Saturday, January 14, 2017

Day 14: Attorney Overdrive (Excerpt from a Novel)

Book One Chapter 5

First Hearing

Gabi's words that evening spurred me to get back to law school and finished what I started. Somehow I remember him as I arrived early for my first hearing, which like my first board meeting, is headed for disaster. I have one solitary task - postpone the hearing.

The case is a simple bank collection case, A owes Bank money. Bank sues A to collect. It should be fairly simple like the case digests being peddled around in law school to save classmates from embarrassment during class recitation.

Unfortunately, A has an elaborate story worthy of Frederick Forsythe novel. According to A, he was part of the group that wanted to take-over the bank. His friend, a man named Dewey Dy, had borrowed his title so he can show the Central Bank that he had assets to back up his take-over bid. Little did A  know that Dewey had induced more than fifty other friends from the Rotary Club to lend money or real estate to Dewey for his take over bid for the bank.

 What Dy did, however, is to borrow money from the Bank he was supposed to buy using the assets he had borrowed from A and the others as collaterals, make the first draw, which wiped out the single borrower's limit of the Bank, gamble his heart out in Las Vegas, and settle in Canada, leaving A and his friends and the Bank he was supposed to buy dead broke. 

Dewey never paid the Bank, which was closed by the Marcos Government after experiencing a bank  run following Dewey’s departure to Canada. Jaime Laya, then Central Bank Governor,  saw some assets of the Bank worth saving, offered one peso for very ten pesos in debt to the Bank's depositors, and asked the Social Security System to run it.

My boss, Atty. Antonio, who used to head the Bank's  legal department reinvented himself and put up a law firm, which was assigned to handle the tedious task of foreclosing on Dewey’s hapless friends. Unfortunately for all of us, the Bank has not produced a single witness to enforce its claim. The Firm has apparently been postponing the presentation of its first witness on many guises. 

Reading through the active folder, I realized how creative the Firm has been in getting the postponements:

1.The lawyer’s car broke down, 
2. The lawyer’s grandmother died,
3.  The lawyer died, 
4. The lawyer left his file, 
5. The new lawyer went to the wrong court,
6. The the new lawyer resigned, 
7. The witness was sick, 
8. The witness left for the US, 
9. The witness has not returned and will probably never will, 
10. The new lawyer took over but he had loose bowel movement,
11. The new lawyer got married, 
12. The new lawyer’s wife gave birth (but it was a false alarm), 
13. The new new lawyer’s wife gave birth (this time it’s real), 
14. The new lawyer has been appointed to the Office of the President, 

Now, there's a new new lawyer, and that's me. That is like three years and the court has repeatedly warned that failure to present a witness in the next hearing will cause the court to order the dismissal of the case. So this hapless task of keeping a hopeless case alive has fallen into my lap. 

The other side is represented by the Law Firm of Romulo Mabanta who’s got a solid reputation as a mean legal machine. The handling partner, Atty. Tierro, has thirty years of litigation experience behind him, while I just took my lawyer’s oath a couple of weeks ago. So, this is like Michael Jordan versus rookie, never mind if the rookie is Kobe Bryant. 

What I need is a strategy to have another chance at another chance, a tall order considering how the Firm has made a fool of itself postponing this case for a long time with these ruses. I can only think of one strategy, which is based on Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Be early in the battleground.  What happens when the battle begins is something for the legal gods to decide. This case may have been really a joke to begin with and we have been led on to keep this joke alive. What is disconcerting is the seeming lack of concern of the Bank to get a witness to the stand, as if keeping the case alive with no hope of recovery could go on endlessly. So, I was early. I sat there at 7am in the morning with no one else in the courtroom. 

The Regional Trial Court of Manila Branch 30 circa 1995, probably was the most odd-looking court ever. I arrived in my coat and tie with a matching pocket square and brown Oxfords to a courtroom no bigger than 10 square meters. Of these little space, the Judge's bench occupied about half of it, and there are two chairs in front, which I presume were for the counsels. 
There are piles of folders on the door, almost blocking the entrance, and one electric fan vintage 70s rusty and noisy, but working. The room is dominated by a huge wall with the portrait of the late Chief Justice Justice Teehankee by Federico Alcuaz, similar to the one hanging on the Ateneo Law School Library. 

