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Nominated for the 2002 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.
I have spent years defending some of the worst people who ever lived, but the most evil man I ever knew was never once accused of a crime. Nothing, not even curiosity, could have made me attend his funeral had he died in his sleep or been killed in an accident, but Calvin Jeffries had been murdered, and I felt an obligation as someone who practiced in the criminal courts to attend the services of the only trial judge to become the victim of a homicide.
Surrounded by strangers, I sat in the crowded church and listened to the eulogy of someone I had never met. There were words about justice and public service and dedication and honor and goodwill, words about family and friends and how much the honorable Judge Jeffries would be missed, words which made everyone feel better because the lie is so much more comfortable than the truth.
At the end, when there was nothing left to say, the widow of Calvin Jeffries placed a rose on top of his flag-draped coffin, waited until the pallbearers were ready, and then, turning around, walked at the head of the procession as it moved down the aisle. Even the light that streamed through the stained glass windows failed to penetrate the heavy black veil that covered her face, and I wondered as she passed by me what emotions were masked behind it.
Outside, under a harsh blue sky, the mourners watched while the coffin was lifted into the back of a sleek, shiny hearse. The judge's widow was helped into the first of a half dozen waiting limousines and, moments later, with two police motorcycles leading the way, the cortege began the long slow journey to the cemetery.
ThebitterMarch wind stung the side of my face and watered my eyes. I pulled my topcoat close around my throat and began to jostle my way down the church steps. I was in a hurry to get away. Now that it was over, I wanted to forget all about the late lamented Calvin Jeffries.
As I turned up the sidewalk, I almost ran into Harper Bryce.
"Any comment you'd care to make, Mr. Antonelli?" he asked. Bryce, who had covered the courthouse as a newspaper reporter longer than I had practiced law, was standing in front of me. His tie flapped outside his buttoned jacket and his eyes squinted into the wind, each gust stronger than the one before. I made no reply other than to shake my head, and we trudged up the street without exchanging a word until he asked me if I wanted to stop somewhere for a drink.
"It's a little early, isn't it?"
On the next block, in one of the old buildings with the date of its construction embedded in stone above the entrance, a bar and grill was just opening its doors. We ordered at the empty bar and carried our drinks to a wooden table next to a dusty brick wall covered with the autographed pictures of people once famous or important and now long forgotten.
With a slow, heavy breath, Harper drew the chair as close as his expansive stomach would allow, hunched his sloping shoulders forward, and rested his arms on the edge of the table.
"Here's to Judge Jeffries," he said as he lifted his glass. When he finished, he cocked his head, waiting for me to explain why I had not joined him. "Most people liked him," he reminded me.
I nodded and then took a drink, wincing as it burned its way down my throat.
"Whatever you thought of him, you have to give him credit," Harper went on. The words came a few at a time, punctuated by the wheezing sound of his breath as his chest heaved up and down like a bellows. "He wrote most of the law-most of the procedural law-in this state. He had a brilliant legal mind. You have to give him that."
The liquor had reached my stomach, and I remembered I had not had anything to eat.
"You have to give him that," Harper was still insisting as I got up from the table. At the bar, I exchanged the drink for a cup of coffee and ordered bacon and eggs.
"I'm having breakfast," I told him as I sat down. "You want something?"
He started to shake his head, then changed his mind. "I'll have the same thing," he yelled across the empty room.
"Don't you think he had a brilliant legal mind?" Harper asked, curious why I seemed so reluctant to agree.
"You want me to tell you about the first time I ever met him?"
I asked, surprised at how clearly I remembered what until that moment I had not thought about in years. "That isn't exactly right," I corrected myself. "I didn't really meet him. I appeared in front of him, in a trial—not even a real trial—a trial on stipulated facts."
It had happened years ago, at the beginning of my career, and it was as if I had just walked out of that courtroom. Harper gave me a quizzical look as I laughed at how angry it still made me.
"You know what a stipulated facts trial is? It's a plea bargain that allows the defendant to appeal a legal issue that is in dispute. That's what we were doing. I had not been practicing more than six months, and I had this kid charged with stealing a car. I tried to get his confession thrown out, but I lost on that. The deputy D.A. was one of the good ones. He thought it was a close call, and that an appellate court should decide."
Harper never forgot he was a reporter. "Was Jeffries the judge who denied your motion?"
"No, another judge had done that. Jeffries wasn't the one who might get overturned on appeal. He didn't have any stake in what happened one way or the other. At least not that way," I added.
