The litigators, p.19
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       The Litigators, p.19

           John Grisham
 

  to discuss the firm’s future, to plan everything, to greet new lawyers, to say good-bye to old ones, to stay current on the law, to mentor rookies, to get mentored by senior partners, to talk about compensation, labor issues, and an endless list of other incredibly boring topics. The Rogan Rothberg culture was nonstop work and nonstop billing, but there were so many useless meetings that the making of money was actually often impeded.

  With that in mind, David reluctantly suggested his new firm have a meeting. He’d been there four months and had settled into a comfortable routine. He was worried, though, about the lack of civility and communication among the other members of the firm. The Krayoxx litigation was dragging on. Wally’s dreams of a quick jackpot were fading, and revenue was down. Oscar was increasingly more irritable, if that was possible. In gossiping with Rochelle, David learned that the partners never sat around the table to think strategically and to air complaints.

  Oscar said he was too busy. Wally said such a meeting was a waste. Rochelle thought the idea was awful until she realized she would be invited, then she became enamored with the idea. As the only non-lawyer employee, she thought the idea of being allowed a soapbox was appealing. With time, David was able to cajole the senior and junior partners, and Finley & Figg scheduled its inaugural firm meeting.

  They waited until 5:00 p.m., then locked the front door and put the phones on hold. After a few awkward moments, David said, “Oscar, as the senior partner, I think you should run the meeting.”

  “What do you want to talk about?” Oscar shot back.

  “Glad you asked,” David said as he quickly passed around an agenda. Number 1: Fee Schedule. Number 2: Case Review. Number 3: Filing. Number 4: Specialization.

  “This is just a suggestion,” David said. “Frankly, I don’t care what we talk about, but it’s important for each of us to be able to unload.”

  “You spent too much time in a big firm,” Oscar said.

  “So what’s bugging you?” Wally asked David.

  “Nothing’s bugging me. It’s just that I think we could do a better job of keeping our fees uniform and reviewing each other’s cases. The filing system is twenty years out of date, and as a firm we’re not going to make money if we don’t specialize.”

  “Well, speaking of money,” Oscar said, picking up a notepad. “Since we filed these Krayoxx cases, our gross has declined for three straight months. We’re spending far too much time on those cases, and our cash is getting low. That’s what’s bugging me.” He was staring at Wally.

  “The payoff’s coming,” Wally said.

  “That’s what you keep saying.”

  “We’ll settle the Groomer car wreck next month and net around twenty grand. It’s not unusual to go through a dry period, Oscar. Hell, you’ve been doing this a long time. You know the ups and downs. Last year we lost money nine months outta twelve, and we still showed a nice profit.”

  There was a loud knock on the front door. Wally jumped to his feet and said, “Oh no, it’s DeeAnna. Sorry, guys, I told her to take the day off.” He raced to the door and opened it. She made her entrance—skintight black leather pants, hooker’s heels, tight cotton sweater. Wally said, “Hey, honey, we’re having a little meeting. What say you wait in my office?”

  “How long?” she asked.

  “Not long.”

  DeeAnna smiled like a tart at Oscar and David as she strutted by. Wally led her to his office and closed her inside. He sat down at the table, slightly embarrassed.

  “Know what’s bugging me?” Rochelle asked. “Her.” She nodded toward Wally’s office. “Why does she have to stop by every afternoon?”

  “You used to see clients after five,” Oscar jumped in. “Now you’re just locked in there with her.”

  “She’s not bothering anyone,” Wally said. “And not so loud.”

  “She bothers me,” Rochelle said.

  Wally raised both palms, arched his eyebrows, and was instantly ready for a brawl. “Look, she and I are getting serious, and it’s none of your business. Got that? I’m not going to discuss it further.”

  There was a pause as everyone took a breath, then Oscar launched another round. “I suppose you’ve told her about Krayoxx and the big settlement that’s just around the corner, so it’s not surprising she’s hanging around. Right?”

