The ink was not yet dry on my law license in Texas. I had just turned 25, and through sheer luck, secured a job in those very depressed times in the late 1970s with a solo practitioner who was well-known in the Houston legal arena.
He told me I would be representing a client at a trial in court within an hour. At that time, it took 30 minutes to drive from the office to downtown.
The charge was urinating in public on a police parking lot. I frantically pulled a book with city ordinances and grabbed a pad of paper.
On the way to the courthouse, I attempted to read the statute for some guidance.
Law school did not provide any practical experience, and my service as a line editor on the Law Review was also not helpful.
I went into City Court and met my client for the first time. He was an elderly Black man who appeared to be a bit inebriated. I suggested he sit next to me at counsel table so he would not have to walk any distance.
Court was called to order. A very stern judge swept onto the bench and glowered down at me, my client, the prosecuting attorney and several police witnesses. (At this point, I had not had a full opportunity to investigate facts with my client because things were moving swiftly.)
Even though I was shaking inwardly, I asked for a continuance (which is what my boss had suggested). The judge looked surprised and grumbled, “Denied.”
The prosecuting attorney also glowered at my client and proceeded to present his evidence. In rapid and well-practiced succession, he elicited direct testimony from each of the three uniformed officers, first getting them to describe their experience and work as police officers, the citation that had been written for my client, the circumstances of the event which had occurred in the very early morning on the police parking lot outside the police station as my client had been jerked unceremoniously and painfully in handcuffs from the back seat of the police cruiser (which I learned later).
As the prosecuting attorney continued to present his evidence, my heart began to sink. This was a time in Houston where police officers often took advantage of minorities. I was concerned about future ramifications for my client and exactly how they would present proof supporting the claim of urination and public exposure, a misdemeanor.
Finally, the prosecuting attorney said the witnesses could be excused.
I stood and asked him and the court if the prosecutor was through presenting evidence for his case. He angrily snapped, “Yes. I am through. City rests.”
I looked at the judge, stood and said “I move that I win.” (No one had told me the proper language to use in court, and I had not attended any court hearings like this one in the past.)
The judge looked at me, looked at the prosecutor – and smiled.
He then said, “The little lady is right; she wins. Case dismissed.” His gavel slammed down. He left the bench. And everyone except my client stood.
The prosecuting attorney was furious, but my client hugged me vigorously. Not one of the witnesses had identified my client as the person who had committed the misdemeanors, or whose name appeared on the citations.
The event was memorable for two reasons. First, because I recognized the prosecuting attorney had not identified my client as the person who committed the misdemeanor. Second, it was the norm then that I was the only female present.
The judges and opposing counsel, who held court in their three-piece suits and well-shined Lucchese cowboy boots, as well as the witnesses, clients, court reporters and court bailiffs, were all male. There were only four women besides me in my law school section of 120 or so who graduated.
It showed me that careful listening, trusting my instincts and advocacy were advantageous tools to try to effect justice for my clients. It also taught me that there will be times when everything is out of your control, and you will have to do the best you can in the circumstances.
Clearly, I knew I needed to work on my courtroom skills (and was provided much needed instruction from that sole practitioner, the judge and my future colleagues in Houston). But back in those days, one learned under fire on the job.
Because of the intense emotions (including massive fear and some intimidation from being female and young), and because my client was exonerated from this misdemeanor, I have never forgotten it.
The story of his arrest and citation is this: My client was the maître d’ of a famous restaurant in Houston, and had enjoyed several adult beverages in the restaurant after work. After he closed and locked up well after midnight, the police followed him home and searched him and his car.
The policemen were not kind, and because this elderly gentleman had to use the restroom, they purposefully prevented him from doing so. Hours later, when they brought him to the police station, he could no longer control himself and the result was the two misdemeanor charges – urination in public on the police parking lot (there was an ordinance to that effect) and public display, or indecent exposure.
The police were angry at him because, back then, urine samples provided their evidence of intoxication, and he urinated away their evidence.
This experience also taught me that meeting with clients well in advance of any hearing is essential, and ensuring that your client is not inebriated when he shows up for the hearing is also recommended.
I had another experience a few years later with a company CEO on the stand at a TRO hearing wearing sunglasses at 10:30 in the morning because, well, I believe he had snorted something to calm his nerves before testifying, but that is another story another day.