spread out; not concentrated in one place
If the immediate threat to public safety had lifted after the lights and air conditioning came back on, New Yorkers still had reason to live in a state of
diffuse chronic fear.
a state of inactivity
The city’s fiscal troubles summed a decade of economic
doldrums nationwide, and severe budget cuts were preventing the DA’s Office, as well as the police department, from adding enough staff to cope with an avalanche of criminal cases.
carry on illegal business activities
We would cut our teeth on misdemeanors: petty thefts, minor assaults, prostitution, shoplifting, trespass, disorderly conduct, graffiti….Later we would be promoted to felonies, and we might move to one of the bureaus that investigate fraud,
racketeering, public corruption, sex crimes, or other specialized crimes.
call before a court to answer an indictment
If a defendant is
arraigned on an unsworn complaint, how many days do you have to fix it?
large and roomy
Eventually, turnover would deposit me in slightly more
commodious shared space, though my desk still blocked the entrance, behind which door was wedged an old couch, horsehair poking out of cracked leather.
a small or minor detail
What I did see, in the small corner of my awareness not cluttered with cases, procedures, and the
minutiae of criminal law, was Kevin finally doing work that excited him and earning recognition for it.
of superficial relevance if any
Somehow by pure instinct I realized that a witness had implied vaguely that she had seen something, though she avoided stating it outright. On cross-examination, I asked an apparently
tangential question that led her to describe the precise conditions that would have made a direct line of sight impossible for her.
requiring secret or mysterious knowledge
Public awareness of voir dire is much greater these days thanks to media coverage of high-profile trials, to say nothing of television court dramas, and the science of juror selection that has spawned an industry of consultants. But when I joined the DA’s Office, it was all rather
arcane stuff, especially since New York State is one of the few jurisdictions where lawyers can get involved in the process, which in many states, as in the federal system, is handled by judges.
serve a witness with a writ to compel attendance
subpoenaed the defendant’s wife.
meet or cause to meet again
But any pleasure I might have derived from my first conviction vanished when we
reconvened for sentencing.
give a false appearance of
“I think Ms. Cardi is right,” I heard myself saying, without premeditation, and
feigning a self-assurance I wasn’t feeling inside.
a point that is yielded
She was stunned by my
concession, which seemed especially strange for a beginner, given that a prosecutor’s career is built on a reputation for toughness and winning stiff sentences.
be on friendly terms with someone, as if with a brother
Despite the unofficial rule against
fraternization between prosecutors and defense attorneys, we became friends, and as we did, our conversations often edged into bigger themes.
forsaken by owner or inhabitants
Without life skills, unable to find a job, he survived by selling copper pipes that he stripped from a
derelict building, not fully aware that this was theft.
the quality of being suited to the end in view
With each prosecutor handling around a hundred cases at a time,
expediency and rough justice were the order of the day.
sorting and allocating aid on the basis of need
We fudged, we made do with the tools at hand, we performed
triage in the trenches, but we still made an effort to do it with integrity.
uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
Maybe my prosecuting misdemeanors with a ferocity usually reserved for felonies looked to some like real fire in the belly. In reality, it was still more like butterflies and the
unremitting fear of leaving anything to chance that made me prepare and argue so intensively.
pronounce not guilty of criminal charges
“It’s weak. But we have the indictment, and it’s our job to prosecute. Let the jury do theirs; they’ll
make attractive or lovable
“And now, obviously,” he shouted, “you’re going to tell me that you’re new and need a month to prepare!” I promised him that if he gave me fifteen minutes to confirm the availability of the witness, I’d be ready for trial the following week. That
endeared me to him permanently.
a swaggering show of courage
With plenty of misdemeanor trials under my belt, I had enough confidence—or the
bravado of ignorance—to trust my performance under pressure.
severe and unremitting in making demands
He was painfully
exacting and infamously unforgiving of lawyers who wasted his time, on one occasion sending defense counsel to jail for ten days for preventing the start of a trial.
descriptive word or phrase
He was known as the Prince of Darkness, Dr. Doom, and Yahweh, among other
epithets, particularly for striking terror in the heart of defendants whenever one with a weak case would decline his offer of a plea.
shrewdness shown by keen insight
Behind the infernal humor, a formidable clarity of mind and a keen legal
acumen kept the docket moving with astonishing efficiency.
the calendar of a court
Behind the infernal humor, a formidable clarity of mind and a keen legal acumen kept the
docket moving with astonishing efficiency.
freedom to act or judge on one's own
Even the most perfectly logical argument, absent passion, would make the choice seem like one of personal
discretion rather than solemn duty.
inborn or existing naturally
Granting myself permission to use my
innate skills of the heart, accepting that emotion was perfectly valid in the art of persuasion, amounted to nothing less than a breakthrough.
a formal document charging a person with some offense
It changed my entire approach to jurors, from the voir dire to the structure of my summations, and the results spoke for themselves: I never lost a case again. I had hung juries a couple of times, and once or twice a conviction on fewer than all counts of the
indictment, but never an acquittal.
having superior power and influence
Such attentiveness also figures in upholding one of a litigator’s
paramount responsibilities: not to bore the jury.
capable of being perceived
If you are
palpably present in the moment, continuously mindful of and responsive to your listeners, they will follow where you lead.
having a quality that provokes disbelief
But to me that made sense only if you saw all people of color as potential perpetrators and believed, even more
implausibly, that they all saw one another that way too.
a legal proceeding in a court
At PRLDEF I worked on the
litigation committee, which hired the staff lawyers and set strategy for the types of cases we would take on.
offering something to gain an illicit advantage
The need for oversight in the financing of the electoral process was dramatic, not only to guard against
graft, but to ensure access for candidates who would be excluded if money alone determined the race.
established firmly and securely
What appealed to me was the possibility of devising a structural solution to a long-
entrenched problem simply by creating an appropriate set of rules. That’s as elegant as ethics gets.
devoted to a cause or political group
It would matter crucially that I was familiar to people of influence who, though recognizing that I did not involve myself in
partisan efforts, could see that I was at least an honest broker.
a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will
Kevin and I talked through the details without
rancor. We agreed that I would assume our credit card debt, since I was the one bothered by it. In return I got custody of the Honda Civic.
ornaments; embellishments to or characteristic signs of
In the end, I sold my wedding ring to pay the lawyer who handled our divorce. Saddened though I was at seeing Kevin leave, I was no more sentimental about the formal
trappings of marriage than I had been on our wedding day.
pertaining to a code of beliefs accepted as authoritative
Still, in Abuelita’s family, blood ultimately came first, and she strongly favored her own. My mother, being more or less an orphan, poor in kinfolk, approached the matter less
a natural attraction or feeling of kinship
I adore kids and have a special
affinity with them, an ability to see the world through their eyes that most adults seem to lose. I can match any kid’s stubbornness, hour for hour. I don’t baby anyone; when we play games, I play to win. I treat kids as real people.
do without or cease to hold or adhere to
Most women of my generation who entered professional life did not
forgo motherhood, and many did succeed at both. But they paid a price, one still paid by most women who work outside the home (and men too, I believe, if they parent wholeheartedly): a life of perpetual internal compromise that leaves you always feeling torn.
But we would do well to abandon the myth of “having it all,” career and family, with no sacrifice to either, together with the
pernicious notion that a woman who chooses one or the other is somehow deficient.