An Offer Too Good To Refuse

When I first started in private practice I inherited from now-septuagenarian Ira Grudberg a memorable client. She was the teenage daughter of a family long known to our office. Let's call her Alice.

I caught Alice at the beginning of what was to become a legendary shoplifting career. Starting as a teenager, Alice has managed to parlay the theft of several cans of crabmeat from the A&P into a career listing more than one hundred and twenty-five arrests. And that's just when she's been unsuccessful. She is known to courts throughout the State and is literally on a first name basis with judges and prosecutors from Stamford to Putnam. Now a forty-five year old grandmother, she is as much a part of our criminal justice system as cellblocks and bail commissioners.

Alice comes from an interesting family. Their stories often punctuate our office lunchtime conversations. We remember with amazement her brother, Fred, who, when arrested for robbery, asked detectives if they would give him a break if he turned in a big- time drug dealer. Receiving an affirmative, Fred promptly offered up his mother. Alice's sister, June, has her own chapter in our institutional memory. To my knowledge June is the only person in New Haven ever arrested for rustling, a charge lodged after she was caught riding away on a horse she had just stolen from the West Rock Nature Center.

Stories of Alice, not surprisingly, could fill, if not a book, an entire issue of this esteemed journal. One involved the late Bob Satti, the bulldog State's Attorney of New London. Thorough to a fault and equally tenacious, Bob was anything but a soft touch. He was not one to fall for the oft-used sob stories frequently offered on behalf of the justly accused.

On this occasion, Alice was charged with escape from the woman's prison in Niantic to which she had been banished after just too many unauthorized withdrawals of merchandise from the shelves of the Amity Stop and Shop. Bob agreed to recommend a three-year sentence in exchange for a plea. We had the right to argue for less. At sentencing I called a psychologist who opined that Alice came from a troubled home, had poor self-image and, if incarcerated for three years, would suffer greatly. Knowing Bob I am stunned to hear him say, "I was prepared, Your Honor, to recommend a sentence of three years, but after hearing the witness I'm just going to recommend two." But Alice has a different perspective. She has found the testimony even more compelling, justifying complete freedom. Poor Bob is dumbstruck when Alice turns, glares at her benefactor and spits out, "You dirty rotten son of a bitch!" But that is Alice. She has difficulty in expressing gratitude.

My favorite story, though, involves Alice's father, Jim. Whenever Alice was arrested, the long-suffering Jim would appear at the courthouse. Shoplift after shoplift he would be there. Each time more frustrated and disheveled than the last, he would corner me before I met with the Judge or prosecutor. Each time his mantra was the same: "Tell them to give her probation and if she screws up I'll do the time for her."

When I emerge from chambers Jim would grab me and demand to know what "they" wanted from his cherubic offspring. Jim's offer was pure bull. He knew it. He knew I knew it. But it became an annoying ritual. While it never really worked, from time to time lightning would strike and Alice would somehow get probation.

Once, shortly after just such a lucky break, Alice is arrested for yet another uncompensated acquisition from a local merchant. She owes time on the last case for violating probation. Jim confronts me on my way to see the Judge and prosecutor. His offer, as always, is the same. This time I just nod and escape to chambers. When I come out, there's Jim, as always. He's in my face, as always, demanding, "What do they want? What do they want?"

Well it's just one of those days. I've had enough of what he and I both know is pure B.S. "Well, Jim", I say, putting a hand on his shoulder, "The judge wants you to do the time for Alice on her probation violation". It's as if I've hit him in the face with a mackerel. He staggers back. He gasps. He sputters. Finally he's able to speak, "No sir! No way! I never promised that on this charge!"

He's right, of course. He hadn't. And of course no judge had ever made or would ever make such a deal. And it wasn't really nice of me to turn the tables on Jim that way. The case is resolved. Alice adds another leaf to the family album. And, despite many subsequent returns to that and similar venues, it's the last time Jim ever makes the offer he claims is too good to refuse.