The Best People: A Tale of Trials and Errors

The Best People: A Tale of Trials and Errors

by Marc Grossberg

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Overview

Paddy Moran, a former cop from Brooklyn, is a newly licensed attorney in Houston with dreams and aspirations to make it big. He survives early rough bumps and ethical challenges. Then, through networking, he lands two high-profile clients. With his brash moxie and brilliant legal strategy, he gets outstanding outcomes that put him on the success trajectory to the upper echelons of the city's divorce bar. But, faced with difficult choices in high-stakes litigation, will he balance his thirst for recognition and respect with his sense of right and wrong?

​The Best People also follows Pilar Galt, a sensuous, intelligent single mother from the Houston barrios, for whom a temp assignment evolves into a relationship with the richest man in town. Her path intersects with Paddy's and eventually converges with his during a pivotal time in her life when she must overcome self-destructive tendencies to survive.

A legal drama and social satire set after Enron and before the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, The Best People portrays a Houston as it is: a glitzy meritocracy populated with larger-than-life characters. It is the landscape where the country-club and café-society sets clash amidst clever legal maneuvering, big law firm politics, a Ponzi scheme, and judicial corruption.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626346550
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 444,462
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

MARC GROSSBERG is an observer and a listener. He has a passion for his family, friends, and clients, and for books that entertain and provoke him. He has practiced law in his native Houston for over fifty years. He has somehow overcome being a Board-Certified tax lawyer and one of the Best Lawyers in America to write The Best People. Marc is a proud product of the Houston public schools, The University of Houston, and The University of Texas School of Law. He lives in the NOW and goes wherever his “green light” tells him the intersection might be interesting.  

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

GETTING STARTED

PADDY MORAN WAS SO PUMPED he ran the five blocks from the Harris County Civil District Courthouse to his office. After watching one of Houston's most successful and audacious trial lawyers woo a jury panel into the palm of his hand, every positive juice in Paddy's body flowed as he barreled onto Congress Street past the concentration of county buildings. "The sumbitch won the fucking case before the opening statement," he said out loud to no one as he reached his building. "Hot damn!" He bounded up the stairs two at a time to the third floor.

"I wanna be as good as he is. I want people crowding the courtroom to watch me when it's show time. I want people to think if they don't hire me, they've left their best chance on the table. I want other lawyers to offer bigger settlements because they don't want me to whip their ass. I'm gonna ..." Visions of a boundless future exploded in his mind — packed courtrooms, being a regular on CNN prime time panels of legal experts, articles in the paper.

Reaching his desk, he loosened his tie, settled into his chair, and let the air conditioning cool him. He imagined himself commanding the rapt attention and admiration of judge and jury and awing and humbling opposing lawyers.

His office was on the top floor of an early 1930s Art Deco building, just east of Main Street. The district that once housed premier business locations had gone to seed, but additions of new courthouses, Minute Maid Park, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and Discovery Green helped revive the area. Modern apartment buildings catering to millennials had sprung up where just a few years before people had feared walking after dark. He shared offices and Bernice, the secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper/office manager/paralegal/gofer, with George Accurso, a fellow former Houston Police Department policeman turned lawyer. The rent was cheap because both the landlord and the historical society had neglected the building for years.

His view to the west and south was magnificent — shimmering skins of the skyscrapers dominating the dramatic Houston skyline. His favorite was the Bank of America building, fifty-six stories with spires and gables that made him think of Batman's Gotham City, where, in his childhood fantasies, Paddy took turns being superhero and super villain.

Two weeks earlier, thirty-six-year-old Paddy had been sworn in to the Texas bar. He had gotten a late start, but if he was going to let that bother him, he wouldn't have headed down this road to begin with. He spent most of his days roaming from courtroom to courtroom hoping to catch the city's best lawyers in action. He had yet to have his first client and he knew he had to get clients if he was going to be the baddest lawyer in a city of great lawyers. It would happen. With four million people in Harris County, about half of them in Houston, some forty thousand civil cases were filed every year. He was sure that sooner or later he would get his share of the good ones.

