It has been a difficult week calling for difficult decisions.
We started watching The Queen’s Gambit, which one review in The New Yorker called the “most satisfying show on television.” It is pretty compelling.
But just as we immerse ourselves in Beth Harmon’s journey, season four of The Crown is released.
It violates binge watching protocol to leave one show and start another, but the Queen is the Queen. We were faced with deciding whether to switch from a story about a girl who is exceptional in almost every way to a story about people who are exceptional almost exclusively by birth.
We compromised and rotate between the two. I promise not to spoil either.
So far, this season of The Crown focuses on Charles and Diana or, if your wife was born in Yorkshire, the Prince and Princess of Wales. Last night’s episode has Diana living in Buckingham Palace during her engagement. Charles is traveling and set to return just before their wedding. She is a teenager, isolated, and subject to unimaginable scrutiny.
As she stairs out the window during one scene, I found myself thinking, “get the @#%! out of there before these people destroy your life.” And, I knew she was not going to turn back.
As I watched that scene, I thought of a client.
I admire helpers. The people who always seem to respond when someone is in need. These people have space for an extra person in the tiniest of houses. They love the foster children like their own. They intervene to make peace, give rides to keep others employed, and lend money to stave off evictions. And, that’s in addition to working and caring for their own families.
My client who came to mind during the show is a helper. Let’s call him James.
James played college football and planned to be a teacher and coach sports. During his training, however, he discovered a passion for working with disabled children, especially those with autism.
And James has a gift with this community. It was his vocation and passion. James managed clients, volunteered with organizations, and led sporting events designed for people with disabilities.
In addition, James helps when friends and family call. He and his wife often have an extra child in the home so a single mother can work. When a relative needs a hand around the house, James shows up. To those on the margins, he is a mentor, bank, and taxi.
A couple years ago, James finished work and went home to rest. Shortly after he sat down, James got a concerned call from his wife. His brother in law, who had a history of mental illness and substance abuse, was acting bizarre and destroying James’ mother in law’s home. She asked James to take the brother in law somewhere to settle down.
James responded and walked into a situation that he was unprepared, unequipped, and untrained to handle. The man died while James was struggling to remove him from the home.
The state charged James with voluntary manslaughter for the brother in law’s death. A conviction would have sent him to prison for years.
We tried the case last year. After a few days of evidence, a jury rejected voluntary manslaughter, but were divided on involuntary manslaughter. After the judge declared a mistrial, I was relieved that the state failed to convict James, but disappointed that such a decent man had to endure another trial. The trial’s toll on James and his family was tremendous.
This week, James pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He avoided any time in jail. Some will call it a triumph. Some may see it as failure. I view it as survival. James made the decision he considered best for himself and his family.
This story is not a complaint about the criminal justice system. The state was measured, the judge gave us a good trial, and twelve jurors struggled to find the right verdict.
But I worry for the helpers among us. For them, opportunity may obscure the danger. While it’s always been that way, it’s hard to see James’ situation and not wonder, “should you turn back now?”
We are criminal trial lawyers. We represent people accused of criminal offenses who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best results and back to leading productive lives.
Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.
P.S. In case you think our dilemma with The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown are specific to the pandemic, I assure you our lives were every bit as exciting before, with an occasional high school basketball game as an added distraction.