Published in The Huffington Post
Perhaps you have recently watched The Lincoln Lawyer and are thinking of picking up the book. The good news is that the book will get you through a flight. The bad news is that you will have to deal with something I cannot quite describe…so instead of trying I wrote my own The Lincoln Lawyer chapter. I hope it prepares you for the real thing…
Warning: there are a couple of spoilers starting in paragraph 5…but they won’t matter if you’ve already seen the movie.
I picked Hayley up from school right after her lunch break. Maggie McFierce had called to tell me that Hayley had gone to the nurse’s office with an upset stomach. Maggie had to be in court and I was happy to be there for Hayley, especially since she was sick. Every day across this vast over-priced Persian rug that is Los Angeles, 14,000 kids leave school early or never show up at all. Some are sick, some are faking, and some don’t even bother to pretend – the latter are most likely to be my future clients. I pay close attention to which schools have the highest truancy rates and look for upswings in the data. Upswings mean future clients. I hoped Hayley would never become one.
The schools are like twig nests and if the student eggs in them aren’t incubated properly by the adult bird teachers and administrators, then when those eggs hatch the young adult birds that come out of them don’t migrate to jobs and success; they migrate to drugs and rape. A smart ornithologist studies these migration patterns. Because it is from the marrow of these birds that the legal vampire bat feeds, if he’s the kind of bat that prefers marrow to just blood. And it’s not always the twig nests in the parts of the forest you would expect that produce the most profitable wayward birds. Sometimes the eggs are put in yellow styrofoam containers with four sets of double wheels and taken to a twig nest outside the part of the Persian-rug forest they live in. I don’t care where the egg is from, as long as the yolk is green.
Raul Levin has some contacts in the LAUSD from a year he spent undercover as a lunch lady. He gets me the latest truancy statistics and busing plans as a favor for the business I throw at him. I study them like a student working on his dissertation because these birds are what feed my business. But Hayley is where my real information comes from. Through her Facebook account I track kids all over the city and at all different schools, seeing the results of the adult bird care they are getting. And, as the Los Angeles Unified School District was forced by a 2003 lawsuit to serve the same food at all public schools, through her reports on school lunches I can weed out spikes in truancy due only to anger at that day’s food – not all vomit is an ornithologist’s future lunch. 500,000 meals are served everyday to almost 700,000 students in the LAUSD. Many of the students jockey for position in school lunch lines every day at noon, many of them aren’t happy with the scraps they come up with. Some give up on the school lunch, some give up on the system as a whole. I track them all.
Hayley jumped in back with me and pulled the heavy door of the Lincoln shut. She slid towards me like a book being pushed across a wooden table by a veteran D.C. librarian. From the remnants of puke on her pink and white Finding Nemo t-shirt, I knew there was no need to ask her about the school lunch today. I said hello and told her to put her iPod on. Her iPod had a pink slip cover and I could faintly hear Miley Cyrus over the rain that had just started. Earl laughed when I listened to Miley Cyrus or High School Musical, but it was my window into the pre-teen female mind. Through it I learned about my daughter’s hopes, her desires, and her fears. Through it I understood the pressures she felt at school, her pressing need to purchase certain clothes, and why she cried when Vanessa Hudgens had naked pictures of herself posted online. Now Miley blended together with the music coming faintly from Earl’s iPod, who had gone old school with NWA, and the whisper coming from the car stereo of the tapes the federal government was paying me to listen to. Through the music of their iPods, the hopelessness of Earl’s life contrasted with the pre-teen carelessness of Hayley’s. All that separated them and kept Hayley safe was the corrupt system, and the tapes I was listening to were a part of that system. So was I.
I wanted to ask Hayley a question, if Miley Cyrus was Hanna Montana, but held back. I had work to do. I told Hayley to put on her eyeshades and pulled out the pictures of Reggie Campo and Martha Renteria, Louis Roulet’s two victims. I folded them along the creases I had made earlier and put them side by side. Perhaps they were just two pictures in a red ocean of pictures created by the violence of Louis Roulet.
