Anonymous Tip: A Reporter Catches Wind

Anonymous Tip: A Reporter Catches Wind May 6, 2016

A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris

Pp. 287-292

On Monday afternoon, Morgan Howard, a reporter with the Spokesman-Review, calls Peter’s office and says he was at the federal court “checking some recent filings” when he came upon the file for Gwen’s case, and that it “looks very newsworthy.”

“Newsworthy? I’m not sure of that,” Peter teased. “All you’ve got is document tampering by state agents uncovered by a computer guru and a federal judge. Plus some perjury in state court, a little warrantless strip search of a four-year-old girl, and a mysteriously murdered defendant. I’m not sure why you think it’s newsworthy. I’ve got six other cases just like it.”

“Very funny, Mr. Barron,” Howard said dryly. “If you knew we weren’t doing our job, why didn’t you call us?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of your work. It’s just such a bizarre case. And I didn’t call because I’m not the kind of lawyer who tries his cases in the newspaper.”

“You are willing to talk, aren’t you?”

“Sure, fire away.”

Peter may not be the kind of lawyer who “tries his cases in the newspaper” but he is certainly the kind of lawyer who talks about his cases with the press without checking whether his client wants him to first. The extent to which Gwen is not included in Peter’s decisions is startling. Does this give us some sort of insight into how much Peter feels wives should be included in husbands’ decision-making, I wonder?

Speaking of wives and husbands, in Peter’s description of the bizarre nature of the case he left some things out, like the fact that he’s been romancing his client, or the fact that his client almost kidnapped her child back out of foster care (to be fair, of course, I don’t think he knows that). Or how about the fact that he blackmailed another lawyer into illegally turning over Gwen’s files? Peter really doesn’t want the press digging too deeply on this case!

Anyway, Morgan says he’d rather talk in person and that he’ll be right over.

It took seven minutes for the fiftyish, thin man in an olive corduroy sports jacket and khaki pants to present himself to Sally Finley. He had grey curly hair, slightly long and disheveled. He wore gold wire-rimmed glasses that he would peek over when he was trying to make eye contact with an interviewer. Even if Peter had not told her that Morgan Howard was coming, she would have known he was a reporter.

Good to know we’re still dealing in stereotypes. More importantly, based on Farris’s description, who would you tap to play Morgan in the movie?

Guys what Peter does not do—or even think of doing—in the seven minutes it takes Morgan to come to Peter’s office? Call Gwen to ask if she’s okay with him speaking with the press. To his credit, Peter does tell Morgan that “because of the nature of the case I am reluctant to go into details that go beyond the public record.” He then tells Morgan that Gwen is a single mom and that she works at Sacred Heart. Is that part of the public record? Or not? When Morgan asks a question about the original hearings, Peter says:

“This is awkward because the juvenile court proceeding itself is confidential, and I can get in trouble with the Bar Association—not to mention the judge—if I reveal details about that.”

Wait, now Peter is worried about getting in trouble with the Bar? Where was that concern when he blackmailed another lawyer into illegally turning over Gwen’s files? Or, you know, when he started a romantic relationship with his client—a skeezy, underhanded, manipulative, and controlling relationship, no less?

“I think I can repeat what we have alleged in our Amended Complaint. There were child abuse charges brought, and now we contend in the federal suit that those charges were based on deliberate falsehoods concocted by the Child Protective Services. CPS succeeded in removing my client’s daughter for seven days, but when the full hearing was held, that decision was reversed and Case was returned to her mother, and the case was dismissed by the juvenile judge.”

Would Casey’s name be part of the public record? Does anyone know?

Next they move into a discussion of the computer tampering. Peter gives details, including the date the tampering occurred. He does not mention that the person who examined the computer and found the tampering was his best friend. The press getting wind of this case really shouldn’t be as positive for Peter as he seems to think it is. Of course, he may not need to worry, because Morgan does not appear to be a very good reporter. Peter says they believe perjury occurred in the initial court action as well, and we get this exchange:

“What kind of perjury?” the reporter asked, still scribbling notes from Peter’s last response.

“Basically they claimed to find bruises that never existed.”

“Do you have any reason to believe that CPS has ever falsified information in other cases?”

Really? That’s the followup? Not, oh, “why do you believe they falsified the bruises?” Isn’t that kind of, you know, important?

Next they start talking about Blackburn. Morgan asks whether Blackburn’s death was at all related to the case and Peter says he has “no evidence nor any theories” on that. And again, the reporter lets that go. Morgan asks who he thinks falsified the computer records, and Peter says: “They appear to be claiming that Blackburn did it.” He does not say who “they” is and in fact has not mentioned Donna’s name. Is the fact that Donna said in her deposition that she thinks it was Donna part of the public record? Regardless, Morgan once again does not follow up.

