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April 20, 2011

The main offices of the public defender are up on the third floor of the addition.  There are two small conflict offices, including my own, and two attorneys on contract.  This allows the public defender’s office to handle most cases involving more than one Defendant.
The entrance to the main office is usually open.  There’s a small reception area with the latest receptionist, a kid with dye blonde hair, and earrings all the way up the sides of her ears.  There’s a couple people waiting in the worn chairs.  Instead of mustard colored, the cushions are restaurant red.
I think the receptionist’s name is Tracy, but that might have been the last one.  She’s chewing bubble gum and snaps it as I come in.  She looks bored and doesn’t try to hide it.
She has a large whitehead on one nostril.  The skin is an irritated red around the pustule.  Then I realize it isn’t a whitehead, but the stud in a pierced nose.  I wave cheerfully as I pass her by.  She looks at me the way teenagers at a family reunion look at the obnoxious aunt that demands a hug.
The office area behind her has a large area in the center filled with ugly office partitions that make a little pink ghetto for the secretaries and paralegals to work at.  People are hunched over their computers and not talking much.  That means Charles is in the office.  My boss thinks chatter is counterproductive, fortunately for all of us he’s hardly ever around.
The desks of the staff are small, crowded with papers, files and a few personal items, mainly tiny pictures of smiling children, which slowly change with each passing year.  There’s usually some other personal items that each woman collects:  Disney characters, Winnie the Pooh, Angels or Precious Moments figurines.  The universal characteristic other than the beige computer and desk is the beverages.  At each desk is either a “mucho grande” latte, or a 44oz soda, probably diet.
I have a nagging suspicion that the young man at the espresso stand nearby is making way more money than I do.
Along the walls on both sides are doors leading into the attorney offices.  Some of the doors are open and I can see counselors talking to each other, or working at their computers.  Behind the closed doors are either attorneys with clients or someone that has a deadline.  You can tell how long an attorney has been working in the public sector by their attire.
The new ones start out with sharp looking suits, even if they aren’t expensive.  They wear blues and greens.  The lines are clean, the shirts are pressed and the shoes gleam.  The lifers are rumpled.  They wear more earth tones.  Shoes are comfortable and worn.  Their clothes end up so out of style that eventually they’d be in vogue, if they weren’t so threadbare.
I’m the only male, other than Charles, in here.  My boss likes swimming in a sea of estrogen.  Everyone jokes about it.  I’m not sure if it’s simply because he likes women, or if he’s paternalistic and likes only having women under him or if there’s some bizarre Freudian motivation.  I’d be lying if I didn’t notice a similarity between a lot of the younger women and his teenage daughters.
Between the doors, and making walking in the halls more maze-like, are mismatched filing cabinets.  There’s black ones, dented gray ones, a couple antique wood ones that don’t shut properly and quite a few gunmetal ones.  There are short cabinets stacked on each other and oversized ones.  Because the floor is uneven, the file cabinets lean in different directions.
On top of the cabinets are files, papers and old unused equipment.  Behind them are trial exhibits and displays to aid in arguments.  It kind of looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic Dr. Seuss book, without the zip of red or any other color, and where all the characters are female.
I wave and greet people, but I don’t chat as I head for the chief’s office for my weekly required visit to keep him informed of how things are for me.  His office is at the other end and in a corner.  Beside his office is the conference room and library.  Charles was able to procure a grant enabling him to buy research books for the public defender’s office.  It’s a good thing, since all the books in the County law library went to the dump in order to provide better office space for one of the judges.
As I approach Charles’ office, I can hear strains of opera coming from within punctuated by an occasional thump that the music doesn’t disguise.  Charles loves opera.  At any given time you can hear Carmen, or Don Giovanni or Wagner playing within.
His door is closed.  I look over at his paralegal, Nikki and ask, “Is anyone in there with him?”  Just to be sure.  He rarely keeps the opera going when he has a client or someone in there.
She shakes her head, “No, but he’s in a funny mood.”  A warning.  Charles is usually in a mood of some kind.
I hear another thump as I knock on the door before I open it.  Charles is standing beside his desk holding a broomstick and looking up at the drop ceiling tiles.  One of the water stained tiles is askew.
Charles is in his late forties and looks like the devil.  A lot of women find him good looking if a bit foppish.  He dresses well, better than almost any other public defender I’ve ever known.  His hands are manicured, his goatee neatly trimmed.
He grew up on the east coast and went to a big law school over there.  Like a lot of east coasters, he thinks being wound too tight makes him somehow superior to anybody from the rest of the country.  He’s an east coast liberal, meaning that there’s a bit of that attitude that he’s liberal because “any thinking man would be liberal” a type of intellectual snobbery that doesn’t require any thinking.
“Close the door and come in Adam.”  He waves at a chair and realizes he’s still holding onto the broom.  He sets it aside slowly.
I shut the door.  There’s a full-length mirror on the back of the door.  I’d bet Charles preens in front of it.   I make my way to a chair as he turns the opera down.  Although I don’t recognize it, I’m sure the woman singing in a foreign tongue is either lamenting unrequited love, or the death of a loved one.  It’s pretty near the same thing.
Charles glances back up at the drop ceiling and then says in a whisper, “I don’t want to sound paranoid, but do you think my office is bugged?”
It doesn’t take much for the paranoids to start chasing you when you’re a public defender.  After about two days you figure out that the courts and most of the public, will believe a peace officer over someone else’s testimony.  It’s easy to frame someone if a dirty cop wants to do it.
I’ve been here through a few chief public defenders and to a one, they all got a bit paranoid.  It comes with the job, I suppose.
I could laugh, but that’s a bad idea.  Besides, sometimes when I’m tired these kind of ideas seem more realistic.  I cup my hands around my mouth, look up at the ceiling and raise my voice and call outthe County Attorney’s name “Hey Thurgood! I hope you’re listening because I think you’re the most pathetic excuse for a human being and the world will be better off when you die.”
Charles chuckles.  There’s a hint of relief in the laughter.  He was worried.
I grin, “In answer to your question: who knows?  On the one hand I doubt it because they always do things the easy way and bugging your office would take a lot of time, just to listen, but with some of the cops around here anything’s possible.  If they’re eavesdropping somehow, it’ll get out someday and that will be the end of their careers.  It’s best to just assume their not, because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Charles nods, “You’re right, it’s just sometimes . . .” he shrugs, “you know what I mean?”
I nod.  “I do.”
Charles strokes his goatee for a moment.  I can tell he’s debating whether he should ask me something.  I keep the smile off my face.  Charles has two conflicting desires.  For the most part, he tries to keep his workload to a minimum.  He has about a third of the open cases I do, supposedly so he can handle all the administrative and management of the office. However, his style of management tends to be minimalist, by which I mean absent, except when something goes wrong and then he looks for someone to fire.
His big weakness in terms of making sure he doesn’t work is his love of big cases that get his name in the paper.   When he gets a hold of one of those, he works that case to the absence of any other.  It can get good results on that case, but the other clients suffer.  If he decides the case is a loser, which it usually is, he dumps it on someone else about a month before trial.  That someone is usually a person with experience, which puts me as a prime candidate for the dog.
“Everything going o.k.?”  Whatever he wanted, he decided not to ask.  Yet.
“Sure.  Busy, but nothing bad.”
|    Charles nods, “O.K., well, let me know.”  He dismisses me.  All that wasted time so I could be managed properly.
“Shut my door on your way, out would you?”
I get up.  “Sure.”
As I shut the door, I hear the opera turned up again.  At least he isn’t banging on the ceiling anymore.

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