Lawyers who tell war stories are tedious bores. I mean, we all have stories to tell, right? What makes your story so special that I should stop what I am doing to listen to it? Yet we can’t help telling these tales. The truth of the matter is, a lawyer lives a privileged sort of life. We get front-row seats at the theater called chaos.
So let me relay a story, sanitized somewhat to protect the names of folks who might not like being memorialized in this manner.
I do not often take cases out of state. Although Connecticut is a small place, there is generally enough work to keep my firm busy and our various creditors paid, without crossing state lines. But I hear the call of the wild from time to time. When that happens, I hop a train or plane.
The other day I was in a big city, one of those ornery places whose population exceeds that of the entire state of Connecticut. The case involved allegations of some species of fraud. The Government was determined to bring the defendants to justice.
As I was leaving court, the young lawyer who had referred the case to me sent me a text message. It was urgent, the message said. I sighed. Everything is urgent to lawyers of a certain age. It takes years to knock the urgency out of a lawyer. I’ve done my time on the panic line.
We agreed to meet near the courthouse.
The young man was ashen. The FBI agent assigned to the case kept looking at him after the morning’s hearing. The agent approached the young man and made small talk about things the young lawyer cared about. It was unnerving.
“How old was the agent?,” I asked.
“About my age,” he replied.
“He probably just wanted to talk to someone under 40,” I replied. Most of the lawyers in the care are, well, long in the tooth.
The young man went on to tell me that he thought he heard a funny click on his telephone the other day. Was his phone bugged? I told him I doubted it. Much though I am suspicious of the Justice Department, it is reluctant to target lawyers.
But we were in a big city, the sort of place where lawyers feed on one another in the name of ambition. Still, I was beginning to wonder whether my young friend was just a tad unhinged.
When he told me he had seen telephone company trucks parked outside his home and office for the past several days, I tamped down a growing sense of desperation. This is my co-counsel, after all, in the forthcoming trial. How was I going to cross-examine witnesses if this fellow kept pointing out ghosts?
“You want to put this to rest once and for all?”
“What do you mean?,” he replied.
“You think the feds are tracking you. You want to find out if they are?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. He looked uncertain, even scared. Just how crazy was I?, his look seemed to inquire.
“Call me on your cell phone,” I told him.
He walked a few paces away to another park bench.
“Hello,” I answered. “My name is Norm Pattis. This is a legal call. If you are listening, we know it. Call me if you would like to discuss this.” I left my cell number.
We parted company, with me telling the young man that if there were some sort of surveillance it would surely end now, and the feds would make contact soon. At least that seemed reasonable to expect.
Imagine my surprise an hour later when the young man called to report that the Justice Department had just contacted his boss. The boss, and not the young lawyer, was regarded as a co-conspirator in the case we were working.
Yes, the timing here was most likely coincidental. But, then again, maybe it was not. Maybe, just maybe, these uncanny events prove the truth of the observation that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
Courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.