219: Case By Case

on May 20, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Mackenzie Wastes An Afternoon

It wasn’t too terribly long before Lee Jenkins arrived, looking a little winded but not out of sorts. When I thought of a lawyer, two images popped into my head: old, balding, and full of gravitas… and young, slick, and full of confidence. Jenkins was the latter.

“Hi, Lee Jenkins,” he said. “Thanks for coming. I’m so sorry about the wards on the lift. We’ll be speaking to our landlord about that, you can be sure of that,” he said, holding out his hand first to me and then to Amaranth.

“That’s okay, Mr. Jenkins,” Amaranth said pleasantly. “You didn’t know.”

“Call me Lee… and you’re right, we didn’t,” he agreed. “But we should have at the least been told. But, moving forward, right?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an oblong crystal prism and a pen and notebook. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to record this conversation. It’s strictly for my own reference. The prism’s keyed to me. Anything you say here will be held in strictest confidence.”

I looked at Amaranth, not sure about any of this, but she nodded at me and I nodded at the attorney.

“Do you have the forms I sent over?” he asked.

I paled. Forms? I was so unprepared for this.

“Yes, actually, I do,” Amaranth said, pulling out a couple sheets of paper. I looked at her in surprise. “Well, you seemed to want me to handle this.”

“I actually need your signature on the bottom here,” Lee said, passing the papers back across the table to me. “And please just look the other one over, make sure it’s all correct.”

One of the sheets was simply a form saying that stuff like the consultation was not a contract and Pendragon and Associates were not under any obligation to provide further representation. The other was a very rough overview of the events of Friday, as I’d recounted them to Amaranth.

“It looks good,” I said. I signed the waiver thing and passed the papers back. Lee read over the summary quietly.

“So, is it okay if I stay here, during this?” Amaranth asked. “For support purposes.”

“That depends, Miss Amaranth,” Lee said. “What is your relationship to Miss Mackenzie, exactly?”

“I, um, prefer to be called Ms. Mackenzie, actually,” I said.

“But we’re on first name basis here, you can call her Mack,” Amaranth said. “And to answer your question, I’m her significant other… her very significant other.”

“Fair enough,” Lee said. “Were you witness to any of the events that… well, any of the events?”

“No, sir,” Amaranth said.

“Alright, then, I don’t see any problem with you being present for this, if it helps put… Mack… at ease,” Lee said. “As long as you can sit back and let her answer, in her own words.”

“Are you going to depose me or put me under geas or anything?” I asked.

“Actually, for our first time out, I thought we’d just have a little chat,” he said. “Amaranth gave me some of the particulars over the mirror, and while I found them interesting, I think it’s important for me to hear about the events in your own words.”

“Um… before we get all wrapped up in the details, I should probably mention that I can’t really afford to pay,” I said. “Up front, I mean. Is there some kind of contingency basis we could do, if that’s the right word?”

“Oh, there’s no fee for this consultation,” Lee said. “That’s going to be one of our purposes here, today… to find out if we are in fact the right firm to take your case. If we are, and your case is strong enough, then we’ll work out how we’re going to move forward.”

“If not?” Amaranth asked.

I was glad she voiced this instead of me. All the “ifs” were making me nervous. Well, not exactly nervous. I was nervous to begin with. It was more like it was confirming my reasons to be nervous.

“Well, then, I’ll try to leave you with some idea of how to proceed,” Lee said. “I may be able to provide a referral to somebody who could better suit your needs.”

Right. Here I was, a skuzzy-looking girl—a skuzzy-looking demon—coming into a big fancy downtown law office and telling them I have no money, like that’s some kind of big surprise. We’d chat however long Mr. Lee Jenkins felt was polite and then he’d tell me I should try one of his noted colleagues with a degree from Discount Dan’s School of Law and Wagon Repair, or something.

“But you do think we have a case, right?” Amaranth said. “Or rather, she does.”

“I think it’s a strong possibility,” Lee said. “From what you told me, and from what I’ve heard.”

“Where did you hear about it, exactly?” I asked.

“There was an item in the paper,” he said. “Long on speculation, short on facts… well, it kind of had to be. You don’t have a mirror listed, and the university was declining to put reporters in touch with you, citing privacy.” He shrugged and smiled. It looked fluid and natural, but it also looked like he’d worked long and hard to make it so. “Obviously the university has their own legal counsel and obviously they aren’t saying anything, but… stuff gets around. Nothing solid, but enough to let me know that something big is up.”

