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Being a Lawyer is "A punishing Way To Make A Living"

Posted by James Aspell | Dec 10, 2008 | 0 Comments

Norm's article struck me on so many levels. I paste it below verbatim for your reading.

Unsettling Phone Call From Panicky Client


I admire those lawyers who give out telephone numbers at which they can be reached both day and night. Me, I am unavailable after 7 p.m. There are no exceptions. This is a punishing way to make a living. Come sundown, I want to curl up with a good book, and then get some sleep.

So I was stunned the other night when my cell phone rang at the ungodly hour of 9 p.m. I worried that one of our three children was in trouble. I knew my wife wasn't calling; she lay beside me.

“Who could that be?" I asked, fumbling for the phone. Just a few weeks earlier, I had changed my cell phone number. Too many people had it. And too many were calling at all hours asking questions that demanded, in their view, immediate answers.

I knew this caller. She is a recent immigrant to the United States, just naturalized as a citizen. She and her husband are good people. They work hard, and hope sometime soon to start a family of their own.

She was frantic. The police had been to their home, a note from her husband said. He went to the station to talk to them. When she called the police station, officers said her husband was busy and could not talk. This had trouble written all over it.

I placed a call to the detective bureau.

“Yeah, he's here,” a surly sounding voice grumbled.

“I am his lawyer, and I want to talk to him.”

“He's busy right now. I'll pass that along,” the voice said.

“No,” I told him, “you'll do more than that. You will stop interviewing him now.” My wife put down the thriller she was reading, and was looking at me. This was real life. No need to turn a page to watch this.

I'm not sure what the cop said next, but I recall some bluster of mine that went like this: “It's now 9:10. The interview is over. If I find out it continued, I'll be wearing your badge next Halloween. Got it?”

A half hour later I still had not heard from the husband. I called the station back. A sergeant got on the phone. He apologized for Officer Charm, and I reciprocated: We both copped attitudes, I said.

The husband was to be charged with sexual assault on a minor. A warrant was about to be served. An interview had stopped an hour or so before I called. I wondered what pretext they used to hold the husband as the warrant was sought.

Not long afterward, he was arrested. His bond set at $150,000.

His wife went to pieces on the phone. At 10 p.m. I hear shrieks and sobbing. “What am I going to do? Help me, please help me.” I try to explain what a bond is, but I am not getting through. And then words that strike me like ice water. “But they are torturing him, I know it. You have to get him out of there.”

I am cynical about law enforcement. It is a product of 15 years litigating police misconduct cases. But the days of the rubber hose are long since past. I am not at all worried about this man's will being broken by violence.

But she is from South America. I try to imagine what assumptions she brings to a late-night detention at the police station. She wants to go to the station herself, to make her presence known, to be a witness against the state should they do violence to her man. I marvel at this response. Somehow, were my wife told in the dead of night I had been arrested for sexually assaulting a minor, I suspect I might need a jailer's bars for protection.

I had trouble getting to sleep. I know all the challenges this young family now faces. And I cannot shake the sound of desperate sobbing. When sleep comes, I am grateful for the measure of peace my wife and I share. It is fragile.

Norm Pattis is a criminal defense lawyer and civil rights attorney in Bethany.

About the Author

James Aspell

Principal since August 1, 2006 James F. Aspell is the principal and managing attorney of the firm which he started in 2006 following 20 years of litigation practice in a mid -size firm in Hartford, Connecticut. Jim focuses his practice in the areas of worker's compensation and personal injury l...


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