I spend a lot of time loitering in the halls and pathways of the criminal courts in Connecticut. When I say “a lot of time,” I mean hours each week. I usually have other work with me, trade magazines to skim (I’m that type of lawyer) or, quite often, some phone calls and emails to return. I don’t stand out as an attorney when I’m sitting around those hallways. Sure, I have a suit on, but so do many conscientious criminal defendants in different courthouses for different reasons. I am admittedly on the younger side of the bar and do have a healthy beard and mustache for most of the year. So most other people in the area just ignore me and carry on conversations or other activities around me.
In a courthouse hallway in Connecticut recently, a young man sat next to me. Shortly after that, a middle-aged man sat beside him. While I was reading a trial magazine article, they got to talking. The older man was complaining. He reported that he had been to court each month for most of this year. Most recently, he was charged with reckless driving and he was alleged to have been traveling in excess of 130 miles per hour. It’s not his fault, though, he complained; it is the fact that he drives only the priciest and highest-end cars, capable of breakneck speeds.
The police and state’s attorney were absolutely wrong about him, he proclaimed. They didn’t use radar to track his speed, so the state has no case anyway, he claimed. He was merely following traffic. He was stopped with another car that was let go by officers at the scene without a ticket, clearly a selective prosecution because he was obviously financially well off, he said.
The older man had a lawyer, of course, but his counselor was not up to the significant task of handling such an important matter for such an important client, he explained to the younger man. If the state wanted to take this matter to trial against him, the state should just get to it, because he would never capitulate to having done anything wrong, he boasted.
More than that, if the state’s attorney wanted to force the issue to trial, the state would suffer. This is because, as reported by the older man, he owns a business in Connecticut that employs scores of people. If pressed to the limit in this case, he would simply close the business and relocate the whole operation to Aruba, merely for spite. All of those employees and their families will be fired and reduced to poverty, he claimed. The older man has a house in Aruba, he explained, and doesn’t need to work anyway, given his financial situation. Perhaps he would just retire, sell his house in Connecticut and take his luxury cars and other fine belongings to his Aruba homestead.
While overhearing the older gentleman, I felt nothing for him but loathing and revulsion. I even made a point of telling his attorney, someone I knew, that his client was a real piece of work (which, of course, he knew already).
However, reflecting later on this dialogue — and consulting my primary counselor, my wife — I was reminded of Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. ... Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
In this passage, the Lord does not tell us to love those who love us, or who like us, or whom we can find redeeming qualities in. That would be easy, but being a follower of Christ is not supposed to be easy. As Catholics, we are called to love one another. To love is to will the good of this older man, my neighbor, who is another child of God. And I struggle, but continue to try.
Later in the morning, that older man’s case was called before the judge. His attorney had worked out a resolution in which the reckless driving charge would be reduced to a mere speeding ticket. In exchange, the man would make a $1,000 donation to a charity of his choice.
The judge asked how long the older man would need to afford this sizable donation. The lawyer knew that the man actually was not rich at all, had no high-end cars and no home in Aruba. He may have had a mental health issue or a good imagination, though.
His lawyer explained that, given his very limited income and assets, it would take the man at least six months to get $1,000 together.
Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.