“Tomas, can you make sure that my hearing file is put together before you leave tonight?” I am already working on the file, of course, because this is one of the biggest cases in the state. It is starting to draw in a lot of national attention as well. The local university is suing one of the teachers for unprofessional behavior. Nearly a year of investigations, discoveries, and mediations has finally brought us to our day in court.
The Board of Directors at the university is privately funding the lawsuit with the public support of the dean. Leading the brigade for student Grayson Frances, born as Gabriella Frances, is the English Department Head, Taylor Teagan. During the discovery process we had to learn all sorts of dirty secrets that Ms. Teagan prepared us for – details that most schools would prefer remain secret.
“Tomas, did you hear me?” Franklin is an impatient lawyer naturally, but this case has made his tolerance disappear entirely. His own daughter has been facing similar struggles as Grayson, and more recently she’s been going to a good number of doctor appointments. I know how much this case means legally, but also personally, to Franklin. Instead of making a snarky comment back I apologize for not responding right away.
“I am putting everything in order for you with labels right now. I’ll be at the courthouse ahead of you by thirty-minutes with your coffee and the file. Is there anything else you’ll need for opening statements tomorrow?” Franklin and I discussed the best way to present the case to the jury. I believe that he should open with statistics about transgender identities and suicide before addressing into the basic questions of the case:
Professor Ethan Mason, husband of board member Melinda Mason, enticed Grayson Frances into a sexual relationship in exchange for guaranteed grades for himself and his friends if there was a need. The relationship became quickly abusive when Grayson told his professor that he no longer wished to continue the relationship because it was wrong. Professor Mason proceeded to coerce and blackmail Grayson into sexual activities to prevent being failed. However, the Professor proceeded to fail Grayson on his work after Grayson started filing sexual harassment complaints with the Psychology Department Head. The Psychology Department Head has been forced to resign for accepting Professor Mason’s reasoning that Grayson Frances was not an actual student.
As it turns out, Professor Mason proceeded to further implicate Psychology Department Head, Professor Benjamin Carmichael. The two of them worked together to block future complaints from Grayson Frances so that nobody else caught wind of the issue. Staff has admitted to being blackmailed with their jobs if they were to report any of the complaints against Professor Mason. Two other students filed complaints for Grayson Frances, both of which whom were failed on the assignments immediately following their actions. Even after that, each one was told that they could be recommended for academic probation and expulsion if they tried to interfere. From there on out, the three students whom were performing according to the standards required for the course began dropping grades; except for Grayson who performed poorly at first and then began performing better after the sexual relationship ended.
Franklin more than once would start punching his office table looking through the discovery documents and the mediation transcripts. More than one Professor Ethan Mason would admit to having a relationship with Grayson but revoke it later because his relationship wasn’t with Grayson but rather Gabriella. There would be times during mediation where Grayson would walk out half-way through the process because of the way in which Professor Mason was demanding things be worded in a certain way, which we had to honor legally. Grayson and his girlfriend, Carson Reed, now attend a different school and regular outpatient therapy to cope with the new stresses of pursuing a big legal case. Neither one of them live on campus due the publicity the case is receiving.
“No, we have more than enough for trial. I just can’t wait until this case is over. I need a break.” Even though Franklin hasn’t actually announced anything to me, I know that he’s taking an extended leave of absence. He will be out of the office for three months. The H.R. manager already contacted me and told me that I will be off of work during the same time frame, unpaid. I think that’s why he hasn’t told me what is going on yet, but I have bigger worries than having my feelings hurt by my boss’s personal needs. I got finances to figure out, plans to make, and so on.
For now, I’m with Franklin on this case and I have to help drive it forward; “Then you better get home to the girls. Don’t want to eat cold casserole, do you?”
Franklin waves before yanking his briefcase form the table and throwing his jacket over his shoulder. No matter if it’s raining out and it’s barely above freezing outside. He never cares what the weather is like if something is bugging him. I have learned in my five years with him that it is best to just let him mull through it on his own.
