The litigators, p.37
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       The Litigators, p.37

           John Grisham

  nodded to across the courtroom. “Got a second?” he said as he slid into a chair.


  “Nice cross. Nadine makes few mistakes, but that was a big one.”

  “Thanks,” David said, chewing.

  Barkley’s eyes darted around as if they were swapping crucial secrets. “Have you come across a blogger who calls himself the Hung Juror?” David nodded, and Barkley continued: “Our tech guys are very good, and they’ve tracked him down. He’s in the courtroom, three rows behind you, navy sweater, white shirt, thirty years old, balding, glasses, pretty nerdy looking. Name’s Aaron Deentz, used to work for a mid-range firm downtown but got whacked in the recession. Now he blogs and tries to be important, can’t seem to find a job.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “He has the right to blog; the courtroom is open to the public. Most of his stuff is harmless, but he took a shot at your wife. Me, I’d deck him. Just thought you’d want to know. See you around.” And with that, Barkley eased away and was gone.

  At 2:00 p.m., Nadine Karros stood and announced, “Your Honor, the defense rests.” This had been discussed in chambers and was no surprise. Judge Seawright wasted no time and said, “Mr. Zinc, you may address the jury in closing statement.”

  David had no desire to address the jury and ask for compassion for his client, Iris Klopeck, but it would be extremely awkward for a lawyer who had tried a case from beginning to end to waive final argument. He stood at the podium and began by thanking the jurors for their service. Then he confessed that this was his first trial, and, frankly, he had not planned on doing anything but research. However, events had conspired to thrust him into this arena, and he felt bad for not doing a better job. He held up a document and explained that it was the pretrial order, sort of an outline for the trial that both sides agree on long before the jury is selected. Of interest, on page 35, was a list of the experts for the defense. Twenty-seven! All with the word “Doctor” attached somewhere to their names. Thankfully, the defense did not call all twenty-seven, but they certainly hired and paid them. Why would any defendant need so many well-paid experts? Perhaps the defendant had something to hide. And why would the defendant need so many lawyers, David asked, waving an arm at the Rogan Rothberg team? His client, Iris Klopeck, could not afford such talent. The field was not level. The game was rigged. Only the jury could equalize things.

  He spoke less than ten minutes and happily left the podium. As he walked back to the table, he glanced at the spectators and made eye contact with Aaron Deentz, the Hung Juror. David stared at him for a few seconds, then Deentz looked away.

  Nadine Karros argued for thirty minutes and managed to shift the attention back to Krayoxx and away from those other unpleasant tests Mr. Zinc had talked about. She vigorously defended Varrick and reminded the jurors of the many well-known and trusted drugs the company had given to the world. Including Krayoxx, a drug that had survived the week nicely since the plaintiff had failed miserably to prove there was anything wrong with it. Yes, she and Varrick may have twenty-seven noted experts in their lineup, but that was beside the point. Much more important was the expert proof offered by the plaintiff, who filed the lawsuit and had the burden of building a case and had thoroughly failed to do so.

  David watched her performance with great admiration. She was smooth and skilled, and her trial experience was obvious from the way she moved around, spoke, chose her words effortlessly, looked at the jurors, smiled at them, and trusted them. From their faces, there was little doubt they trusted her too.

  David waived his rebuttal argument. Judge Seawright went straight to the reading of the jury instructions, the most tedious segment of any trial. At 3:30, the jury was led from the courtroom to begin its deliberations. David wanted to get away, so he carried a large box of his documents to his SUV in the garage. As he was riding the elevator back up to the twenty-third floor, his cell phone vibrated. The text message said: “The jury is ready.” He smiled and whispered, “That didn’t take long.”

  When the courtroom was quiet, a bailiff brought in the jury. The foreman handed the written verdict to the clerk, who gave it to Judge Seawright, who said, “The verdict appears to be in order.” It was returned to the foreman, who stood and read, “We, the jury, find for the defendant, Varrick Laboratories.”