"You have a call, Mr. Moran," Bernice said, interrupting his reverie. "He says his name's Jed."

Jed was Paddy's best friend from his days at the HPD. Paddy grabbed the phone, smiling. "Hey, pal. What's up?"

"I'll tell you when I get there," Jed said in a cold monotone.

"Sure. Come on," he replied, puzzled.

While he waited, without much to do other than pulling up his tie, he read yet again the framed certificate on the wall across the room. Each time he read it, his thoughts wandered to great victories that he, a six-foot-five, red-haired Irishman, super-sized Cousin Vinny would achieve.

This is to certify that Patrick Xavier Moran, having fulfilled all requirements and having subscribed to the official oath, is, upon motion of the Board of Law Examiners, hereby duly admitted and licensed as an attorney and counselor at law to practice in all Courts of the State of Texas.

May 16, 2007

Hearing Bernice greet Jed, Paddy spun around, eager to see his good friend, then shrank back, his toothy smile fading as he saw Jed sporting several days' beard and dark circles under his eyes. Instead of his uniform, Jed was wearing Levi's, scuffed boots, and a T-shirt so faded that one could barely read its message: "Keep Houston Un-Weird." His shoulders slumped. He clasped his hands at belt level as if they were cuffed. Paddy figured Jed would not be receptive to one of his bear hugs.

"You look like shit."

"Thanks," Jed said, as he dropped into a chair opposite the desk. "Jessie kicked me out. It's done. She found out I was doing Darlene."

"Darlene? Again?"

Jed's gaze fell, and he nodded. "Yeah ... again. This time Jessie filed."

It dawned on Paddy that he was looking at his very first client. He resisted replying as he would have if they were still fellow cops, "Schmuck, what did you expect?" Jed didn't need to hear what others had doubtlessly already told him. Catching his own reflection in the window — a man in a suit, groomed, and looking professional — he decided this conversation should be devoid of the "fucks" and "shits" that were a part of their normal banter. Intending to communicate his care and confidence, he said, "How can I help?"

Jed's brow furrowed. "You're a lawyer, aren't you?"

"Yes, but I'm still your friend."

"Yeah, well, how about just being a lawyer?" Jed snapped. "What're you gonna charge?"

Determined not to let Jed's frustration stir his own temper, Paddy said, "I dunno. Tell me a few things first. What assets do you and Jessie have?"

"My pension. The house with a mortgage that might be more than what we could sell it for. A rental property. It has about ten in equity. I got my truck. She's got a Yukon. I make both payments."

"We both know I don't have a lot of experience," Paddy said, "but I'm pretty sure how this will play out unless there's something big you haven't told me. With those assets, Jessie will get the house and from half to fifty-five percent of your pension. She gets her car. You get yours. Everything else will go fifty-five percent to her and forty-five percent to you."

"Why does she get more than fifty percent?"

"Theoretically, under the community property laws, that's all she's entitled to, but you're working, she's not. You cheated on her. Yada yada yada. The extra five percent isn't worth fighting about. How old are the kids?"

"Valerie's twelve and Jed Junior's eleven."

"How much was your last W-2?"

"I'm not sure, but if you throw in moonlighting security jobs, say a hundred thou."

He quickly looked online for the Family Law Code schedule of child support payments based on income.

After Paddy told him the amount, Jed breathed deeply, shook his head, and said, "I really fucked up."

"First time was a fuckup. I don't know what to call this one." "Just tell me what you'll cost," Jed growled.

He should have spent more time thinking about fees. They don't teach that stuff in law school. He could say a flat seven fifty. He could make it hourly. But Jed was a buddy, and he was busted. Whatever he charged would be more than Jed could afford, though he would somehow pay it. He'd probably end up unhappy no matter what, even if he thought Paddy had done a good job, because he was unhappy with the situation he'd gotten himself into.

Then synapses exploded in Paddy's brain. His savings would keep him afloat for at least six months. Jed was highly respected, with many years on the force. Soon he would make captain. Jed promoting him could be the best kind of advertising. And Jed really was his best friend.

