Day 29 in my novel-in-a-month effort:
Chapter 23: Free Assembly
In general. – The Secretary shall carry out a national scenic byways program that recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities by designating the roads as –
(A) National Scenic Byways;
(B) All-American Roads; or
(C) America’s Byways.
—Title 23, United States Code, Highways, Federal-Aid/Highways, National scenic byways program, Designation of Roads
The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, in downtown Phoenix, is, as they say, loosely based on the National Mall in Washington, DC. There, the comparisons come to a screeching halt, except as fodder for stand up comedy.
Like its cohort three thousand miles east, the Wesley Bolin Plaza is an open air affair, a public space that proudly displays monuments, gardens and memorials. In fact, it displays 27 memorials, ranging in level of viewer interest from the Armenian Arizonan Veterans Memorial, to the Police Dog K9 Memorial, to one of the two anchors recovered from the USS Arizona, sunk in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, with a loss of 1,177 lives.
Tom Paine had always liked Wesley Bolin Plaza, ever since it was established in 1978. Sitting just east of the historic state capitol building, it occupied only about two square blocks of acreage, but it provided ample room for the rare and occasional visitor to contemplate in silence.
A few years after the attacks of 9/11, a nonpartisan commission had plunged into a project to create and dedicate a 9/11 Memorial on the Bolin Plaza. All seemed to go well, until pedestrians and, even worse, nearby legislators, began to read the quotations inscribed into the concrete.
Titling toward the sky, the memorial is a 42 foot steel ring. Walking beneath, one can read the words set into concrete that had been suggested by many Arizonans and selected by the committee – to their regret.
Most all of the quotations were what one would have expected of such a memorial: “We will never forget,” “Day of infamy,” “Loss of the innocents.” But a few inscriptions created a fire storm, one that led to a seemingly permanent “under construction” fence that still surrounded the memorial today. Paine remembered some of the quotes:
“Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn’t prevent attacks.”
“Middle East violence motivates attacks in the US.”
The phrase that ultimately almost led to destruction of the monument was “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.”
Seeing the forest fire sweeping down into the Valley, the commission acted to inscribe a few counter proposals, which originally had landed on the editing room floor, such as “Must bomb back.”
Too little, too late. The crowds of protestors had turned out in force, fanned to white hot anger by the legislators, followed by the TV reporters, followed by more legislators, in the eternal circle of life.
Why Speaker Alan Spinkter had wanted to meet Tom Paine here, Tom had no idea. Spinkter had identified the 9/11 Memorial as the meeting spot, but Paine decided he had no stomach to listen to speeches and tirades today. He avoided the swelling crowd, the cameras, and a man on a soapbox (“Really?” thought Tom. “A soapbox?”) who seemed to be chanting something over and over again. Instead, Paine stood by the peaceful silence of the anchor of the USS Arizona, and kept a watchful eye out for the client he knew by sight.
This kind of meeting sat poorly in Tom’s stomach. For although Spinkter had retained the firm as a whole to prosecute his lawsuit, the billing partner on it – Spinkter’s “own” lawyer – was Claude Dedrick. Though the founding partner of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine would never refuse to meet with a client, he had inquired as to how he could help Alan, hoping he could avoid the necessity of a get together. But the Speaker was quizzical, and demanding. Tom figured he could keep the meeting brief, get Claude up to speed afterward, and stay out of it in the future.
Of course, it’s not like Tom Paine had no idea that Alan was unhappy. Tom had heard from Sarah Fujii and Sam Adams about an odd interaction they had with Alan at a downtown eatery. Tom recommended that they not share that story with Claude, who might blame the messenger. Instead, Tom decided he would do what he could do to salvage the lawyer-client relationship. Clearly, this was a client who would require special handling.
Even with the crowds and the chanting, it turned out to be relatively easy to identify Speaker Alan Spinkter in the sunny afternoon. For he was garbed, head to toe, in shades of red, white and blue. Even his head was topped with a sparkled tam sporting all three colors, and a patch that ordered all around, “Don’t Tread On Me!”
Tom Paine, winced, but he waved Alan away from the crowd and toward the USS Arizona memorial. In the distance, it Tom saw Alan frown and deliberately turn his back on the attorney. Alan was engaged in a conversation with a reporter, and Tom could wait.
Over the next fifteen minutes or so, Tom could see that Alan was urging Tom to join him next to the 9/11 memorial, numerous times. But the lawyer decided that two could play the ignore game, so he read for the fortieth time that day the inscription beneath the words “USS ARIZONA, BB39.”
Eventually, Paine heard the voice of Alan Spinkter, standing at his elbow.
“Hey, didn’t you see me over there?” he asked Paine.
“Oh, hello, Mister Speaker, I did. But you appeared to be engaged in conversation, so I thought I would just wait for you over here.”
