more thrown by this message.

I see Cassandra shaking her head with tears in her eyes.

I repeat again, “You did nothing wrong. I am going to get you out of this.”

And then we are on our way.

But the truth of the matter is, we’ve all done plenty wrong. None of us are getting away with any of it. And we all pretty much deserve whatever we get.

* * *

John McArthur is a tall kid. Maybe 6’4”. And I am 5’5” all day long. But I stand as tall as a giant, and he has the posture of a field mouse. It is a weird thing. He is a clean-cut kid. Has an innocent look to him. Honest. Principled. Rule follower. Still thinks the laws are just. Not cut out for this at all. Just hopeless. I can tell.

John is tearing into a turkey hoagie, salt and vinegar chips, and a diet Coke. He has no idea what is going on with me and doesn’t know I’m not eating this early because it’ll cut into all the amphetamines in my system—so I just nurse a diet Coke and steal a few of his chips. 

I could quite literally be the worst person he could possibly turn to as a mentor.

“So how do you know if you’d be an effective courtroom lawyer,” John asks.

“It’s just one thing,” I say.

“Which is?” he asks.

“It doesn’t make any sense just saying it—you wouldn’t understand,” I tell him.

“But what is it?” he asks.

“Take their place,” I say.

“I don’t get it,” John tells me.

“How could you,” I say.

“But explain it to me,” John says.

“Suffering. It’s like the Sistine Chapel. What do Michelangelo and a prostitute have in common?” I ask.


“They both do their best work on their back,” I say, slapping my knee. “Anyway, Michelangelo endured tremendous, agonizing pain to paint that ceiling—and yet it is a marvel of the modern world—to see it is to glimpse the divine. But I always ask myself, why’d he do it?”

“Why?” John asks.

“You’ll suffer for the thing that is true,” I tell him, “Because the gift runs the show when it’s real.”

“What does that mean? I mean, I have a gift for language, I like people, but I’ve got no idea what it is you’re talking about,” John says.

“If you have a gift and you are truly cursed, you’ll suffer for it—suffer for what’s true—whether you want to or not—you are just compelled to do it—until you can’t anymore. And if you don’t have it, it will make no sense to you—but, if you do have it—you’ll get it,” I tell him.

“Suffer for what’s true?” John asks again.

“You’ll suffer for the payoff. You’ll suffer because you know you can deliver something. And you are just as curious as everyone else how it’s going to turn out. You are along for the ride. You are in the hands of God. If it isn’t like that, my advice is don’t do it,” I say.

“I want you to teach me,” John says.

“Are you listening to what I’m telling you,” I say.

“I want you to teach me,” he says.

“Not a chance in hell kid, you gotta find somebody else,” I tell him.

“But you said it—you’re the one that suffers for the thing that is true,” John says.

“You got the wrong guy, kid. I’m just a fraud,” I tell him.

“I don’t think so,” he says.

* * *

Being on cocaine, for me, is kind of like delivering an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. “And the Oscar goes to…”. When you are on cocaine, you know it’s going to be you. Not even a question. 

Confidence on a morphine drip. And then you mix that with a little Adderall, or Addie, as I like to call her, and it is like standing in the middle of a library and you have perfect recall of every word on every page of every book. 

But the most addictive drug of all is the practice of law itself. Ever wonder what it’s like to have something everyone wants? To be the ‘hot girl’ in class or the ‘prom queen’? It’s kind of like that. 

Clients put their lives in your hands. Court appearances are attended with the pomp and circumstance of a presidential inauguration. The number of meetings, requests for meetings, and impromptu calls for emergencies is like a time machine where time is barreling forward relentlessly. You are in demand. You have the thing. You are the product.

I imagine it is a lot like working in a newsroom. Infinite deadlines. Only, we get the calls when someone has to decide whether to take the one that brought them into the world off life support, when a single mom is ready to part with their entire life savings to keep their ne’er-do-well kid out of jail, or when a politician is falling from grace and favor and will do anything to extend their run a bit longer—get just fifteen more minutes in the spotlight—enjoy for one more moment the presumption of innocence which, after all, no one really believes in anyway.

But if you want to know what the real drug is. It’s the forgiveness of sins. Jesus had it right. Forgiveness. Understanding. It’s literally the only thing anyone wants. The only real commodity any human soul can dish out. And no one can buy an ounce of it for all the money in Christendom.

* * *

It is all over the papers. Defense Attorney Steals $3MM From Client. Another one reads: Defense Attorney Turned Defendant, and another one says: Attorney Who Takes Drugs for Breakfast Violates Oath. And it’s all true.

Do you ever think about what it’s like to be the bad guy? To be guilty? In the deepest sense? If you are like all of my clients, you think you are the good guy. You were given a bum rap right from the beginning. The system is out to get you. Your options are limited. Excuses galore.

You don’t see yourself as the mayor of Witch City—the wickedest of them all—but you are. The problem for me is, I know I am too far gone to ever be redeemed. I am under no allusions about who is wearing the white hats and who is wearing the black ones. I know what’s what. I know that none of my good deeds will cover up a jot of the evil I’ve wrought. And I know for a fact that I won’t get away with any of it.

My secretary, Linda, who has been with me for twenty-three years looks like she just found out that George Washington was on board with genocide—which is a thing—but never mind about that. The look on her face quite literally breaks my heart.

* * *

“You ready to head to court?” I ask as John strolls in eating a sausage egg and cheese out of the wrapper.