I lifted the cup with both hands and sipped the black coffee, remembering the way Jeffries had looked that day, his pug-fingered hands folded in front of him, waiting for me to begin. He was still in his thirties, but his wavy hair, which ran in a straight line from his brow, was already silver smooth.
"McDonald—that was the name of the deputy D.A.—recited the facts of the case. The defendant—I've forgotten his name— was standing right next to me, his hands cuffed in front of him. He had broken into the home of his former girlfriend, taken her keys, and stolen her car. It was simple, straightforward, nothing to it. McDonald finished, and Jeffries turned to me. 'Does the defendant agree with this rendition of the facts?' he asked. The kid nodded and I said yes out loud for the record. It was the first stipulated facts trial I had done, but McDonald had done dozens of them. It was all routine.
"Jeffries drew himself up and looked right at McDonald. 'Very well. Based on these facts, I find the defendant not guilty.'
"Not guilty! It was impossible. But there it was. Jeffries kept looking at McDonald, daring him to open his mouth."
I raised my eyes until I met Harper's gaze. "So far as I know, I'm the only defense lawyer who ever won a stipulated facts trial, and I only won it because Jeffries was so utterly corrupt."
"Your client bought him off?"
"My client didn't have anything to do with it. It was worse than bribery. It was power. Earlier that same week, McDonald had been late for a court appearance. Jeffries, who was never on time himself, was in a rage. He told him no one was ever late to his courtroom. And he meant it."
The bartender brought breakfast, and Harper began to cut the eggs with his knife and fork. "Everyone always said he ran a tight courtroom," he remarked as he lifted the fork to his mouth.
"And everyone said Captain Bligh ran a tight ship," I replied as I started to eat. The eggs were runny and the bacon was charred.
After a couple of bites I shoved the plate aside and forgot about food. My mind was filling with images of things that had happened, the oldest of them crowding out the others, as if clarity came only after a memory had been buried for years.
"The next time I saw Jeffries was about a month later. I had a case that had to be set for trial. Jeffries liked to do these things in chambers. When he got to my case, he leaned back in his chair, a big smile on his face, and said, 'Tell your client if he pleads guilty, he'll get probation, but if he goes to trial, he goes to prison.'"
I looked at Harper as I cradled the warm coffee mug in my hands. "I was young, new, more interested in saying something smart than doing something wise. I couldn't let it go. 'Even if he's acquitted?' God, you should have been there. The room was full of lawyers. Everyone was laughing, everyone but Jeffries. He stared at me with cold-eyed suspicion, and then, without a word, went on to the next case."
Harper mopped up a liquid yellow yolk with a piece of toast and stuffed it into his mouth. With a paper napkin he wiped his lips, and asked, "What did Jeffries do to get even?"
"Even?" I replied with a rueful laugh. "That was never good enough for Jeffries, not by half."
The door opened and I shuddered as a gust of cold air struck the back of my neck. An old man in a tweed jacket and a woman bent over a cane took a table on the other side of the room.
"A few weeks later I had a case on the criminal docket, and Jeffries was on the bench. My client was in custody and all we are going to do is enter a not guilty plea. It isn't going to take more than two minutes. All the in-custody arraignments were set for eight-thirty. I was there at eight twenty-five. Jeffries was ten minutes late. He's late so often he doesn't bother to apologize. Court begins when he gets there; lawyers can wait.
"Usually the deputy D.A. calls the cases on the docket, but not in Jeffries's courtroom, not that day. Jeffries called them himself, called them alphabetically, all except my client. When he came to him, he skipped to the next name on the list and took everyone after that in order, all the way through until he had finished with them all. I had sat there for three and a half hours, and it was now five minutes before noon and my client was the only one left. Jeffries got up from the bench and went to lunch."
Harper seemed amused by it. If it had happened to someone else, or if it had been the only time it had happened to me, I might have found something humorous in it as well.
"So he made you wait until after lunch?"
"He came back in the afternoon, and without so much as a glance in my direction announced that because the civil calendar was unusually crowded, any criminal matters left over from the morning would be taken up the next day."
"Judicial discretion," Harper remarked with a wry expression. His eyes grew distant, as if he was starting to remember other occasions on which he had witnessed other judges inflicting injury on lawyers they did not like. "It was a long time ago," he said, coming back to himself. "Why does it still bother you so much?"
"It probably wouldn't, if it had been the end of things," I explained.
"But it was just the beginning."
Another blast of cold air hit the back of my neck. A slightly built middle-aged man with slick black hair held the door while a taller, broad-shouldered man with snow white hair and wintry blue eyes passed in front of him. As soon as they saw us, they headed for our table.
