Sample Chapters Victim of the Defense
Megan O'Reilly could see all the buildings housing the powerful of D.C. gleaming in the light of sunset. It was only five-thirty and red streaks mixed with pale pink and swatches of blue colored the sky.
She leaned back in the soft leather chair behind her desk and looked around her office on the 12th floor of the Tarkington Center. At 55 she was in her prime and ready to ascend to even loftier heights. Ten years ago she'd received the break of a lifetime when she was hired as an associate at the most prestigious firm in D.C.—Tarkington, Wagner, Kreig and DeVoe. One of the founding members, Arthur M. Tarkington, had been confirmed last year as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. You couldn't get any higher on the legal food chain.
Before taking this job she had worked as a deputy prosecutor specializing in sex offense cases, making a name for herself as a tough prosecutor with the highest conviction rate in the office. Although there had been many guilty verdicts, there were some losses too—those were what haunted her. No matter how long and hard she prepared for a case there always seemed to be something she felt she could have done better. Normally the small oversights didn't make that much difference. Until the Lisa Garrett case, the case that haunted her to this day.
Megan had earned her keep at Tarkington et al. from the moment she was hired. She had handled their smaller cases and worked endless hours, slowly inching her way up the food chain. In addition, she'd donated substantial time to keeping a "presence in the community," representing the firm on various boards and participating in community activities. She'd known that in time it would all pay off and her days would no longer be spent toiling away. And now the time had come.
Someone tapped on her office door. She looked up and saw Craig Tarkington standing in the doorway. Craig Tarkington was a young lawyer who had recently passed the bar and been hired by the firm, not because of his outstanding qualifications but because his grandfather was Supreme Court Justice Arthur Tarkington, founding partner of the firm. Craig Tarkington was tall, broad shouldered, and long limbed. When he sat down it was as if he had to fold himself up to get into the chair. People liked him because he was well spoken and charming. Megan had liked him too when they first met. But he harbored a sense of entitlement that got in the way of any warm feelings she had for him once she got to know him.
What she saw when she looked at him in this moment was the brass ring she had been working towards for years. All new lawyers starting out at the firm were assigned someone higher up to teach them the ropes, usually a seasoned attorney whose next step was becoming partner. They trained their replacement and then left the fledgling in the nest while they soared to the ethereal realms of the top floor. This was her sign she was on her way to the top—Craig Tarkington. She beamed at him.
"Have a seat," she said, motioning toward one of the leather chairs in front of her desk. Craig lowered himself into the chair and placed his folded hands in his lap.
To date, Megan had spent countless hours showing him the ropes and having him shadow her in court and meetings. Now he was ready to go on his own and so was she—although no one had announced her promotion yet. She knew it was just a matter of time.
Craig looked around her office as if he was studying the layout and all the changes he would make when it was his. Before she could say anything, he reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a robin's-egg-blue envelope, and slid it across the desk. "For you," he said, flashing his perfect capped-tooth smile.
Megan opened the envelope and pulled out the card inside. A $500 gift certificate to Tiffany's. "Oh, thank you so much," she said. "So, do you have any questions for me? Monday will be your first day." She slid open her desk drawer and placed the gift card inside.
Craig wasn't a bad guy, she thought, just full of himself. The real world of law would smooth all his rough edges.
He leaned back in the chair and crossed his long legs. "No, I'm ready," he replied.
They said their goodbyes and Megan stood and watched him leave the office. Once the door closed she turned and looked again through the large wall of windows in front of her desk. Dusk was settling in. Streetlights were flickering on and headlights dotted the streets. Life was good.
Now it was 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning two weeks later and she was sitting in the waiting room of the managing partner, Chase Langley's, office. She'd hardly slept all weekend, tossing and turning, running over in her mind what she would say when she accepted the new promotion in front of all the partners in the firm. That's how they did it: All the partners gathered in the boardroom on the 6th floor, they announced and awarded the new partnership, and there were speeches and congratulations all around.
The phone buzzed on the secretary's desk across the room. The young woman took the call, hung up and rose from her chair. "Ms. O'Reilly, Mr. Langley is ready to see you."
