We almost never talk on airplanes. When you litigate as we do, and travel as often, you value the peace and quiet that earplugs and an aisle seat give you. But, for some reason, we got to talking with the guy in the window seat on the Charlotte to Richmond leg. It turned out his son, a great kid who’d kicked it in high school, had fallen awkward and lonely in college until one day a suitemate said, “Here. Take this. It’ll make you feel better.” The slope from Oxycontin to heroin is as slippery as it is short.
He was already in for 5 years and was facing 165 more for a slew of felonies that he had committed to feed his habit. His court appointed lawyers could not possibly have cared less. We took his case for free and figured out a way to convince the judges that this young man was different; they needed to take a chance on him.
His dad pulled together a core of witnesses and a crowd of supporters. We made the case. The guy needed to be in jail. He was right where he belonged. He needed to stay there long enough to dry out, and he needed to be there for a couple more years so he would understand the hell he would face if he so much as spat on the street when he got out. But if he stayed in longer, we said, he would be so stuck in the prison mindset that they should just throw away the key. This is one of the outliers, we said. Take a chance.
And so we managed to persuade two judges that this guy was different. He got no new time. He’ll get out of prison in 2016. And we have every expectation that he will turn his life around.
We didn’t ask for this case. Probably never should have taken it. But a troubled young man’s father sat next to one of us because a airport ticket kiosk changed his seat assignment one summer night. And as a result, we got the best, most rewarding case we ever had.