My first entry in the novel-in-one-month challenge (a la www.nanowrimo.org):

The Supremes

PROLOGUE

[I]in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them. … We, therefore, … solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; … and that they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

—Declaration of Independence

 

Dawn hadn’t yet broken over downtown Phoenix as Bernie Galvez inched his truck toward the parking gate. Much to his disappointment, it remained stubbornly horizontal, as he waved his key card at the sensor over and over. He knew it was still hovering around 85 degrees outside, even in the darkness, so he hesitated to climb out to come up with another solution. But finally he concluded that his vehicle—and all those others starting today at this new business—would be out of luck unless he made a repair.

Galvez was the office manager of a new law firm launching that day, May 25th. He had been hard at work for three months laying groundwork for Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine. He had overseen the gutting and restoration of space at the Security building, the purchase of furniture, the installation of servers and computers. And today, for the first time, the lawyers and their staff would arrive. For the first time in months, he was using this entrance, the one that would soon be used by everyone on staff.

The stubborn gate was a bad omen.

Balancing a flashlight under his left arm, he began working his screwdriver on the eight surprisingly tiny screws that held the housing in place. Years of experience kept Galvez from losing them on the inky blacktop below. He held them in the palm of his hand, flashlight still dangling precariously, as he removed the cover and gazed at the guts inside.

Not a man easily surprised, Galvez stared evenly at the gears, the grease—and the mass of papers wedged amidst the machinery. The papers appeared to be standard-issue eight and a half by eleven sheets, and there had to be half a ream of them. Formerly white, they now were largely shit-brown. So wound among the gears were they that they had formed a serpentine river of petroleum-based tree product. A less accomplished viewer might have mistaken the sheets to be a valuable part of the machinery. But they worked perfectly—to prevent the parking-lot arm from moving upward.

It took Galvez about 15 minutes to clear the obstruction. His hard-worked but clean hands became a greasy mess as he extracted mass after sodden mass. Finally, he began to look closely at the puddliferous paper at his feet.

He knew immediately that the sheets were legal documents. Galvez had worked in law firms most of his life, and there was no mistaking them for anything else.

Some of the sheets were letters from a law firm and addressed to one of its former lawyers, Harvey Shinblock. The other pages were court documents from Shinblock’s lawsuit against the firm, which had formerly been housed in this same building. Galvez didn’t need to read through the muck to know more about one of the best-known cases in Phoenix legal history. He knew about Shinblock’s claims of stolen clients, reduced partner allocations and age discrimination against one of the “gray ladies” of the Phoenix white-shoe firms—if Arizona could be said to have gray ladies.

Ultimately, of course, the federal district court ruled against Shinblock on summary judgment. Judge Ropes said that Shinblock’s case lacked not only merit, but also any rhyme, reason or common sense.

Lawyers who read about the case generally thought that Judge Ropes was simply piling on with his added comments, but the circuit court concurred in their ruling, adding, for good measure, that someone (hint, hint State Bar) should take a good look at Shinblock’s credentials for practicing law. (As one oft-forwarded-via-email footnote queried, “Has anyone ever actually seen Mr. Shinblock’s diploma?” Dicta, of course, but a sting nonetheless.)

As he stared at the pile, Galvez realized that the top document—and therefore the first one forced into the machinery’s maw by an unseen hand—was that circuit court opinion. He and all of Arizona had read it, as it had flashed through cyberspace with remarkable speed, always preceded by a soupcon of sympathy for “poor Shinblock,” but barely hiding the glee that lawyers are capable of expressing in others’ misfortune. “There but for the grace of Lexis go I,” most lawyers felt with relief. It was the same impulse that drove them to sweep first to the “discipline” pages in the monthly Bar magazine: Disaster averted is a victory obtained.

Galvez also knew the next chapter in Shinblock’s story, which was an old one visited on many others: loss of clients, family dissolution, personal bankruptcy, relocation from Paradise Valley to points further southwest and considerably more diverse. He had begun a commingling dance between his own meager funds and those of his remaining clients. State Bar suspension was followed in rapid order by his continuing to practice while suspended. The long and tawdry tale also took some side roads down abuse of various hallucinagens, patronizing prostitutes (the kind who get caught), and even engaging in an angry conversation with a Circle K employee who insisted he pay for beer before he remove it from the store. Especially unfortunate, Shinblock was waving a pocket-knife at the time, so he got another opportunity to get involved with the law. And, for good measure, he was disbarred.

So there was no reporting Shinblock to the Bar for what was probably his handiwork, Galvez thought. And as the sun began to rise on the already-baking streets, the office manager decided that he had no interest in calling the police. He knew that his own day was off to a ignominious start, and he didn’t want the same to be said for Shinblock.

Besides, Galvez liked hot dogs, and Shinblock sold the best in the city.

Galvez smiled as he recalled how Shinblock had managed to get 30 days in the county lockup for his “misunderstanding” at the convenience store—the best lawyering Shinblock had ever done, representing himself before old Judge Barnes. And after that 30 days, Shinblock woke up driven by a dream of opening his own hot-dog stand.

Human nature being the self-destructive little imp that it is, Shinblock drove his metaphoric stake in the ground on the sidewalk right outside the criminal courts complex. There, he gazed balefully as lawyers and judges streamed by him daily. If looks could kill—or wound with a pocket-knife—those members of the bench and bar would have been a bloody mess on the Phoenix streets.

But maybe they got their comeuppance. For in the last three years since Shinblock opened “Court Weiners,” he had received the praise of every publication in town, from the “Best in Phoenix” to the “Best in the Southwest” to the “Best Nooner in a Casing.” Shinblock knew what he was doing as he steamed his hand-crafted dogs.