Nearly forty-five minutes later I realize that I finally have everything in perfect order. I have a checklist of all the discs and drives we need, I have copies of all exhibits, and I’ve got contact information for all of the professionals and witnesses that will be called to the stand. Surprisingly, this is the most ready I’ve ever felt for a hearing. Franklin maybe isn’t feeling the same way, but that’s what a Paralegal is supposed to do – give the attorney peace of mind that nothing has been left undone. Tomorrow is sure to be a breeze for them.
Tomas is smoking a cigarette on the stairs, sharing with Melinda Mason. It’s been a five-hour day in court. Thankfully the judge cleared the schedule so that it could be argued in one day, and hopefully decided in one day too. The jury is currently reviewing the case to determine if Professor Ethan Mason is guilty of sexual abuse, rape, domestic abuse, extortion, and discrimination. Obviously, some of these are long shots – extortion and discrimination – it’s always hard to gauge a jury as to whether or not they’ll go for the charge.
However, as far as I’m concerned, I just want the bastard to be in jail and fined. Even if we are only awarded one guilty verdict then he’ll be in jail and he’ll have fines. One guilty verdict will ruin his career and prevent him from ever being in any position of power again. If I can protect Grayson from prejudice assholes like this guy, then why wouldn’t I be able to protect my own child from the problems that she will face in the coming months? The hatred, the bullying, the harassment, and the crime that will be turned in her direction… I want to know that I have the ability to be there for her if she needs it, at least in this respect.
“Do you think we have a good chance?’ Grayson shows up out of nowhere with his hands in his pocket. I’ve spoken to him several times outside of work. Only a few months prior to Taylor approaching me about Grayson’s case my own daughter came out to my wife and I identifying as transgender, announcing simultaneously that she has decided she wants to transition. Even though it wasn’t my place, I asked if Grayson planned on transitioning too. He hasn’t ever considered it since he’s fine with his body. He just feels like a man inside, and that’s how he presents himself. Grayson is so comfortable in his skin and I admire that as a person.
Maybe I didn’t always appreciate people who were content exactly as they are regardless of how others perceive it. Carly, my daughter, she doesn’t feel that way, though. There are things that I don’t understand about transgender identity and transitioning from a social aspect, so I’ll talk to Grayson about it. He talks to me about the things he does know, and the things he’s experienced. Mostly he just tells me to be supportive and to listen when she says that I’m being offensive. It’s easy to say something hurtful unintentionally early in the process of transitioning; he always tells me that.
A perfect example is when I asked her if I should call her a ‘he’ now. Apparently that was something I should have already known? I didn’t know if was expected to just start addressing her as a male before the operation or not. Carly told me that I should already have assumed that ‘yes’ I was supposed to do that.
I still struggle to call Carly by her ‘new‘ name, Carl. And I still forget to say my “son” instead of my “daughter.” It makes me feel bad as a parent when she points these things out to me. I shouldn’t be so bad at this and yet I am, it must drive Carly mad.
“I think we’re going to get at least one guilty verdict.” I reply. A couple of passersby give me a look. We’re not supposed to be talking about the case outside of the courtroom due to the publicity. If any of the media catches wind of our opinion then it could be trending on every social media platform as the word of God before the jury ever returns. Grayson must be feeling the same way because he shoves his hands into his pockets and looks out past the stairs where several cop cars have parked to block news reporters from getting up to the courthouse.
I was expecting Grayson to start talking, and he doesn’t disappoint me. After licking his straight-lined lips he turns the conversation in a different direction; “I never wanted any of this to happen. All I did was make a questionable decision with man who had no morals. This happened because I just wanted him to give me fair grades. Even though they are wrong – people tell me I’m a hero when they see in public sometimes. The nice people do, anyway.” His face is scrunching in the brightness of the day. Yesterday was rainy and overcast so the sunshine is quite welcome.
