What's it like suing and cross-examining cops by day, and running into those same police officers by night? That was the question posed by a law-student blogger the other day. I suspect he wondered whether I get an extra dose of harassment.
Three quick stories answer his query.
Burglary in Progress
Years ago I won a federal civil rights trial claiming a cop had unlawfully searched a woman's glove compartment. It was not a big money case, but the City of New Haven appealed nonetheless.
While the appeal was pending my wife and youngest son walked into our New Haven home one night in the midst of a burglary. The police came right away, and I rushed home from the office.
There was the tortfeasing defendant, gun-drawn, leaving my home. This spells trouble, I thought.
He holstered the gun and apologized to me. "I really didn't do what you accused me of," he said. We shook hands. I advised him not to say anything more as the case was on appeal and might be retried. "I mean it. I am really sorry; I didn't do that."
He was so kind to my wife and me that I wrote the chief a letter commending the officer for his civility.
Too Much Trouble
Another time, my wife ran a stop sign in an adjoining town. Her last name is different than mine, but the insurance was, at that point, in my name.
"Are you related to the lawyer Pattis?" the officer asked, returning the card to her.
"Yes," she stammered. My wife has more issues with police than I do as her father did federal time for refusing to swear a loyalty oath back in the McCarthy era.
"Oh," the officer sighed. "This will be too much trouble. Just be more careful next time." And he sent her on her way.
I moved my office to the country not long ago. I am next door to a state police barracks housing the state's major crime squad.
"Remember me; you cross-examined me three years ago," the email said. "C'mon over and visit any time. Call ahead so we can hide the medieval torture devices you accused me of using," my new neighbor said. The press had just reported my move.
"Sorry, I am getting old and don't recall the case," I replied. "But come over any time. No need for a warrant on your first visit."
"Perhaps you don't know the local ordinances, counsellor," he wrote back. "No warrants needed in this town." I chuckled.
The point of these anecdotes? Do your job. Hit hard, aim well and do everything you can for your client. The other side respects that. And, in one of the greatest compliments you will ever receive as a lawyer, you will soon find yourself representing the very men you have cross-examined and sometimes sued. They need lawyers, too.