The little bastard started crying inconsolably before I got anything out of him.
His mother leapt from her chair. “What are doing to him?” she wailed. You would have thought I was water boarding him.
Her lawyer, Jimmy Felipe, with whom I had done many of these cases, gave me a “cool it, you know you’re gonna get paid” look, and said, “C’mon Buzz. He’s only nine.”
“Doing to him? Doing to him?!!” Mr. Jennings pushed himself up on his cane. It was the fastest I’d seen the old man move since he first came into my office six months before.
“What about what he did to Ralph?” He pointed his cane at Ralph, curled up in the corner. On hearing his name, Ralph slowly, pathetically lifted his head, raised the inner parts of his eyebrows in that sad way that only German shepherds can, and then–realizing he wasn’t being summoned–laid his head back down on his new titanium paw. I still found his glass eye unsettling, and the hole in his head where his pointy left ear used to be was, well, gut-wrenching. Knowing that we were probably done for the day (once these damn kids start crying, you know the deposition is over), I decided to build on the momentum of my client’s outburst to try to get something on the record and further knock the defendants off balance.
“Can we please read back the last question?”
The stenographer complied matter-of-factly, “Mr. Killjoy: And what was going through your little mind when you lit the M-80 outside the fence, right where the dog was standing?”
Jimmy jumped in, “Really? We’re going to keep going? Okay, I instruct the witness not to answer. And if there are any further questions phrased in such a way as to badger a nine-year-old…”
“A nine-year-old who placed a bomb next to my Ralphie’s face!” added Mr. Jennings.
“…any further questions meant to badger this child will result in my filing for a protective order, with such motion to include a request for costs and attorney’s fees related to every minute spent in these depositions.”
“I just want to know what the boy’s state of mind was when he committed this crime.” Unlike my previous question, which was indeed intended to provoke, this was not an overstatement. The kid had been convicted of cruelty to animals. Cases like this one didn’t come along as often as I would have liked–clear liability supported by a previous criminal conviction, substantial damages, and very wealthy parents. I was always nervous during the initial consultation in these cases that the client would want to pay me hourly instead of through a contingency fee. Mr. Jennings, having come from a wealthy family, and having made a respectable but not obscenely good living when he worked, was pretty tight with his cash and therefore very happy to go with a contingency fee. The only things he had to pay out of pocket were court costs (filing fees, etc.) and expenses–like the cost of this deposition, which was starting to look like it would be pretty cheap.
“Yes, yes, we know there is a conviction,” said Jimmy, “which is pending appeal, of course.”
“You people with your new money. Think you can buy your way out of everything,” Mr. Jennings was really starting to raise his voice now. The pitch was going up as well. “Well, I’ll tell you something. All you’re teaching this kid is that he can be any kind of asshole he wants as long as his daddy continues to make million dollar bonuses. But what happens if the gravy train stops, huh? Then he’s just another little asshole who has to face the consequences, just like everyone else.”
Oddly, the kid’s mother didn’t seem at all upset by Mr. Jennings’ outburst. As he spoke, her mouth curled up into that smirk of knowing superiority so often seen on Fox newscasters. All she said when he was done was, “Thank you for that wonderful parenting advice.” The boy had stopped crying now and, taking his mother’s cue, adopted a similar attitude. They knew what life was all about and the losers who weren’t like them didn’t “get it.”
“Okay,” said Jimmy, “I’m pretty sure we’re done here for today.”
“Right, we’re adjourned for today. We’ll be in touch to schedule a new date,” I said. It was fine with me to end it for the day. I didn’t get anything I could use in court, but the truth is I really didn’t have to. The police had already gathered all the evidence I needed, which was all confirmed and augmented during the criminal trial.