Speaking Ill of the Dead


I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

I’ve been accused (frequently) of saying things others wished they had said, but had the good sense not to say it out loud.

I guess that’s the thing about plain-speaking: the thing has to be spoken, out loud. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it’s a thing.

When I heard about the death of a law school classmate and former law partner, I admit a survivor’s frisson. “Frisson” is a French word — and a timely one, as I write these words from French Canada — which literal meaning is “shiver or thrill.” So a shiver at the shade of this dead guy who for all I know could be standing at my shoulder frowning even now. And a thrill because I was thrilled it wasn’t me I heard about.

Though I saw him five days a week the entirety of law school, and though Colorado grows fairly cold in winter, I never knew he owned a pair of long pants until he opened his law practice. Because he wanted a criminal defense arm (leg? arm and leg?) as a revenue stream, but didn’t want to get too close to anyone who might be an actual criminal, he brought me in for a brief time. Brief, because we had different ideas about what things were ethical and what things were not.

His language was colorful — particularly so when speaking about women — but not nearly so colorful as the plumage on the gigantic parrot he kept uncaged in his office. A wonderful creature, whose only defect was shitting on the occasional client who hadn’t already been shat upon.

Like nearly everyone born into a country that economically profited by enslaving another race, he suffered the affliction of bigotry. He was perhaps more sorely afflicted than some. There were people who loved him, people who hated him. He was lonely and embittered by many of his relationships with his own species, and sublimated his hurt and anger into a remarkable affection and commitment to less judgmental animals.

A few years on, he further diversified his law practice and opened a used car lot catering to people whose bankruptcies he’d just handled. Your credit was always good with him, because who knew better what your credit was. I learned of the new business venture a couple years after we’d parted ways, in a bubbly pre-recorded telephone sales call; he’d forgotten to take me off his suckers list.

All this is to say this may be the last time I write anything here, for good or ill. Plain-speaking is fine and all, but hubris almost always gets you.


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