“Go get a cupcake—in Judge’s chambers.”
Edwina, the clerk, essentially barks this at me, more of a direct order than an invitation. Court is in recess while we wait for a sketchy witness who most likely will not show. “For Ms. Baldwin’s birthday.”
Ms. Baldwin glances up amiably from opposing counsel’s table, three feet from mine. “Yeah, grab a cupcake, you know it’s my birthday.”
I glance around to see who may have heard this. Members of my clients’ families are seated in surly groups of two or three on long church-house benches, spread out across the courtroom. They sit stiffly, in puffy winter coats that somehow all look the same, like some sort of standard issue given upon their entry into these halls. The families watch me closely, my body language, the way I walk, each word that I speak. I am a specimen of which they don’t know the true origin, behavior, or allegiance.
I smile confidently at one family, put a hand up in a half-wave to another. Nod in the direction of yet another. None of these gestures generate the desired response. Their faces are locked into a singular expression, a position that says that they have decided things about me, possibly untoward things, and I am not to be the recipient of any encouragement, let alone solidarity. I am employed by the county, which makes me suspect, just like the incarcerated family members I’ve been appointed to defend, ironically.
Ms. Baldwin is the prosecutor, so she should be my sworn enemy, the evilest of adversaries, and I should act like it. I should not celebrate her birthday with jolly good cheer and cupcakes topped with pink roses and marzipan.
The little courtroom assembly includes the cops sitting on the hallowed first row, their expressions cold as they glance my way, reluctantly acknowledging my power, or at least my potential for it. In an hour’s time, I will put forth my best effort to humiliate them, to give them a verbal roughing-up, quite possibly dismantling their case with a perfected recipe of questioning.
Their eyes follow me, full of disdain and disfavor. In their minds, the prosecutor, with their help, is doing ‘God’s work.’ Whose work, therefore, must I be doing?
The cops scoff, and Edwina clears her throat. I look up towards her station next to the bench, see her expectant face between stacks of files. “Are you going to get a cupcake? I made ‘em.”
I think back to one of the more seasoned attorneys who once told me that the clerk is the ‘judge’s wife-at-work,’ that she wears an invisible black robe and is arguably the figure who truly rules the roost. In other words, if I want to help my clients get the best outcome, I am to stay on the clerk’s good side. But even though this is my assigned court, and these people are technically my coworkers, I can’t appear to be too cozy with them.
On the other hand, being cozy with them means getting good deals and good rulings for my clients, not to mention getting my 17 cases called by noon so I can return to my office after lunch to work up the 21 cases on calendar for tomorrow. I’ve already been in a skirmish with Edwina earlier this week—regarding her mistaken notations on a case—and we are now on the mend.
Nixing one of the cupcakes is not an option.
I decide to acquiesce but say, in an inordinately loud voice, solely for the benefit of the families, “Is the judge back there? Because I need to talk to him about the motion I’ve filed for dismissal.” I place extra emphasis on the word ‘dismissal,’ my voice swelling as I say it, my arms folding across my chest as I take a fighter’s stance.
I know he’s not back there, and I know I won’t be talking to him alone—it would go against procedure—but the folks in the gallery don’t know this. I rise from counsel table and sashay towards chambers. I don’t dare turn to see how this went over with, well, everybody. I can’t afford to. I’m juggling too many expectations to risk looking back.