Megan followed her to a set of large mahogany doors. The secretary opened one of the doors and motioned for her to enter. Megan looked down at the floor, gathering herself, took a deep breath and entered the room. She looked up and flashed her best and most confident smile.
She felt her breath catch. There was no one there but Chase Langley, seated in a leather chair at the very end of what seemed like the longest table she had ever seen. The room felt huge, hollow, and cavernous.
"Megan, come in, have a seat." Langley pulled out a chair on his left and motioned for her to sit down. He was fifty and had managed the business of the firm for over twenty years. He had a commanding presence and was very exact in how he spoke. "How are you?" he said flashing a frozen smile.
Megan sat down and smoothed out her skirt. Her throat was so dry it felt like there was a clutch of sticks stuck in it. She forced a smile. "Just fine."
A manila folder was on the table in front of him. Megan briefly considered the possibility that the other firm members were coming late. Maybe they had a meeting. Business was business after all. But in her heart, she knew that wasn't why they weren't here.
Langley leaned back in the chair and adjusted the half glasses resting on his nose. She could feel his energy shift. "As you know, Megan, times change and people move on. We've been having meetings on where the firm is going—and has to go—to be competitive. Even though we're at the top of the game," he paused and smiled, "you can never rest on your laurels."
Megan looked down at her hands folded in her lap and then back at Langley.
"The bottom line is, we're making some changes to keep competitive and fresh." He paused and took off his glasses and placed them on the table. "You've been a great employee and we appreciate all you've done for the firm."
Here it comes, Megan thought. She took a slow, deep breath. The air between them was filled with awkward silence.
Slowly, Langley opened the file. "The partners have all voted and it appears that we need to downsize.'' His voice was soft, almost inaudible.
Megan leaned toward him. She felt her stomach tighten. Her heart was thumping in her chest like a piston.
"The firm needs to take a different direction." Langley looked away. "I'm sorry, Megan," he said haltingly. "We need to let you go."
Megan looked around the coffee shop and snapped open her laptop. Her finger skated across the mouse pad and notes on the discrimination lawsuit appeared on the screen. She scrolled down through the pages.
It had been almost five months since she had been let go from Tarkington, Wagner, Kreig and DeVoe. She had sent out many resumes and heard nothing. It was clear that she wasn't going to be hired by another law firm, at least not one she would want to work for. She had thought about it long and hard and decided that, despite certain risks, a reasonable course of action would be to sue the firm for age discrimination. She'd asked four other women to meet with her: Kate Williams and Christie Charles, both in their mid-fifties, who had been lawyers with the firm for thirty years, and Lisa Remy and Jill Sandefur, paralegals with the same amount of time, both in their early sixties. All of them had been axed in the last four months, after she was.
When they met in Megan's house they'd all said the same thing: They had all been top producers and none of them had ever had any complaints lodged against them or discipline issues; the firm had told them it was downsizing and changing directions; they, also, hadn't been able to get new jobs. Megan had thrown out the idea of suing the firm, and after kicking around the pros and cons for a while, mostly the cons—the difficulty of proving age discrimination, the fact that the firm would fight like bearcats, as Jill said—they had decided to proceed anyway.
By law they had to file a claim with the EEOC and then wait for it to do an investigation, consisting of interviewing all witnesses on both sides and reviewing submitted documentation. After days of work, they had all the relevant materials as well as a sworn affidavit from each of them describing how they had been discriminated against by the firm because of their age. They felt fairly hopeful that the agency would rule in their favor. But the commission had responded by saying they had thoroughly reviewed the matter and found no probable cause to support a claim that the Defendant discriminated against Plaintiffs. The women filed a request for a Review of the Decision, which they could do according to the rules, and shortly thereafter received another letter telling them that their claim was denied. At that point they had felt that they had no other choice but to file suit. The firm had responded with endless reams of paperwork. It seemed that their questions were endless and demanding of detail.
Megan adjusted the computer and settled back in the chair. To be as inconspicuous as possible she had chosen to sit at the back of the coffee shop. She read through a set of questions on the computer screen, making notes on the laptop.