"Hello, Joseph," the old man said softly as I stood up. Nearly seventy, Asa Bartram still practiced law. He came in late every morning and left early every afternoon, but he never missed a day. The other attorneys in the firm he had started before most of them were born parked in the underground garage, but Asa, who owned the building, parked his Cadillac on the street in front, directly under a NO PARKING sign that always kept his space vacant.
"You know Jonah," he said to me as he turned and shook hands with Harper. Small, dark-eyed, with a nervous twitch that locked his left eye into a permanent squint, Jonah Micronitis paid no attention to me. He pulled out a chair for the older man and waited until he sat down. "How are you," he said finally, with a quick, cursory nod as he moved to the other side of the table and took the fourth chair for himself.
Harper and I exchanged a brief glance as Micronitis leaned across and asked Asa what he wanted. Rubbing his large raw-boned hands together, the old man thought about it for a moment.
"Just coffee." Micronitis nodded once, and lifted up his head. His eyes darted toward the bartender. "Coffee," he called out in a peremptory tone.
"Were you at the funeral?" Asa asked.
"Yes, I was."
He was a large man, with a high forehead and prominent cheek-bones, who despite his age held himself rigid and alert. He looked at me, his white bushy eyebrows drawn together, his blue eyes sparkling, enjoying a private joke. "It's always good to outlive your enemies," he said finally.
Too impatient to wait, Micronitis went to the bar to get the coffee himself. He brought back two cups and set one in front of Asa.
I tried to be diplomatic. "I didn't view Jeffries as an enemy. We just never quite got along."
There was nothing hostile in the way he looked at me. His eyes remained friendly, if a little distant, but my answer had plainly amused him. "Jonah," he said without moving his eyes, "how would you describe the way Judge Jeffries felt about Antonelli?"
Slipping back into his chair, Micronitis glanced first at me, then at Bartram. A smirk shot across his small, tight-lipped mouth.
"Hatred, pure and simple." His voice, a flat, slightly nasal monotone, carried no more emotion than if he had been asked for the time.
This reply seemed to add to the old man's amusement. "It's rather more of a challenge not to speak ill of the dead when it turns out the dead speak so ill of the living, isn't it?"
I shrugged it off and tried to turn the conversation in a different direction. "As I say, for some reason we just never got along. But you were quite good friends with him, weren't you?" He took his eyes off me and stirred the cup of coffee on the table in front of him. He put the spoon down on the saucer, lifted the cup to his mouth, and, out of habit, blew on it before he drank. The loose, mottled skin on his throat throbbed as he swallowed.
"We went to law school together. The class of...." His voice trailed off, and at the first sign of uncertainty, Micronitis, always waiting to help, supplied the year. "Calvin didn't want to go to law school," Bartram continued, glancing at Harper, then at me, certain we would find this not only surprising but interesting as well. "Calvin wanted to be a doctor. He applied to medical school, and they were eager to have him. As well they might. Calvin had a brilliant mind. But when he told them that he had to work part-time while he was going to school-he had to help support his mother—they wouldn't let him in. They told him medical school was too difficult, that no one could get through if they were working at a job, even one that was part-time...."
"You never wanted to be the defense attorney in a medical malpractice case in his courtroom," Micronitis interjected. His eyes glistening, he slowly drew his index finger across his throat.
Bartram, his mind focused on what he wanted to say, had not stopped talking. "We started out together, opened our own office. We almost starved to death. Not that Calvin would have noticed. He never cared anything for the business side of the law. Always left all of that to me. He was too busy, reading cases, sitting in court listening to other lawyers make their arguments. He used to get in his car and drive down to Salem just so he could watch oral arguments in front of the Oregon Supreme Court." Grasping the handle of the cup between his thumb and the gnarled knuckle of his forefinger, Bartram lifted it to his mouth, staring straight ahead as he drank.
"He should never have been a lawyer. He didn't have the temperament for it. You have to treat people with respect. You have to at least pretend that a client might have something to say worth listening to. You have to defer, with a show of good grace, to anything a judge decides to say. Calvin couldn't do it." As soon as he said it, he took it back. "No, that's not true. He could do it—and he did it—at least with judges, but he hated it, every minute of it. He thought it was all too demeaning."
He paused, a blank look on his face, as if he had lost the thread of his thought.
"All too demeaning," Micronitis reminded him.
The thin film of vague ambiguity dissolved, and Bartram's eyes came back into focus. "Calvin Jeffries," he said like someone recalling the name of a long-lost friend, "was blessed—or perhaps I should say cursed—with a really remarkable capacity to take in both sides of a question almost simultaneously." A shrewd glint entered his pale eyes. "I suppose I should have said 'to see the flaws' in both sides of an argument. He had the most analytical mind I ever saw."