A few minutes after I arrived, a janitor came to sweep the floor. He greeted me as he did his work and said. "You're new here Attorney?"

"Yes," I said.

"Don't look so nervous," he said.

"No, I'm okay," I said.

"Attorney, don't forget to greet Judge. It's her birthday today." he said.

"Oh," I said. "Ok, I'll greet her. Thanks."

Just then a man in white barong with salt and pepper  hair arrived with a big suitcase. He took the chair in front of me and introduced himself -- "Atty. Tierro" he said in a deep baritone that sounded like the voice of Morgan Freeman. I think I managed to squeak out my name. 

"Oh, you're the guy who wrote that Petition to the Supreme Court. I didn't realize you're that young." he said.

"Oh, that hopeless case about the attachment proceedings here? Thanks." I replied.

"You know, I prepared for three days for today's hearing." he said.

I bit my lips and said "Oh, that's so hardworking of you."

"You know this Alcuaz painting of Chief Justice Teehankee is a series?" he said.

"There is another one in Dondi's office. You know Dondi? It's the CJ's son who works with us. And the other one hangs in the Ateneo Library." he said. 

"But Alcuaz is a nut. You know he finished law from the Ateneo but went into art full time?"

"I didn't know that." I said. I thought Alcuaz was an artist who studied in the Ateneo College, that's why he enjoyed the patronage of Ateneans. Now, it makes sense why his painting of the late Chief Justice is on the library. 

"That Alcuaz is an idiot -- he raffled off one of his paintings in the Ateneo Alumni Homecoming. And the sonofagun joined the raffle and won!" Atty. Tierro said. 

"Oh, really?" I said.

"What a surprise to all us who wanted the piece. That imbecile of an artist, donated his weird looking ghostly  picture of an obscure man for the raffle, joined the raffle, and won it back." He continued.

I realized there is more to this story.

"So the crowd was asking him to waive it off. Of course, what kind of a person would donate something and take it back, even assuming that he won the raffle fair and square? " He added.

"What did he do?" I asked.

"He refused. The selfish idiot refused. I said there's something wrong with this guy's head. Just then he relented and said that he would instead paint a portrait of the raffle winner. So, we had another raffle. And we were all so excited that one of us will be painted by Alcuaz." He said.

"Oh that's good." I said.

"And guess what? I won it." He said.

"That's cool!" I said.

 "But this nuthead, never did that portrait. I kept following up with this guy. My secretary was bugging him all the time. One day he said I should turn up in his studio and he would do it. So, I turned up in his studio on my tux in the heat of the afternoon. But he never came. The idiot stood me up. I was so angry." He said, his voice crumbling as he ended his story in rage.

I sat there amused with the story, thinking poor guy, he must have been really angry. Just then the court stenographer and clerk arrived, and told us we should be ready for the judge is about to come out of her chambers.

Atty. Tierro was still gathering his composure and wiping off the sweat on his face when the judge came out in her standard black gown. She must be nearing the age of  sixty, her hair was brown, and she wore bright red lipsticks and classy pearl earrings.

The case was called, and I jumped in trying hard to imitate Atty Tierro's baritone, 

"Your honor, you look beautiful. 
Happy Birthday!" 

I started singing happy birthday and egged Atty. Tierro to join in which he eventually did, adding a deep bass to the melody of the song. The staff from the other room came over and I motioned them to join us too in the singing and soon the room was filled with people singing happy birthday to the judge. Afterwards, we clapped and the judge looked genuinely happy and told us thank you.

And I said, "Your honor, you are probably the most stylish lady judge in Manila and it is an honor to appear before you today.  In spite of the fact that you could have taken your birthday leave and could have stayed with your family who probably would miss you, you chose to come to work  instead of celebrating your birthday. And I am very proud to be working with you who have demonstrated your dedication to the administration of justice in our beloved country."

The judge smiled and covered her mouth with her handkerchief like a school girl who was gushing and said "Don't mention it counsel."

"May I ask for a postponement?" 

In the afternoon after the hearing, I turned over the file to the docket clerk. But before giving it, I saw the list of reasons for postponements that I drew up earlier and added " #15. Birthday ni Judge."

Follow the story of Attorney Overdrive here

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