The Lawyer

The posts of the past couple of days have brought back some memories of time pent living and working in Pembroke. That’s probably why I recognized the name in the obituaries, someone I hadn’t thought about in years.

He was a lawyer, and like any small-town lawyer he had a mixed practice. Civil, criminal, real estate, he handled everything. I used to see him frequently when I covered the court beat as a reporter for The Pembroke Observer. He handled one case that convinced me that if I ever needed a lawyer, he was the one I wouldn’t call, no matter how desperate things were.

Small towns have small town problems, for the most part. While I did cover a couple of murder trials and armed robberies, most of the crimes coming before the court fell into three categories.

The first was driving under the influence of alcohol. Even in the late 1980s the message hadn’t worked its way into the Ottawa Valley culture that you should not drink and drive.

The second most popular crime it seemed was shoplifting at K-Mart. I can’t say that no-one ever stole from other stores. Maybe they just weren’t very good at loss prevention so no-one was ever charged. K-Mart had cameras and security staff and they didn’t buy anyone’s sob story. If you tried to steal from them you were going to wind up in court.

The third most common court case involved spousal abuse, usually husbands (married or common-law) hitting their wives. It was one of those cases that convinced me to never hire the lawyer in our tale.

I m a firm believer in the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. Lawyers, especially in small towns, can’t always pick their clients. The bills need to be paid and if you aren’t working then you aren’t getting paid. So I understand taking on clients who refuse to do the smart thing and plead guilty. And those clients are entitled to the best defence possible. But don’t let that defence cross the line.

It was a spousal abuse case. The facts were undisputed. The husband failed to come home at the expected hour. The wife, knowing where he was, went down to the tavern to tell him he should come home. He didn’t take kindly to her appearance at his favourite drinking hole, where he was enjoying time with his buddies. He reacted violently, the police were called and he wound up in court facing assault charges.

The logical thing was to enter a guilty plea, but the lawyer valiantly offered a defence. He blamed the victim.

His client, he said, had been drinking. His wife knew that. She also knew that when he was drinking he was unpredictable. Therefore she should have just stayed away from the tavern. If she hadn’t gone looking for him he would not have assaulted and injured her. The assault was therefore her responsibility.

It was, to say the least, a disgusting performance. The judge didn’t buy it for a second. I don’t remember what the sentence was, but I resolved then and there to never have any sort of professional relationship with that particular lawyer. He seemed like a nice enough person, but he crossed a line in suggesting it was the woman’s fault she was beaten.

That was almost 30 years ago. I hope he became a little more enlightened before he died. I don’t want to know if he didn’t.

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