“Is it really that big?” I asked. “I mean, it is to me, but… beyond that?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Lee said. “Please, go ahead and begin your story.”

“Where should I start?” I asked.

“Let’s make it Friday morning,” he said. “When you woke up. That’s when your complaint begins, isn’t it?”

“I suppose,” I said, and I told him how I’d woken up to find out that I’d been warded in the room overnight.

“How did you find out?”

“Lynette told me.”

“Lynette Havilland?”

“Yes,” I said. “Though, she kind of danced around it a bit.”

“Danced around it how?”

“She said there was an ‘incident’,” I said. “When I asked her if I could leave, she told me I couldn’t yet, but she wouldn’t tell me why. I had to ask a couple times, dig it out of her.”

“I see,” he said.

“Is that important?” Amaranth said. “I mean, I’d think that ethically, Mack had a right to be told, but is it legally important?”

“It could be,” Lee said. “We’re talking about false imprisonment. Legally, that has several different components. One of them is an awareness of the state. If a healer steps out of the room for five minutes and locks the door and the patient isn’t hurt and doesn’t even notice, then from a legal standpoint, nothing much of interest has happened.”

“So, if I’d slept through the whole thing…” I said.

“You’d have nothing to complain about,” he said. “Literally. You would never know that you’d been wronged. It’s like suing somebody for making a face behind your back that nobody sees, including you.”

“Okay,” I said. “I guess that makes sense. But since I did find out, does her trying to hide it for a minute actually matter?”

“In any case, there are two things we need to be concerned about,” he said. “One is the facts. The other is how things look. It doesn’t look good for her employers that Lynette Havilland tried to keep the truth from you, even for a minute. What happened next?”

I explained about Lynette’s reluctance to use diabolism to cancel the wards, and how I’d started throwing out alternate suggestions in order to get out of the healing center faster.

“So, you mentioned using transportation magic first,” he said.

“Um, yeah, I guess I did,” I said. “I mean, it was one of a couple suggestions. I also said they could phase out a wall. That… that kind of screws me, doesn’t it? I mean, I said to gate me and they did.”

“Again, there are two things to consider,” he said. “The fact is, you were within your rights to demand your release be expedited. The fact is, that did not give university employees any right to perform remote, long-range teleport magic on you without preparation and without your express consent. Those are the facts. How things look? That’s another story. If this were likely to come to trial before a jury, I’d be less sanguine about your odds, but we could expect the arbitration committee to hold to the facts. If we try to get the university to settle, though, they’re going to be all too aware of how things look. On that subject, did you know that Ms. Havilland‘s family has been involved in the university for generations?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Her great-great-grand-something was chancellor, way back when,” he said. “This has no bearing on the facts, but again… how it looks. For them.”

“And that’s not even getting into what happened after the teleport,” Amaranth said.

“Yes, let’s hear about that,” Lee said.

I told him, as best as I could, what had happened during my time in the maze. Here his questions were mostly about the perils I’d faced, the times I’d had pain inflicted, and the times when I’d been faced with something that could have hurt or killed me.

“Is the fact that I wasn’t actually injured by any of these things going to hurt my chances?” I asked.

“It would if you were out to prove that you were harmed by them,” Lee said. “But you were placed in imminent peril, and you suffered, even if not physically. There are precedents for functionally invulnerable beings recovering emotional damages from ephemeral injuries. More than that, the fact that you were negligently placed in mortal danger should be worth something in punitive damages, to say the least.”

I finished the story with my encounter with the delvers, and my subsequent conversations with the chancellor, both in the presence of the school’s attorney, and without him. He seemed very interested in the fact that they’d offered to pay for my lost stuff, and in the offer the chancellor had made me in private.

“Well,” he said, when I was finished. “That’s quite an incredible narrative, Mack. All that in one day?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Though it kind of felt more like a month.”

“Understandable.”

“The thing is, Mr. Jenkins,” Amaranth said, “this is all part of a pattern, I think. The university is really not perfectly integrated, with regards to its non-human students, and Mack and I have sort of been, well, agitating against that since the very first weekend we arrived.”

