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A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
A Little Child Shall Lead Them
Tucker Fitzgibbon stood at the ballroom door, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Inside the Gillett County Bar was about to commence its Law Day Luncheon. A trickle of sweat made its way down his back.
It was not hot where he stood. Inside several wondered aloud why the A/C was blasting. But Tucker had sprouted large blossoms of sweat under his arms.. Tucker hated crowds. To say they made him nervous was an understatement. He felt a tightness across his forehead like he was wearing a hat two sizes too small.
Tucker had anxiety issues. He would enter a room full of people only to feel an overwhelming urge to get out of it, heart pounding and ears ringing. These feelings came without warning at the worst times. Despite countless prayers, counseling sessions and years of medication, it remained a problem.
Fortunately for Tucker he had a gift that was not dependent on performing in social situations. He could write. In law school he had been Articles Editor of the law review.
His law review work caught the eye of Justice Feldman of the Appellate Court and landed him his current job. He'd held it for six years. Feldman never retained a clerk more than seven. What came next, he hoped, was a clerkship with the state Supreme Court.
On the other side of the doors were three hundred lawyers. One was Mia Pearlman, head clerk to Chief Justice Batterton of the Supreme Court. Another was Powers Encarnacion, partner in the state's most influential personal injury firm and the chair of the Committee to Retain Justice Batterton. Encarnacion had spent the past year helping Batterton keep his seat. That had not been easy.
Batterton needed 60% of the vote on a yes or no ballot on whether he should keep his job. Organizing against him were the Chamber of Commerce and the insurance lobby. It had been a nasty fight. The low point was an ad starring a disabled ten year old walking up to the camera asking Justice Batterton where his dad could go to get his job back. Batterton had ordered a coal mine shutdown because it polluted a nearby river that was home to a rare form of turtle. A thousand people lost work because of the order. He escaped with 60.9 % of the vote.
Pearlman confided in Tucker that she would soon leave her job. She thought Tucker should replace her. She invited him to the luncheon to meet Encarnacion.
Now he was trying to convince himself to push into this room full of networking , social climbing lawyers. Dealing with his irrational fears frustrated him immensely. He straightened his tie for the third time and opened the door.
A blast of conversation noise followed. Tucker bolted forward, trying not to think about what all the nicely pressed suits were thinking of his frumpy ten year old blue blazer.
His heart racing, he spied Pearlman's arm extended. She got right to business. "He's over there in the corner." Tucker saw the tall, striking figure pacing, his cell phone plastered to his ear.
He dominated the room in his tan sharkskin suit, bright yellow silk pocket square accenting an equally bright silk tie. His waxed Italian loafers reflected as much of the room light as the gel holding his nicely coiffed jet black hair in place. Tall and buff, his appearance matched the name he had legally changed to match the image he wanted - power incarnate.
Tucker fought the urge to run from the room. He prayed for calm, looked for the nearest exit and started thinking of excuses to justify his absence. Just then Encarnacion clicked off his phone. There was no time to escape.
The tall Latino took a step in Tucker's direction and extended his right hand. "Mr. Fitzgibbon I believe? Powers Encarnacion, nice to make your acquaintance."
As Tucker took Encarnacion's hand the litigator's expression went from stoic indifference to an irritated grimace. Without missing a beat he reached inside his suit and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping the sweat off his hand.
"Mia tells me you're the best opinion writer on the Appellate Court Mr. Fitzgibbon- Justices excluded of course. You know Mia is leaving us for greener pastures and we'll need a clerk to replace her. Are you interested in doing that sir?"
He strained to hear Encarnacion through the ringing in his ears. The words weren't coming easily through the pounding of his heart and the dizzy fog his panic created. "Ah… Absolutely….I'm honored you would even ask," he managed to stammer out.
Encarnacion nodded, replacing the handkerchief and returning his hand holding a metal case of business cards. "Call tomorrow and set up a time to speak of this, this is not the time or the place." Then his face widened into a smile as he looked over Tucker's shoulder to the approach of a familiar face. "Judge Holsapple! " he announced, walking away to press the flesh with the local jurist.
