Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes: A Mother's Tales of Law and Disorder

Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes: A Mother's Tales of Law and Disorder

by Claudia Trupp

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What kind of woman leaves three young daughters at home every morning to spend her days representing convicted murderers and rapists? That is the question criminal defense attorney Claudia Trupp confronts in this sharp and riveting memoir as she seeks answers—for herself and, mostly, for her daughters.

Every working mother faces the challenges of balancing work and home, but the nature of Trupp's work makes her juggling act all the more precarious—and at times hilarious and bizarre. Trupp's domestic anecdotes of life with her kids run parallel to narratives of her most memorable, and often unsettling, criminal cases, each providing a platform to explore broader issues such as faith, perspective, and charm. The navigation of radically different realms—the criminal courts and maximum security prisons where clients serve hard time, and the home front where children demand marshmallows for breakfast—provides thought-provoking and entertaining reading.

While the working mother has been a popular subject of fiction and self-help guides, this may be the only book offering a woman's deeply personal and unapologetic account of how embracing a challenging job while simultaneously guiding a family reaps unexpected benefits on both fronts. In a memoir that will resonate powerfully with all women, Trupp candidly conveys to the reader and to her daughters the struggles and rewards of the conflicting roles in her life, the joy she has found in being a mother, and the value of meaningful work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605296654
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 04/14/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 414 KB

About the Author

CLAUDIA TRUPP is a criminal defense attorney specializing in appellate litigation. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and three daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Part 1

Weeping on the Job

I was eager to get to my office in Lower Manhattan that chilly Monday morning in December 2001. The weekend had been a long and tense one at my house. It should have been celebratory, since I had just won the biggest case of my career, and the decision was going to make the front page of the New York Law Journal. But by Friday afternoon, we had begun receiving a series of telephone calls during which the caller would simply breathe and hang up. Because of the nature of my work, I have an unlisted phone number. Therefore, the caller had to be some pervert who just happened to dial the number at random, someone I actually knew, or someone with the ability to access my unlisted number.

I had tried to convince my husband, Charlie, that the calls were just the acts of some random pervert, but he was pretty sure they had to do with the DeLuca decision. By the second night of harassing calls, Charlie was understandably upset. Finally, I unplugged the phone without telling him.

Arriving at my office on Monday morning, I saw my telephone message light. Expecting to hear the voices of my public defender colleagues from around the city calling to congratulate me, I happily picked up the phone and retrieved my messages.

"Fuck you," a gruff voice snarled.

Then I heard bagpipes. It took me a second to reconcile the angry cursing with the beautifully mournful music. We had all heard that music a lot recently. It was played at every law enforcement officer's funeral, and it had been played too many times in the months following the September 11 attacks. My entire body began to tremble as it became clear to me that my weekend harassment had not been an unfortunate coincidence but rather a calculated attempt to frighten me by someone who knew of my part in DeLuca's victory.

The phone on my desk was ringing again, and this time it sounded loud and threatening, like in those slasher films where the babysitter sits helplessly awaiting her fate. I snatched up the receiver before I lost my nerve.

"Who is this?!" I demanded with all the bravado I could muster.

"Hey, it's me. What's wrong?"

It was Charlie. Not wanting to alarm him, I evened my voice. "Nothing. What's up?"

"Did you fill out Jessie's forms?" he asked. The forms for my four-year-old daughter's kindergarten registration were due that day.

"I can't deal with that right now," I told him. "I'm in the middle of something here. I'll call you back later."

I hung up the phone. In my excitement over the DeLuca victory, I had entirely forgotten about Jessie's school forms. In addition to being reviled by countless strangers, I was also a terrible mother. Still trembling, I put my head on my desk and sobbed.

The world can be easily divided into two groups of people. The divide is not between rich and poor, men and women, prosecutors and defense attorneys. It is not between those who have children and the childless. The world is divided into those who cry easily, the "weepers," and those who do not, the "others." I always knew which camp I belonged in.

