One Hand Clapping

Opinion: 'Yo, Yo, Yo, White Boy' And Other Courtroom Comedy

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Norm Pattis

It's Thanksgiving week as I write this, and who wants to work? Better to pull some anecdotes from memory, and entertain.

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"Mr. Pattis, are you all right?"

The judge looked concerned. She was sitting no more than six feet from me. I thought I was fine, actually. After all, I was cross-examining a witness, the thing I most enjoy about being a lawyer. The witness was warm butter to my knife.

I looked up.

"Are you all right?"

My hand was on my chest, beneath my suit jacket. She was assuming I was suffering chest pain.

"If I had a heart, a fact not in evidence," I said, "it would be on the left side of my chest. My hand is on the right side."

My adversary sniggered, but I could not tell whether she was amused by my wit, or disappointed that the gods weren't preparing to whisk me to the next world.

"You see judge, I am wearing suspenders today. I don't often do so. The strap keeps sliding off my shoulder."

The judge looked relieved. At least I hope she was relieved. There would no corpse carried from her courtroom.

"I'd never cut it in the bra-wearing world," I continued. It was family court, where women generally seem to outnumber men. I could tell from looking at the judge's face errant straps were familiar to her.

I returned to the cross-examination with a new lease on life, my hands clutching papers, or at my side.

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Janet Bond Arterton is one of my favorite federal judges. She's smart, tough-minded and fair, although a little on the humorless side.

Years ago, I was defending a young man against charges of murder-for-hire in her courtroom. It was an intense sort of trial, as you would expect.

Some hapless mope was on the stand, and I was doing my best to needle him. It didn't take long until he erupted.

"Yo, yo, yo, white boy, you just don't get it," he said.

"Why don't you try to break it down for me," I replied.

He descended into some street gibberish, and the day soon ended.

Judge Arterton is a working judge. That evening, she had a pre-trial in a civil case in which I was plaintiff's counsel. I sat awaiting a conference in her chambers with some white-shoe types.

The judge walked into the waiting room, hand extended to each lawyer. I can't recall most of the fellows who were there.

"Mr. Jones," she said. "Mr. Smith," she continued. "Mr. Keefe" — yes, oh, he of many wonders was there.

I was last to be greeted. She did not extend her hand. Instead, placing one hand on each hip, she cocked her head ever-so-slightly to the right and fixed me with a look I'd not yet seen from her.

"Yo, yo, yo, white boy, you ready for me?"

My white-shoe colleagues were thunderstruck. Whatever else Judge Arterton does in a case of mine, that will remain my favorite memory. I am certain of it.

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The young lawyer couldn't persuade the marshal she was a lawyer, so he would not grant her admission to the lockup to meet her client.

"I am a lawyer," she said.

"You sure," he leered.

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"We'll you don't look like a lawyer," he said.

"Okay. I'm not. I am neuropsychiatrist. And one look at you tells me you've got nothing going on between the ears."

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Happy Thanksgiving!•

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