Friday, June 13, 2008

Always the professional

(Note: this is a highly technical post and involves a lot of legal procedural bullshit. Avoid if possible)
I just got back from a gruelling day of Trial Court litigation, with a glow on my face and a grin that could put Jack Nicholson to shame. On paper, it was a sucessful day, but in actuality, it was kick ass.

Where do I begin?

Cut to many many months ago, when I was a struggling clueless junior without a friend beyond the souls that inhabited my chamber. I latched onto friends of friends (very Orkut) who were the most easily available and who I would be hanging out with most of the time anyway. One such "friend of friend" was CP, friend of the much admired SP. They had started their careers together and were professional buddies, often appearing for co-accused. That means that if one of them, say SP, is approached by a pair of Accused persons, he will make CP represent one of them. Having different lawyers gives an impression of there being no nexus between the two Accused, and if you've got a buddy defending the co-accused then you can even have heated arguments during the cross examination while trying to pin the blame on one of the persons. Which goes a lot like this:

"So you saw the guy who did it"


"Was it him?"

"Or was it him?"

"No, it was him."

"But that guy was tall. My Client isnt tall."

"No, he could have been short"

"Stop trying to pin the blame on my Client"

"YOU stop trying to pin the blame on MY Client"

JUDGE: Aargh. Adjourn, adjourn!

(Note: No Judge ever says Order, Order. Not even in restaurants.)

This is done rapidly and repeatedly until the Public Prosecutor has lost his mind and everyone is clear beyond the shadow of a (reasonable) doubt.

Anyway CP and I would catch up for a tea here, a coffee there, maybe lunch at the Sessions Court canteen, mostly with SP, but we had become friends - for me it was the kind of friendship where you don't really care about the other person's feelings or remember their birthday but you feel comfortable in the knowledge that you have a familiar face in your surroundings. One day, he asks me to go for lunch with him. I'm expecting Pritam da Dhaba, we end up at one of the most happening restaurants in Mumbai (at that time, now it serves 6 stale prawns on 6 pieces of stale bread for 400 bucks) on the pretext that he needs to pick up papers from the owner, his Client (the former partners are our Clients. Co-Accused, tra la la). Random chit chat, and then a mention about his daughter.

"You're married?" I asked. Yes, blog slasher, I know it's a stupid question. And I know it makes it sound like I was disappointed to find out that he was married. I wasn't. I just found the whole thing shady.

Not mentioning your marital status is shady behaviour, in my book. Of course this doesn't mean that married people need to walk around with yellow stars or tattoos which say "married to ...", but if you've met someone and had actual conversation with them on several occasions and they do not tell you that they are married, it's pretty shady.

Hmm. That doesn't sound quite right.

Okay. It's not like the person has to make a curtsy and say "Look, I'm married. Now, about last night's Croatia Germany match...". It can be a very subtle reference, like "my husband and I went to big bazaar last week" or "my wife is allergic to mushrooms" or "my father in law has a gun license". It's pretty weird if you don't mention something like that.

Especially when, after not mentioning his marital status for several months, CP then asks me to go out for lunch with him every day.

I admit that in the beginning I would oblige. I mean, married men are supposed to be safe. [I should point out here that CP is too desi and unattractive for me to want for him to hit on me.] Anyway, married men never hit on other women, at least that's what I thought when I was 23. Especially when the married man in question had a "love marriage".

"Well, it wasn't really love", said CP. "I decided to marry her."

"So why isn't that a love marriage?", I asked.

"Because love and passion are things I'd like to keep away from marriage," he smiled, and winked at me.

What actually caused me to sit and wonder what the fuck was going on, were the shady (shady is as shady does) messages that I began to get:

"I miss you every time I don't see you."

"I'm depressed - I haven't seen you all week."

The Ick-o-meter was running amok. I gently tried to show my "I don't think I'm really comfortable" face to him, and he said it was "just a little harmless flirting". Alrighty!

And then, on New Year's:
"Last night I had the most wonderful dream - I dreamt that I was on a deserted island with you."

It was time to pull the plug. And strangely enough, I wound up feeling guilty about this, about being the "other woman" who a (presumably) happily married man finds no qualm about flirting with or dreaming about being on a deserted island with. Can't any normal guy want to be with me? And other similar whines.

Time went on, and I realized that I was no villain - CP, and many many other men that I encountered in Mumbai, were all suffering from the same asshole disease.

