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Excerpt Two from Chapter 15: Taking on General Motors, Insanity… And Broken Hearted Melodies

I arose with a great sense of anticipation like I was about to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, or about to bat cleanup in the seventh game of the World Series. We were in the fourth quarter of this long-winded, four week pursuit of justice, but I had plenty of time left on the clock to pick apart the deficiencies in Dr. Robey and his presentation. Under the glare of the lights, and in front of a packed courtroom, I purposely checked my 35-year-old aggressive nature, and slowed my approach to the podium. Suspiciously eyeing Dr. Robey, I heard the echo of my own thoughts: “this cross examination is what I was born to do. Without it, I wither and die on the vine. With it, win, lose or draw, I have a life with meaning. It’s my journey… my destiny. It’s what I longed to do. It’s what I had to do. Let’s slug it out, Ames Robey! It’s me and you, mano a mano, and neither one of us has a place to hide. The universe of justice is watching, so, as they say in the Hood in Detroit: “Let’s throw down and get it on.”

As I approached the podium with my notes and cross examination materials, I caught a glimpse of my father sitting forward on a bench in the back of the courtroom, and I thought of him and his father as I said to myself: “Here I am, a lawyer, standing in an American courtroom.” And, I thought to myself… this is certainly a long way from my grandfather, Frederick William Lauck’s fourth grade education, his move from St. Louis Missouri in 1917 to Detroit, Michigan to find work at Ford Motor’s Highland Park Plant, and his part in the “Battle of Miller Road” with Walter Reuther’s union boys squaring off against old man Henry Ford’s designated hit man, Harry Bennett, and his army of ex-cons at the overpass on Miller Road in Dearborn, Michigan and his early death at age 48. And, this is certainly a long way from my own father’s ninth grade education and his pangs of hunger on the “mean streets” of Detroit during the Great Depression of the 1930s and his struggle through life with limited opportunity. And, this is certainly a long way from the logging camps and mining towns of my mother Jean McKelvy Montroy’s Minnesota childhood with its brutal winters in such forlorn places as Duluth, Hibbing, Tower and Eli, and a long way from the early and tragic death of her 17-year-old brother Sherwood Montroy in a logging accident in 1918 with Sherwood’s battered body laid out in the family parlor, with pennies on his eyes to hold them shut, and his burial on the snow swept plains of desolation-row, Minnesota. And, it’s certainly a long way from the ravages of the flu pandemics of 1918 and 1919, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s that the Greatest Generation endured, and certainly a long way from the ravages of alcoholism that beset my family, and a long way from their destitution in “soup lines” during the financial ruin of the Great Depression. But, through it all, through the hardships of hard-scrabble life, those survivors carried on, living lives of quiet desperation, and, eventually, at their last hour, succumbing to graves with nameless markers, forever remaining faceless and nameless on life’s social registry.

But, then, I thought… every once in a while, even in the bleakest of family histories, good fortune smiles on one of the survivors’ descendants, and graces that lucky descendant with “opportunity.” That unearned, serendipitous, good fortune of “opportunity” somehow fell from the Greatest Generation to me. Now, generations of desperation later, I was the lucky one, the one chosen to stand up as a lawyer in an American courtroom as the judge called out my name: “Mr. Lauck, your witness,” putting me squarely in charge of the fight for justice for another no-count, another one of life’s desperate survivors, Robert Smith. Two no-counts – randomly, or, perhaps, fatefully and inexorably locked together in the battle for fleeting justice and for Robert Smith’s life.

Excerpt from Chapter 18: A Kid’s Improbable Journey, Jesuit Guidance… And Vignettes of Trial Lawyers

We left the steaming hulk of what used to be a car, and walked away from a mystical silhouette of the headlights, fog and radiator vapor. We headed back toward the empty roadway. As we walked in silence, I kept checking my teeth. “How ironic,” I thought. My father, with great financial sacrifice, had an orthodontist, Dr. Martinek, put braces on my teeth which I dutifully wore for five years. But, now what did my teeth look like? I was fixated on my teeth. Did I look like a jack-o-lantern? But, hallelujah!… Good news! I found my teeth in their customary sockets. Hooray!… Brian didn’t knock my teeth out.

Finally, when we got to the roadway, I confronted Brian: “What just happened, my man?” to which Brian replied without missing a beat: “As Jack Frost said, we took the ‘road less traveled’.” And so we did, in more ways than one. Brian and I walked and walked, and, finally, a car stopped and gave us a ride to Brian’s house where I crashed on Brian’s couch, and Brian snuggled up to his wife. I wonder what her thoughts were. As for me, I didn’t have any profound thoughts or profound emotions one way or the other. It was just another “day in the life of… ” – the usual dysfunction that surrounded me since I could first remember. Although others seem to see these types of incidents and my life as dramatic or perhaps even traumatic, all I knew was that “life was tough,” and one hard day just kept evolving and revolving into the next difficult day. As I drifted off to sleep on Brian’s couch, my last thought was: “Okay, so today Brian Lavan tried to knock my teeth out by crashing us headlong into the scary darkness of the forest primeval, but I’m still alive. So what’s next on the agenda? Tomorrow will tell.”

Excerpt Two from Chapter 18: A Kid’s Improbable Journey, Jesuit Guidance… And Vignettes of Trial Lawyers

Six months before the McKenzie trial, I was in England with John Conlon at a joint seminar for American Trial Lawyers and English Barristers. Talk about smooth, erudite use of language. I saw an English Barrister defend an alleged rapist at the “Old Bailey” in London. The defense was “consensual” sex. When the barrister cross examined the alleged rape victim (prosecutrix), he suggested consensual sex, asking the question: “Madam, let me suggest to you that you extended to my client, shall we say, the maximum in cordiality on a voluntary basis.” Wow, did I love that phrasing and that use of the language!… sexual intercourse: “the maximum in cordiality.” The English Barrister was on the mark with that “maximum cordiality.”

I brought that erudite phrasing all the way across the Atlantic from London’s “Old Bailey” to Detroit Recorder’s Court, and used it to cross examine the hooker that was on Fred Baker’s arm at the time Baker was shot. I attacked her credibility by showing that her profession was that of prostitution. Using my best barrister-inspired phrasing to a “T,” I opened with the question: “Madam, let me suggest to you that yours is, shall we say, the oldest profession known to mankind,” to which she instantly responded: “No… yours is; lawyers have been screwing people a lot longer than hookers have.” There you have it. I think her history is incorrect, but I went down for the count just the same. Even my dear friend and co-counsel, Bob Mitchell, was stifling a laugh until he saw my face, and then he couldn’t hold it in any longer. Touché! Round one to the witness. And, somewhere in my embarrassment and my uncertainty on how to follow up with my next question, I heard the refrain from my mother’s voice and the logic of her eighth grade education: “Don’t you ever forget where you came from.”