Saturday, October 27, 2012

Parkinson’s Disease on Trial

Pulling open the heavy oak door Stephen stepped into Courtroom 412.  No one else was there except the court clerk, who busied herself getting ready for the morning trial.  Although he could no longer smell, he remembered the musty odor that came from decades of dust and seeped out of lingering sweat stains on the arms of the red leather chairs.  Despite being traditional and formal by today’s standards, the oak paneled room gave Stephen a reminiscent sense of calm as he began to set out his binders of legal briefs, cases, affidavits and documents on the counsel table in front of the judge’s dais.  Whatever the middle-aged lawyer personally thought about any particular judge, judicial respect was demanded by forcing him, even when standing at the lectern that sat in the middle of the counsel table, to look up at least 33° to look the judge in the eye.  As opposed to some of the newer courtrooms, number 412 exuded reverence and respect, as if justice lived there. 
But the silence was broken as opposing counsel yanked open the door and strode into the courtroom oozing confidence.  Richard was one of those “hail fellow well met” lawyers who had a strong handshake, smiled knowingly at his opponents, exchanged pleasantries with everyone easily and laughed more often than seemed necessary.  Immediately upon seeing him, Stephen’s right side began to shake uncontrollably.  The comfortable confidence he had enjoyed just moments before vanished like a frightened child, hiding no doubt under the clerk’s desk or behind the prisoner’s dock.  “Hello, Richard” Stephen said in the boldest voice he could manage.  The two courtroom combatants shook hands, but Stephen could not help but notice Richard gazing at Stephen’s right hand.  Pulling away, Stephen explained nonchalantly, “My meds don’t seem to have kicked in this morning yet.”  He winced as he gave words to his weakness.  “Not a problem.  ” Richard said, half laughing, “We all have bad days.”

Stephen’s mind, and the wall of legal training he had over the years so carefully built around it, suddenly seemed incredibly vulnerable.  He felt fearful, like it was he who was on trial.  He was arguing for his own not his client’s credibility.  Self-doubt chopped away at the fortified conclusions he had so rigorously formed over the past weeks of research and preparation.  Suddenly, he was incredibly tired.  He just wanted the trial to be over.  Parkinson’s disease was defeating him. 
But giving up was not an option; not for Stephen and certainly not for his client.  He had over 20 years of courtroom experience.  He had been successful and PD was not going to take that away from him.  He had known fear before and stared it down, refusing to blink.  But that was before Parkinson’s, like some unwelcome guest, had taken up residence in his body and mind.  It seemed to ridicule him, cause him to stumble, to forget words and spill things, taunting him during the many sleepless nights.

“Order in court” the court clerk barked, announcing the entry of the judge.  “No escape now”, Stephen thought, as he noticed he was sweating more than normal.  “Ironic”, he thought, given his slogan, “Never let them see you sweat”.  He reached for the glass of water in front of him on the counsel table but stopped before reaching it, imagining the embarrassment of spilling its contents all over is nicely bound legal argument.  “My lord, I believe I am on page 52 of my written submissions”, Stephen started in.

By the noon break, Stephen was exhausted.  Perhaps he should have reviewed his remaining submissions, considered the questions that the judge had thrown at him or developed responses to the objections Richard had made, popping up from his chair as if launched off a springboard.  Instead, Stephen retreated to his vehicle parked in the underground parkade and slept for a half-hour before returning to the battle in the courtroom. 
It was Parkinson’s that was on trial.  And like most trials, there would be brief moments of excitement when it seemed one was making headway against the sneering enemy.  But there would also be deflating times when one realized that ground was being lost to the undaunted disease.

A long time ago I learned that good legal counsel don’t just take cases that are “winners”.  There is limited skill or merit in that.  Skillful lawyers fight the battles that need to be fought.  Those cases are rarely easy.  In fact, even with great legal skill and courage, they are more likely to be lost than won.  But where would we be if lawyers only took the easy winners.  Perhaps it is taking the tough cases, the ones that sometimes seem hopeless, the ones that demand a lot of you that make you worthy of your calling.

Life is not easy for any of us. 

But what of that? 

We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. 

We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained. 

Marie Curie

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