How Harry Won His First Case

By Rand, Herbert | Midstream, January 2001 | Go to article overview

How Harry Won His First Case


Rand, Herbert, Midstream


Riding uptown on the subway on his way to meet his client at the courthouse, Harry clutched his new pigskin briefcase containing the file of Fergeson versus Jones. He silently rehearsed the questions he planned to ask in his cross-examination of the plaintiff.

How sweet it would be to win his first case as a newly admitted member of the Bar in the role of Sir Galahad, pitted against injustice and upholding the Law.

He reviewed the facts. Mr. Jones, a valued client of the firm, owned a plantation in South Carolina. Every month, with some regularity, he would travel there by train and spend several enjoyable hours playing cards in his compartment with other players rounded up by the conductor. On his last trip, Jones had lost $400 before he realized that he had been set up as the pigeon in a con game by professional gamblers. So, to cover his losses, he wrote and delivered his check in that amount to Fergeson, the winner.

Later, when the train made a scheduled ten-minute stop, Jones went down to the telegraph office and wired his bank to stop payment on his check.

On his return to the City, Jones was served with a summons in a suit to recover $400 on the check.

Harry remembered the words of the Senior Partner, "This case is a lawyer's dream, a case you can't lose." Despite those encouraging words, Harry felt the excitement of experiencing his first trial.

On entering the courtroom, he had his client paged, and they took seats together on a bench about midway on the center aisle. A novice in courtroom procedure, Harry listened to the calendar call, and when the clerk called "Fergeson versus Jones," he leaped to his feet and shouted "Defendant is ready." In the first row, someone rose and, in a well modulated voice, announced "Plaintiff ready."

Jones turned to Harry. "What are our chances of winning this case?"

"A piece of cake," Harry assured him.

With a show of bravado to impress his client, Harry went forward to confer with his adversary.

"It looks like we'll be here all morning if our case is to be heard. Since the check was given for a gambling debt, it is unenforceable, so my client has a complete defense. We both could save time for more important matters if you were to withdraw your suit."

"Well, young man, you are absolutely correct about your defense; but at this moment, your claim that the check was in payment for a gambling debt is not evidence; once Jones takes the stand and testifies to that effect, you win your case. So I guess we'll just have to wait for our turn to be heard."

Back at his seat, the client asked with some anxiety: "What's happening?"

"Fergeson's lawyer admits that you have a foolproof defense; just tell your story about the card game, and we're home free."

Jones settled back in his seat and smiled. At that moment, they saw two men marching down the center aisle to the front row where they turned about face and marched back toward the rear. As they came close, Jones muttered: "The one in the business suit is Fergeson, but who's that with him?"

The other person had a shaved head with the face of a gargoyle, with a crooked mouth and a permanent grin. …

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