  There was no reaction from anyone in the courtroom. Judge Seawright went through his post-verdict rituals and released the jurors. David had no desire to hang around and suffer through the happy horseshit of “Nice job,” “Tough set of facts,” “Better luck next time.” As soon as the judge tapped his gavel and adjourned court, David lifted his heavy briefcase and dashed from the room. He beat the crowd and was hustling down the hall when he caught a glimpse of a familiar blue sweater entering a restroom. David followed, and once inside he scanned the room and saw no one but Aaron Deentz. David washed his hands, waited, and when Deentz finished at the urinal, he turned and saw David. “You’re the Hung Juror, right?” David said, and Deentz froze, unmasked.

  “So what?” Deentz said with a sneer.

  David cocked his arm and shot a right cross that landed perfectly on the fleshy left jaw of the Hung Juror, who was too stunned to react. He grunted as his jaw popped. David followed with a quick left hook that landed on the nose. “That’s for the bimbo, you ass!” David said, as Deentz fell to the floor.

  David left the restroom and saw a crowd at the far end of the hall. He found the stairs and sprinted down to the main lobby. He dashed across the street to the garage and was safely locked in his SUV before he took a deep breath and said, “You idiot.”

  After a circuitous route back to the office, David arrived late on Friday afternoon. To his surprise, Oscar was sitting at the table having a soft drink with Rochelle. He looked thin and pale, but he had a smile and said he was feeling okay. His doctor had cleared him to spend no more than two hours a day at the office, and he claimed he was eager to get back to work.

  David gave a highly condensed version of the trial. He mimicked the Russian accent of Dr. Borzov, and this drew laughter. All jokes were on Finley & Figg after all, so why not laugh at themselves. When he described his frantic efforts to find Dr. Threadgill, they laughed some more. They could not believe that Helen had been drafted into service. When he described the faces of the jurors during Iris’s video, Rochelle wiped her eyes with a tissue.

  “And in spite of my brilliant performance, the jury reached its verdict in only seventeen minutes.”

  When the humor was gone, they talked about Wally, their fallen comrade. They talked about the bills, the line of credit, their bleak future. Oscar suggested they forget about it until Monday morning. “We’ll figure out something,” he said.

  David and Rochelle were startled at how thoughtful and kind he had become. Perhaps the heart attack and surgery had softened him up and provided a glimpse of his own mortality. The old Oscar would have been cussing Figg and griping about the firm’s imminent financial ruin, but the new one seemed oddly optimistic about their situation.

  After an hour of the most pleasant conversation David had experienced around the office, he said he needed to go. His paralegal was waiting with dinner and wanted to know about the trial.


  Over the weekend David puttered around the house, ran errands for Helen, pushed Emma through the neighborhood in her stroller, washed and shined both vehicles, and kept an eye on the online buzz about the trial and Varrick’s great victory. There had been a small story in Saturday’s Sun-Times and not a word in the Tribune. The online publications, though, were busy with the aftershocks. Varrick’s public relations machinery was in full swing, and the verdict was being described as a major vindication of Krayoxx. CEO Reuben Massey was quoted everywhere touting the drug, condemning the mass tort bar, promising to crush “those ambulance chasers” in any courtroom they dared to enter, praising the wisdom of the Chicago jurors, and clamoring for more laws to protect innocent corporatio
ns from such frivolous lawsuits. Jerry Alisandros was unavailable for comment. Indeed, there were no comments from any of the lawyers suing Varrick Labs. “For the first time in recent history, the entire tort bar has gone silent,” observed one reporter.

  The call came at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. Dr. Biff Sandroni had received the samples of Nasty Teeth by FedEx on Friday morning, about the time David was grilling Dr. Ulander on the stand. Dr. Sandroni had promised to test the samples immediately. “They’re all the same, David, all coated with the same lead-based paint. Highly toxic. Your lawsuit is a cinch. Open and shut, the best I’ve ever seen.”

  “When can you finish the report?”

  “I’ll e-mail it tomorrow.”

  “Thanks, Biff.”

  “Good luck.”

  An hour later, David and Helen loaded Emma into her car seat and set off for Waukegan. The purpose of the trip was to check on Wally, but there was the added benefit of having the baby finally go to sleep.

