This is a true story. It has undergone mild alterations to protect the innocent. Please remember that the incidents described occurred in a different time and place.
In the mid eighties, I was a brand new lawyer. A baby lawyer. Very green and very eager to learn. Above all, I was terrified.
There were very few females in criminal defense work. We were expected to show up to work in suits with skirts, nylons and heels. The requisite blouse was satin polyester, long sleeved and sporting the large floppy bow tie. Everything in the ensemble had to be blue, gray, or black. A red blouse was UNTHINKABLE. And everything above the waist had to be well covered.
If you wanted to learn your craft you had to learn from the boys.
In our office there was a coffee room. The obligatory percolator. The stained cups. The coffee grounds on the floor. Today it would be called a “man cave”
It is in that room at around 7 in the morning that our boss would hold court. Our beloved boss (and he was beloved) would sit and drink coffee while the rest of the early morning men would tell their tales of courtroom exploits. The days cases would be reviewed, if necessary, but the main entertainment were “war” stories.
I made sure I was there every morning. I usually arrived before the Boss. I sat, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and listened. I learned more in that coffee room in one week than I did in three years of law school. Some of the stories were true. Some were not so true. Some had been embellished over the years. Some were outright lies.
As I sat there, I learned how lawyering worked. I learned little tricks. I learned how to research. I learned what to say and what not to say in thousands of different situations.
It was in that room that I was accepted as a lawyer. Not a “girl” lawyer or a “boy lawyer. But a lawyer.
That acceptance became apparent one day after I had received notice that a former client had petitioned the California Supreme Court asking that the entry of his guilty plea be reversed because of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel (aka: IAC).
His specific charge was that I had coerced him into pleading guilty by “flaunting my cleavage” (That is very true!)
The Boss had received a copy of the petition and I dreaded going into work the next day. I KNEW it would come up in the coffee room. I was afraid that this was serious and that my job was on the line.
I sat down in the coffee room, lit a cigarette, drank a little coffee. I waited for the boss to arrive. Other lawyers and staff drifted in and sat down. Everyone was talking, smoking, drinking coffee.
Then the Boss walks in and says, “I got a petition from the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon. Thought you all would like to hear it.”
And he reads the entire, hand written petition from my former client. He added a bit of emphasis when the word “flaunting” was used. Everyone is quite serious.
Then he looks at me, glances at my very flat chest and says, “I am afraid we have facts not in evidence.”
The entire room erupts in laughter. Everyone was in on the joke.
I cracked up.
I was now, officially, part of the legal team. I could be teased and now I could tease back. Believe me, I gave better than I got.
Today that story would be taken as sexual harassment. Maybe it was but I did not see it that way. I saw it as a bit of a hazing ritual.
From that day forward, my opinion mattered in that office. My work mattered.
Back then, and with that group, the incident erased any line between the boys and the girls. It didn’t matter what your gender was. It mattered whether you could do the work. It matter whether you had the courage to stand in front of 12 people and plead the case of your client to the best of your ability.
And you can bet I used the objection “facts not in evidence” often and vigorously!