"I can see twenty," Mordecai said.
"Who'll get the money?" the Judge asked.
"It'll be a nightmare," Mordecai admitted.
"How much in attorneys' fees?"
"Twenty percent. Half of which goes to a trust in New York."
The Judge snapped around and began pacing again, hands clenched behind his head. "Six months is light," he said.
"That's all we're giving," Mordecai retorted.
"All right. Let me talk to the other side."
* * *
Our private session with DeOrio lasted less than fifteen minutes. For the bad guys, it took an hour. Of course, they were the ones forking over the money.
We drank colas on a bench in the bustling lobby of the building, saying nothing as we watched a million lawyers scurry about, chasing clients and justice.
We walked the halls and looked at the scared people about to be hauled before the bench for a variety of offenses. Mordecai spoke to a couple of lawyers he knew. I recognized no one. Big-firm lawyers did not spend time in Superior Court.
The clerk found us and led us back to the courtroom, where all players were in place. Things were tense. DeOrio was agitated. Arthur and company looked exhausted. We took our seats and waited for the Judge.
"Mr. Green," he began, "I have met with the lawyers for the defendants. Here's their best offer: the sum of three million dollars, and a one-year suspension for Mr. Brock."
Mordecai had barely settled into his seat, when he bounced forward. "Then we're wasting our time," he said and grabbed his briefcase. I jumped up to follow him.
"Please excuse us, Your Honor," he said. "But we have better things to do." We started for the aisle between the pews.
"You're excused," the Judge said, very frustrated.
We left the courtroom in a rush.
I was unlocking the car when the cell phone rattled in my pocket. It was Judge DeOrio. Mordecai laughed when I said, "Yes, Judge, we'll be there in five minutes." We took ten, stopping in the rest rooms on the ground floor, walking slowly, using the stairs, giving DeOrio as much time as possible to further pummel the defendants.
The first thing I noticed when we entered the courtroom was that Jack Bolling, one of the three attorneys for RiverOaks, had removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and was walking away from the Drake & Sweeney lawyers. I doubted if he had physically slapped them around, but he looked willing and able.
The huge verdict Mordecai dreamed about would be lodged against all three defendants. Evidently RiverOaks had been sufficiently frightened by the settlement conference. Threats had been made, and perhaps the company had decided to chip in with some cash of its own. We would never know.
I avoided the jury box and sat next to Mordecai. Wilma Phelan had left.
"We're getting close," the Judge said.
"And we're thinking of withdrawing our offer," Mordecai announced with one of his more violent barks. We had not discussed such a thing, and neither the other lawyers nor His Honor had contemplated it. Their heads jerked as they looked at each other.
"Settle down," DeOrio said.
"I'm very serious, Judge. The more I sit here in this courtroom, the more convinced I am that this travesty needs to be revealed to a jury. As for Mr. Brock, his old firm can push all it wants on the criminal charges, but it's no big deal. They have their file back. He has no criminal record. God knows our system is overloaded with drug dealers and murderers; prosecuting him will become a joke. He will not go to jail. And the bar complaint--let it run its course. I'll file one against Braden Chance and maybe some of the other lawyers involved in this mess, and we'll have us an old-fashioned spitting contest." He pointed at Arthur and said, "You run to the newspaper, we run to the newspaper."
The 14th Street Legal Clinic couldn't care less what was printed about it. If Gantry cared, he wouldn't show it. RiverOaks could continue to make money in spite of bad press. But Drake & Sweeney had only its reputation to market.
Mordecai's tirade came from nowhere, and they were completely astonished by it.
"Are you finished?" DeOrio asked.
"Good. The offer is up to four million."
"If they can pay four million, then they can certainly pay five." Mordecai pointed again, back to Drake & Sweeney. "This defendant had gross billings last year of almost seven hundred million dollars." He paused as the numbers echoed around the courtroom. "Seven hundred million dollars, last year alone." Then he pointed at RiverOaks. "And this defendant owns real estate worth three hundred and fifty million dollars. Give me a jury."
When it appeared that he was silent, DeOrio again asked, "Are you finished?"
"No sir," he said, and in an instant became remarkably calm. "We'll take two million up front, a million for our fees, a million for the heirs. The balance of three million can be spread over the next ten years--three hundred thousand a year, plus a reasonable interest rate. Surely these defendants can spare three hundred thousand bucks a year. They may be forced to raise rents and hourly rates, but they certainly know how to do that." A structured settlement with an extended payout made sense. Because of the instability of the heirs, and the fact that most of them were still unknown, the money would be carefully guarded by the court. Mordecai's latest onslaught was nothing short of brilliant. There was a noticeable relaxing in the Drake & Sweeney group. He had given them a way out. Jack Bolling huddled with them. Gantry's lawyers watched and listened, but were almost as bored as their client.
"We can do that," Arthur announced. "But we keep our position regarding Mr. Brock. It's a one-year suspension, or there's no settlement."
I suddenly hated Arthur, again. I was their last pawn, and to save what little face they had left, they wanted all the blood they could squeeze.
But poor Arthur was not negotiating from a position of power. He was desperate, and looked it.
"What difference does it make?!" Mordecai yelled at him. "He's agreed to suffer the indignity of surrendering his license. What does an extra six months give you? This is absurd?
The two corporate boys from RiverOaks had had enough. Naturally afraid of courtrooms, their fear had reached new heights after three hours of Mordecai. There was no way on earth they would endure two weeks of trial. They shook their heads in frustration and whispered intensely to one another.
Even Tillman Gantry was tired of Arthur's nitpicking. With the settlement so close, finish the damned thing!
Seconds earlier, Mordecai had yelled, "What difference does it make?" And he was right. It really made no difference, especially for a street lawyer like me, one whose job and salary and status would remain wonderfully unaffected by a temporary suspension.
I stood, and very politely said, "Your Honor, let's split the difference. We offered Six months; they want twelve. I'll agree to nine." I looked at Barry Nuzzo when I said this, and he actually smiled at me.
If Arthur had opened his mouth at that point, he would've been mugged. Everyone relaxed, including DeOrio. "Then we have a deal," he said, not waiting for a confirmation from the defendants.
His wonderfully efficient law clerk pecked away at a word processor in front of the bench, and within minutes she produced a one-page Settlement Memorandum. We quickly signed it, and left.
* * *
There was no champagne at the office. Sofia was doing what she always did. Abraham was attending a homeless conference in New York.