Tucker sat on the bench outside St. Ignatius Preparatory School waiting for his son T.J.
T. J. was a fourth grader. Tucker would pick him up and drive him back to his house. Normally this wasn't stressful, but today was different. Today after dropping off T.J. he was headed to the offices of Powers Encarnacion.
That prospect left him fidgeting. He bided his time reading the inscriptions carved into the stone surrounding the doorway. On the left hand side was a familiar one to Tucker- "Let the little children come unto me…" The other apparently was also from the Bible, but more obscure, at least to Tucker -"A little child shall lead them." The bell rang and the door sprang open. Dozens of boisterous, chatty children emptied onto the sidewalk.
When T.J. didn't appear his adrenaline surged. " I told him not to be late today," he thought. Irritated, he paced around. The last of the children exited the door and still no sign of T.J. The familiar figure of Sister Agnes paced toward him.
That was not good. His breath grew short. He simply could not deal with a problem with his child right now. "Mr. Fitzgibbon, we need you to come to the principal's office, there's been a little issue with T.J..
"Well, alright... I'm due to an important meeting, could it wait?" he begged.
"It won't take long, T.J. got a little boo-boo and we just need to clear up how it happened."
Tucker followed the sister into Principal Bradburn's office. His son was sitting by Bradburn's desk, a red mark under his right eye.
Mr. Bradburn stood. "Mr. Fitzgibbon, thanks for coming in. T.J. got a slight injury under his eye. One of his classmates told us one of the older boys hit him. T.J. doesn't want to talk about it.
Tucker squatted down by T.J. He could tell T.J. was petrified, his pupils dilated and his jaw set tight.
Tucker placed his hand on his son's forearm. "Buddy, if somebody put that mark on you, Mr. Bradburn needs to know."
T.J. shook his head and started to cry. "NO!," he finally blurted out. He buried his face in Tucker's forearm. "Maybe he'll feel more like talking when we get home," he suggested.
"That's fine," said Mr. Bradburn, " but we need to resolve this, we've had some other complaints."
Tucker buckled T.J. in and put his Volvo into reverse. T.J. faced the window, red eyed and silent. Tucker drove and tried to find the right words. Suddenly T.J. turned toward him and blurted "...it was Seth Dobson! I was on the swingset first. He told me to get off, like he owned the thing or somethin'."
"Thanks for letting me know, buddy...has he done this before?" Tucker asked.
"... he's always picking a fight with somebody. He's a jerk, dad. Don't make me tell Mr. Bradburn, Seth'll kill me."
"We can't stop this if Mr. Bradburn doesn't know about it," Tucker argued as he drove.
"He doesn't care about the teachers, Dad, ...he's huge,Dad!"
"If he's already doing it then he'll do it whether you say anything or not... so do you want me to tell Mr. Bradburn or will you?" Tucker surprised himself with how blunt he was, but to him it was obvious what needed to happen.
There was only silence from T.J. "You think about and let me know," Tucker said as he pulled into the driveway. T.J. got out and slammed the door. Tucker sighed and put the car into reverse.
The elevator door to the 17th floor opened onto the reception desk for Encarnacion and Whiteman. The wall behind it carried the partnership name in three foot lacquered black letters. A lifesize- portrait of the lead partner glared down at all who entered, leaving no doubt about who the king of this domain was. To the right of the desk was the reception area, and a view of the city's North side Merengue Heights neighborhood where Encarnacion had spent his youth. In the distance were the skyscrapers of downtown, the state Supreme Court building and the capitol, where he now spent most of his time.
Tucker sat on the soft leather of a reception room couch, trying not to have a panic attack. His neck was moist with sweat.He thumbed through the files he'd bought along, samples of his legal writing in case Encarnacion asked him for one. The room was bright with the colors of Encarnacion's native Dominican Republic. The walls navy blue, the carpet a royal green and the window shades bright red. Lively Merengue music played in the background. Tucker fidgeted with his tie and picked up an old copy of Forbes, as he tried to tamp down the fear of failure invading his thoughts. Finally the tall white oak double doors cracked open. Out popped a perky young woman in a bright red miniskirt and high heels. She scanned the room pensively and smiled when her eyes landed on Tucker. "Mr. Fitzgibbon? I'm Lacey. Mr. Encarnacion will see you now!"
