The litigators, p.32
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       The Litigators, p.32

           John Grisham
 

  “How many attorneys are on the other side?” she asked.

  “I don’t know, too many to count. At least six, with another row of paralegals packed behind them.”

  “And you’ll be alone at your table?”

  “That’s the scenario.”

  She chewed on a bite of pasta, then said, “Does anyone check the credentials of the paralegals?”

  “I don’t think so. Why?”

  “Just thinking. Maybe I should be a paralegal for the next few days. I’ve always wanted to watch a trial.”

  David laughed for the first time in hours. “Come on, Helen. I’m not sure I want you, or anyone else, to witness the slaughter.”

  “What would the judge say if I showed up with a briefcase and a legal pad and started taking notes?”

  “At this point, I think Judge Seawright would cut me a lot of slack.”

  “I can get my sister to keep Emma.”

  David laughed again, but the idea was gaining momentum. What was there to lose? It could well be the first and last trial of his career as a litigator, why not have a little fun? “I like it,” he said.

  “Did you say there are seven men on the jury?”

  “Yes.”

  “Short skirt, or long?”

  “Not too short.”

  CHAPTER 41

  The Hung Juror blogged on: “A brief day in the Klopeck-Krayoxx trial as the dream team had trouble getting itself together. Word on the street is that the lead lawyer, the Honorable Wallis T. Figg, failed to answer the bell, and his rookie sidekick was sent to look for him. Figg wasn’t seen in the courtroom just before 9:00 a.m. Judge Seawright sent the jury home with instructions to return this morning. Repeated calls to the Finley & Figg office went straight to voice mail; none returned by the staff, if the firm does indeed have a staff. Wonder if Figg is on a bender? Fair question in light of the fact that he’s had at least two DUIs in the past twelve years, the last one a year ago. My records show that Figg has been married and divorced four times. I tracked down wife number 2, and she recalled that Wally’s always battled the bottle. When contacted at her home yesterday, the plaintiff, Iris Klopeck, who is still allegedly too sick to come to court, replied, ‘I’m not surprised,’ when told that her lawyer had failed to show. Then she hung up. Noted legal malpractice lawyer Bart Shaw has been seen sneaking around the courtroom—rumor is that Shaw might pick up the pieces of the Krayoxx mess and go after Finley & Figg for botching the cases. So far, the Klopeck case has not been botched, in theory. The jury has not decided. Stay tuned.”

  David scanned other blogs as he ate a granola bar at his desk and waited for Wally, though he really didn’t expect him. No one had heard a word—Oscar, Rochelle, DeeAnna, a couple of lawyer buddies from his former poker club. Oscar had called a pal at the police station for an informal inquiry, though neither he nor David suspected foul play. According to Rochelle, Wally once disappeared for a week without a peep, then called Oscar from a motel in Green Bay, pickled. David was getting a lot of Wally the Drunk stories, and he found them odd because he had known only the sober Wally.

  Rochelle arrived early and climbed the stairs, something she rarely did. She was concerned about David and offered to help in any way. He thanked her and began packing files in his briefcase. She fed AC, got her yogurt, and was arranging her desk when she looked at her e-mails. “David!” she yelled.

  It was from Wally, dated October 26, 5:10 a.m., sent from his iPhone: “RG: Hey, I’m alive. Don’t call the police and don’t pay the ransom. WF.”

  “Thank heavens,” Rochelle said. “He’s okay.”

  “He doesn’t say he’s okay. He just says he’s alive. I suppose that’s a good thing.”

  “What does he mean by ‘ransom’?” she wondered.

  “Probably his effort to be funny. Ha-ha.”

  David called Wally’s cell phone three times as he drove downtown. His voice mail was full.

  In a room filled with somber men in dark suits, a beautiful woman attracts far more attention than she would by simply walking down a busy street. Nadine Karros had used her looks like a weapon as she had risen to the top of the elite courtroom advocates in the Chicago area. On Wednesday, she had some competition.

