Max Heiman died recently. Max had been a judge for several years, serving first on the trial bench and, most recently, as a member of the Appellate Court. He was known as a stern taskmaster, demanding of lawyers and impatient with unresponsive and evasive advocates who could not or would not answer his inquiries crisply and directly.
As demanding as he was from the bench, he was, as a practitioner, no less demanding of adversaries and witnesses. And he was the most demanding of prosecutors, those whose duty it was to uphold the law. He could not and would not tolerate, especially from these officers of the State, a lack of candor. He saw trust as the foundation upon which every interaction between prosecution and defense must be based in order for “The System” to work properly.
Max the lawyer was a tenacious advocate, a demon cross-examiner who had the unique ability to make even truthful witnesses doubt their own veracity and to convey that uncertainty to juries through beads of sweat on the upper lip, involuntary twitching and blinking, and roving eyes and shifting posture. Max used a raspy voice and world-weariness to convey scorn and dissatisfaction with witnesses whose illogical testimony jeopardized his clients’ liberty.
Max was not shy about expressing his opinions. In fact, he relished expressing unpopular opinions he knew would frustrate others and evoke reactions.
That was the Max Heiman I ran into in the halls of Hartford’s Superior Court nearly twenty years ago. This was not my turf. I didn’t know the players. I was new to private practice. I was there on a heavy criminal case and needed desperately to know whether I could rely on the word of the prosecutor who had my file.
I had just received some information from this stranger and I could not assess it. Was I getting the straight story or was I being buffaloed? Then I spotted Max in the hallway. Ah! A barometer who could help me gauge the veracity of my informant.
I approached him with relief. “Max, Max. I need some help. I just met with X, the Assistant State’s Attorney. Max, can I rely on what X tells me?”
His reply was a classic. Max sighed, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and forever branded my adversary in a way I will never forget. “Willie, let me tell you something. If that guy tells you it’s Friday, October 24th and you go back to your office and you look at your calendar and it says Friday, October 24th”, and here he paused and poked his finger in my chest, “Tear up your calendar. It’s no goddam good.”
That was Max Heiman.