“What do you mean?” John asks me. “Didn’t you see the papers?”

“I saw them,” I say.

“And you are still going to court today?” John asks.

“Might not be able to for much longer,” I tell him.

“But why?” John asks.

“Because I can. I can get Cassandra Sanchez off. Maybe five or ten others. It’s what I can do, so it’s what I’m going to do,” I tell him.

“You should be preparing your own defense, fighting the charges, not worrying about Cassandra Sanchez,” John says.

“There’s no point, kid. I’m guilty. That’s how this goes. When it’s time, I’ll plead out and turn in my law license,” I tell him.

“You can’t be—you have to fight,” he says.

“I most certainly can, and I am. Sorry to burst your bubble buddy boy, but a lot of your heroes are somebody else’s villains. That’s life,” I say.

* * *

We stand before Judge Almeida. Cassandra Sanchez stands to my right. Sheila, the translator, stands to her right.

“Ms. Sanchez, you do understand that if you plead guilty here today to… disturbing the peace, that you will be giving up your rights, including your right to a trial by jury, your right to be presumed innocent until the State proves that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, your right to confront the witnesses against you, your right to present evidence in your own defense, and your right to be judged by your peers?” Judge Almeida asks.

“I do,” Cassandra says, through the translator.

“Factual basis, counselor,” Judge Almeida says, looking at me.

“Ms. Sanchez, on April 23rd of 2023, did you in fact chase your daughter Linda around the house with a mop handle, disturbing the peace and frightening your daughter,” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

“Ms. Sanchez. Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty? [Yes]. And you do understand that if you come back later and tell me that your plea of guilty was in error because you did not, in fact, understand that you were admitting to these facts, I’m not likely to believe you. [Yes]. Alright then, then I will accept your plea of guilty,” Judge Almeida says.

“Thank you, your honor,” I say.

“I will now pronounce sentence, and Ms. Sanchez, I advise you to abide by the civil restraints imposed. But I will pronounce the sentence, finding aggravating factors 3, 6, and 9. But I also find mitigating factors 8, 9, and 10, that—and I paraphrase—the Defendant has learned her lesson and won’t do it again—and do not believe it is necessary to incarcerate Ms. Sanchez in order to deter further criminal conduct,” Judge Almeida says.

“Thank you, your honor,” I say.

“Ms. Sanchez, you have a very fine attorney, very fine. And you have him to thank. This is a serious aggravated assault charge, which also constitutes child abuse, which carries a minimum term of imprisonment, but for which you are walking out of this courtroom today a free woman. Your attorney has represented your interests well,” Judge Almeida says.

“Thank you, your honor,” I say. And I think that I won't get many more of these attaboys from a Judge when putting a plea on the record or concluding a sentencing hearing. My days are numbered. And can be counted on one hand.

“You are free to go,” Judge Almeida says and leaves the bench.

Cassandra looks at the translator, confused. Paul unlocks her handcuffs and hands her a bag of her belongings. Cassandra looks over at me, even more confused.

“Sheila, tell her she is free to go,” I say.

Cassandra understands and wraps her arms around me and gives me a huge hug, bursting out in tears. Smiling tears. The kind you only see at weddings and on those rare and magnificent occasions where someone who is as guilty as the day is long is forgiven their sins, and told their debt is paid in full.

It is quite a thing. To see someone who is innocent walk out of a courtroom. To go from slave to free, from prisoner to citizen, from accused to blameless. It is quite a thing to have the Judge announce your time is served. It is quite a thing to be free to go. But I am not. I have not even begun to serve my time.

I’m going to miss this part the most, I think, as I watch Cassandra Sanchez walk out of the courtroom a free woman.

September 28, 2023 05:23

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Zack Herman
23:39 Oct 07, 2023

I'm curious-are you familiar with Pastor John McArthur? Kind of interesting when a fictional figure shares a name with an actual person...


Jonathan Page
18:37 Oct 08, 2023

Zack, I am very familiar with Pastor John MacArthur. In fact, my best friend is a pastor who is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Ministry at the Master's Seminary and studying under him. I watch a lot of John MacArthur's sermons and have read some of his books, which I think are tremendous. But I wasn't thinking of John MacArthur for this character. I've run into a whole bunch of John MacArthur and John McArthur-named people in my travels. The one this character was based on was not a religious guy, but more of an innocent soul, someon...


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Zack Herman
23:37 Oct 07, 2023

I worked as a paralegal for five years. The senior partner in the firm was a member of the Character and Fitness Committee for the State Bar Association. This reminds me of some of the things he told me about during that time.


Jonathan Page
18:31 Oct 08, 2023

Thanks Zack. I actually knew a lawyer for many years, but not well, who I saw frequently in court, and ran into as recently as about a month ago, who we all knew as sort of a Giant of the criminal defense bar. He specialized in helping poor clients of lesser means and never really flourished or attained great financial success. He really seemed to have been an ethical guy but was exposed to some very bad people and situations in his travels. He was the kind of guy who had some dirt on him and you knew that he was not squeaky clean, but he ...


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Mary Bendickson
22:29 Sep 30, 2023

Knows a thing or two about both sides.


Jonathan Page
22:39 Sep 30, 2023

Thanks Mary!


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Hope Linter
01:59 Sep 29, 2023

I like this lawyer, sleazy, over confident and yet he has a lot of awareness. It sounds like you have several lawyer stories with this character.


Jonathan Page
22:15 Sep 30, 2023

Thanks Hope!


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