“Interesting. Do you have any reason to believe that this was related?” he asked me. “That your treatment by the healing center staff was somehow motivated by your activities?”

“Honestly?” I said. “No. But I think it’s all part of the same package.”

“Okay. Well, it’s important to realize that if this were to go to trial, the actual scope of the matters under question would be fairly narrow,” Lee said. “The main points would be the standards of care owed to you by the university healing center, which speaks to negligence, and the matter of your false imprisonment. The latter will be much easier to prove, in this case, but the former is where the big money is, if you’ll pardon the phrase, especially considering where that negligence landed you. We could also raise the matter of assault, though that’s a little trickier.”

“If that’s the legal term for an arrow through the shoulder,” I said.

“Actually, that would be battery, if we could make it stick,” Lee said. “I’m referring to the ward on your door. As a divine ward, it would have caused you actual harm, correct?”

“Correct,” I said. “The ones downstairs were just barrier spells, but this was an actual blessing.”

“Well, there you go,” he said. “If somebody enacts a spell designed to do you harm, that legally constitutes assault. That it was a ward against infernal creatures makes no difference. It’s the same as if they had covered your door in explosive runes.”

“I don’t think she was thinking of that,” I said. “Anyway, doesn’t ‘how it looks’ come into play here? Calling a divine blessing an assault…”

“Whose side are you on?” Lee asked, smiling sardonically. “The really strong case is for false imprisonment and negligence. It’s the degree of the negligence that’s going to be up in the air.”

“What about the delving students shooting arrows at me and leaving me to die?” I asked. “You said ‘if we could make it stick.’ That seems pretty open-and-shut to me. The professor treated my wound on the spot.”

“Case law’s against you there,” Lee said. “Big time. It would be arguable that this was a school exercise and not an actual dungeoneering expedition. You weren’t part of the exercise… but there’s a whole weight of tradition, legal and otherwise, that would be against you. If the entirety of your case consisted of you accidentally being placed into the labyrinth and then attacked by these students, I’d say it was too much of a long shot. As it is, it’s just one more thing to add to the pot.” He gave that practiced shrug. “One more thing for the opposing side to worry about. That actually may be what the chancellor was worried about… a precedent there could be devastating for the school’s delving program.”

“If it’s settled by the arbitration committee, though, would it set a precedent?” I asked.

“It might, as far as the school’s insurance providers are concerned,” he said. “Do you want to know what I think of your case, honestly?”

“Of course,” Amaranth said.

“I think there’s an excellent chance they’ll settle,” he said. “They know you’ve got them. At this point, they’re in damage control mode. That’s why they offered to pay for your losses: they were trying to set a tone right off the bat. ‘This is what the case is about’… the sort of stuff that you’d settle in small claims. If you were fully human… well, this particular circumstance wouldn’t have happened, so, it’s not really…”

“What?” I asked. “If I were fully human, what?”

“They would have had their lawyers drafting a settlement to begin with,” he said. “Big shut-up-and-go-away money type settlement, because they’d know you could bypass the arbitration committee, take them to court, and clean up.”

“And why can’t she do that, exactly?” Amaranth asked.

“How things look,” Lee said. “Half-demon. We could try to control for bias in jury selection, but it would be damned hard… and while we could throw all that stuff about racial integration you mentioned out into the court of public opinion, I doubt you could look me in the eye and tell me there aren’t some unsavory things the school could dig up. The papers would have a field day with both sides. There’d be no winner, publicity-wise, and the actual court case would be too close to call. In arbitration, the facts more strongly favor you, but they stand a better chance of keeping things in-house. So they won’t push for a settlement before they have to. Our job will be to make them feel like they have to.”

“So, you’ll represent us?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, Mack… and on a contingent basis?”

“I think so, yes,” Lee said. “Again, some elements of the case are a little shakier than others, but there’s a good, solid foundation we can build on.”

“So, what do I have to do, then?” I asked.

“Well, there will be papers to sign, of course,” he said. “And I’ll have to get in touch with the arbitration committee, right off the bat. We’ll want to press them to appoint an oathspeaker—that’s an elven legal professional—as arbiter for this case, to eliminate any anti-demon bias. I’m also going to have to ask you not to speak to the press. If anybody tries to contact you, you can refer them back to us.”