The hallway ended at two twelve foot high, ornately carved double doors dwarfing the diminutive Lacey. She used both hands and all of her weight to open one, exposing the interior of Encarnacion's immaculate chamber to Tucker. The spacious room opened with a stretch of black and red carpet, designed in squares. It ended at a huge, blond mahogany desk backed by a set of tall, burgundy velvet drapes. At either end of the curtains stood a marble column that stretched from floor to ceiling. Any serious court watcher couldn't help but notice that it aped the furnishings of the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court.
From behind the desk came the ever impressive figure of Powers Encarnacion. His deep-set eyes bore down on Tucker as he paced towards him. "Mr. Fitzgibbon," he intoned as he reached for Tucker's hand, "thanks for coming so quickly, please be seated."
"Ms. Pearlman speaks glowingly of your writing Mr. Fitzgibbon, as do those that wrote letters on your behalf….an impressive list, I must say."
" Th...Thank you, sir, I pride my...myself in the writing I do, safe to say that is my strong point! "
"Your memoranda are very well done, crisp, to the point, certainly not the kind of arid drivel I often get from the Insurance Defense bar," he quipped, leaning back in his chair and allowing a smile to crease his face for the first time.
"But what impressed me most was the article you wrote on the ethical issues facing judges assigned cases involving lawyers that made campaign contributions to them." As he finished that sentence Encarnacion leaned forward and picked up a copy of the three year old bar journal that included Tucker's article on the issue.
With that statement, Tucker's head began throbbing. He had hoped to avoid that topic, but Encarnacion was going right to what he feared might cost him this job. Tucker had opined that Judges should step aside from cases involving lawyers that had made campaign contributions to them. Encarnacion had a real interest in the issue, given that he had a steady diet of cases appealed to the Supreme Court, and he had donated heavily to Judge Batterton's campaign.
Tucker believed Encarnacion handling cases before Justice Batterton created a real conflict. The fact he was sitting in his office as part of his employment screening made that clear to him. But what did the person on the other side of the desk think? That wasn't clear yet.
Tucker cracked a grin, "I thought you might find that one interesting, " Encarnacion returned a weak grin. "You make some cogent arguments," he continued. "But surely the reason why judges can't accept contributions directly is precisely because those interested in making them are people like me who have cases that the court is likely to hear? That's why the Canons require a blind trust to take all the money- so the judge doesn't know where its coming from."
"Well my point was that with the Election Code now requiring full disclosure of all the significant money, its public knowledge who's giving what, and a judge can't really turn a blind eye and claim ignorance, when anybody with a computer can go online and read them." Tucker gulped as he finished that sentence, praying he'd walked the tightrope successfully.
Encarnacion had lost his crease of a smile. He sat back and unlocked his fingers, karate chopping the air as he continued;"Mr. Fitzgibbon, we make our judges run for office. All but the most wealthy are going to need help to fund their campaigns. If the lawyers who know them best can't do that, then who is going to have enough interest in these races to do it?"
He stared at Tucker with his famously intense furrowed brow. Tucker felt his heart pound. Paralyzed, he could say nothing, only shrugging in response.
Encarnacion suddenly stood and moved toward the credenza. "Did you know the Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint against Batterton for not recusing himself from two cases they have where I represent the Plaintiff?" As he reached the credenza he turned to face Tucker and nodded expectantly.
Tucker adjusted himself upwards and looked away. "Ah… I didn't know that,' he muttered.
"Yes," Encarnacion continued, " and I believe Professor Simonthal from your old school chairs the Disciplinary Commission does he not?"
" Uh...well, yes..., " Tucker mumbled.
"My sources say you and Simonthal are pretty thick...correct?"
Tucker uncomfortably paused. The professor was a friend of his.