When Morgan asks about the chance that Judge Stokes will dismiss the case Pete says “off the record” that he does not think Stokes will. Then, “back on the record,” he references the cases “which say that social workers cannot be sued” and says that “[t]hat rule stinks.” He then explains—in actual legal language—why he doesn’t think social workers should “be shielded from liability.” Morgan scribbles away, and then announces that he’s going to call the Governor and Attorney General to get quotes from them on that.

Morgan leaves his card and says he wants to be notified of new developments and of any scheduled hearings. He also asks to send a photographer to Gwen’s house to take pictures of her and Casey.

“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one. Let me call her and talk it over. Off the cuff, I’m a little reluctant to do it because this little girl has been traumatized by this whole deal, and I’m not sure I want her picture plastered all over the paper. Call me back in a couple of hours and I’ll let you know.”

It’s about damn time! I was wondering when he would remember that this is actually Gwen’s case! Even here though he starts to make a position independently, without even checking with Gwen. Shouldn’t she be the one to determine whether Casey is too traumatized? They could also, you know, ask Casey whether she wants her picture taken and put in the newspaper.

Now the scene changes.

“Hello,” Gwen said.

“Hi, it’s Peter.”

“Good to hear form you, Peter. Something new going on with the case?”

He was glad she directed the conversation toward business right away. “Yes. Are you ready to become famous?”

Dammit, Peter! You’re asking this question—and so glibly—after you’ve already spoken with the press, and without your client’s consent? Are you trying for the “most unethical fictional lawyer” prize or something? Because let me tell you, you are in the running whether you realize it or not!

“What are you talking about?”

“I just spent half an hour with a reporter from the Spokesman-Review. They finally woke up to this case and sent one of their senior reporters, Morgan Howard, to get up to speed on your case.”

Here is where Gwen should say “wait, you talked to reporters before checking with me?!” But no, she’s Gwen, so instead she’s going to be all soft and slightly ditzy and definitely more than a little bit clingy! Come on, Gwen! Be more assertive!

“Is that good or bad?” Gwen asked with concern.

“I’m not sure. It might be good. For one thing, it is certainly unavoidable. You’ve got state agents caught forging documents and a dead man. It’s news.”

“Do I have to talk with them?”

“Not if you don’t want to.”

“Then I don’t want to.”

“That settles that. I’ll tell them I have advised you not to talk to the press. It’s the advice most lawyers give to their clients.”

“Good. I knew I kept you around for some reason,” Gwen laughed.

What even is this? Is Peter ever going to tell Gwen that whether or not he talks to the press is up to her? And what’s with them spinning it such that it sounds like he’s the one telling her not to talk? Is it so hard to just say that his client does not walk to talk to media? Why do they have to make it sound like he’s the one in charge, and not her—especially when he most expressly did not tell her not to talk to the press? Shouldn’t that violate Peter’s ethical code?

“How about pictures? Do you want to see that beautiful face of yours all over the papers? They want to send a photographer out to your house.” As soon as the words were out, he knew he shouldn’t have said them.

Oh my GOD. Peter, STOP.

Gwen turned a little red, not form embarrassment, but from the turmoil such words created inside her—wanting to hear them, but knowing that Peter was a bit beyond the edges of his commitment to her.

Gwen, honey, you can do so much better than this. That wasn’t even a sweet complement. It was a creepy-ass complement. Run, girl, run while you still have time.

“Oh, I don’t want photographers in my house.”

“That’s what I told him you’d say. I’m sure you don’t want Casey’s picture in the paper—and that’s clearly what they want.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Gwen replied.

No, that is not what Peter told the reporter she’d say, because Peter did not actually say anything about what Gwen would say or want one way or another. Instead he said he didn’t know whether Casey should be subjected to further spotlight and attention. And I realize this is a small difference, but I’m really getting tired of Peter pretending to be all straight and ethical while lying like it’s a second language.

Anyway, Peter tells Gwen that Morgan plans to contact the Governor and Attorney General and ask about Willet’s use of the legal standard that social workers cannot be held liable or sued, even in a case of proven perjury or tampering, and that he thinks Morgan may press the Attorney General to waive this defense. “It sounds like a long shot,” Gwen says, and Peter says it is, but that “we can make them squirm for a few minutes.” (If anyone knows anything about making people squirm, it’s Peter.)

And then, at the end of the passage, there’s this:

“One more thing,” Peter said in a subdued voice. “I’m sorry I went overboard a few minutes ago flattering you. Of course, I do think you are very beautiful, but it doesn’t do any good for me to keep throwing lines like that into our conversation. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

“Sure, Peter. I forgive you.”

Of course she does, because she’s bound by her evangelical faith to forgive everyone for everything they ever do to her. If she doesn’t, she will be painted as having strayed form the straight and narrow, as though she is wronging the one who wronged her. Nice religion you got there, Peter. Pretty convenient, ain’t.

You’ll have to wait until next week to learn what the reporter prints, and how the world’s most unethical lawyer responds.

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