  Finley & Figg’s new paralegal arrived at 8:45 and, as planned, went straight to Ms. Karros and introduced herself as Helen Hancock (maiden name), one of the part-time paralegals at Finley & Figg. Then she introduced herself to several of the other defense lawyers, causing all of them to stop whatever they were working on, stand awkwardly, shake hands, smile, and be nice. At five feet eight inches and wearing four-inch heels, Helen was a few inches taller than Nadine, and she looked down on some of the others as well. With her hazel eyes and chic designer frames, not to mention the slender figure and skirt six inches above the knees, Helen succeeded in slightly disrupting the pregame rituals, if only for a moment. The spectators, almost all men, looked her over. Her husband, who was ignoring all of this, pointed to a chair behind his and said in a lawyerly fashion, “Get me those files.” Then, in a lower voice, he said, “You look spectacular, but don’t smile at me.”

  “Yes, boss,” she said, unfastening a briefcase, one of several in his collection.

  “Thanks for coming.”

  An hour earlier, from his desk, David had e-mailed Judge Seawright and Nadine Karros with the news that Mr. Figg had been heard from but would not be in court. They did not know where he was or when they might actually see him. For all David knew, Wally could be back in Green Bay, in a motel, comatose and pickled, though he kept this to himself.

  Dr. Igor Borzov was reintroduced to the proceedings and took the stand with the look of a leper about to be stoned. Judge Seawright said, “You may cross-examine, Ms. Karros.”

  She walked to the podium in another killer outfit—a lavender knit dress that fit snug and did an outstanding job of showcasing her shapely and quite firm backside, and a thick brown leather belt that was pulled tight to announce “Yes, I’m in a size 4.” She began by offering the expert a lovely smile and asking him to speak slowly because she had trouble understanding on Monday. Borzov mumbled incoherently in return.

  With so many obvious targets, it was impossible to predict where she might attack first. David had been unable to prepare Borzov, not that he wanted to spend another minute with the man.

  “Dr. Borzov, when was the last time you treated a patient of your own?”

  He had to think for a moment and eventually said, “About ten year.” This led to a series of questions about what, exactly, he had been doing for the past ten years. He had not been seeing patients, nor teaching, nor researching, nor doing all the things one would expect a doctor to do. Finally, when she had excluded virtually everything, she asked: “Isn’t it true, Dr. Borzov, that for the past ten years you have worked exclusively for various trial lawyers?” Borzov squirmed a bit. He wasn’t so sure about that.

  Nadine was. She had the facts, all gleaned from a deposition given by Borzov in another case one year earlier. Armed with the details, she took him by the hand and led him down the path of destruction. Year by year, she went through the lawsuits, the screenings, the drugs, and the lawyers, and when she finished an hour later, it was clear to everyone in the courtroom that Igor Borzov was nothing but a rubber-stamper for the mass tort bar.

  On her legal pad, the paralegal slipped David a note: “Where did you find this guy?”

  David wrote back: “Impressive, huh? And his fee is only $75,000.”

  “Paid by whom?”

  “You don’t want to know.”

  Evidently, the hot seat affected his diction, or perhaps Borzov did not wish to be understood. At any rate, he became increasingly more difficult to understand. Nadine kept her cool, so much so that David seriously doubted if she ever lost it. He was watching a master, and he was taking notes, not to help resuscitate his witness, but on effective cross-examination techniques.

  The jurors could not have cared less. They were gone
, checked out, already waiting for the next witness. Nadine sensed this and began culling her list of problem areas. At 11:00 a.m., Judge Seawright needed a potty break and called a twenty-minute recess. When the jury left the courtroom, Borzov approached David and asked, “How much longer?”

  “I have no idea,” David replied. The doctor was sweating and breathing heavy; his armpits were wet. Too bad, David wanted to say. At least you’re getting paid.

