Switchblade(7)
Author:Michael Connelly


    I told the judge I had no further questions and returned to the defense table. Medina told the judge she had a short redirect and I knew she would ask Welton a series of questions that would only reinforce her identification of Watts. As I slid into my seat next to Watts, his eyes searched my face for any indication of hope.

    “Well,” I whispered to him. “That’s it. We are done.”

    He leaned back from me as if repelled by my breath or words or both.

    “We?” he said.

    He said it loud enough to interrupt Medina, who turned and looked at the defense table. I put my hands out palms down in a calming gesture and mouthed the words Cool it to him.

    “Cool it?” he said aloud. “I’m not going to cool it. You told me you had this, that she was no problem.”

    “Mr. Haller!” the judge barked. “Control your client, please, or I’ll have—”

    Watts didn’t wait for whatever it was the judge was about to threaten to do. He launched his body into me, hitting me like a cornerback breaking up a pass play. My chair tipped over with me in it and we spilled onto the floor at Medina’s feet. She jumped sideways to avoid getting hurt herself as Watts drew his right arm back. I was on my left side on the floor, my right arm pinned under Watts’s body. I manage to raise my left hand and caught his fist as it came down at me. It merely softened the blow. His fist took my own hand into my jaw.

    I was peripherally aware of screams and motion around me. Watts pulled his fist back as he prepared for punch number two. But the courtroom deputies were on him before he could throw it. They gang-tackled him, their momentum taking him off me and onto the floor in the well in front of the counsel tables.

    It all seemed to move in slow motion. The judge was barking commands no one was listening to. Medina and the court reporter were moving away from the melee. The court clerk had stood up behind her corral and was watching in horror. Watts was chest down on the floor, a deputy’s hand on the side of his head, pressing it to the tile, an odd smile on his face as his hands were cuffed behind his back.

    And in a moment it was over.

    “Deputies, remove him from the courtroom!” Siebecker commanded.

    Watts was dragged through the steel door at the side of the courtroom and into the holding cell used to house incarcerated defendants. I was left sitting on the floor, surveying the damage. I had blood on my mouth and teeth and down the crisp white shirt I was wearing. My tie was on the floor under the defense table. It was the clip-on I wear on days I visit clients in holding cells and don’t want to get pulled through the bars.

    I rubbed my jaw with my hand and ran my tongue along the rows of my teeth. Everything seemed intact and in working order. I pulled a white handkerchief out of an inside jacket pocket and started wiping off my face as I used my free hand to grab the defense table and help myself up.

    “Jeannie,” the judge said to his clerk. “Call paramedics for Mr. Haller.”

    “No, Judge,” I said quickly. “I’m okay. Just need to clean up a little bit.”

    I picked my tie up and then made a pathetic attempt at decorum, reattaching it to my collar despite the deep red stain that had ruined the front of my shirt. As I worked the clip into my buttoned collar, several deputies reacting to the courtroom panic button undoubtedly pushed by the judge stormed in through the main doors at the back. Siebecker quickly told them to stand down and that the incident had passed. The deputies fanned out across the back wall of the courtroom, a show of force in case there was anyone else in the courtroom thinking about acting out.

    I took one last swipe at my face with the handkerchief and then spoke up.

    “Your Honor,” I said. “I am deeply sorry for my client’s—”

    “Not now, Mr. Haller. Take your seat and you do the same, Ms. Medina. Everybody calm down and sit down.”

    I did as instructed, holding the folded handkerchief to my mouth and watching as the judge turned his seat fully toward the jury box. First he told Claire Welton that she was excused from the witness stand. She got up tentatively and walked toward the gate behind the counsel tables. She looked more shaken than anyone else in the courtroom. No doubt for good reason. She probably figured that Watts could have just as easily gone after her as me. And if he had been quick enough he would’ve gotten to her.

    Welton sat down in the first row of the gallery, which was reserved for witnesses and staff, and the judge proceeded with the jury.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry that you had to see that display. The courtroom is never a place for violence. It is the place where civilized society takes its stand against the violence that is out on our streets. It truly pains me when something like this occurs.”

    There was a metal snapping sound as the door to the holding cell opened and the two courtroom deputies returned. I wondered how badly they had roughed up Watts while securing him in the cell.

    The judge paused and then returned his attention to the jury.

    “Unfortunately, Mr. Watts’s decision to attack his attorney has prejudiced our ability to go forward. I believe—”

    “Your Honor?” Medina interrupted. “If the state could be heard.”

    Medina knew exactly where the judge was headed and needed to do something.

    “Not now, Ms. Medina, and do not interrupt the court.”

    But Medina was persistent.

    “Your Honor, could counsel approach at sidebar?”

    The judge looked annoyed with her but relented. I let her lead the way and we walked up to the bench. The judge hit the switch on a noise-canceling fan so the jury would not overhear our whispers. Before Medina could state her case, the judge asked me once more if I wanted medical attention.

    “I’m fine, Judge, but I appreciate the offer. I think the only thing the worse for wear is my shirt, actually.”

    The judge nodded and turned to Medina.

    “I know your objection, Ms. Medina, but there is nothing I can do. The jury is prejudiced by what they just saw. I have no choice.”

    “Your Honor, this case is about a very violent defendant who committed very violent acts. The jury knows this. They won’t be unduly prejudiced by what they saw. The jury is entitled to view and judge for themselves the demeanor of the defendant. Because he voluntarily engaged in violent acts, the prejudice to the defendant is neither undue nor unfair.”

    “If I could be heard, Your Honor, I beg to differ with—”

    “Besides that,” Medina continued, running me over, “I fear the court is being manipulated by this defendant. He knew full well that he could get a new trial this way. He—”

    “Whoa, wait a minute here,” I protested. “Counsel’s objection is replete with unfounded innuendo and—”

    “Ms. Medina, the objection is overruled,” the judge said, cutting off all debate. “Even if the prejudice is neither undue nor unfair, Mr. Watts has effectively just fired his attorney. I can’t require Mr. Haller to go forward in these circumstances and I am not inclined to allow Mr. Watts back into this courtroom. Step back. Both of you.”

    “Judge, I want the people’s objection on the record.”

    “You shall have it. Now step back.”

    We went back to our tables and the judge turned off the fan and then addressed the jury.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, as I was saying, the event you just witnessed has created a situation prejudicial to the defendant. I believe that it will be too difficult for you to divorce yourself from what you just saw as you deliberate on his guilt or innocence of the charges. Therefore, I must declare a mistrial at this time and discharge you with the thanks of this court and the people of California. Deputy Carlyle will escort you back to the assembly room where you may gather your things and go home.”

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