It was the perfect case for the levying of punitive damages, and there was little doubt in his mind a jury would agree with him. I certainly did, and at that moment neither Arthur nor Rafter nor any other lawyer sitting over there wanted any part of Mordecai Green.
"We'll settle for five million," he said as he came to an end. "Not a penny less."
There was a pause when he finished. DeOrio made some notes, then returned to the agenda. The matter of the file was next. "Do you have it?" he asked me.
"Are you willing to hand it over?"
Mordecai opened his battered briefcase and removed the file. He handed it to the clerk, who passed it up to His Honor. We watched for ten long minutes as DeOrio flipped through every page.
I caught a few stares from Rafter, but who cared. He and the rest were anxious to get their hands on it.
When the Judge was finished, he said; "The file has been returned, Mr. Jacobs. There is a criminal matter pending down the hall. I've spoken to Judge Kisner about it. What do you wish to do?"
"Your Honor, if we can settle all other issues, we will not push for an indictment."
"I assume this is agreeable with you, Mr. Brock?" DeOrio said. Damned right it was agreeable with me. "Yes sir."
"Moving right along. The next item is the matter of the ethics complaint filed by Drake & Sweeney against Michael Brock. Mr. Jacobs, would you care to address this?"
"Certainly, Your Honor." Arthur sprang to his feet, and delivered a condemnation of my ethical shortcomings. He was not unduly harsh, or long-winded. He seemed to get no pleasure from it. Arthur was a lawyer's lawyer, an old-timer who preached ethics and certainly practiced them. He and the firm would never forgive me for my screwup, but I had been, after all, one of them. Just as Braden Chance's actions had been a reflection on the entire firm, so had my failure to maintain certain standards.
He ended by asserting that I must not escape punishment for taking the file. It was an egregious breach of duty owed to the client, RiverOaks. I was not a criminal, and they had no difficulty in forgetting the grand larceny charge. But I was a lawyer, and a damned good one, he admitted, and as such I should be held responsible.
They would not, under any circumstances, withdraw the ethics complaint.
His arguments were well reasoned, well pled, and he convinced me. The folks from RiverOaks seemed especially hard-nosed.
"Mr. Brock," DeOrio said. "Do you have any response?"
I had not prepared any remarks, but I wasn't afraid to stand and say what I felt. I looked Arthur squarely in the eyes, and said, "Mr. Jacobs, I have always had great respect for you, and I still do. I have nothing to say in my defense. I was wrong in taking the file, and I've wished a thousand times I had not done it. I was looking for information which I knew was being concealed, but that is no excuse. I apologize to you, the rest of the firm, and to your client, RiverOaks."
I sat down and couldn't look at them. Mordecai told me later that my humility thawed the room by ten degrees.
DeOrio then did a very wise thing. He proceeded to the next item, which was the litigation yet to be commenced. We planned to file suit on behalf of Marquis Deese and Kelvin Lam, and eventually for every other evictee we could find. DeVon Hardy and Lontae were gone, so there were fifteen potential plaintiffs out there. This had been promised by Mordecai, and he had informed the Judge.
"If you're conceding liability, Mr. Jacobs," His Honor said, "then you have to talk about damages. How much will you offer to settle these other fifteen cases?"
Arthur whispered to Rafter and Malamud, then said, "Well, Your Honor, we figure these people have been without their homes for about a month now. If we gave them five thousand each, they could find a new place, probably something much better."
"That's low," DeOrio said. "Mr. Green."
"Much too low," Mordecai agreed. "Again, I evaluate cases based on what juries might do. Same defendants, same wrongful conduct, same jury pool. I can get fifty thousand per case easy."
"What will you take?" the Judge asked.
"I think you should pay it," DeOrio said to Arthur. "It's not unreasonable."
"Twenty-five thousand to each of the fifteen?" Arthur asked, his unflappable demeanor cracking under the assault from two sides of the courtroom.
A fierce huddle ensued in which each of the four Drake & Sweeney lawyers had his say. It was telling that they did not consult the attorneys for the other two defendants. It was obvious the firm would foot the bill for the settlement. Gantry seemed completely indifferent; his money was not at stake. RiverOaks had probably threatened a suit of its own against the lawyers if the case wasn't settled.
"We will pay twenty-five," Arthur announced quietly, and $375,000 left the coffers of Drake & Sweeney.
The wisdom was in the breaking of the ice. DeOrio knew he could force them to settle the smaller claims. Once the money started flowing, it wouldn't stop until we were finished.
For the prior year, after paying my salary and benefits, and setting aside one third of my billings for the overhead, approximately four hundred thousand dollars went into the pot of gold the partners divided. And I was just one of eight hundred.
"Gentlemen, we are down to two issues. The first is money--how much will it take to settle this lawsuit? The second is the matter of Mr. Brock's disciplinary problems. It appears as though one hinges on the other. It's at this point in these meetings that I like to talk privately with each side. I'll start with the plaintiff. Mr. Green and Mr. Brock, would you step into my chambers?"
The clerk escorted us into the hallway behind the bench, then down to a splendid oak-paneled office where His Honor was disrobing and ordering tea from a secretary. He offered some to us, but we declined. The clerk closed the door, leaving us alone with DeOrio.
"We're making progress," he said. "I've got to tell you, Mr. Brock, the ethics complaint is a problem. Do you realize how serious it is?" "I think so."
He cracked his knuckles and began pacing around the room. "We had a lawyer here in the District, must have been seven, eight years ago, who pulled a similar stunt. Walked out of a firm with a bunch of discovery materials that mysteriously ended up in a different firm, which just so happened to offer the guy a nice job. Can't remember the name."
"Makovek. Brad Makovek," I said.
"Right. What happened to him?"
"Suspended for two years."
"Which is what they want from you."
"No way, Judge," Mordecai said. "No way in hell we're agreeing to a two-year suspension."
"How much will you agree to?"
"Six months max. And it's not negotiable. Look, Judge, these guys are scared to death, you know that. They're scared and we're not. Why should we settle anything? I'd rather have a jury."
"There's not going to be a jury." The Judge stepped close to me and studied my eyes. "You'll agree to a sixmonth suspension?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "But they have to pay the money."
"How much money?" he asked Mordecai.
"Five million. I could get more from a jury."
DeOrio walked to his window, deep in thought, scratching his chin. "I can see five million from a jury," he said without turning around.