He walked around the desk. Putting his massive hand on Jed's shoulder, he said, "If you promise, I mean promise" — Paddy squeezed tightly — "not to tell anyone, and if the facts are no more complicated than you've told me, I won't charge you a thing. You pay out-of-pockets, like court costs."

The tension left Jed's face. He sat straighter. "Buddy, you don't know what that means to me. Not just the money."

"Look, you're my pal. You came to me at one of the lowest points in your life." Lowering his voice to a gravelly pitch, assuming what he intended to be a wise counselor's expression, he said, "That means a lot to me." In fact, his guess was Jed had come to him because he assumed Paddy would be cheaper than more experienced lawyers. After all, it wasn't going to be a complicated divorce. Nevertheless, Jed was overcome with emotion. Feeling a tiny bit emotional himself, Paddy added, "If I can't help a buddy out when he needs me, then what kinda guy am I? Just don't go telling people I didn't charge you. I can't afford to become a fuckin' legal aid society for cops who get busted by their wives."

Jed pushed his chair back, stretched out his legs, and said, "When you first joined the force, I thought you were a lifer. I was hoping you would be. I never saw anyone better at making the right decision in a critical situation. I knew that when my ass was on the line, I wanted you to have my back."

"You guys really took me in," Paddy said. "Even let me join the weekly poker game. The only reason you still let me play is because I lose most of the time."

Paddy's thoughts went back to the now distant universe that had once been his Brooklyn, where a cop's life would have given him all the respect he could have wanted. Walking, sometimes strutting, neighborhood streets, he saw shopkeepers smiling appreciatively and punks avoiding eye contact. He felt in complete command, entirely comfortable with his environs. It was good. Then a new captain took command. He and Paddy had a serious run-in because Paddy hadn't been tough enough on some young black kids suspected of a purse snatching. Paddy knew the teenagers and their parents. The captain did not. But Paddy also knew this guy could make his life miserable for a long time.

The next day Paddy opened an email posting a job with the HPD. "Saints be praised," his grandmother might have said. On a whim, he responded.

Basically a loner with no family he wanted to be around, he would miss no one in Brooklyn. The pay was decent and the cost of living way less, and his pension seniority would transfer. A week later, he was in Houston. Instead of walking the streets during shifts, he cruised in a Ford Crown Victoria.

It didn't take him long to see that all kinds of people could make it big in Houston, people who came to the city with nothing and became big shots. He wanted that, but he doubted he'd reach great heights as a policeman. He began taking night classes at South Texas College of Law. Tired of dealing with perps, he wanted no part of criminal law. He focused on family law and plaintiffs' personal injury, two areas that weren't dominated by the large law firms.

"Hey," Jed said, damming Paddy's stream of consciousness. "Speaking of poker, you doing anything else at least once a week?" Jed winked.

"Nah. Like they say, the law's a jealous mistress. I just go to the gym and my place, watch TV, read lawyer novels. Ya know, chill. That's enough." He didn't mention the hookers.

CHAPTER 2

SOMETHING NEW

JED KEPT HIS WORD. He told no one Paddy hadn't charged him. He did say he was doing a great job and his fees were reasonable. After Jed's first meeting in Paddy's office, at least three police divorce cases a month came in. All routine. All uncontested. All done at a fixed fee. It wasn't much, but it was a start. He was also working the phone at the bar association's free legal line. It was win-win. Poor folks have some of the same questions rich folks do. The more situations he had to contemplate, the better prepared he would be for whatever was coming. Besides, he began to understand that sometimes the best thing lawyers can do for people is to let them know they aren't alone when faced with navigating the slippery slopes of the legal system. Even a rocket scientist couldn't do it alone.

Into month six, around 9:30 on a Monday morning, a cop in his mid-forties strutted into the office. Paddy assumed the guy wanted a divorce.

"I got rear-ended," the cop said. "By a Porsche."

Pushing his lower lip out and arching his eyebrows, Paddy whistled and said, "Sweet car. What happened?"

"Attorney-client privilege?"

"Of course," Paddy said.

