I Won’t Smoke. Don’t Ask Me.

I enjoy smoking cigars. I know, I know, the health hazards are proven and documented. I don't care. I believe people should be allowed to smoke cigars whenever and wherever they want if no one else is around. Whenever. Wherever. Inside. Outside. In the judge's chambers. Others disagree.

Let me tell you how I arrive at that position. I work in a law office. There are about fifteen lawyers and some thirty paralegals, secretaries, and other valuable staff people. I'm a name partner. I contribute my share to keeping the doors open and getting the utilities paid. I like my work, most times a lot. I do a lot of criminal defense work. I like my clients. I like their stories. And I enjoy weaving through the legal, procedural, logistical and personality obstacles trying to get a good result. When I can't negotiate a good result I enjoy trying cases and I especially enjoy winning.

One significant cost of doing this type of work is time. Most criminal defendants don't have a lot of money. That's often why they're criminal defendants. This means that most can't pay sizeable fees. This in turn means steady criminal defense work is a volume business.

Volume equals time. Time to interview each client, to meet with them, their families, and their witnesses. Time to go to court with them, sometimes every other week for a year or more, until the case can be resolved or, if necessary, tried. Time to call them to remind them to come to court.

Each day we go to the courthouse, clients in tow. We spend hours negotiating with prosecutors and pleading with judges both in chambers and in court. While at court we look for new clients. We try to set up appointments back at the office after court to sign them on. We do this each day. This means a lot of work after-hours.

Trials especially devour time. All day in court, in front of a judge or jury, diverting evidence from landing on the client, obfuscating it when it does or orchestrating the presentation of favorable evidence. At night it's preparing for the next day, interviewing witnesses, doing legal research, constructing and practicing opening statements, closing arguments or even outlining questions for cross examination. And, of course, getting continuances for all the other case you would be attending to if it weren't for the trial.

Time and more time. I spend much of that time alone in my third floor office at night, the only one in the building. I play some music, usually Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong or Wynton Marsalis. I return my phone calls, try to allay fears, orchestrate court appearances, review police reports and dictate correspondence. There is only one possible interruption: the telephone. I deal with that.

I willingly answer the phone, even though it's often not for me. Maybe that call is the case of a lifetime, a million-dollar fee for a new client who, if the phone weren't answered right then, would take his case to another firm that would earn that big fee. Of course it's never that call that I answer. More often it's a call for one of my absent colleagues. Sometimes it's a client returning a call or asking why they've not received a call. Sometimes it's someone involuntarily visiting the local psychiatric institute wanting free legal advice. Or maybe it's a cold-caller offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase time-shares in Dollywood. In any event, I don't mind. It's pretty easy---the phone rings, you answer it. Even if it's not for you, it's good public relations. And it still might just be the case of a lifetime.

It used to be, though, I could do all this at night while enjoying a cigar. Maybe more than one. I'm not talking high-end stogies. I'm talking Farnum Drive darks, a local machine-made Connecticut cigar that comes in pressed cardboard boxes of 50. Over the years I've smoked them the price has consistently creeped up from 15 cents to about 75 cents. They're still cheap. They're still good. I like them.

Maybe every once and again a not-disgruntled client may toss me a box of real cigars ---Punch Rothschild Maduros if you please-- but day-in and day-out a Farnum Drive dark is where it's at for me. Nothing's better than leaning back in my chair, feet on the desk, and smoking a Farnum Drive while returning phone calls to rustle up clients and witnesses to come to court.

That's the way it used to be. But no more. Our building is now "Smoke Free". People were offended by the smoke. It bothered them. They have been accommodated. Twenty-four/seven/three sixty-five. No smoking. No time. Never.

So, let's look at this. I sit here in my office, late into the night, alone, answering the phone for others not here. But I'm forbidden to smoke so I won't offend my absent colleagues for whom I take phone messages. It does seem rather silly.

Lately, though, those arriving early in the morning have noticed a residual odor of stale cigar smoke. I've advised our office administrator to give the evening cleaning crew a very stern talking to.