“But the cameras, and the crowds, are over there –“
“Indeed, I can see that,” replied Paine.
“– and the, you know, voters,” said Spinkter, his voice growing higher, almost wheedling.
“Oh, Alan, I’d be surprised how many of the people standing over there ever actually vote,” laughed Tom. “They appear to be attracted by the cameras, the vitriol and the ability to speak in public intemperately without consequence.”
(“My people,” Alan thought. “He’s described my people.”)
“Besides,” said Tom, “it’ll be easier to speak quietly over here.” Although Tom wasn’t sure if that would be true. Alan’s outfit – including a flashing American flag lapel pin that Tom had not seen before – guaranteed a near constant stream of well wishers, reporters and homeless. Tom thought that some of the questions posed by the homeless were more pertinent than those asked by the professional media.
(“Fine,” thought Spinkter. “If Tom wants to avoid the media, I’ll keep this short and sweet.”)
And so he did.
“Let me keep this short and sweet, then, Tom,” Alan began. “Your man, Dedrick, is not what right looks like. I am terminating your representation of me in this lawsuit against the Governor,” Alan finished.
Tom knew that possibility had been brewing, but he had anticipated a more lengthy conversation, more avenues of discussion, more opportunities to reassure the Speaker.
“Well, Alan, I know that Claude is an acquired taste –“ started Tom.
That was a mistake.
“Exactly,” said Alan. “I’d say he’s a fruit loop, but I don’t want to insult the breakfast cereal.”
“Don’t get me wrong – I deal with all types of people, some who are actually certifiable” – Spinkter glanced over his shoulder at the twin modern buildings housing the state House of Representatives and Senate. “But he doesn’t even pay attention to my case.”
Tom Paine then made a first year associate mistake: He asked a question he himself did not know the answer to.
“That can’t be the case, Alan. Give me an example.”
Spinkter obliged. Holding up one finger after another, he recounted phone calls unanswered, e-mails barely responded to, concerns minimized, fears dismissed out of hand, avenues of attack laughed at. Alan was on what would have been his third hand when Tom Paine cried uncle; he had heard enough to agree that Speaker Alan Spinkter had a point.
“It’s almost as if Dedrick does not even want my case. He seems distracted and occasionally loopy. Loopy I can handle, but distracted? Not on my dime.”
“I certainly hope you will give our law firm another chance, Alan,” said Paine. “I know for a fact that we have expended a lot of time to this case, and I would hate to see it all for nothing.”
“It won’t be for nothing,” replied Alan. “You guys can order some of those high priced associates to box up all the files and send them over to the new firm.”
Paine was shocked how bad this had gotten so quickly. He didn’t even bother to hide his surprise.
“What, you already have spoken to another firm?” he asked.
“If you must know,” said Alan, “I’m seriously considering Lowe, Witt & Howe. Now, they have a fire in the belly.”
Paine rubbed his forehead.
“You would have no way of knowing this, Alan, but that particular firm is representing Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine in an unrelated legal matter, so your retaining them would likely be inappropriate.”
“Don’t condescend to me, Chief Justice Paine,” Spinkter bristled. “Of course I know they represent your firm – in that matter of Claude’s insane pirating of a boat on Tempe Town Lake. What, do you think I live under a rock?”
“Of course not, Alan. And I have to add that we expect to have the entire simple matter resolved soon, so it will all be behind us.”
“Uh huh, whatever you say, Tom. But while Claude gets his jollies playing Captain Queeg, my case is going down the drain. And I need lawyers who care.”
“Our firm cares,” Tom replied, convincing not even himself.
“Yeah, got it. And as for the supposed conflict you’re suggesting, I have it on good authority that, because I’m suing the Governor and not your firm, there’s nothing unethical in Lowe, Witt & Howe taking over my case from you.”
“I’m not sure where you’re getting your advice, Alan –“
“From Harvey Shinblock,” Alan responded without hesitation. “I’m not hiding the ball from you. Before Harvey was disbarred for playing law too hard, he knew all there was to know about conflicts. Tell me he’s wrong.”
“Well, not wrong exactly –“ Tom spun out as long as he could.
“Yep, just as I thought,” said Spinkter.
“But it is, shall we say, unseemly for lawyers to take work from other lawyers, while they are representing those other lawyers in a serious matter.”
“’A serious matter’? Tom. I thought you expected that ‘entire simple matter’ to be resolved soon.”
Spinkter was laughing at Tom Paine, and not even choosing to hide it. He could see that coming to this meeting had been a mistake.
“So I guess we’re agreed that I am entitled to take my legal work to anyone I’d like?”
“Of course, Alan. That is always your prerogative. There would just be the matter of our fee.”
Now it was Alan’s turn to look perturbed.
“About that, Tom –“
“You mean ‘Chief Justice Paine’?”
