He was a huge man. Well over 6 feet high and well over 200 pounds. His voice had the deep resonance of a bass drum and the volume of a soccer announcer. He had few filters.
I first met him in a courtroom. I was finely dressed in a dark blue pantsuit with a silk shirt and leather shoes. He was in an ill-fitting jumpsuit of orange. His enormous feet were clad in matching plastic sandals. The handcuffs and shackles were his only other adornments. He had not been given the privilege of a shower at the jail. He had been there for three days.
I was appointed to his case and we met in the small “attorney” room just off the courtroom hallway. He was not happy that I was his attorney. He made it clear he thought a woman would not be able to handle his case. He shouted the answers to my questions.
We went back to the courtroom, he was arraigned and a hearing date was set.
That night, I spoke to my partner and requested that he take the case because it was clear this guy was not going to listen to me. I was clearly peeved at his misogynistic attitude. With some reluctance my partner agreed to go see him at the jail. But, he advised me, he could not do the hearing. I was stuck with this client in the courtroom.
When that hearing came, I took him into the “attorney” room again to discuss the options that were currently available to him. He was clean, respectful, and he modulated his voice. I was puzzled.
I hesitated but then I asked him why his attitude towards me had changed. We stayed in that tiny room for nearly an hour as he gave me his explanation.
He didn’t trust people who didn’t care. He had found, in his life, that the people who didn’t care the most were women. His history was replete with family horror stories. Those I discovered later.
What he did say that day was that he was a Marine. He had received head and back injuries in a motorcycle accident at Camp Pendleton and had been discharged. He had not mentioned this to me before because, well, read the last paragraph again. He had begun self-medicating. His family had disowned him. He couldn’t hold a job. He was homeless. He was addicted to all sorts of opioids. He was loud and obnoxious and people were scared of him.
He told all of that to me because my partner had walked into the jail interview room a few days before and noticed something that I should have noticed but did not. The Marine Corp tattoo on his forearm.
My partner sat and talked to him about the Marine Corp. My partner’s father was a Marine. He retired as a full-bird Colonel. He was an aviator that flew in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Attorney and client talked for a very long time.
As a result, I was not only acceptable as his attorney, I was respected. Apparently, close proximity to the Marine life was enough.
We fought the court and the prosecutors many times on many cases for him. Some were minor, some were not. Most were alcohol related. Some involved his loud and obnoxious ways with women. Many were for “camping” along the creek or being a disturbance in the homeless shelter.
Many of our adversaries wanted him in prison. Some wanted him there for the rest of his life. To some, he was a smelly, homeless, stupid person. he smallest infraction landed him in jail; no bail, no release.There was no understanding of who he was or where he had been. There was no compassion.
But there was one prosecutor that understood. He knew that the man was not a danger to anyone but himself. He understood the cause and effect. He understood that locking that man away in a place where violence was the norm would not help. That prosecutor helped us get our client treatment at the VA hospital in Los Angeles. That prosecutor was the linchpin that kept that wreck of a man on a road to some form of rehabilitation.
We represented him for many years. As a homeless man with a booming voice and huge frame, he was often the focus of indiscriminate raids. He was followed once by a local police officer that suspected him of driving under the influence. Our client pulled over, got out of the vehicle, turned toward the officer and, in his loudest voice, yelled, “Test me! I’m sober!” He was arrested and taken to jail. The blood test showed that he was, indeed sober. The power steering on his vehicle had broken causing a rather erratic driving pattern. It was three days before he was released. It didn’t help that he remained loudly adamant (and disrespectful) about his circumstances!
But there were people that he never, ever treated with disrespect. They were the members of our firm. If he came into a courtroom and was being uncooperative it was our firm that was called. We were his mouthpiece. He knew that we would explain his situation, argue his case, and do all that we legally and ethically could do to ease his situation. Sometimes, all we had to do was look at him and he would fall silent. He would hang his head, look up and smile.
Suddenly, he had no more cases. He occasionally stopped by our office with a card or a present to thank us for standing by him. He was still homeless but his eyes were clear and his vocal volume was tempered. Every once in a while we would get a call. He had reconciled with his sister. He was in therapy. He had purchased a home.
The last cause great celebration at the firm.
Then about two years ago we found out that he had died. And I cried.
That homeless, smelly, drug addicted man always called me Mrs. Mueller. But that second day, in that cramped little ‘attorney” room, he had stuck out his hand and said, “My name is Robert.”
His thank you cards are still with me.