The tall litigator bent over the credenza and opened its drawer. He fingered several files before finding the one he wanted. "It's been twenty-five years since the Disciplinary Commission visited the issue. Back then they found no need for an absolute bar to the practice. I don't see any need to change that ruling, there are good reasons to continue to allow it with the safeguards in place.' Encarnacion bent his knee and slammed the credenza door with it, turning quickly to face Tucker. "Your article was a blueprint for how to change the rule. That would devastate my practice and make it extremely hard for sitting judges to fund their campaigns." He quickly walked toward Tucker and extended a manila envelope to him.
"Read this," he commanded, barely making eye contact with the quivering Tucker, "see if you don't agree it makes much more sense to leave a good rule alone." With that he spun on the toe of his loafers and retreated behind his desk. "Let's talk again after you've digested that file, I am anxious to hear what you think of it."
Tucker was completely flummoxed. He opened his mouth but no words came out. The panic attack he was having left him unable to do anything but find a way out of the room.
Tucker started ripping the flap from the envelope before he reached his home office desk. What he saw nearly knocked him to the floor. The sole contents of the envelope was an article entitled "Contributions to Judicial Campaigns Reconsidered." It contained an argument against the changes to the ethics rule that Tucker had written in favor of three years before. That part was no surprise. The shock was the byline on the article. It claimed to have been written by Tucker Fitzgibbon.
Tucker's fingers trembled as he made his way through the substance of the text.
Three years earlier the author had written an article for the same bar journal in favor of a requirement that judges step out of such cases, but recent developments in the law now had changed the author's mind. Nothing could have further from the truth. In fact, the only developments since Tucker's article sided with his position.
At the bottom of the final page was a blank signature line. The implication was clear, Encarnacion meant for him to sign this article and submit it to the state bar journal for publication. He would then be asked to speak to Professor Simonthal about the issue and tactfully suggest Justice Batterton not have to withdraw from Encarnacion's cases, using the article as support for his argument.
Tucker was aghast. Never did he conceive that the brokers of power would stoop to this level. His mind went to the worst possible scenario. What would happen if he refused to sign? How far would the Chief's power broker go to force the issue? Would it stop at denying him the job? Was Encarnacion capable of violence? If he would forge documents and demand that lawyers sign onto them what else was he capable of? As his breathing became shallower and his head throbbed, suddenly signing off on this atrocious article didn't seem so far-fetched.
This situation seemed like it was just too much for him to handle. After all, Tucker had a family to provide for. His job was going to end and with his medical limitations, there were not that many lawyering opportunities. Clerkship was really the perfect job for him. He pondered how he might live with himself if he signed something that violated every principle he believed in. But he found these things paled compared to the horrors he thought the man in the sharkskin suit might visit upon him. He drew a heavy breath and moved his pen toward the signature line.
Just then T.J. entered the room, approaching Tucker solemnly. "Dad...I've been thinkin' bout what you said about Seth, how he's gonna keep doin' this if nobody tells Mr. Bradburn. He's a bully Dad, if somebody doesn't tell on 'im he's just gonna keep gettin' away with it. Do you think Mr. Bradburn will tell him it was me that told on 'im?
" No, but Seth may be able to figure out it was you even if Mr. Bradburn doesn't tell him. Are you ready for that?"
T.J. bit his upper lip, he shook his head yes and a tear started to roll down his cheek. Tucker reached out for him and gave him a bear hug. "Proud of you son," he mumbled.
Tucker sat in the overstuffed leather chairs that lined the reception area of the Supreme Court. His leg jumped when the intercom ringer on the receptionist's desk buzzed. "Justice Batterton will see you now, Mr. Fitzgibbon," she announced. Tucker sprang up and tried his best not to run towards the desk. "Just let yourself in the door," the receptionist said, pointing to the nondescript entry to her right.
His ears rang a discordant tune as he reached for the door, thinking he heard the gruff tones of "Belt and Suspenders" Batterton on the other side of it. He cracked open the door and turned his head toward the sound. Batterton dressed in keeping with his famous nickname, bright purple braces stretched over his considerable girth and buttoned to his suit pants. He wore a wide black belt with a gold metal buckle that would have looked more in place on a rodeo cowboy or a prizefighter. The Chief had a crop of curly, bright white hair that gave him several more inches of height, helping his five-foot eight inch frame seem more authoritative. He was leaning back in an overstuffed leather office chair surrounded by a mountainous pile of case files. His hand pressed a cell phone to his ear as he motioned Tucker to sit.
