Sometimes I get a chance to walk in my client's shoes, just for a moment. It can be very sobering. Like today, when my client's ex-husband started screaming at me when I was attempting to get into the courthouse and then continued to verbally attack and mock me in the court waiting room after I met up with her. I could feel my normally talkative and vivacious client shut down. She got quiet and still. She looked shaken, yet resigned; I could tell she had experienced this, and probably much worse, many times before.
She apologized for his behavior. "I just hope he doesn't kill me," she said with a half smile -- but we both knew it wasn't funny. She told me he hates women. She told me he didn't used to be so bad but the kernel of this was always there. And I was shaken too -- it's scary to feel someone's hatred directed at you like a laser, to feel that another person truly wishes you harm. Later, while we were in the hallway waiting to go downstairs, he taunted us about not wanting to get in the elevator car with him, until the court officer told him he had to leave or he would call the sheriff. "See you next month, girls!" he shouted as he finally stepped into an elevator car, alone.
We took the next elevator down together, my client and I. We scanned the lobby for him when we got out. I left the building first to make sure he wasn't waiting there. If he couldn't control his rage in a courthouse filled with armed sheriffs, what might he do out on the street?
I have been representing victims of domestic violence for decades, but the anger is not usually directed at me. Typically, men whom my clients describe as abusive are subdued in court, sometimes even polite and charming. It makes the violence more of an academic matter -- I believe what my clients tell me but I don't feel it. I don't experience what I did today: the tightening in my stomach, the quickening of my breath, the feeling that I'm not in control and don't know what's going to happen next.
Even the guy, fifteen years ago, who ultimately murdered a lovely young woman I represented, was calm, even friendly, when I encountered him in court. We were there getting a protection order. He agreed to the order being entered by the judge. He smiled at me and shook my hand before he left the court house. And two days later, while I was home with my kids, not giving him or my client a second thought, he ambushed her and her mother and stabbed them both to death. My grief and rage came the next day, when I heard the news. And I still have those feelings, all these years later. But those emotions, while way deeper, are different. I never tasted the fear myself. I was a close bystander, but I wasn't caught in the storm.
What happened in court this morning was a powerful reminder. Many things are beyond our control, lawyer and client alike. And it's a scary world out there.