He hesitated, just for a moment, and Micronitis opened his mouth. With a shake of his head that was more like a quick shudder, the old man cut him off. "There was something quite destructive about it, this way he had of demolishing every argument he heard. It became an obsession with him. He was so intent on showing everyone that they did not measure up, that he sometimes completely lost sight of the difference between better and worse. With that restless mind of his, everything was reduced to the absolute equality of imperfection."
This moment of lucidity seemed to exhaust his critical faculties. His head sagged down and as he fumbled with his coffee cup his hand trembled for a moment before he was able to bring it back under control.
"Well," he said, looking around the table, "for someone who wasn't interested in money, he did all right." His eyes landed on Micronitis. "Thanks to us, he was pretty well off, wasn't he."
You could almost see the electrons racing around the agile brain of Jonah Micronitis as he calculated, no doubt to the last dollar and cent, the net worth of Asa Bartram's deceased friend. "Quite a wealthy man." He caught the meaning of the look that passed between Harper and myself. "It all started years ago," he explained.
"Before I joined the firm. Asa always had an eye for investments. He put the judge into some things—real estate, mainly—that didn't cost that much at the time."
With a grim laugh, the old man interjected: "But whoever killed him didn't get any of it. One thing you could always count on about Calvin-he never had enough money on him to pick up a check."
"The killer was probably after the car," Harper suggested. "That's where he was stabbed, right next to his car in the courthouse parking structure."
Wincing, Asa dropped his eyes. "Terrible thing, terrible thing," he muttered. "Just left there to die like that, and then somehow managed to drag himself back to his office. Must have crawled part of the way."
Micronitis checked his watch. "We better get going," he said. Asa gave no sign he had heard. Instead, he raised his head and grinned at me. "Jonah was right. Calvin really hated you." Laying my hand on his forearm, I looked into his aging eyes.
"And do you hate me, too, Asa?" I asked gently.
He was startled at first, but then he realized I was not asking him about me at all. "No, of course not," he replied, patting my hand. "Calvin hated everybody." A shudder seemed to pass through him, and his mouth twisted into a grimace. He stared down at the table, shaking his head. Then he stopped, placed both hands on the arms of his chair, and drew himself up to his full height. "He was the most brilliant man and the meanest son of a bitch I ever knew. I made him rich, and he made me feel like he was doing me a favor by letting me do it."
"Then why did you?" Harper asked.
Asa did not understand. "Why did I what?"
Harper never had a chance to answer. Before the second word was out of the old man's mouth, Micronitis had already begun to explain. "Why did you make him rich if he treated you like that?" With a toss of his head, Asa snorted. "Wish I knew. I just did it, that's all." He paused, his dim eyes twinkling with a thought that had just come to him. "It was like a marriage. After a while you settle into a kind of routine, and later on you can't remember why. I handled the business end of things when we started out together. It became one of the things I did, and I kept doing it after he went on the bench."
With his elbows on the table, he wrapped one hand over the other and rested his chin on top. His eyelids were closed into narrow slits and a shrewd smile played at the corners of his wide mouth.
"Once you did something for Calvin Jeffries, it stopped being a favor and became an expectation. He never thanked me, not once in all those years." Folding his arms across his chest, he sank back in his chair. "I don't think he even liked me," he said, pressing his lips together as he pondered the meaning of what he had received for all his trouble. Brightening, he turned his head until his eyes met mine. "He didn't like me, but he hated you." Micronitis could hardly contain himself. "Yes, he really hated you," he said, his voice a cheerful echo.
I turned away from Asa and looked at Micronitis. "Do you know why he hated me?" I asked, irritated.
His eyes darted from mine to Asa and back again. He fidgeted around in his chair. The side of his mouth began to twitch. "No," he finally admitted. "I just know that he did." Finished with his breakfast, Harper set his empty plate to the side. "Do you know why?" he asked, looking right at me.
"It was the Larkin case," Asa explained. Harper turned his head, waiting to hear more. "The Larkin case made our friend here famous," he said, nodding toward me. "Every lawyer who ever became famous became famous because of one case. The Larkin case was yours, wasn't it?"
Harper's eyes flashed. "I remember now. It was years ago. I couldn't cover it. I'd already been assigned to a murder trial that was scheduled at the same time." Harper thought of something.
"Wasn't that the case the judge threw you in jail for contempt?"
Then he realized what had happened. "Ah," he said, suddenly subdued, "Jeffries."
For a moment, no one said anything. Then, turning to Asa, Harper asked, "What was it about the case that made him hate Antonelli so much?"