Tucker quickly plopped into the seat, hoping the throbbing pain above his right eye would not disrupt his concentration to the point he couldn't get the words out. Then Batterton clicked off the phone.
He took a gulp and stood up, extending his hand toward the Chief. "I'm Tucker Fitzgibbon, Mr. Chief Justice…"
Batterton waived a hand at him, "Sit down Mr. Fitzgibbon, I know who you are." The Chief had a scowl of irritation on his face. "Janie, my assistant, says you told her this was urgent, something to do with ethics or something? What's the big deal? I know you've got a resume' in for Pearlman's job, Powers is looking those over and we'll get to you in due course, I'm told you've got a good one."
Tucker swallowed and pressed his feet to the floor. "That's the problem I need to speak with you about sir, I...I know you're aware of the obligation all of us have to report unethical behavior, uh, and I know Mr. Encarnacion has done a lot for you and you, at least I think you, well what I'm saying is you have him screening employees so obviously you put a lot of trust in him, and I'm sure, ah, that...well, if he was doing things that are in violation of the Code of Conduct, that you'd want to know, so I…"
Tucker looked up and saw that Batterton had sat upright in the chair and was glaring at him, his eyebrows furrowed. When their eyes met, the Chief cleared his throat.
"Are you going to sign off on that article or not?" he asked, eyebrows raised.
Tucker's heart nearly came out of his throat. His worst fears were being realized. The Chief Justice not only knew of Encarnacion's unethical demands, but was fully on board with them. His mind raced as he sat staring at Batterton, who wasn't saying anything more, but was waiting for an answer from him on the impossible question he had just asked.
Tucker felt paralyzed. His mind raced to how he could extricate himself from the room.
Batterton leaned in and continued to press. "I need an answer, son, lots of people who would like this job, if you're not on board, then you need to let me know so I can start looking elsewhere."
Something stirred in Tucker he didn't know was there. He thought of his discussion with T.J. about bullies. He forgot about getting out of the room and found himself looking Batterton directly in the eye.
"There's no way I'm putting my signature on that thing, I'd forfeit my law license before I did that!" Tucker could hardly believe he heard the words coming out of his mouth. But out they came, and the force of them seemed to knock Batterton backwards in his chair, as he slid back and relaxed his brow.
"Really?" was the only reply from the Chief.
"Really." Tucker shot back.
The Chief blew out a puff of air and ran his fingers through his hair. "Well," he continued, contemplating his next move. "I guess that means we don't need to schedule an interview for you then," he stopped and the pause became pregnant. Tucker sat apparently stuck in the chair, unable to convince his body to move.
"No," continued the Chief, "an interview won't be necessary, because I've just heard what I needed to hear. The job is yours Mr. Fitzgibbon if you still want it."
Tucker shook his head in disbelief. "Excuse me?," he asked, leaning forward.
The Chief broke into a wide smile and bent forward to hit his office intercom. "You heard me right Mr. Fitzgibbon, I'm offering you the job. You just passed a test, a test that I regret we've had to institute here since the last election." He leaned forward and spoke into his phone. "Janie, would you tell Powers to come in here."
The door opened and in walked a smiling Powers Encarnacion. He approached Tucker directly and offered his hand. "Congratulations, Mr. Fitzgibbon, you've demonstrated tremendous integrity. Please accept my apology for the stress we've created for you, but we had to know if you can stand up to the kinds of pressure this job will dish out. We are completely on board with you on the ethical issues we tried to compromise you on. Justice Batterton has recused himself from the cases I made reference to. The issue seems clear to us even though the law has yet to change. You acted with integrity."
Justice Batterton stood and rounded his desk, smiling broadly as he approached Tucker, who had begun to feel his fingers again. "Powers here plays the part of the bully naturally," he said winking at his co-conspirator, "it takes guts to stand up to one, obviously someone did a good job teaching you right from wrong, son."
"Yes, your honor, " Tucker said, "someone did.."
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