Initially, I don’t want to really say much to him about it. I agree that he’s a hero of sorts. With all the hate mail that our office receives for my representation of this case, we’ve also receive a ton of support too. Young children writing that they have been inspired to discuss their identities with their parents, inspiring other people to start taking legal action against people for their heinous behaviors. All of these good things because Grayson agreed to take legal action and because I agreed to take the case! Wonderful things are a comin’ for a lot of people.
“Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this, Mr. Frances. I think we all needed something like this to happen to us.” My eyes haven’t left the young man; I’ve been studying him so much throughout the last year. I promised that if we won I’d take everyone out for drinks afterwards. Part of me wonders if he even wants to celebrate a guilty verdict. I think he just wants to go home with Carson and go to bed knowing that in the morning they can finally move into the next chapter of their lives. I have it on good authority that Grayson is going to propose.
“You’re welcome, Franklin. If do win, don’t forget those drinks.” I figured he would remember. His laugh is airy. Why are laughs always airy? I suppose it could be because airy laughs are dismissive laughs, distracted ones. They can’t be anything but airy, can they? Not really…
I purposefully left my cellphone inside the building tucked away in my briefcase. I had no desire to see the text messages from friends and family, I had no desire to keep track of the passing time, and I didn’t want to compulsively purchase a game that I will inevitably get addicted to playing. So I just stand with my arms at my side and my eyes on the sky. Each cloud floats by with subliminal dedication. They go swiftly and so I interpret it as purposeful. To do something quickly is to do something with an end in mind.
In my heart I hope that jury isn’t gone long. It would give me peace of mind when they give present their conclusions. There would be assurance that they knew wholly how they felt about the charges. Most people don’t think much about that, about the time it takes to reach a decision. Television has taught them that typically there’s just one dissenter that they have to convince if the jury is out for a long time. What people don’t really understand is that it’s not like that on a real jury. The unwillingness to determine someone’s life causes a good many delays. Today we aren’t bringing up murder charges, but sexual crimes of any sort always bring with them controversy. It’s enough to make any jury crumble with disillusion.
When we are called back into the courtroom it feels as though only an hour has passed. Many people are rushing to finish their lunch in the hallways over trashcans as they file back inside slowly. I do a headcount at my table. Grayson, Taylor, Melinda, and Tomas. We’re all here and we’re all waiting for the judge to return to his bench.
The four minutes it takes to call the court back into session and for the bailiff to walk the decision from the jury representative – it’s always a blur to me in every case I bring to trial. Even after practicing for ten years I get nervous that I didn’t work hard enough for my client. I certainly don’t win all of my cases, but I don’t lose them all either. Generally, I get something in the middle of winning and losing, which is nice. Today, I can’t help but want to win it all. For Grayson! He has become like a son to me. Of course, I guess I’ll have a son soon, won’t I?
“In the case Grayson Frances, et al, versus former Professor Ethan Mason the jury finds that the defendant is guilty of all charges.” As soon as I hear this I forget my marked professional reputation and I grab Tomas into a hug. I’ll have to tell him later, but he was the perfect Paralegal for this case. His open-mindedness allowed him to really focus on the client in a way that I admit was hard for me in the beginning. And really it’s not just this case, but it’s all of them. Tomas has always been a great man and a great worker. Since we’ve won now, I think it’s finally time that I tell him that I’m leaving for awhile to focus on my child’s transition.
I don’t listen to the judge much as court is released. There will be a sentencing hearing in six weeks but it will be in a closed court setting. This is the only case that I will return to work for, obviously, so that I can really see it to the end.
Tomas pulls all of us into a side conference room. In there he briefs everyone on what to expect outside. The guilty verdict has been announced and they’re going to want to question everyone with the prosecution. Tomas wants to escort everyone out one-by-one so that nobody gets overwhelmed or confused. Officers will be escorting everyone to their pre-arranged transportation; “I just need to know where you made reservations.”