Nonetheless, no lawyer or judge was ever known to be brave enough to step up and purchase a meal. The history, the bad blood, and the fear of poisoning kept a significant portion of the suited sidewalk denizens from venturing forward and trying Shinblock’s bliss in a bun. They salivated and gnashed their teeth, but the gray and blue army marched past the stainless steel stand, thinking hungrily that they may have been a tad hard on good old Shinblock. Still, march by they did.

Galvez carefully placed the greasy paper mess in a nearby trash can, and then he began working the gears by hand. All went smoothly until the arm reached just past its halfway arc, and then stopped abruptly. With the increasing sunlight, he set down his flashlight and looked closely inside. There, right by the fulcrum, one of the gears had lost three of its cams. Nothing he could do now would solve this problem in the next hour or so before the early-arrivers made their entrance.

He sighed and stepped back. With the arm in its current position, most anyone could drive through, if they did it carefully. Of course, that meant anyone in the city with parking needs could come in too, but there is always a downside, he thought: Focus on the positive.

He could stay positive because he had known and been hired recently by Tom Paine, the new firm’s founding partner. Tom was a man whom Galvez respected greatly, and he hardly hesitated when he was asked to come aboard this new operation. So impressed was he by Paine that he had framed the invitation letter that Paine had sent him earlier that year:

“Dear Mr. Galvez:”

(It was one of Bernie’s points of pride that the letter-writer had crossed out the typed “Mr. Galvez” and hand-inscribed “Bernie.”)

“It was a pleasure to see you the other night at the reception for the United States Attorney. That reminded me that one of the first times we met, it was at a similar reception for me, when I was named Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. It was a wonderful event for me and my family, of course, but one thing that stands out in my mind was your introducing me to your wife Sylvia and your wonderful children (I hope Rachael and Kate are both well). You and I spoke at length that night about the importance of quality courts, and I’ve always remembered your passion for an independent judiciary. You were working at Smith & Pitt at the time, as I recall.

“Well, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge. You have ended up winning awards for introducing new and effective methods to law-firm office management—not often represented by cutting-edge approaches. And I served for 20 years on our state’s highest court, and retired this past August.

“Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to what to do with my hours, and the idea of opening a law office has bobbed to the surface more than once. Recently, though, I’ve been approached by Claude Dedrick, also retired from the Court, and agreed to give the idea a go.

“Our idea is that the firm will be comprised entirely of former state Supreme Court justices. Claude has generously agreed to serve as Managing Partner. We are hoping that our experience and abilities will be attractive to clients and judges alike. We may be mistaken, but we believe that “The Supremes” still have a lot to offer.

“Would you join us? I am formally offering you the position of Office Administrator at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine. We can talk more later about titles, salary, benefits and the such. But I wanted to contact you immediately to ask you to be part of our team. We expect to employ the greatest technology and techniques to serve our clients. To do that, we require some of the best expertise to guide our soon-to-launch ship.

“I look forward to hearing from you.

“Yours truly,”

(Again, Paine had crossed out the words and replaced them with “Your friend,”)

“Tom Paine

Arizona Supreme Court, Chief Justice (retired)”

 

This letter and his long affiliation with Paine helped obscure Galvez’ interactions with the parking-lot arm, and the flash of worry that perhaps they were opening a law office on an Indian burial ground.

It also helped Galvez ignore two requests he had received months before from the firm’s managing partner, Claude (former Justice) Dedrick. The stern old man had insisted that the new firm’s law library be larger than any other in the city. And he had required Galvez to set aside enough space for a “Facsimile Center” that would contain 30 fax machines.

Galvez did not know Dedrick, except by reputation. So he had patiently tried to explain the structural requirements that a library—tens of thousands of pounds of paper and ink—would place on their leased space, and on their tenant-improvements budget. And he had stressed that more, um, modern, law firms found that they did not require the number of fax machines that firms in, say, the ‘80s had required.

Justice Dedrick had stared with a shriveling gaze at Galvez and spoke evenly, leaving no doubt who was the owner and who was chattel.

“Our prospective clients, Mr. Galvez, may be unlike clients you have encountered in your previous law firms. They will be among the most important people in the highest levels of commerce and government. They will expect that we know THE LAW, Mr. Galvez, and they understand that THE LAW is to be found in bound volumes. Perhaps that notion escaped the other lawyers who required your services. But that is how it will be at the Dedrick law firm.”

Galvez caught immediately that “Dedrick law firm” moniker, which the old coot would never fail to use, except when his partners were in earshot, when he would dutifully intone the firm’s complete name.

“And as for the Facsimile Center,” Dedrick continued, “the most successful law firms at which I was employed in the 1980s, prior to my ascension to the Supreme Court, utilized many facsimile machines operating simultaneously. They were seen as the single best way to transmit sensitive documents. I have heard from Tom that you know something about law offices, so I’m surprised you don’t know this. But the Dedrick law firm will have a Facsimile Center.”

Galvez made a mental note never to use the short form “fax” around the managing partner.

“And one more thing,” Dedrick said. “I like to communicate with staff and my partners mainly through the use of the managing partner memorandum. I suppose we can send my memoranda via electronic mail, but I also will expect that hard copies will be posted on firm bulletin boards, perhaps in the staff kitchen, should we be unwise enough to have such a thing.”

Galvez nodded and paused. But then he spied with a start that Dedrick had returned to reading the document on his desk. The Office Administrator had been dismissed from his first meeting with Claude Dedrick.

Now, months later, Galvez entered the retrofitted building and turned on the lights. Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine was open for business.

CHAPTER 1 is next.

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