I've been handling a matter in the Magistrate's Court at Mazgaon, involving a case dating back to 1986, in which my Client, along with his wife and landlady, were accused of forgery by my Client's own cousin. In the last 22 years, my Client's wife and his landlady both expired. In 2006, my Client's cousin, the Complainant, also expired. Normally, in cases initiated by the Complainant before a Magistrate, if the Complainant dies, the case abates, unless you can find strong reasons supporting the Complainant being replaced. The Original Complainant's younger brother made an application to be substituted, and thereafter never turned up for 2 years. Family gossip says that the young boy, who was only 12 at the time of the alleged offence, had gone mad after an accident and does not recognize anyone. Be that as it may, for about 10 hearings no one turned up on the part of the wannabe substituted Complainant until yours truly went there and kicked up a royal fuss until a final notice was sent to cousin fruitcake.

I walk into court and ask to see the original court papers, when I hear a voice asking for the papers of my case. I whirl around.

I won't even ask you to guess who it was.

"CP, you are appearing in this?"

"Arre, you are there in this matter?"

Arre indeed.

Two questions later I realize that CP has no idea what he's getting into, and I also realize that though I thought I despised him beyond belief, I was actually okay, now, with CP.

"This is really something," he said, looking at the 2 ft pile of papers, known as the case file.

And just when I thought things had gotten better:

"I think we should take... a date." The last two words were whispered so close to my ear that I had to wipe my earlobes after jumping out of my chair.

Goes to show you, pigs is pigs.

Luckily the Judge walked in just then.

I was hopping mad about everything by then - the random flirting, the making me feel bad about myself, the unnecessary display of intimacy, and now, above it all, the fact that he was using all that to completely take me for granted and make a quick escape from the proceedings.

One should never let personal equations hamper legal practice. All the while, I only had my Client's interests at stake, I swear.

The Judge pulled out my application for dismissal. She asked CP to give his "say".

CP took out his pen and scribbled half a page. "Read it", he said, and I had to bear him coming closer to me so that I could read.

"The proposed Complainant has been attending the Court regularly and has been very diligent in dealing with the case".

I smiled. "CP, are you sure you want to keep this line in?"

CP gave me a very confident sidelong glance. "It's a standard reply."

I shrugged.

Our turn came around again, and the Judge asked if I was ready to argue.

After laying down the basic legal mumbo jumbo, I attacked the reply.

"First of all, the Advocate of this so called proposed complainant is making a clear misrepresentation to the court. While he says that his Client has been attending the Court regularly, the record of the Court will show that for the past 11 dates, neither the proposed complainant nor his advocate have been turning up for the hearings, whereas my Client, a senior citizen has not defaulted even once. If anyone is to be termed..." I pretended to relook at the reply "...diligent, it should be the Accused, and not this person."

The Judge snooped through the roznama and glared at CP.

CP took a break from asking me to adjourn the matter in whispers to make a legal point.

"My lady, the law on substitution is very clear."

"Is it?", I asked.

"My lady in case of the death of the Complainant his next of kin or other aggrieved person can step into his shoes and carry on the proceedings."

"My lady, I submit that this depends on which stage of the proceedings we are in"

So saying, I looked at CP for his reply. He had none, because he didn't know what stage this matter was on anyway.

I wasn't quite done yet.

"I don't blame my colleague for making such an error - I don't think he has been properly briefed. As it is, he is neither or record nor has he been instructed by the Advocate on record..."

The Judge glared even more and shuffled the papers for the Vakalatnama, CP was honest enough to admit that he had just been orally instructed and not formally authorized.

"Then?" asked the Judge, clearly irritated.

"My lady, a date may be given?", whimpered CP.

The Judge grunted and began to dictate the day's proceedings.

"The matter is adjourned for arguments on the application."

"Last chance?" I suggested.

"Yes Yes. 'The last chance is given to the Advocate for the proposed complainant to argue the matter.' " She looked at me thoughtfully. "With proper authorization".

CP muttered something while digging out his calendar. "Shall we take a date in September?"

"I'm okay with anything she says", I said, nonchalantly.

"Next date", announced the Judge.

"My lady, September..."

"July 1st!" roared the Judge.

CP bowed down and cringed at the case file.

"Much obliged", we chanted in unison.

I stepped into the corridor to appraise my Client of what exactly happened there, he isn't very good with english but he figured something had clicked for us. CP rushed past me after a quick "bye". I walked down with my Client and as I walked into the compound, I saw CP's balding head turn towards me. He was talking to a young girl, who I recognized to be the trembling intern who was trying to keep her Senior's matter back earlier that morning. When our matter was called out for the second time, I had to go find CP, and he had been in a corner of the corridor chatting with this same girl.

CP gave me a smile - not "a" smile, but "the" smile, a smile I don't think he would have given me even if he won the case we were arguing. As far as he was concerned, CP had won his case, and he was very happy about it.

I still can't wipe the smirk off my face.


still ink stained said...

way to go!!! muah!

mem said...

ick yuck ick. sap him