Furrowing his brow, he tried to remember. Finally, he shook his head. "I don't really know. I never paid much attention to what went on in the courthouse. All I know," he said, repeating himself, "is that it was the Larkin case." He smiled apologetically at Harper and looked at me. "Tell us what happened, Joe. The Larkin trial."
Micronitis started to object. He tapped his fingernail on the glass crystal of his wristwatch, trying to remind Asa that there was somewhere he was supposed to be.
"Go ahead, Joe," Asa insisted. "I've always wanted to hear about it."
Harper endorsed the suggestion. "I've always wanted to hear about it, too." He stole a quick, sideways glance at Micronitis, then added, "And take your time. Don't leave anything out."
Posted February 2, 2011
Posted May 1, 2004
I am an avid reader and enjoy mystery novels. This is the first time I have read DW's writing BUT I can definitly say it will not be my last! This book flows smoothly and the characters are well developed. The author brings you into the story so effortlessly that you are hooked and don't even realize it until the last page. A complex story line that is cohesive and melded in with a silkened touch. With this story you realize, for most of us, we interpret our lives as we wish them to be and that often times it is not what is preceived by others or true. Bravo to D.W. Buffa.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2004
Mr Buffa's plots are very well thought out with each character creating its own unique impression on the readers mind and providing a twist to the tale. Antonelli is so affable. The Judgement is no expection to this trend. A truly exciting page turner right till the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2004
This should be required reading as we can learn about the evils in this world. There are many judges like Judge Jeffries in real life. I wonder how the system lets them stay in power? The shooter wasn't any better as he chose to ignor right from wrong. The only thing good that came our of this is that Danny gets a chance in life now.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 3, 2002
I thought The Prosecutor was a terrific book, but The Judgment was unbelievably well written and entertaining. Both books held my interest to the last paragraph and did not disappoint.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 18, 2001
After two brillant novels following the natural progession of a trial, the judgment closes the brillant life of Joesph Antonelli. Dudely W. Buffa is the most learned, most educated and most talented writer this planet has had fortune to see since Fyodor Dostoevsky. His multiple stories and characters create the felling of really being there and make for a novel you cannot put down. You will not believe the twist and will never see it coming, whcih is indicative of Buffa brillant and inavitive style and prose. Buffa is the simply the BEST!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2001
Murder isn't a dead certainty in 'The Judgment,' the latest thriller from former defense attorney D. W. Buffa. What is without doubt are the topnotch audio book readings by Dennis Predovic in the unabridged release and Ron McLarty in the abridged version. Dennis Pedrovic has a voice often heard in commercials and cartoons, as well as television appearances on 'Law and Order' and a number of soap operas to his credit. Hollywood and television both claim Ron McLarty who has appeared in numerous films, such as 'The Postman,' 'Mean Streak,' and 'Heartburn.' Acknowledged as possessing a keen legal mind, Judge Calvin Jeffries disdained the law and worshiped power. His murder in a courthouse parking lot paralyzes the community, but is hardly mourned by attorney Joseph Antonelli whose worked has been plagued by Judge Jeffries' decisions. But this time the wheels of justice roll - the Judge's murderer is apprehended. The killer confesses, and then commits suicide. Case closed? Not really. Another judge is murdered in the same manner and Antonelli agrees to represent the defendant in what seems to be a copycat crime.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Circuit Court Judge Calvin Jeffries ranked with this country¿s best legal minds, but his reputation to the public involved over use perhaps abuse of court power. Many attorneys who felt Jeffries unfairly undermined a defense were not toasting the deceased. However, surprisingly, the individual who murdered the Judge in the court parking lot was a homeless person not connected to the victim. Attorney Joseph Antonelli, not a Jeffries fan, accepts the defense of the accused judge killer. <P>When the suspect kills himself, the case seems over, but Jeffries¿ widow thinks otherwise. Soon someone murders a second judge and the police shout copycat and arrest another homeless person. Antonelli begins to wonder if Mrs. Jeffries is right that something more sinister is the cause behind the homicides and who is next? <P>The story line of THE JUDGMENT is a fast-paced, exciting legal thriller. The cast is fully drawn and seem real, especially the hero and the first dead Judge. Though Antonelli speaks in a stilted tongue in what sounds like to much legalese for everyday discussions, he remains a powerful caring character who readers will like but ask him to speak in plain English. D.W. Buffa provides the audience with a strong legal thriller that fans will enjoy, but need a few days to read. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2014
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Posted January 4, 2010
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Posted August 2, 2011
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Posted December 28, 2010
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