A Line Crossed
Death threats are part of the bargain. I accept that. Responding to them is always difficult. If you run, you are done. Fear will chase you away from every confrontation. I accept hatred and anger. I confront it with what courage I can muster.
But today, for the first time in my legal career, I went to the state police to complain. You see, a client's parents called. Their son, almost 40 years old, whom they fear and from whom they are now in hiding, called this morning. "Your life is in danger," I was told. When I asked what that meant, I was told he had relayed:"I should kill Pattis too." The client is in hiding now, trying to outrun a warrant.
I knew there was homicidal talk in the air last night. I took it seriously enough to keep a loaded gun at our bedside. Bumps in the night terrified. I wandered through the house twice making sure we were safe.
But abstract threats are part of the job. The people we confront, and sometimes the people we represent, are under enormous stress. We are expected to work miracles. Sometimes we can, but sometimes, and too often, the demons win. When they win, we look evil to those we have failed.
I have never gone to the police to complain about a client before. Today was the first time. I crossed a line I had hoped never to cross. As the weekend began, my client was in hiding, somewhere. On Friday evening, a new warrant for his arrest was signed; it came with a high bond. More charges were being piled on to his shoulders. I feared he would snap. When his parents came to see me the following day, I knew my fears were justified.
I will be moving to withdraw from his cases tomorrow. Much though I understand his terror and his rage, when it is directed toward me in ways that could carry potentially fatal consequences, I've done all I am willing to do.
I do not know where this man is just now. I've called the folks in my office to warn them to take care tomorrow morning. A man mad enough to kill is on the loose. He is wanted by the police. On Friday he was man for whom I had fought for many years and was still willing to fight. He is alone, scared and now enraged.
But I am a target of that rage now. In crossing that line, the client has lost my loyalty. For the first time ever, I sat in a police station and gave a statement all my own. I was now a potential victim seeking shelter in a place I have for many years attacked.
A line was crossed today. I feel diminished by crossing it. I am scared, too. But mostly, I am sad. I am also humbled with the realization that lawyers aren't really immune from the chaos around them. We are ambassadors for other people's troubles to be sure. But we have troubles all our own. Trouble found me this weekend, and I am glad to be alive to write about it. Somehow, I have a hard time accepting that someone out there might like to change all that, and soon.