Fool Me Twice

Paul Levine

Chapter 1


Louis “Blinky” Baroso squirmed in his chair, tugged at my sleeve, and silently implored me to do something.


Clients are like that. Every time the prosecutor scores a point, they expect you to bounce up with a stinging rejoinder or a brilliant objection. This requires considerable physical and mental agility, something like prancing through the tires on the practice field while reciting Hamlet.

First, you’ve got to slide your chair back and stand up without knocking your files onto the floor, and preferably, without leaving your fly unzipped. Next, your expression must combine practiced sincerity with virtuous outrage. Finally, you have to say something reasonably intelligent, but not so perspicacious as to sail over the head of a politically appointed judge with a two-digit IQ. For me, the toughest part is simultaneously leaping to my feet and veiling “objection” while buttoning my suit coat. Sometimes, I slip the top button into the second hole, giving me a cockeyed look, and probably distracting the jurors.

Blinky’s eyes pleaded with me. Do something.

What could I do?

I patted Blinky’s forearm and tried to calm him, smiling placidly. The captain of the Hindenburg probably displayed the same serene demeanor just before touching down.

“ Chill out and stop fidgeting,” I whispered, still smiling, this time in the direction of the jurors. “I’ll get my turn.”

Blinky puffed out his fleshy cheeks until he looked like a blowfish, sighed and sank into his chair. He turned toward Abe Socolow, who was strutting in front of the jury box, weaving a tale of deceit, corruption, greed, and fraud. In short, Honest Abe was telling the life story of Blinky Baroso.

“ This man,” Socolow said, using his index finger as a rapier aimed directly at Blinky’s nose, “this man abused the trust placed in him by innocent people. He took money under false pretenses, never intending to perform what he promised. He preyed on those whose only failing was to trust his perfidiously clever misrepresentations.”

Socolow paused a moment, either for effect, or to round up his adjectives. “What has the state proved this man has done?” Again, the finger pointed at my presumably innocent client, and the cuff of Socolow’s white shirt shot out of the sleeve of his suit coat, revealing silver cuff links shaped like miniature handcuffs. In prosecutorial circles, this is considered haute couture.

“ The state has proved that Louie Baroso is a master of deceit and deception,” Socolow announced, answering his own question as lawyers are inclined to do. “Louie Baroso is a disreputable, manipulative, conscienceless sociopath who gets his kicks out of conning people.”

I thought I heard Blinky whimper. Okay, now Socolow was getting close to the line. Still, I’d rather let it pass. An objection would show the jury he was drawing blood. But then, my silence would encourage him to keep it up.

“ This defendant is so thoroughly corrupt and completely crooked that he could stand in the shadow of a corkscrew,” Socolow said with a malicious grin.

“ Objection!” Now I was on my feet, trying to button my suit coat and check my fly at the same time. “Name-calling is not fair comment on the evidence.”

“ Sustained,” said the judge, waving his hand in a gesture that told Socolow to move it along.

Unrepentant, Socolow shot his sleeve again, fiddled with one of the tiny handcuffs, and lowered his voice as if conveying secrets of momentous portent. “A thief, a con man, and a swindler, that’s what the evidence shows. Both Mr. Baroso and his co-defendant, Mr. Hornback, are guilty of each and every one of the counts, which I will now review with you.”

And so he did.


My attention span is about twelve minutes, a little more than most jurors, a lot less than most Nobel prizewinners. I knew what Abe was doing. In his methodical, plodding way, he would summarize the evidence, all the time building to a crescendo of righteous indignation. While I was half listening, scrupulously not watching Socolow so that the jurors would think I was unconcerned with what he said, I scribbled notes on a yellow pad, preparing my own summation.

I am not invited by Ivy League institutions to lecture on the rules of evidence or the fine art of oral advocacy. Downtown lawyers do not flock to the courthouse to see my closing arguments. I am apparently one of the few lawyers in the country not solicited by the television networks to comment on the O. J. Simpson case, even though I am probably the only one to have missed tackling him-resulting in a touchdown-on a snowy day in Buffalo about a million years ago. I don’t know the secrets of winning cases, other than playing golf with the judges and contributing cash to their re-election campaigns. I don’t know what goes through jurors’ minds, even when I sidle up to their locked door and listen to the babble through the keyhole. In short, I am not the world’s greatest trial lawyer. Or even the best in the high-rise office building that overlooks Biscayne Bay where I hang out my shingle, or would, if I knew what a shingle was. My night law school diploma is fastened by duct tape to the bathroom wall at home. It covers a crack in the plaster and forces me to contemplate the sorry state of the justice system a few times each day, more if I’m staring at the world through a haze induced by excessive consumption of malt and hops.

I am broad-shouldered, sandy-haired, and blue-eyed, and my neck is always threatening to pop the top button on my shirts. I look more like a longshoreman than a lawyer.

A dozen years ago, I scored straight C’s in torts and contracts after an undistinguished career as a second- string linebacker earning slightly more than league minimum with the Miami Dolphins. In my first career, including my days as a semi-scholar-athlete in college, I had two knee operations, three shoulder separations, a broken nose, wrist, and ankle, and turftoe so bad my foot was the size and color of an eggplant.

In my second career, I’ve been ridiculed by deep-carpet, Armani-suited, Gucci-briefcased lawyers, jailed for contempt by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered.

I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.

On this humid June morning, I was slumped into the heavy oak chair at the defense table, gathering my thoughts, then disposing of most of them, while my client kept twisting around, whispering snippets of unsolicited and irrelevant advice. Each time, he leaned close enough to remind me of the black bean soup with onions he had slurped down at lunch. Nodding sagely, I silently thanked him for his assistance, all the time staring at the sign above the judge’s bench: we who labor here seek only the truth.

Sure, sure, and the check’s in the mail.

Philosophers and poets may be truth seekers. Lawyers only want to win. I have my own personal code, and you won’t find it in any books. I won’t lie to the judge, bribe a cop, or steal from a client. Other than that, it’s pretty much anything goes. Still, I draw the line on whose colors I’ll wear. I won’t represent child molesters or drug dealers. Yeah, I know, everybody’s entitled to a defense, and the lawyer isn’t there to assert the client’s innocence, just to force the state to meet its burden of proof. Cross-examine, put on your case, if you have any, and let the chips fall where they may.

Bull! When I defend someone, I walk in that person’s moccasins, or tasseled loafers, as the case may be. I am not just a hired gun. I lose a piece of myself and take on a piece of the client. That doesn’t mean I represent only innocent defendants. If I did, I would starve. My first job after law school was in the Public Defender’s office,

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