I remember in kindergarten the other kids complained during nap time because I was crying too loudly and keeping them up. It was not that I was a sullen or depressed kid. On the contrary, my parents have always described me as upbeat--and I would probably agree with that assessment. But throughout my life, whenever I would get stressed out or nervous or frustrated, I would crumple into sobs.

In law school, I remember crying for hours over getting a B in my Evidence course. The grade, received in the last semester of my third and final year of law school after already having secured a position at a white-shoe law firm, could not have impacted my future in any way. But I'd liked the class and respected my professor, and superstitiously I felt the grade somehow did not bode well for my prospects of becoming a real lawyer. My husband-- whom I have seen cry exactly once in the seventeen years that I have known him--was horrified. To appear less insane, I told him I had failed the course. We were only engaged at the time, and I was afraid he would call off the wedding if he knew the truth.

My weeping jags continued well into my legal career. I cried when I lost cases I thought I should have won; when judges or supervisors criticized my arguments; when I made stupid mistakes, a sin I deemed unforgivable. If Stephen DeLuca's case had not come my way, I might still be crying over such things. I'll never know. But when you have suffered horrible morning sickness, total public humiliation, and your first trip to the pediatric emergency room--all in a single day--the discovery of a typographical error in a brief no longer seems a legitimate cause for hysterics.


Some cases haunt you before they ever land on your desk. You hear about the crime and shudder. You follow the coverage in the media. Then, a year or two later you walk into the office on Monday morning, and there's the case record on your chair. Invariably, it's a monster, the trial transcript in multiple volumes, their pages numbering into the thousands. You crack the file, and it all comes back to you.

November 10, 1997, was my first day of work at the Office of the Appellate Advocate, the place where I have practiced ever since. It was also my first day as a working mother. I remember the date because my oldest daughter, Jessica, was exactly five months old. By any standards, Jessica was a difficult baby. Beautiful beyond my wildest expectations, with enormous blue eyes and perfectly formed light brown ringlets surrounding her china- doll face, Jessie did not smile for the first six months of her life. She slept little and ate with less regularity than she cried.

I would call my own mother to complain that Jessie's hour-long crying jags could not possibly be normal. My mother was unconcerned.

"Babies cry," she would tell me over and over again. "It's what they do. If she's still doing it when she's eighteen, then you can worry."

My mother would address all my concerns about Jessie in this way. According to my mother, Jessie could share our bed, wear diapers, and tantrum until she walked out the door to go to college and I would have no cause for concern. Of course, my mother knew what I only later learned, that just when you think you can't stand a child's tantrums or refusal to sleep alone, just as you feel your sanity starting to break, the clouds will part and you will wake up one morning next to your husband in your bed, alone, with your child sleeping peacefully in her own bed down the hall.

But in the weeks leading up to my return to work, I had not yet learned that lesson, and I tried mightily to force Jessie to take a bottle. Even as an infant, Jessie had an iron will. She remained exclusively breast fed, refusing any of my efforts to convince her to do otherwise. Needless to say, neither one of us was in particularly good spirits that day. I had not slept more than four hours the night before, worrying about whether she would starve herself and dehydrate to punish me for my abandonment.

Leaving your tiny, vulnerable infant with a person you barely know is inevitably part of a working mother's plight. That person might be a nanny, a day-care worker, or a husband/new father who has mutated overnight into a stranger of questionable competence. Unable to negotiate the complexities of day care, the mere thought of dressing a baby in time to catch the 8:05 train being more than I could fathom, I hired a nanny, Marie, who has cared for our family pretty much ever since.

My first day of work was Marie's as well. For the next few weeks, I would return to inspect the baby for bruises and question Marie about any slight discolorations I found. In retrospect, my daily inspections were comic, since every injury my children have suffered--a dislocated elbow, a broken arm, and worse--has been on my watch. Now I feel compelled on Monday mornings to account to Marie for my children's weekend-acquired bumps and bruises.

But in the absence of financial need, if a working mother has any hope of getting out the door, mixed in with the anxiety of leaving must be some measure of relief. At least, that was my experience. For five months, I had lived in the world of round-the-clock feedings, laundry, and errands. There were days when Charlie would leave for work and I felt envy. He was going to a land I knew well, the workplace, populated with people who thought about things other than diaper changing and who aspired to greater achievements than showering. I was left behind in the isolated and strange new world of mothering.