  “I don’t talk about your women, Oscar,” Wally fired back. Women? More than one? Rochelle’s eyes widened, and David remembered all the good reasons for hating firm meetings. Oscar glared at Wally in disbelief for several seconds. Both men appeared stunned at their exchange.

  “Let’s move along,” David said. “I’d like permission to study our fee structure and attempt to come up with a proposed schedule that will aim for uniformity. Any objections?”

  There were none.

  On a roll, David quickly passed around some sheets of paper. “This is a case I’ve stumbled across, and it has great potential.”

  “Nasty Teeth?” Oscar said, looking at a color photo of the collection.

  “Yep. The client is a five-year-old boy in a coma from lead poisoning. His father purchased this set of teeth and fangs last Halloween, and the kid kept them in his mouth for hours. The various paint colors are loaded with lead. Page 3 is a preliminary report from a lab in Akron where one Dr. Biff Sandroni examined the teeth. His conclusion is at the bottom—all six sets of plastic teeth are coated with lead. Dr. Sandroni is an expert on lead poisoning, and he says this is one of the worst products he’s come across in the last twenty-five years. He thinks the teeth were probably made in China and imported by one of the many low-end toy companies here in the States. Chinese factories have a terrible history of coating a million different products with lead paint. The Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Consumer Protection scream and order recalls, but it’s impossible to monitor everything.”

  Rochelle, looking at the same handout as Oscar and Wally, said, “That poor child. Is he gonna make it?”

  “The doctors think not. There’s substantial damage to his brain, nervous system, and many of his organs. If he lives, he’ll be a very sad sight.”

  “Who’s the manufacturer?” Wally asked.

  “That’s the big question. I’ve been unable to find another set of Nasty Teeth in Chicago, and Helen and I have been poking around for a month. Nothing online. Nothing in suppliers’ catalogs. So far, no clue. It’s possible that the product shows up at Halloween only. The family did not keep the package.”

  “There must be similar products,” Wally said. “I mean, if the company makes crap like this, then surely it makes crap like fake mustaches and such.”

  “That’s my theory. I’m accumulating a nice collection of similar items, and I’m researching the importers and manufacturers.”

  “Who paid for this report?” Oscar asked, suspiciously.

  “I did. Twenty-five hundred bucks.”

  This caused a gap in the conversation as all four looked at the report. Finally, Oscar asked, “Have the parents signed a contract with our firm?”

  “No. They’ve signed a contract with me so I could get the medical records and begin the investigation. They’ll sign one with the firm if I ask them to. The question is simply this: Does Finley & Figg take this case? If the answer is yes, then we need to spend some money.”

  “How much?” Oscar asked.

  “The next step is to hire Sandroni’s outfit to go into the apartment where the boy and his family live and look for lead. It could be in other toys, paint on the walls that’s chipping, even in the drinking water. I’ve been to the apartment, and it’s at least fifty years old. Sandroni needs to isolate the source of the lead. He’s fairly confident we have the source, but he wants to exclude everything else.”

  “And how much does that cost?” Oscar asked.

  “Twenty thousand.”

  Oscar’s jaw dropped, and he shook his head. Wally whistled and scattered the sheets of paper. Only Rochelle was hanging on, and she really didn’t
have a vote when the issue was spending money.

  “With no defendant, there’s no lawsuit,” Oscar said. “Why burn cash investigating this when you don’t know who to sue?”

  “I’ll find the manufacturer,” David said.

  “Great, and when you do, then we have ourselves a lawsuit, maybe.”

  The door to Wally’s office rattled, then opened. DeeAnna took a step out and said, “Wally, how much longer, baby?”

  “Just a few minutes,” Wally said. “We’re almost finished here.”

  “But I’m tired of waiting.”

  “Okay, okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” She slammed the door and the walls shook.

  “I guess she’s now running the firm meeting,” Rochelle observed.

