The Big Fat Rat - a Tom Chambers story
Flashback to 1990.
We are at Chambers Court. In the upstairs conference room. In a former life, the building was a funeral home. So when we call it "The Morgue" we aren't joking.
Like all good attorneys with new associates, Tom does not trust me quite yet. When I am told to depose an electrical engineer defense expert, Tom comes along and sits by my side. With a foot and a half pile of documents on the table in front of him. So he can listen with one ear but also get the rest of his work done.
I've been a lawyer for five years and am no slouch. Tom knows this because he hired me after I was a defense lawyer in a case against him. But he's a meticulous man. So I don't mind that he wants to make triple sure I do things right.
I've read everything, prepared somewhat of an outline, and am methodically going through the routine.
About half an hour into the deposition, Tom leans over and tells me we need to take a break.
Oh brother, I think. Can't he ever loosen the reigns. I have this under control. Geez.
"Let's take a short break", I announce. Tom and I walk out in the hall and he shuts the door.
"There's a rat in there," he says. Looking his typical Tom Chambers matter of fact hard to read self.
I look back at him just as calmly. Enigma facing enigma. Inside am thinking - oh for heaven's sake. Of course, I know that. I mentally stamp my foot.
Mouth turned up in a patient half smile, I respond. "Of course there is. I know that. I'm just laying a foundation."
He doesn't back down. In the same evenly measured voice, he says: "No, I mean there's really a rat in there."
I tilt my head just a little but otherwise do not blink. Inside am feeling like a race horse stuck behind the door while everyone else is off and running. Adrenaline is going. Game is on. Except for me. Because I apparently am obtuse. Not doing this properly according to His Highness's highest of high standards.
Exhale quietly: "Tom, I know that he's a rat. I need to finishing laying this foundation and then I'll begin to challenge him."
There, that should do it. Nice way to be firm. To stand up to him...as much as I dare.
"Karen!" he says with dramatic emphasis. Enough to make me jump deep inside where it doesn't show. But my eyes widen. Uh Oh. What am I missing. What am I doing wrong. What am I not getting.
I brace myself as he leans towards me and says - punctuating each word quite clearly. Yet not quite yelling: "There's. A. Mouse. In. There. And. It. Just. Ran. Over. My. Foot."
I blink and look at him. He looks back. "As in..." I say.
"Yes." he answers.
And so it was that Al, our receptionist-valet-painter-handyman-chauffer, escorted our deposition guests to another scenic morgue location. Then handily added the new title "mouse catcher" to his resume.
Photo: Justice Tom Chambers and Paul Stritmatter reviewing their scripts as we shoot the How to Prepare for Deposition DVD.