  During the recess, Nadine Karros and her team made the tactical decision to stay away from a replaying of Percy’s echocardiogram. With Borzov bloodied and on the ropes, the echo might allow him to regain some footing since he could once again lose the jury with medical jargon. After the recess, when Borzov slowly returned to the witness chair, she began chipping away at his education, with a heavy emphasis on the differences between med school here and med school in Russia. She went through a list of courses and lectures, standard here but unheard-of “over there.” She knew the answer to every question she asked, and Borzov, by now, knew this. He became increasingly more hesitant to give a response directly, knowing that any discrepancy, however slight, would be pounced upon, dissected, and slung back at him.

  She hammered away at his training and managed to trip him a few times. By noon, the jurors, those still watching the mayhem, had the clear impression of a doctor they wouldn’t trust to prescribe lip balm.

  Why had he never written any papers? He claimed there had been some in Russia but was forced to admit they had not been translated. Why had he never taught or joined a faculty? The classroom bored him, he tried to explain, though it was painful to imagine Borzov attempting to communicate with a group of students.

  During lunch, David and his paralegal hustled out of the building and went to a deli around the corner. Helen was fascinated by the proceedings but still stunned by Dr. Borzov’s pathetic showing. “Just for the record,” she said over a spring salad, “if we ever reach the point of a divorce, I’m hiring Nadine.”

  “Oh, really. Well, then, I’ll be forced to hire Wally Figg, if I can keep him sober.”

  “You’re toast.”

  “Forget the divorce, baby, you’re too cute and you have great potential as a courtroom paralegal.”

  Helen grew serious and said, “Look, I realize you have a lot on your mind right now, but you must be thinking about the future. You can’t stay at Finley & Figg. What if Oscar can’t come back? What if Wally can’t kick the booze? And assuming they can, why would you want to stay there?”

  “I don’t know. I haven’t had much time to think about it.” He had shielded her from the twin nightmares of the Rule 11 sanctions and the potential malpractice cases, and he had decided not to tell her about the $200,000 line of credit he had guaranteed along with the two partners. Leaving the firm in the near future was not likely.

  “Let’s talk about it later,” he said.

  “I’m sorry. It’s just that I think you can do so much better, that’s all.”

  “Thank you, dear. What—you’re not impressed with my courtroom skills?”

  “You’re brilliant, but I suspect one big trial might be enough for you.”

  “By the way, Nadine Karros doesn’t do divorces.”

  “Then that settles it. I guess I’ll just tough it out.”

  At 1:30, Borzov tottered to the witness stand for the last time, and Nadine began her final assault. Since he was a cardiologist who didn’t treat patients, it was safe to assume he never treated Percy Klopeck. True, plus Mr. Klopeck had been dead a long time before Borzov was hired as an expert. But surely he had consulted the doctors who did treat him. No, Borzov admitted, he had not. Feigning disbelief, she began hammering away at this incredible oversight. His responses grew slower, his voice weaker, his Russian thicker, until finally, at 2:45, Borzov pulled a white handkerchief from a coat pocket and began waving it.

  Such drama was not contemplated by the wise folks who wrote the rules of federal trial procedure, and David was uncertain about what he should do. He stood and said, “Your Honor, I think this witness has had enough.”

  “Dr. Borzov, are you okay?” Judge Seawright asked. The answer was obvious.

  The witness shook his head no.

  “Nothing further, Your Honor,” Ms. Karros announced and left the podium, another impressive annihilation under her belt.

  “Any redirect, Mr. Zinc?” the Judge asked.

  The last thing David wanted to do was to try to revive a dead witness. “No sir,” he said quickly.

  “Dr. Borzov, you’re excused.”

  He staggered away with the aid of a bailiff, $75,000 richer but with another black mark on his résumé. Judge Seawright recessed court until 3:30.

  Dr. Herbert Threadgill was a pharmacologist of dubious reputation. He, like Borzov, was spending the waning days of his career living the easy life, away from the rigors of real medicine, doing nothing but testifying for lawyers who needed his notoriously pliant opinions to fit their version of the facts. The paths of both professional testifiers crossed occasionally, and they knew each other well. Threadgill had been reluctant to sign on for the Klopeck case for three reasons: the facts were lousy; the case was weak; and he had no desire to face Nadine Karros in a courtroom. He had finally said yes for only one reason—$50,000 plus expenses, for only a few hours of work.