  “Knock it off,” Wally said to Rochelle, then to David he continued: “I like this case, David, I really do. But with the Krayoxx litigation in full swing, we can’t commit to spending big money on another case. I say you put this on hold, maybe keep looking for the importer, and after we settle Krayoxx, we’ll be in a great position to pick and choose. You’ve got this family signed up. This kid ain’t going anywhere. Let’s keep it on a leash and crank it up next year.”

  David was in no position to argue. Both partners had said no. Rochelle would say yes if she had a vote, but she was losing interest. “Fair enough,” David said. “Then I would like to pursue it myself, in my spare time, with my own money, and under the protection of my own malpractice policy.”

  “You have your own policy?” Oscar asked.

  “No, but I’ll get one easy enough.”

  “What about the twenty grand?” Wally asked. “According to the financials here, you’ve grossed less than $5,000 in the last four months.”

  “True, but each month has exceeded the prior one. Plus, I have a little cash in the bank. I’m willing to roll the dice and try to help this little boy.”

  “It’s not about helping a little boy,” Oscar shot back. “It’s about financing the lawsuit. I agree with Wally. Why not put it off for a year?”

  “Because I don’t want to,” David replied. “This family needs help now.”

  Wally shrugged and said, “Then go for it. I have no objections.”

  “Fine with me,” Oscar said. “But I want to see an increase in your monthly gross.”

  “You’ll see one.”

  Wally’s door opened again, and DeeAnna stormed out. She stomped across the room, hissed the word “Bastard!” under her breath, then yanked open the front door, snarled “Don’t call me!” in the general direction of the table, and shook the walls again when she slammed the door behind her.

  “She has a temper,” Wally observed.

  “What a class act,” Rochelle said softly.

  “You can’t be getting serious with her, Wally,” Oscar said, almost pleading.

  “She falls under the category of my business and not yours,” Wally said. “Anything left on the agenda? I’m tired of this meeting.”

  “Nothing else from me,” David said.

  “Meeting adjourned,” the senior partner announced.

  CHAPTER 23

  The great Jerry Alisandros finally made his appearance on the Chicago stage of his grand war against Varrick, and his arrival was impressive. First, he landed in the Gulfstream G650 that Wally was still dreaming of. Second, he brought with him an entourage that rivaled the one that surrounded Nadine Karros when she went to court. With Zell & Potter front and center, the playing field seemed level. Third, he had the skill, experience, and national reputation one would never find at Finley & Figg.

  Oscar skipped the hearing because he wasn’t needed. Wally couldn’t wait to get there so he could strut in with his stud co-counsel. David tagged along out of curiosity.

  Nadine Karros, her team, and her client had selected Iris Klopeck as their guinea pig, though neither her attorneys nor Iris herself had the slightest whiff of the master scheme. Varrick had filed a motion to separate the plaintiffs’ cases, to make eight different lawsuits out of one, and to keep the litigation in Chicago instead of having it lumped with thousands of other cases in the brand-new multi-district litigation in southern Florida. The plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed these motions strenuously. Thick briefs had been swapped. The mood was tense when the squads of lawyers gathered in Judge Seawright’s courtroom.

  As they waited, a clerk came forth and announced that the judge was delayed by some urgent matter but should be out in half an hour. David was loitering near the plaintiffs’ table, chatting with a Zell & Potter associate, when a defense lawyer slid over for a contrived hello. David vaguely recognized him from somewhere in the halls of Rogan Rothberg, but he had tried hard to forget those people. “I’m Taylor Barkley,” the guy said on top of a quick handshake. “Harvard, two years ahead of you.”

  “A pleasure,” David said, then introduced Barkley to the Zell & Potter lawyer he had just met. For a few minutes they chatted about the Cubs and the weather and finally got around to the issue at hand. Barkley claimed to be working around the clock as Rogan was getting slammed with Krayoxx work. David had lived that life, and survived it, and he had no desire to hear it again.

  “Should be a hell of a trial,” David said to fill in a gap.

