An Act of Charity

I once asked an accomplished doctor who worked for a set salary at a VA hospital why work there? Mostly, she answered, it's the stories.

The practice of law is like that I think. Once you get past the Porches, Mont Blancs, the chalet in Vermont and the condo in the Caribbean, the stories really are the best part of what we do. Here's one.

The Caper

Interstate 95, as we know, runs along Connecticut's shoreline, north toward Providence and beyond that up to Boston. For those so inclined, the 395 spur is an entry to casinoland. More than a few from our neighboring state of New York travel that route, many with great frequency.

At various points along the highway are Staples stores, branches of the well-known office supply company. Now Staples, in addition to offering Sharpie Hi-Lighters, alligator clips, copy paper and Ticonderoga pencils, is also a purveyor of electronics, including a wide variety of laptops. That's where my clients come in.

This was before 9/11, a time when immigration considerations were less controversial. Two young Taiwanese men, noncitizens of the United States and residents of Queens, regularly frequented our casinos. Their familiar route of travel was the aforementioned I-95. On this particular occasion, prompted perhaps by the ill-fortune with which they had been visited on their recent travels to Foxwoods, they decided to visit the various Staples locations en route. Their goal was to obtain laptops at each stop without first compensating management. They were, in short, shoplifters.

On this particular day their initial forays were remarkably successful. Stopping first in Stamford, then Norwalk and then Bridgeport, each had managed to purloin one or two laptops at each stop without apprehension. But not, as it turned out, without detection.

Someone with sharp eyes at one of these locations got wise and called ahead.

The scheme was undone in Milford where they were caught. And, when caught, mirable dictu, an examination of the trunk of their rented Toyota revealed the fruits of their day's labors. This is where I come in.

The Resolution

Released on bond, I am retained by the gentlemen to resolve their legal difficulties.

I enter an appearance. I visit the States Attorney's Office. I obtain a copy of the police report. I meet with the prosecutors.

This is, it appears, a relatively simple case. Client #1 is young. He has no criminal record. All the goods were recovered. The victims will be made whole. He will agree to satisfy his future needs for office supplies at locations other than Staples. He lives in a foreign state. Accelerated Rehabilitation is the ticket. Staples won't object. Problem solved.

Client #2 presents a stickier wicket. Same profile but it turns out that he is not eligible for AR. What to do. More the result of a prosecutor with a healthy perspective and some life experience than of my negotiating skills, it is agreed that he will make a charitable contribution in the amount of $1,000 to a charity. Any charity.

I have an affiliation with a private school in New Haven which I attended as did each of my seven children. It is a school for which I have a great deal of affection and to which I am forever indebted. Its academic standards are high. The altitude of those standards is matched, unfortunately, by its annual tuition. In order to assure the student body is not composed only of progeny of affluent Gold Coasters, the school has a substantial and successful scholarship program. One of those scholarships is a memorial to my former coach, mentor and role model. Another is a memorial to the daughter of a dear friend whose tragic death affected the entire legal community of New Haven.

And so, problem solved. Two certified $500 checks are delivered to the development office with a note from me, copy to the prosecutor, explaining the circumstances. A nolle enters. Client #2 will return to New York but not to Staples.

The Sequel

Those familiar with development offices of schools and charities know they customarily publish an Annual Report which, designed to impress past contributors, is a part of the solicitation process. It's usually glossy and filled with photos of the concrete results of the contributions. Buildings. Athletic Fields. Libraries. Smiling students at work and play. And, of course, photos of the Major Benefactors. The Annual Report also lists, by name, each of the contributors. Part of the development game is to "rank" contributors by categories and amounts-who gave and how much. The big givers are in the Gold Club, the less big in the Silver Club, etc. Each school or charity labels the rank differently, but the demarcations are clear. It's a subtle but effective peer-pressure fundraising technique.

In any event, many months after Client #2's contribution. I receive a concerned telephone call from my alma mater's development office. Is it appropriate, they ask, to list the client in the applicable category of the Annual Report? I don't hesitate for a second.

And so, should you care to peruse the Annual Report of the Hopkins School for the year 2000, you will find, prominently listed under the Friends of Hopkins category, the name of Jing Hua Zhu. Mr. Zhu, though not a graduate of that fine institution, nevertheless, for one brief, shining moment, incentivized by a kindly prosecutor, ardently supported its educational endeavors.