New Tricks - By David Rosenfelt
I am raising a literary glass in a toast to a long and wonderful life for Oliver Baron Rosenfelt.
“ANDY CARPENTER, Lawyer to the Dogs.”
That was the USA Today headline on a piece that ran about me a couple of months ago. It was a favorable story overall, but the headline was obviously designed to make a humorous comparison between me and those celebrity attorneys who are often referred to as “lawyers to the stars.”
While you would naturally think it would have exposed me to ridicule from my colleagues in the legal profession and my friends, it really hasn’t. This is because I don’t hang out with colleagues in the legal profession, and my friends already have plenty of other reasons to ridicule me.
Actually, referring to me this way makes perfect sense. Last year I went to court to defend a golden retriever who had been scheduled to die at the hands of the animal control system here in Paterson, New Jersey. I saved his life, and the media ate it up with a spoon. Then I learned that the dog was a witness to a murder five years prior, and I successfully defended his owner, the man who had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for that murder.
Three months ago I cemented my reputation as a dog lunatic by representing all the dogs in the Passaic County Animal Shelter in a class action suit. I correctly claimed that my clients were being treated inhumanely, a legally difficult posture since the opposition took the position that a key part of “humane” is “human,” and my clients fell a little short in that area.
With the media covering it as if it were the trial of the century, we won, and living conditions in the shelters have been improved dramatically. I’m in a good position to confirm this, because my former client Willie Miller and I run a dog-rescue operation called the Tara Foundation, named after my own golden retriever. We are in the shelters frequently to rescue dogs to place in homes, and if we see any slippage back to the old policies, we’re not exactly shy about pointing it out.
Since that stirring court victory, I’ve been on a three-month vacation from work. I find that my vacations are getting longer and longer, almost to the point that vacationing is my status quo, from which I take infrequent “work breaks.” Two things enable me to do this: my mostly inherited wealth, and my laziness.
Unfortunately, my extended siesta is about to come to an unwelcome conclusion. I’ve been summoned to the courthouse by Judge Henry Henderson, nicknamed “Hatchet” by lawyers who have practiced in his court. It’s not exactly a term of endearment.
Hatchet’s not inviting me to make a social call, and it’s unlikely we’ll be sipping tea. He doesn’t like me and finds me rather annoying, which doesn’t make him particularly unique. The problem is that he’s in a position to do something about it.
Hatchet has been assigned to a murder case that has dominated the local media. Walter Timmerman, a man who could accurately be referred to as a semi-titan in the pharmaceutical industry, was murdered three weeks ago. It was not your everyday case of “semi-titan-murdering”; he wasn’t killed on the golf course at the country club, or by an intruder breaking into his mansion. Timmerman was killed at night in the most run-down area of downtown Paterson, a neighborhood filled with hookers and drug dealers, not caddies or butlers.
Within twenty-four hours, police arrested a twenty-two-year-old Hispanic man for the crime. He was in possession of Timmerman’s wallet the day after the murder. The police are operating on the safe assumption that Timmerman did not give the wallet to this young man for safekeeping, knowing he was soon to be murdered.
This is where I am unfortunately going to enter the picture. The accused cannot afford an attorney, so the court will appoint one for him. I have not handled pro bono work in years, but I’m on the list, and Hatchet is obviously going to stick me with this case.
I arrive at the courthouse at eight thirty, which is when Hatchet has instructed me to be in his chambers. The arraignment is at nine, and since I haven’t even met my client-to-be, I’ll have to ask for a postponement. I’ll try to get it postponed for fifty years, but I’ll probably have to settle for a few days.
I’m surprised when I arrive to see Billy “Bulldog” Cameron, the attorney who runs the