  Barkley snorted as if he had the inside scoop. “What trial?” he said. “These cases will never get near a jury. You know that, don’t you?” he asked, looking at the Zell & Potter associate.

  Barkley continued, half under his breath because the place was crawling with wired lawyers. “We’ll defend like hell for a while, pad the file, rack up some obscene fees, then advise our dear client to settle. You’ll figure out this game, Zinc. If you stay in it long enough.”

  “I’m catching on,” David said, watching every word. He and the Zell & Potter associate were both on their heels, absorbing but not believing.

  “For what it’s worth,” Barkley said, in a whisper, “you’re almost a legend around Rogan these days. A guy with the balls to walk away, go find an easier job, now sitting on a pile of cases that are a gold mine. We’re still slaving away by the hour.”

  David just nodded, hoping he would go away.

  The courtroom deputy suddenly came to life and ordered everyone to stand. Judge Seawright swept in from behind the bench and ordered everyone to sit. “Good morning,” he said into his mike as he arranged his papers. “We have a lot of ground to cover in the next two hours, and, as always, brevity with words will be appreciated. I am monitoring discovery, and it appears as though things are proceeding on course. Mr. Alisandros, do you have any complaints about discovery?”

  Jerry stood proudly because everyone was watching. He had long gray hair swept back over his ears and bunched around his neck. His skin was well tanned, and his custom-tailored suit hung perfectly on his lean frame. “No sir, Your Honor, not at this time. And I am delighted to be in your courtroom.”

  “Welcome to Chicago. Ms. Karros, do you have any complaints with discovery?”

  She stood, in her light gray silk and linen dress, V-neck, Empire waist, tight down the slender legs, long below the knee, with black platform pumps, and all eyes feasted upon her. David was looking forward to the trial just to watch the fashion show. Wally was drooling.

  “Your Honor, we exchanged lists of experts this morning, so everything is in order,” she said, her voice rich, her diction perfect.

  “Very well,” Seawright said. “That leads to the biggest issue of the day—that of where these cases will be tried. The plaintiffs have filed a motion to move all the cases, to join the multi-district litigation in federal court in Miami. The defendant objects, and not only prefers to keep the cases here in Chicago, but also to separate them, try them one at a time, beginning with the estate of one Percy Klopeck, now deceased. These issues have been thoroughly and exhaustively briefed. I’ve read every word. At this point, I’ll allow remarks by both sides, beginning with the attorneys for the plaintiffs.”

  Jerry Alisandros walked with his notes to
a small podium in the center of the courtroom, directly in front of and several feet below Judge Seawright. He carefully arranged his papers, cleared his throat, and began with the typical “If it pleases the court.”

  For Wally, it was the most exciting moment in his career. To think he, a hustler from the Southwest Side, was sitting in federal court watching great lawyers do battle over cases he had found and filed, cases he was responsible for, cases he had created—it was almost too much to behold. As he suppressed a grin, he felt even better when he touched his midsection and slid a finger under his belt. Down fifteen pounds. Sober for 195 days. The lost weight and clear head were no doubt linked to the indescribable fun he and DeeAnna were having in bed. He was eating Viagra, driving a new convertible Jaguar (new to him but slightly used and financed over sixty months), and feeling twenty years younger. As he buzzed around Chicago with the top down, he dreamed endlessly of his Krayoxx money and the glorious life ahead. He and DeeAnna would travel and lie on beaches, and he would work only when necessary. He had already decided that he would specialize in mass torts, forget the humdrum of the street, the cheap divorces and drunk drivers, and go for the big money. He was certain he and Oscar would split. Frankly, after twenty years, it was time. Though he loved him like a brother, Oscar had no ambition, no vision, no real desire to step up his game. He and Oscar had already had a conversation about how to hide their Krayoxx money so his wife would see little of it. Oscar would go through a bad divorce, and Wally would be there to support him, but when it was over, the
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