  During the recess, he saw Dr. Borzov outside the courtroom and was appalled at his appearance. “Don’t do it,” Borzov said as he shuffled toward the elevators. Threadgill hurried to the men’s room, splashed some water in his face, and decided to flee. Screw the case. Screw the lawyers, they were not major players anyway. He had been paid in full, and if they threatened to sue, he might consider returning a portion of his fee, or not. He would be on an airplane in an hour. In three hours he would be having a drink with his wife on the patio. He wasn’t committing a crime. He was under no subpoena. If necessary, he would never return to Chicago.

  At 4:00 p.m., David returned to the judge’s chambers and said, “Well, Judge, looks like we’ve lost another one. I can’t find Dr. Threadgill, and he won’t answer his phone.”

  “When did you last speak to him?”

  “During lunch. He was all set, or at least he said so.”

  “Do you have another witness, one who is here and has not gotten lost?”

  “Yes sir, my economist, Dr. Kanya Meade.”

  “Then put her on, and we’ll see if the lost sheep somehow find their way home.”

  Percy Klopeck worked for twenty-two years as a dispatcher for a freight company. It was a sedentary job, and Percy did nothing to break the monotony of sitting in a chair for eight straight hours. Non-union, he was earning $44,000 a year when he died and could have reasonably expected to work for seventeen more years.

  Dr. Kanya Meade was a young economist at the University of Chicago, and she moonlighted occasionally as a consultant to pick up a few bucks—$15,000 in the Klopeck case. The math was straightforward: $44,000 a year for seventeen years, plus anticipated annual increases based on the historical trend, plus a retirement based on a fifteen-year life expectancy beyond the age of sixty-five, at 70 percent of his highest salary. In summary, Dr. Meade testified that Percy’s death had cost his family $1.51 million.

  Since he had died peacefully in his sleep, there would be no claim for pain and suffering.

  On cross-examination, Ms. Karros took exception to the numbers of Percy’s life expectancy. Since he had died at forty-eight, and early deaths were common among his male blood relatives, it was unrealistic to suggest that he would have lived to age eighty. Nadine was careful, though, not to spend much time debating damages. To do so would lend credence to the numbers. The Klopecks were not due a penny, and she would not give the impression she was worried about the alleged damages.

  When Dr. Meade finished at 5:20, Judge Seawright adjourned court until nine the following morning.

  CHAPTER 42

  After a hard day in court, Helen was in no mood to cook. She picked u
p Emma at her sister’s home in Evanston, thanked her sister profusely and promised to debrief later, and raced away to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Emma, who slept in moving vehicles much better than in her own crib, dozed peacefully as Helen inched along in the drive-thru. She ordered more burgers and fries than usual because she and David were both hungry. It was raining, and the late-October days were growing shorter.

  Helen drove to the Khaings’ apartment near Rogers Park, and by the time she arrived, David was there. The plan was to have a quick dinner and hustle home for an early bedtime—Emma, of course, holding the key to that. David had no more witnesses to present for the plaintiff, and he was not sure what to expect from Nadine Karros. In the pretrial order, the defense had listed twenty-seven expert witnesses, and David had read every one of their reports. Only Nadine Karros knew how many to call to the stand, and in what order. There was little for David to do but sit, listen, object occasionally, pass notes to his comely paralegal, and try to give the impression he knew what was going on. According to a friend from law school, a litigator in a Washington firm, there was an excellent chance the defense would move for summary judgment, convince Seawright that the plaintiff had failed to provide even the bare bones of a proper case, and win outright without presenting a single witness. “It could be over tomorrow,” he said as he sat in traffic in Washington and David did the same in Chicago.

  Since Thuya had been released from the hospital five months earlier, the Zincs had missed only a few of their Wednesday night
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