It was not a world to which I acclimated easily. One day Charlie arrived home while I was sitting in the nursery glider (traditional rocking chairs had apparently become too jarring for today's infants), nursing the baby for what seemed like the thirtieth time that afternoon. When he asked me what I had done that day, I burst into tears.

"This! This is what I've done today," I cried. "It's the exact same thing I did yesterday and the day before that." Charlie never posed that question again during any of my maternity leaves.

Every mother will tell you that children grow up too quickly. What few admit is that there are hours during the afternoon, as you wait for your husband to arrive home for dinner, when the laws of relativity are suspended and time actually stands still. You'll be cooking with a baby on your hip for an hour, but when you look up at the clock, only five minutes will have passed.

So that day in November 1997 when I started my new job in Lower Manhattan, I might have already been exhausted, but I was also guiltily gleeful about returning to the land of thinking adults. My new boss, Richard Smith, greeted me and showed me to my desk.

Back then it must have been clean, since the office had only opened four months earlier. Its existence was the result of the Legal Aid Society's disastrous strike in the early 1990s. The strike resulted from the constant clashing of the union and management following years of minuscule pay raises and escalating health insurance costs. Following the strike, the city had created alternative legal services providers for its indigent criminal defendants. In fact, I had participated in that strike and had even walked the picket line for two days until the Giuliani administration threatened me that I would lose my job. I went back to work, having lost two days of pay and gained nothing but blisters on my feet.

By the time the Office of the Appellate Advocate was finally formed in July 1997, I was working at a large private law firm. I had become used to working long hours and making more money than I had time to spend. Ordering dinner from a diner at midnight had become a bit too routine. Monday mornings found me just as exhausted as Friday afternoons, the weekend having done little to revive me.

On a rainy day when I was feeling particularly ground down, I received a call from Rich, whom I had known from my Legal Aid days, offering me a job at his newly formed office. Years earlier, one of the first cases I had worked on coincidentally involved the same arcane issue of statutory interpretation that Rich was also working on at the time. Despite the cases' similarities, I won my case and he lost his. My victory earned me Rich's respect.

When Rich learned that I was pregnant, he calculated that I might be willing to trade a larger paycheck for some evenings at home with my new family. He agreed to let me work as many or as few days as I wanted, with flexible hours. The salary was roughly half what I had been earning.

Charlie and I sat down at our kitchen table to discuss my options. We had a mortgage, two car payments, a new baby to support, and thousands of dollars remaining on Charlie's law school loans. Consideration of our debt burden would have turned any professional financial planner to stone. Add to this that Charlie had recently joined two friends who had started their own firm, leaving behind his big firm salary. The logical choice was clear.

Over the years, Charlie and I had mulled over many, many job offers and alternate career paths. We had met in August 1989 during law school orientation, before classes had started. At the welcoming reception for new students, I was standing alone next to a cheese platter, dressed for a garden party, in a long floral print dress and a straw hat. The hat was an unfortunate last-minute addition, donned in an attempt to appear more confident than I felt around my new classmates. Even on the crispest winter day, when the humidity is nil, I have wild hair that cannot be tamed by any product. In the New York August humidity, my hair was enormous; the straw hat had little hope of staying on my head. The first thing Charlie ever said to me was, "You don't usually wear hats, do you?" His tone was so genuinely curious, I had to laugh and admit the truth.

That first meeting pretty much sums up our relationship. I have never been a mystery to my husband. He had me pegged from the moment we met. And he has always been able to make me laugh. In the unlikely event that my daughters ever ask me for advice about whom to marry, I would depart from my own mother's advice that it is just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man. My advice would be to marry somebody who gets you, who understands what will make you happy, and who will encourage you to pursue that happiness even when doing so is not entirely logical.

It was my husband who encouraged me to take Rich's offer. The decision was obviously not wise financially--it seems even less so now that we have two more children than we did then. Still, I have never regretted it.

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