“If the school’s been blocking reporters from talking to me, wouldn’t it be in my interest to talk to them?” I asked. “I mean, they’ve got to be doing that for a reason.”

“Sure they have a reason,” he said. “It’s a lose-lose situation for them. If this becomes bigger news than it is, they’ll get to take heat for being racist from one side of the aisle, and for having a half-demon student from the other. It would be a nightmare for them. Not a picnic for you, I’m sure, but a nightmare for them. The thing is, though… once we’ve launched that particular volley of arrows, we can’t offer to call them back to the bowstrings as part of a settlement agreement. Our ideal position is one wherein they know we have the power to inflict that kind of nightmare, but have in our magnificent benevolence declined to do so.”

“Talking about, um, magnificent benevolence,” I said. “I’m not actually looking to win the lawsuit lottery or anything…”

“Well, of course not, but certainly you want what you’re entitled to, don’t you?” Lee said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “What I mean is, is there any way we could push for a settlement that isn’t just money? Like, renovations for Harlowe Hall, or better meal programs for non-human students?”

“Well… our position’s strong, but not exactly strong enough for us to go in dictating terms,” Lee said. “However, I think there’s a chance you could get certain concessions… especially if the university thinks it’s their idea, and if they think it’s in lieu of even more money. It isn’t a bad idea. You have to realize they’ll take credit for it, though. Next year’s brochures mention whatever improvements they agreed to, without a word about the circumstances.”

“That’s fine,” I said.

“Of course, at this point it’s all pie in the sky,” Lee said. “They might not settle, and we might walk out with the value of your gear, and whatever figure the arbiter arrives at for the rest. There’s a couple of different formulas he could use, depending on how exactly the matter gets framed. We’d have our way of looking at it, of course, where you’re owed heaping piles of platinum coins, and they’d have their way, where you’re owed a firm apology… chances are the actual figure would be somewhere in the middle.”

“But you think they might settle,” I said.

“I think so,” Lee said. “If I were representing them, I’d certainly be leaning in that direction. There’s little percentage in giving up, but even less in losing.” He glanced at a timepiece. “I’ll tell you what, I’m going to be late for another meeting here in a minute, but I’ll get you set up with Chet before I run. He can go over the payment agreement with you, and finish getting you processed as a new client. I‘ll need a way to get in touch with you.”

“There’s a public mirror by the lounge,” I said.

He shook his head.

“No good,” he said. “We’ll get you a linked hand mirror before you leave.” He stood up and held out his hand, this time to Amaranth first. “Amaranth, it’s been a pleasure meeting you,” he said, before shaking mine. “Mack. If you’ll just step this way…”

He flagged down Chet Howell in the hall and gave him a quick set of instructions. It took a good forty minutes more before we were done with the paperwork, including the agreement for use of the hand mirror, but when the last “i” had been dotted and “t” crossed, I had my lawyer.

It still felt like a waste of a Sunday afternoon, somehow. I wondered if there was any way I could recover that, in the settlement?


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8 Responses to “219: Case By Case”

  1. Nezumi says:

    Lee Jenkins… as in Leroy Jenkins? *snerk*

    Current score: 7
    • capybroa says:

      I hope this case goes to trial just so that I can hear him bellow his own name and charge into the courtroom at exactly the wrong moment.

      Current score: 10
  2. pedestrian says:

    yes, yes Ms McKenzie you can demand compensation for the time & effort spent finding an attorney.

    Current score: 4
  3. Psi-Ko says:

    Added bonus for the reference if, sometime during the courtroom scene, Mr. Jenkins gets out of hand and someone else starts saying “Stick to the plan, stick to the plan!”

    Current score: 3
    • Anthony says:

      He actually seems to be a competent guy with his head on straight. The name’s just a gag.

      Current score: 1
    • The Chosen One says:

      I’d say they have a 33.333, repeating of course, percent chance of settling.
      But at least Mack has chicken!

      Current score: 2
  4. zeel says:

    “On that subject, did you know that Ms. Havilland‘s family has been involved in the university for generations? … Her great-great-grand-something was chancellor, way back when,”

    Oh, I just made that connection. This was the same chancellor who hired Ariadne:

    “When Chancellor Havilland extended an invitation to me, he assured me I would not have to entertain hellspawn in my classroom.”

    Current score: 4
  5. jack v says:

    I love Lee!

    Current score: 1