Monday, March 7
The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp
as you'll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste
of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to
keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know
this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The
bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming
into Lancaster for a nine o'clock calendar call. He must have heard
the wind whistling in my cell phone.
"Mick," he said, "you up north this morning?"
"At the moment," I said as I put the window up to hear him better.
"You got something?"
"Yeah, I got something. I think I got a franchise player here. But
his first appearance is at eleven. Can you make it back down in
Valenzuela has a storefront office on Van Nuys Boulevard a block
from the civic center, which includes two courthouses and the Van
Nuys jail. He calls his business Liberty Bail Bonds. His phone
number, in red neon on the roof of his establishment, can be seen
from the high-power wing on the third floor of the jail. His number
is scratched into the paint on the wall next to every pay phone on
every other ward in the jail.
You could say his name is also permanently scratched onto my
Christmas list. At the end of the year I give a can of salted nuts
to everybody on it. Planters holiday mix. Each can has a ribbon and
bow on it. But no nuts inside. Just cash. I have a lot of bail
bondsmen on my Christmas list. I eat holiday mix out of Tupperware
well into spring. Since my last divorce, it is sometimes all I get
Before answering Valenzuela's question I thought about the calendar
call I was headed to. My client was named Harold Casey. If the
docket was handled alphabetically I could make an eleven o'clock
hearing down in Van Nuys, no problem. But Judge Orton Powell was in
his last term on the bench. He was retiring. That meant he no
longer faced reelection pressures, like those from the private bar.
To demonstrate his freedom --- and possibly as a form of payback to
those he had been politically beholden to for twelve years --- he
liked to mix things up in his courtroom. Sometimes the calendar
went alphabetical, sometimes reverse alphabetical, sometimes by
filing date. You never knew how the call would go until you got
there. Often lawyers cooled their heels for better than an hour in
Powell's courtroom. The judge liked that.
"I think I can make eleven," I said, without knowing for sure.
"What's the case?"
"Guy's gotta be big money. Beverly Hills address, family lawyer
waltzing in here first thing. This is the real thing, Mick. They
booked him on a half mil and his mother's lawyer came in here today
ready to sign over property in Malibu to secure it. Didn't even ask
about getting it lowered first. I guess they aren't too worried
about him running."
"Booked for what?" I asked.
I kept my voice even. The scent of money in the water often leads
to a feeding frenzy but I had taken care of Valenzuela on enough
Christmases to know I had him on the hook exclusively. I could play
"The cops booked him for ag-assault, GBI and attempted rape for
starters," the bondsman answered. "The DA hasn't filed yet as far
as I know."
The police usually overbooked the charges. What mattered was what
the prosecutors finally filed and took to court. I always say cases
go in like a lion and come out like a lamb. A case going in as
attempted rape and aggravated assault with great bodily injury
could easily come out as simple battery. It wouldn't surprise me
and it wouldn't make for much of a franchise case. Still, if I
could get to the client and make a fee agreement based on the
announced charges, I could look good when the DA later knocked them
"You got any of the details?" I asked.
"He was booked last night. It sounds like a bar pickup gone bad.
The family lawyer said the woman's in it for the money. You know,
the civil suit to follow the criminal case. But I'm not so sure.
She got beat up pretty good from what I heard."
"What's the family lawyer's name?"
"Hold on a sec. I've got his card here somewhere."
I looked out the window while waiting for Valenzuela to find the
business card. I was two minutes from the Lancaster courthouse and
twelve minutes from calendar call. I needed at least three of those
minutes in between to confer with my client and give him the bad
"Okay, here it is," Valenzuela said. "Guy's name is Cecil C. Dobbs,
Esquire. Out of Century City. See, I told you. Money."
Valenzuela was right. But it wasn't the lawyer's Century City
address that said money. It was the name. I knew of C. C. Dobbs by
reputation and guessed that there wouldn't be more than one or two
names on his entire client list that didn't have a Bel-Air or
Holmby Hills address. His kind of client went home to the places
where the stars seemed to reach down at night to touch the
"Give me the client's name," I said.
"That would be Louis Ross Roulet."
He spelled it and I wrote it down on a legal pad.
"Almost like the spinning wheel but you pronounce it
Roo-lay," he said. "You going to be here, Mick?"
Before responding I wrote the name C. C. Dobbs on the pad. I then
answered Valenzuela with a question.
"Why me?" I asked. "Was I asked for? Or did you suggest me?"
I had to be careful with this. I had to assume Dobbs was the kind
of lawyer who would go to the California bar in a heartbeat if he
came across a criminal defense attorney paying off bondsmen for
client referrals. In fact, I started wondering if the whole thing
might be a bar sting operation that Valenzuela hadn't picked up on.
I wasn't one of the bar's favorite sons. They had come at me
before. More than once.
"I asked Roulet if he had a lawyer, you know? A criminal defense
lawyer, and he said no. I told him about you. I didn't push it. I
just said you were good. Soft sell, you know?"
"Was this before or after Dobbs came into it?"
"No, before. Roulet called me this morning from the jail. They got
him up on high power and he saw the sign, I guess. Dobbs showed up
after that. I told him you were in, gave him your pedigree, and he
was cool with it. He'll be there at eleven. You'll see how he
I didn't speak for a long moment. I wondered how truthful
Valenzuela was being with me. A guy like Dobbs would have had his
own man. If it wasn't his own forte, then he'd have had a criminal
specialist in the firm or, at least, on standby. But Valenzuela's
story seemed to contradict this. Roulet came to him empty-handed.
It told me that there was more to this case I didn't know than what
"Hey, Mick, you there?" Valenzuela prompted.
I made a decision. It was a decision that would eventually lead me
back to Jesus Menendez and that I would in many ways come to
regret. But at the moment it was made, it was just another choice
made of necessity and routine.
"I'll be there," I said into the phone. "I'll see you at
I was about to close the phone when I heard Valenzuela's voice come
back at me.
"And you'll take care of me for this, right, Mick? I mean, you
know, if this is the franchise."
It was the first time Valenzuela had ever sought assurance of a
payback from me. It played further into my paranoia and I carefully
constructed an answer that would satisfy him and the bar --- if it
"Don't worry, Val. You're on my Christmas list."
I closed the phone before he could say anything else and told my
driver to drop me off at the employee entrance to the courthouse.
The line at the metal detector would be shorter and quicker there
and the security men usually didn't mind the lawyers --- the
regulars --- sneaking through so they could make court on
As I thought about Louis Ross Roulet and the case and the possible
riches and dangers that waited for me, I put the window back down
so I could enjoy the morning's last minute of clean, fresh air. It
still carried the taste of promise.
Excerpted from THE LINCOLN LAWYER © Copyright 2005 by
Hieronymus, Inc. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books, an
imprint of Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.