"Excuse me," someone said. Megan looked up. A young woman with shoulder-length blond hair was standing beside her table, looking at her nervously. "I'm sorry to bother you," the young woman said. "Aren't you Megan O'Reilly?" A small smile etched its way across her face.
"Yes, I am," Megan said, extending her hand.
"I thought so. I saw your picture in the paper a long time ago after you won a big case involving a judge. He was accused of a sex crime against one of his staff." The young woman extended her hand. "I'm Lucy Hatfield. May I talk to you?" Her eyes darted around the room. "If it's a bad time I can do it later. I see you're busy."
Megan shook her hand. "Please, have a seat."
"I'm not sure where to begin. I need this to be confidential. I mean in the attorney-client way. I need legal advice. I'm happy to pay you for it." Lucy reached for her purse.
"Don't worry about that now," Megan said. "Let's see if I can even help you."
Lucy set the file she was holding down on the table. Megan could feel her nervousness. Something about her triggered a memory in Megan. She wasn't sure what it was and then it came to her: Lucy Hatfield reminded her of Lisa Garrett. Young and scared. She could still see Lisa on the witness stand being attacked by a criminal defense attorney. The attorney used every tactic he could to make her look like she was the horrible person instead of the victim of a rape.
Lucy sighed. "I was studying for the bar exam with a group of people. One of them –a man--asked me to tutor him. I needed the extra money."
Megan nodded. Here it came: The real reason Lucy Hatfield reminded her of Lisa Garrett.
"Things were okay for a while." She cleared her throat. "One evening he asked me to do the tutoring at his apartment. He said that we needed to meet at his place because a friend was dropping off some law books that belonged to him and he didn't want to leave them sitting in the hallway because they were so expensive."
Megan knew where this was going. She felt something tighten inside her. "Was that concerning to you?"
Lucy nodded. "A little. We had always met at the library. I thought about canceling and asking him to meet at the library the next morning but I didn't."
Megan shifted in her seat. She could feel that Lucy's pain was raw and deep. She felt her own emotions stir, like a sleeping dog waking.
"When I got to his apartment he was okay." Lucy stopped and looked at Megan. "Soon after that he became flirty with me. I brushed it off. We sat down on the couch. I opened the book where we had left off and he flipped the book shut and asked if I would like a drink." She paused. "I told him I didn't drink."
Megan nodded, her heart continuing to sink.
"I could tell he had been drinking before I got there. He wasn't drunk. But I could smell it on him." Lucy let out a sigh. "It just got real bad, real fast."
"He came on to you?" Megan asked.
Lucy nodded. "I told him I wasn't interested and unless he wanted to study I would be leaving. It made him mad. Real mad. Before I knew it he was all over me." Tears trickled down her face. "He threw me on the floor and pinned me down. He raped me."
Lucy was visibly shaking. Megan was shaking inside as well. She'd heard this story many times during her years as a prosecutor and she never got used to it. "Listen, you don't have to go through any more particulars now. I get the picture and I believe you." She placed her hand on Lucy's arm and kept it there until Lucy looked up at her.
"Thank you," she said softly. "I ended up pregnant and had a little girl. She is not quite two years old. The doctors think she might have cystic fibrosis. That's why I need your help. I'd like to sue this guy who raped me for financial help with her medical costs. He has plenty of money."
Lucy told Megan she had gone to the hospital and given a statement to the police the night of the rape. "The police called me a few times afterwards and said they were referring the case to the prosecutor's office for review. That was the last I heard from anyone."
"I know cops drop the ball at times and do political favors, but in this situation, I don't know how they could do nothing." Megan shook her head.
"They did all the paperwork and talked to me but in the end, they never followed up and I never heard back from the prosecutor's office. I think it's because of who he is."
Megan shrugged. "He was a law student."
"He was a connected law student," Lucy said.
"Regardless, he can't get away with raping a woman." Megan could feel her face flushing. She hadn't been this mad since she had worked in the prosecutor's office handling sexual assault cases. "So who is this asshole? I'll be happy to take him on." She leaned back against the booth and crossed her arms, her gaze fixed on Lucy.
"His name is Craig Tarkington."