Riding Circuit

I have always been intrigued by the travel requirements imposed upon many of us who practice law in the Land of Steady Habits. These requirements inevitably result from unsuccessful attempts to resolve scheduling conflicts among and between the courts that require the client's presence at certain proceedings. Because of a culture created by the historic reality of practicing in one and two lawyer firms, judges, conditioned by that culture, permit lawyers to show up late, preferably preceded by a phone call. They don't allow not showing up at all. The result is that a lot of us spend a lot of time on the road, essentially riding a circuit.

I first practiced in the District of Columbia when felonies were tried in federal court. Judges there were anointed, cloistered and beyond reach of communication by mere mortals. Getting a continuance from or even a message to a judge was impossible. I vividly recall a fellow lawyer who was required to be simultaneously in two separate courts at the same time. The courtrooms were in the same building, on the same floor, side by side. He left word in one court that he had to be in the other. Of course, you know the punch line. He'd chosen the wrong one. He was cited for contempt for failing to appear.

That, fortunately, wouldn't happen here. Judges understand. So long as you notify, provide an ETA and show up, you're pretty much ok. Making that happen, however, requires vehicular and telephonic contortions that rival the exploits of Shirley Cha Cha Muldowney and the Verizon "Can You Hear Me Now?" guy.

All of us, I suspect, have gotten used to the regular round of daily doubles: New Haven & Milford, Meriden, Middletown, Bridgeport and sometimes Hartford or, occasionally, New London. But there are others-the trifectas-that are a little more difficult but can be accomplished with some planning and a little extra effort: New Haven & Middletown/Meriden, Meriden/Derby, Meriden/Waterbury and Milford/Derby. These are harder because they require that all the moving parts mesh smoothly: a client actually present, a co-operative adversary and an accommodating judge. Not always a frequent combination.

Then there are those rare, almost impossible superfectas: four courts in one day. For most of us it's usually New Haven & Middletown/Meriden/Derby, Middletown/Meriden/Waterbury or maybe Waterbury/Derby/Milford. Fortunately these occur about as frequently as the passing of Haley's Comet. And, if you are able to pull it off, it's never worth it; when you're done you can't remember what you've done, whom you've dealt with or where it happened.

Note, please, that some courts-the snarky ones-have been omitted from this travelogue. They just don't accommodate the easy-in, easy-out rhythm that's essential. Norwalk is notoriously toxic, though they tell me it's better now; Manchester was toxic but is still too far away; Danbury is closer but impossible to get to and from quickly; and Rockville just possibly may not be within the borders of the State of Connecticut.

Then there are those days infected with serendipitous scheduling anomalies. I've had a couple recently that qualify me, I'm sure, for the Quaker State 10w-40 award for 2010. On two occasions I travelled from New Haven to Litchfield to Norwich and back, and once, more recently, a round trip from New Haven to New London to Rockville. On that last one I went through parts of Connecticut that have not been visited any human being since the second term of Governor Wilbur Cross and I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have caught a glimpse of Sasquatch near the intersection of Routes 207 and 66.

One of the results of these and similar excursions leads, for many, to an uncomfortable familiarity with the limited insights, irrational opinions and esoteric philosophies of Bob from Bayside, Herman from Far Rockaway and the WFAN radio personalities. There are only so many times you can listen to Mike Francesa's opinion on how the Mets will do next year, or whether the Yankees trade Jobba Chamberlain to St.Louis for Tony LaRussa, or the rights to the Mark McGuire's Hitting for Power Video.

For me, I've switched to books on tape. Any Robert Parker "Spenser" novel narrated by Joe Mantegna can make even a trip to Wyatt Correctional Facility in Rhode Island almost tolerable. Try it. Bob from Bayside isn't really that knowledgeable and Mike Francesa's humility can wear a bit thin after a while.