"This hotshot is right on me, you know? I can't even see his front bumper in the mirror. The light turns yellow, and it's raining like it is now. He thinks I'm gonna keep going. I'm thinking that, too. I start to push it, and then it occurs to me I'm driving this shit car, behind in child support, bills up the ass. I mean, all this goes through my head in less than a second. So I hit the brakes. He plows into me. I move slowly. I'm, you know, groggy, holding my neck. He's really pissed, about to say something. I let him know I'm a cop. Shuts him up. His eyes get narrow, he gives me this smile like he already knows the game and how it's going to play. To make sure, I call one of my buddies who comes and tickets the guy."

"Did you exchange insurance?"

"Yeah, but I don't think Mr. Hotshot wants to file a claim. Rich bastards usually don't unless it's something major."

"Were you really hurt?"

"What do you want me to say?"

He studied the man. This sure sounded like a scam. It was new to Paddy, but clearly it wasn't new to the cop. As Paddy wondered if it was ethical to take the representation, the cop said, "Moran, I'm putting something in your green-ass lap. Word is you're a good guy, and I want to help you get started. If you think you're too good for this —" He stared at Paddy, reading him. "Jed told me you're inexperienced but smart. He didn't say you were a by-the-book guy."

Paddy shot him a cold look. "Before I start picking and choosing which parts of the book I'm gonna follow, I need to know the book backwards and forwards. My job is to represent clients in lawsuits, but their claims have to be for real."

Abruptly the cop switched gears. "It wasn't intentional, Moran. I had an irresistible impulse to slam on my brakes."

"Irresistible impulse." He remembered the defense from a showing of Anatomy of a Murder at law school. A sane person momentarily snaps and does something he can't control. Paddy nods. "If you say you had an irresistible impulse, I'll take your word for it. If you didn't cause the accident intentionally, in my book, that would make it legit." He pulled out a legal pad, picked up a pen, and asked, "When did this happen?"

"Yesterday."

Smiling broadly, he said, "What the fuck took you so long to get here?"

The man chuckled.

"Seen a doctor?"

"Do you know which doctor I'm supposed to go to?"

Leaning forward, Paddy said, "This isn't just attorney-client privilege. This is dead man's talk. What you say goes no further than this room. Okay?"

The cop nodded, smiling like a Cheshire cat. He tilted his chair back, making a cracking sound. Paddy winced, but a passing feeling told him he could afford a new chair if this played out the way he thought it might.

The cop nodded. "Jed said he liked riding with you."

"I appreciate Jed saying that. If you want to hear my quick take, it's that you know more about what needs to be done here than I do — this time. Take me through it, what doctor and so forth."

Paddy scribbled. The cop — now his client — even told him what his share of the recovery would be.

When the letter of the rules says it's okay to do something, but your gut tells you it's wrong, what do you do? If by the book it's okay, then it's okay. He was just getting started. Cops were his only natural referral source.

He better aim to please if he wanted to get out of the chute. It would be a learning experience. Paddy shrugged his shoulders and then accessed an online form book and contingency fee agreement. He let the cop tell him how to fill in the blanks.

"Maybe this go-by will help." The cop handed him a demand letter to be sent to the driver of the Porsche.

"You came prepared," Paddy said, impressed with the bald ruthlessness of the plan. "It'll be done on my letterhead and sent today."

"Certified and regular mail," the cop said.

"Got it!"

* * *

A FEW DAYS LA TER, the judge entered Jed and Jessie's final decree of divorce. After the proceedings, Paddy gathered them outside. He put a hand on Jessie's shoulder and one on Jed's and said, "Okay, Jessie, Jed fucked up. You got even. You did what you had to. And, by gawd, it was what you should've done. But I can tell you, he's been miserable. And you don't look like someone who's ready to celebrate. Are you?"

Jessie raised her head. "No, I'm not."

"Then for your own sake and for your kids' sake, get your asses back together."

"C'mon, honey," Jed said. "Can we give it a try?"

She shook her head, wheeled around, and headed for the exit. Jed followed her. She turned and said, "No!"

Jed looked at Paddy, who shrugged his shoulders.