I looked at Hayley in her eyeshades and earbuds and wondered if someone like Roulet would ever do that to her. Would I ever stare at a picture folded down the middle with Hayley’s face on it? Reggie Campo and Martha Renteria were someone’s daughter just like Hayley was mine. How would I feel about the defense attorney for Hayley’s attacker? I’d probably want to kick his head into the curb, teeth first. My mouth opened slightly and let the light in. No, I thought, as I closed my mouth around the light I had let in, trapping it, I would probably defend him myself – if he paid enough, that is. And if I could hide the conflict of interest that would not pass muster in any court, not even in the corrupt court of Justice Ranford Rottings in Long Beach. Not to mention the ensuing ethics investigation by the bar association. I already had enough trouble with them after I bought a crooked cop lunch and accidentally asked him for evidence while coughing. Only trouble was I coughed too loud.
I remembered my afternoon schedule and snapped out of my fog. I checked my watch, it was one already. LA has 284 days of sunshine a year, but whenever I’m in a hurry, it rains. And I was in a hurry now – I had a two pm hearing at CCB for Rudy Flowers and still had to drop Hayley off with the baby sitter in Culver City. Rudy Flowers was a 23-year-old Santa Monica high school teacher who’d slept with a 17-year-old football player in her AP American History class. She didn’t count on the kid putting the video they made on Youtube. The state withheld his name because he was a minor but his Youtube name was IFuckTeach_BAM. Doesn’t sound like an unhappy camper to me. But in the state of California it doesn’t matter what kind of camper he was because he was under 18, and if you’re under 18, it doesn’t matter what you think, the state can prosecute without your consent. Now she’s up for statutory rape, child pornography, child endangerment, and kidnapping. The last charge was thrown in by an overzealous prosecutor because, as a minor, the boy could not consent to rope play. The papers had picked it up and dubbed her Rudy Kelly, after the R&B singer R. Kelly, because she too had peed on a minor.
In my book, they should have given Rudy Flowers a medal and voted her teacher of the year. She probably taught the kid the most important lesson of his life and he would be forever grateful to her. Instead they’re going to lock her up because they don’t think 17 is old enough to consent to having sex with your teacher. By 17 many of the guys I usually defend had committed their first murder and been selling rocks to support their kids for years. All had fucked their teachers. Only 23 miles separated the peace and quiet bubble of Santa Monica from the poverty and crime of the burst bubble of Compton. What a difference a ride down the coast and then East on the 105 freeway makes. I took another look at Hayley, and her 9-inch ponytail that was just like the one I used to have, and picked up my cell to call Raul Levin.
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“I know already.”
“I know already, lasagna, Hayley threw up all over her Hannah Montana diary. Have you figured out who IFuckTeach_BAM is yet?”
“Yeah. Looks like UCLA isn’t the only thing Roulet lied about.”
“What do you mean?”
“Turns out Louis Roulet has a younger brother named Clarke. A younger brother that goes to Crossroads.”
Crossroads was the Santa Monica school Rudy Flowers was on suspension from. Most of the students there were the kids of Hollywood moguls, kids who had chances the guys I usually defend couldn’t even dream of.
“I created a Youtube account with some pictures I downloaded from Playboy.com, and sent out friend requests to all of IFuckTeach_BAM’s friends.”
“Getting his name from them was no problem.”
“I can’t fucking believe it! That fucking bastard lied to me again!”
“Yeah, and I don’t think it’s the last time. I think you should watch out for this guy Louis Roulet, he might be dangerous.”
I clapped shut the clamshell Motorola RAZR phone as if I were trying to crush a bowling ball with my bare hand. It felt as if it were a knife digging into my palm. I squeezed it tight, gritting my teeth, with a fire building in my eyes, and felt it cutting all the way up my right arm. I stared into the composite beat up face of Reggie Campo and Martha Renteria, trembling on the fold out table with the vibrations of the car like they must have trembled when Roulet attacked them. I felt the RAZR phone pull out of my arm and stab me all over my body, fifty-three times, just as it had stabbed Martha Renteria, and just as it would have stabbed Reggie Campo. Now I had also been stabbed by Louis Ross Roulet, and shared in their pain and in their anger. They were my blood sisters now, and Roulet was our crazy uncle who had locked us in his basement and raped us. Maybe Hayley would be next. But I could not forget that Roulet was not just my uncle, he was also my franchise. And, as the city of Los Angeles learned when the Lakers re-signed Kobe Bryant after his brush with the machine, you never abandon the franchise.