Alan laughed, trying to keep the moment light.
“Actually, Tom,” said Spinkter, actually poking the lawyer in the ribs jauntily, “I believe that this case will be so historically significant, your firm may benefit greatly just for having been associated with it.”
“Even though we’re getting fired,” deadpanned Paine.
“Fired, schmired,” continued Alan, “we’re going in different directions. But we’re all going to be in the history books.”
“And the fee?” Tom asked.
“Entirely too high and beyond the limited means of a simple country legislator,” said Alan.
“Six time incumbent legislator, who happens to be the Speaker of the House?” asked Paine.
“Potato, potahto, Tom, I’m no millionaire, I’m a mere servant of the people.”
Tom Paine had been around long enough to know what was coming.
“Our firm is legally entitled to be paid for the time and resources we’ve expended, Alan. We could pursue this in other ways.”
“In court, Tom? Please, the firm of former Supreme Court Justices is going after a client for a fee, for some filthy lucre? And they’re pursuing a client who left because Claude Dedrick sailed a boat off the edge of sanity? Is that the case you want to pursue? The papers would have a field day.”
Tom Paine knew he was right. He had a flash of the future, and it included an angry and hurt Claude Dedrick. For not only was the firm unceremoniously dumped overboard (Paine reminded himself not to use that metaphor). But far worse than that, this case, on which Dedrick had staked so much – and spent so much – was going to bring in not one cent to their coffers. This high profile case would yield nothing. Tom sighed as he predicted Claude’s reaction upon hearing that an associate’s dog bite case would mean greater billings to the firm.
Added to that, the managing partner thought, Claude was probably right on one important matter: Sarah Fujii’s representation of the Chinese American community would likely be pro bono. This all would affect the firm’s bottom line.
Tom Paine began to rise to take his leave, when another well wisher approached Spinkter. It was the man who had been chanting on a nearby soapbox. Most of the TV cameras had been switched off, so he took the opportunity to speak with the Speaker, one news hound to another. Up close, the homeless man looked like he could have used quite a bit of that soap.
“Speaker Spinkter, hello, hello.”
The man spoke as if a crowd was keeping him away from Alan, though the concrete around them was desolate.
“Yes, my good man,” replied Spinkter, in a tone and manner rehearsed and honed since the earliest lie was ever told in recorded history.
“I just wanted to thank you for all you’re doing for the people of Arizona.”
“No, thank YOU,” said Spinkter. “You are part of the heart and soul of this great state.” Paine noted with distaste that Alan adjusted his stance so that his flashing American flag pin was more visible to soapbox man.
The man blushed (“Really,” Paine thought, “BLUSHED? What sheep we’ve all become”).
“That means a lot coming from you, sir. I love how you, you know, fight the forces of evil, and bring sanity back NOW.”
Spinkter had been about to walk away, his standard three and a half second constituent interaction completed successfully. But he paused.
“That quote,” he said, “sounds familiar.”
Soapbox man smiled.
“Well, it should, your Excellency” – with no irony, Paine noted – “because that is one of the standard repeated Twitter posts you send out to all of us SpinkterHeads. I read that at least once a day, and it guides all I do.”
Alan almost teared up. Sure, it was great to hear from a true fan (or follower, as Twitter would call him). But even more, it was great to know that the $23,000 his office had spent with a Scottsdale branding agency had paid off. “SpinkterHeads” – now that was gold, baby, gold.
“Well, thank you again, my good man,” said Alan, finally deciding he had learned enough from this man. “If there is anything I can ever do for you, please do not hesitate to contact my office.”
The man beamed.
“Well, how about this for a start?” he asked. “Would you sign this petition that would strip the Governor of the right to veto legislation? I’ve heard that there might be something called ‘constitutional problems’ with that, but I don’t care: This Will Not Stand.”
“What’s that you said there?” asked Spinkter, his ear clinically designed to capture sound bites.
“’This Will Not Stand,’ he answered. “I’m not really sure what it means, but it has a nice ring to it, especially when you say it with capital letters. And it’s good at stopping any argument cold. It’s a guaranteed winner.”
Alan Spinkter’s training and experience were founded on the ability to locate and secure guaranteed winners, and his ear was tingling.
“Change ‘Will’ to ‘Shall,’” he said, “and you’re onto something, my good man.”
Spinkter took out his pen and reached for the petition.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
“William Blount,” he replied with pride. “But you can call me Bill.”
Tom Paine realized with a start that Alan Spinkter had forgotten that he was there, and he may have forgotten that they ever met. The Speaker was huddled in conversation with the soapbox man, who now could be called Bill, and there was no cause for Tom to remain any longer.
The retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court walked slowly back to his truck. As he passed through the remaining throngs of protestors and speakers and super patriots, no one recognized the former leader of one of their government’s three branches.