Tomas knows I didn’t make reservations. I can tell by the way he smiles. I never make reservations because I’m not so cocky that I’d believe I won a case prior to hearing it from the judge’s mouth. He, however, has made reservations somewhere. That’s what I need Tomas for; he thinks about these things because he doesn’t carry the burden that I do as the attorney.
“You know where we’re going! Is this what they pay you for? Not knowing?” Together the group chuckles heartily. Afterwards, Tomas takes Grayson out to find Carson so that they can be the first to hit the crowds. As they wait, the opposing attorney comes in to congratulate me on my win. Apparently Taylor and Melinda are personally acquainted with the woman. I had never met her, of course, because Ethan Mason pursued council outside of town. She is a sole proprietor and owns her own firm with only three other employees. That’s as much as I know about her. She seems nice enough, and even admits that she took the case more for the publicity than she did for winning. Sometimes when you’re young and just starting out, trying to build, you have to take a crappy case for the benefit of your firm.
I suspect that her firm won’t remain small for much longer. I wish her luck on her expansion, waving at her as she takes off to console her staff. Something I found particularly interesting about this case is how Ethan Mason had nobody on his side, at least no loved ones. Melinda was against him and spoke openly that she couldn’t support her husband and that she’d begun divorce proceedings. His own parents had recently been interviewed about their expectations of the trial – they said that they believe their son should pay for the things he’s done and that while they love him they don’t love the person he’s proven himself to be…
“Taylor, you’re up next.” Tomas shows up and starts to haul her out, saying that Melinda can follow closely behind. As for me, I’ll be last because I’m not the person of interest right now. The victims of Ethan’s crimes are the people that the media cares about most. People will want to know how they feel and what they intend to do now that there’s closure.
When I get out there, there’ll be questions about my opponent. They’ll ask if I was confident about the case, maybe. Usually, though, they ask questions I’m not allowed to answer. So whatever exposure I have will be minimal and a thorough waste of time. Although, now that I think about it, there is something that I could say when I get out there… I know I’ll get asked…
“Attorney Strovski!” A blonde woman shouts at me first, and Tomas directs me towards her microphone and her camera. With a brilliant white smile she bats her eyes before glancing down at the list of designated questions. She’s new; this is her first big coverage piece. I’m glad that it’s someone like her asking, someone with a lot to gain; “Mr. Strovski, a lot of people are going to be upset by the outcome. Do you regret taking this case?”
“Absolutely not.” My reply is short, simple, and emotive. Tomas made sure to remind me not to be sarcastic when I came out to speak. Sarcasm is a weakness of mine, I suppose.
“I’m sure Mr. Frances will be glad to hear that! Do you mind telling us what drew you to his case in the first place? Was there anything in particular?” Heaviness fills my chest, but not the kind with anxiety. It is this weight of pride that covers me with armor. I called my wife and had her discuss it with my son first. I haven’t spoken to anyone about what’s happening except my superiors, Tomas, and Grayson. In my mind, this victory is allowing me to finally reveal what touched me enough to take on a case that was a hot social issue.
After sucking in a short breath, I lift my chin to as many cameras as I can manage and speak; “Grayson’s story meant a lot to me personally. Transgender issues are very important because discrimination still exists today. I knew when I consulted with Ms. Mason and Ms. Teagan that I wanted this case. It wasn’t just because I agree to uphold justice but also because my own child is transgender. When I took his case, Carl had just told my wife and I that he wants to transition. Winning this case was important for transgender equal rights, sure, but today I didn’t just help one boy. I helped make a difference for transgender individuals all over the country. It helped my own son. That’s why I took this case.”
There are still gasps resonating in the crowds ahead of me. All other questions are trumped by the information that I’ve revealed. My wife and I will get thousands of questions from the different members of our family. Carl is going to get questions from his friends. Without a doubt in my mind we are going to be called in for interviews of all sorts.
None of that matters right now, though. I have a celebration I need to attend and I can’t wait to see my beautiful son there – finally knowing that I get what it means to feel the way that he feels. I can’t promise I won’t fuck it up at some point. But I can promise that I will be the best father I can be for him.