  After four days of sobriety, Wally looked rested and was eager to leave Harbor House. David recapped the trial and, not wanting to repeat himself and not entirely in the mood for humor, omitted the parts that Oscar and Rochelle had found so funny Friday afternoon. Wally apologized repeatedly until David asked him to stop. “It’s over, Wally. We have to move on.” They talked about ways to unload their Krayoxx clients and the problems this might create. It really didn’t matter how complicated things became—their decision was final. They were finished with Krayoxx and Varrick.

  “I don’t need to stay here any longer,” Wally said. They were alone at the end of the hallway. Helen had stayed behind in the car with the sleeping baby.

  “What does your counselor say?”

  “I’m getting tired of the guy. Look, David, I fell off the wagon because of the pressure, that’s all. I consider myself sober right now. I’m already counting the days. I’ll jump back into AA and hope and pray I won’t fall off again. Hear me, David. I don’t like being a drunk. We got our work cut out for us, and I gotta stay sober.”

  With his portion of the meter ticking at $500 a day, David wanted Wally out as soon as possible, but he was not convinced a ten-day detox would work. “I’ll talk to the counselor—what’s his name?”

  “Patrick Hale. He’s really beating me up this time.”

  “Maybe that’s what you need, Wally.”

  “Come on, David. Get me outta here. We’ve dug a hole for ourselves, and it’s just you and me this time. I’m not so sure Oscar will be much help.”

  Left unsaid was the fact that Oscar had been the great skeptic about Krayoxx and mass torts in general. The deep hole in which they now found themselves had been dug by Wallis T. Figg. They talked about Oscar for a while, his divorce, his health, his new girlfriend, who was not really that new, according to Wally, though David did not press for details.

  As he left, Wally pleaded again, “Get me outta here, David. We have too much work to do.”

  David hugged him good-bye and left the visitors’ room. The “work” Wally kept referring to was little more than the imposing task of getting rid of four hundred or so dissatisfied clients, mopping up the remains of the Klopeck trial, grappling with a lot of unpaid bills, and laboring away in a building now burdened with a $200,000 mortgage. In the past month, the firm’s other clients had been neglected, many to the point of hiring other lawyers, and the daily inquiries from prospective clients had declined dramatically.

  David had thought of leaving, of opening his own shop, or looking at other, smaller firms. If he walked away, he would, of course, take the Thuya Khaing case with him. Oscar and Wally would never know about it. If the case eventually paid off, David could write a check to Finley & Figg for his share of the mortgage on the building. But these thoughts were bothersome. He had run away from one firm and never looked back. If he ran away from the second one, he would always have regrets. In reality, David knew he could not leave Finley & Figg with the two partners ailing and a swarm of unhappy clients and creditors pounding on the door.

  The phones rang constantly Monday morning. Rochelle answered a few times, then announced, “It’s all those Krayoxx people, asking about their cases.”

  “Unplug it,” David said, and the racket stopped. The old Oscar was making a comeback. He was in his office, door tightly closed, shoving paperwork around his desk.

  By 9:00 a.m., David had composed a letter to be mailed to the four hundred or so clients who only thought they had a lawsuit. It read:

  Dear _______:

  Last week our firm tried the first lawsuit against Varrick Labs for its drug Krayoxx. The trial did not go as planned and was not successful. The jury ruled in favor of Varrick. With all the evidence now presented, it is clear that additional litigation against the company would be ill-advised. For that reason, we are withdrawing as your counsel. Feel free to consult with another attorney.

  For what it’s worth, Varrick presented convincing proof that Krayoxx does not damage the heart valves, or any other part of the body.


  David Zinc

  Attorney and Counselor-at-Law

  When Rochelle’s printer began spitting out the letters, David went upstairs to prepare for another fight in federal court, which, on that Monday morning, was the last place he wanted to go. He had a rough draft of a lawsuit to be filed against Sonesta Games and a rough draft of a letter he planned to send to the company’s chief in-house counsel. He polished and tweaked both as he waited on Sandroni’s report.