* * *

ON HIS W AY BACK TO THE OFFICE, his phone vibrated. "Moran," he answered. The caller identified himself as the attorney for the Porsche owner. He offered five thousand dollars to settle. A thrill ran through Paddy. Tamping his excitement, he said, "Sounds low, but I'm obligated to take any offer to my client."

"Five thousand!" his client said. "That's a crock. Tell him I won't settle for less than a hundred thou."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Best People"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Marc Grossberg.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART ONE, 1,
Chapter 1: GETTING STARTED,
Chapter 2: SOMETHING NEW,
Chapter 3: PILAR,
Chapter 4: PILAR SEEK S HELP,
Chapter 5: KNOW YOUR CLIENT,
Chapter 6: PADDY'S FIRST TRIAL,
Chapter 8: CAVEAT EMPTOR,
Chapter 9: A TRIAL SEMINAR,
PART TWO, 65,
Chapter 10: MARGOT SHEAR,
Chapter 11: PILAR MAKES A CALL,
Chapter 12: PADDY GOES TO ELEGANTÉ,
Chapter 13: VJ MUSES ON HIS MARRIAGE,
Chapter 14: ESTELLE COOK,
Chapter 16: WORKING UP THE CASE,
Chapter 17: GETTING TO KNOW YOU,
Chapter 20: TAKING ON THE BIG FIRM,
Chapter 21: A TURN FOR THE WORSE,
Chapter 22: IT'S A DEAL,
Chapter 23: PILAR DECIDES TO PLAY IT SAFE,
Chapter 24: FAMILY LAW — IN STYLE,
Chapter 25: PILAR CINDERELLA,
PART THREE, 163,
Chapter 26: ANCHOR MAN,
Chapter 27: PERDIZ BRAVA,
Chapter 28: NEW FRIEND S,
Chapter 29: SMUG, ENTITLED SON OF A BITCH,
Chapter 30: CAPTAIN MUFFY TO THE RESCUE,
Chapter 31: PLAN B,
Chapter 32: RECEPTIONS AND DEPAR TURES,
Chapter 33: PADDY'S AND PILAR'S PATHS CONVERGE,
Chapter 34: PADDY'S BIG DAY IN COUR T,
Chapter 35: WORK AND A TUMMY TUCK,
Chapter 36: THE WINGATE CASE,
Chapter 38: MRS. COLEMAN'S NONPERFORMING HUSBAND,
Chapter 39: A GEO-ECONOMIC LES SON,
Chapter 40: DUE DILIGENCE,
Chapter 41: AN INCIDENT AT THE FAMILY LAW BUILDING,
Chapter 42: PILAR IS A TEAM PLAYER,
Chapter 43: GIVE HIM BACK HIS FACE,
Chapter 44: PILAR'S BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE,
Chapter 45: ELEGANTÉ WILL CLO SE,
Chapter 46: THE LAST NIGHT OF ELEGANTÉ,
PART FOUR, 261,
Chapter 47: PRENTICE'S REVENGE,
Chapter 48: A SURPRISE FOR WILL AND PADDY,
Chapter 49: THE END,
Chapter 50: LINDA HETHERINGTON'S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT,
Chapter 51: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM,
Chapter 52: NORMA IS ACCUSED,
Chapter 53: MAKING CHICKEN SALAD,
Chapter 54: PADDY HAS A BRAINSTORM,
Chapter 55: FOXMAN DOES HIS THING,
Chapter 56: THINGS ARE NOT GOING WELL WITH PILAR AND VJ,
Chapter 57: PADDY INTO THE FRAY,
Chapter 58: VJ AND PILAR CHOOSE GLADIATORS,
Chapter 59: CHOICES,
Chapter 60: VJ HAS TO MAKE A CHOICE,
Chapter 61: THE FIRST TO FILE,
Chapter 62: #LINDA4JUSTICE,
Chapter 63: ANGEL OF THE BARRIO,
Chapter 64: AN OVERHEARD CONVERSATION,
Chapter 65: A SIMPLER PLAN,
THE DENOUEMENT,
ACKNO WLEDGMENTS, 379,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, 381,

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