  Varrick’s stock opened at $42.50 on Monday morning, its highest value in over two years. David scanned the financial sites and blogs, and they were still buzzing with speculation about the future of Krayoxx litigation. Since David had no role in that future, he was losing interest fast.

  He searched the near-impenetrable Web site of Cook County—Courts—Criminal—Warrants & Affidavits and found no record of a complaint for assault filed by one Aaron Deentz. On Saturday, the Hung Juror had blogged about the ending of the Klopeck trial but did not mention getting punched out in the men’s restroom on the twenty-third floor of the Dirksen Federal Building.

  Oscar had a friend who had a friend who worked in Warrants & Affidavits, and this friend was supposedly on the lookout for a filing by Deentz. “You really decked him?” Oscar had asked with genuine admiration.

  “Yes, a stupid thing to do.”

  “Don’t worry. It’s just simple assault. I got friends.”

  When Sandroni’s report arrived, David read it carefully and almost salivated at its conclusion: “The levels of lead in the paint used in coating the Nasty Teeth toys are of toxic levels. Any child, or person, using this product in the exact manner in which it was designed to be used, to wit, insertion into the mouth, over the real teeth, would face the grave risks of ingesting quantities of lead-based paint.”

  For good measure, Dr. Sandroni added: “In thirty years of testing products for sources of poisoning, primarily lead poisoning, I have never seen a product so grossly and negligently designed and produced.”

  David copied the six-page report and placed it in a binder with color photos of the original set of Nasty Teeth used by Thuya and photos of the samples David had purchased the week before. He added a copy of the lawsuit and a medical summary prepared by Thuya’s doctors. In a pleasant but straightforward letter to a Mr. Dylan Kott, chief in-house counsel for Sonesta Games, David offered to discuss the matter before filing suit. However, this offer was good for fourteen days only. The family had suffered greatly, continued to suffer, and was entitled to immediate relief.

  When he left for lunch, he took the binder and shipped it to Sonesta Games by FedEx, overnight priority. No one else at the firm knew what he was doing. For contact information in the letter, he used his home address and cell phone.

  Oscar was leaving as David returned, and his chauffeur was a tiny little woman of dubious ethnicity. At first David thought she was Thai, then she appeared more Hispanic. Regardless, sh
e was pleasant to chat with on the front sidewalk. She was at least twenty years younger than Oscar, and during the brief conversation David got the clear impression that the two had known each other for some time. Oscar, who looked quite frail after an easy morning at the office, slowly folded himself into the passenger’s seat of her little Honda, and away they went.

  “Who is that?” David asked Rochelle as he closed the front door.

  “I just met her myself. Some weird name I didn’t get either. She told me she’s known Oscar for three years.”

  “Wally’s skirt chasing is well-known. I’m kinda surprised about Oscar. Are you?”

  Rochelle smiled and said, “David, when it comes to love and sex, nothing surprises me.” She held out a pink phone message slip. “While we’re on the subject, you might want to call this guy.”

  “Who is it?”

  “Goodloe Stamm. Paula Finley’s divorce lawyer.”

  “I don’t know a thing about divorce law, Rochelle.”

  Rochelle gave an exaggerated look around the room, around the offices, and said, “They’re all gone. I guess you’d better learn fast.”

  Stamm began with a sappy “Too bad about the verdict, but I really wasn’t surprised.”

  “Nor was I,” David said tersely. “What can I do for you?”

  “Well, first of all, how’s Mr. Finley?”

  “Oscar’s fine. His heart attack was only two weeks ago today. He actually came to the office this morning for a few hours, and he’s making steady progress. I suppose you’re calling to ask about the Krayoxx litigation and hoping there might still be a chance of some fees coming our way. The answer, unfortunately for us, for our clients, and for Mrs. Finley as well, is that there is no prospect of making a dime off these cases. We are not going to appeal the Klopeck verdict. We are in the process of notifying all of our Krayoxx clients that we are withdrawing as counsel. We hocked the office to finance the trial, which cost us about $180,000 in cash. The senior partner is recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery. The junior partner has taken a leave of absence. The firm is now being run by me and one secretary, who by the way knows a lot more about the law than I do. In case you’re curious about Mr.
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