18 November 2013

Scratch Esquire: Chapter 4

My first meeting with the grand jury was a week later. Seven people were sitting around a long table when I walked into the jury room. There were four African-American men, a white woman, one man who looked to be of Asian ancestry, and at the head of the table sat Cassandra Potts.

I'd put more than a little thought into how I was going to handle this. I still hadn't come up with any crime I could suggest charging Sammael Scratch with, so I'd decided that I would steer the jury in the direction of some sort of finding that would praise the wonders of American religious freedoms. God bless the First Amendment - especially if it could get me out of this stupidity.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Michael Benedict and Mister Blackmon has appointed me as special counsel for this grand jury investigation. I’ve looked over the documents in question and I must say that I’m not sure there is any crime that can . . .”

“What about fraud in the inducement?”

The question came from the black man sitting on Cassandra Potts’ left hand side. Before I could say anything he went on.

“My brother works at CallahanScott and when I asked him about this he said it was fraud in the inducement.”

Great. Legal advice from a civil attorney about a criminal matter. That was always ever so helpful. And, of course, advice from the brother would trump anything I said. I had to nip that in the bud as quickly as possible.

“No sir, I’m afraid that fraud in the inducement isn’t a part of Virginia’s criminal law. It has something to do with trying to get out of a contract. We do have fraud crimes, but those require that we show someone has lied about a fact. Outside of the last page, these are standard attorney-client contracts. Nothing fraudulent about them.”

The man didn’t look happy, but a voice from the other side of the table interrupted our conversation. “Hold on, are you honestly trying to tell us that it’s legal to sell your soul in Virginia?”

I turned to look at the white woman sitting there. “Ma’am, I did a search of our statutes and I didn’t find the word ‘soul’ anywhere in them. I don’t think there are any laws about the soul.”

“Isn’t Virginia common law? Can’t we make the law by acclamation?”

“No Ma’am. We can’t just make up the law the way we want it to be. We have to follow the law in the books as it was set up by the General Assembly or judges.”

The woman grunted and rolled her eyes. I went on quickly, trying get the situation back under control.

“As I said, I don’t know of any law this violates. You have a right to investigate, but I don’t think anything illegal will show up. It isn’t nice, but that doesn’t make it illegal. Personally, I’d suggest you write a report to the judge about how this is immoral and unethical, but not forbidden because of the religious freedoms in the constitutions of Virginia and the U.S.”

The white woman and the black guy sitting at the end of the table next Cassandra Potts looked like I had just fed them a bushel of lemons. The three black guys sitting on my end of the table were looking down at the table in front of them and the Asian guy sitting across from them just kept watching everything as though he was mildly interested. Then Cassandra Potts entered the conversation.

“Don’t you think we should investigate a man claiming to be Satan?”

I stood there for a couple seconds, trying to come up with an appropriate answer. Before I could say anything, she pressed on.

“You do realize that this man is claiming to be Satan, don’t you?”

“Well, Ma’am, I realize that in the stories it’s always a demon or devil who is trying to buy . . .”

“This isn’t a story, Mister Benedict. This is a real man telling people he’s the Devil. You don’t think you might be able to convince a secular court that that’s a lie? After all, how many secular judges actually believe anyway?”

“Ms. Potts . . .”

“It’s Missus. Don’t denigrate my marriage with that word.”

“Um, okay. Mrs. Potts. He never claims to be Satan. The detective investigating the case knows this attorney. His name is actually Scratch. And,” I raised my hand to forestall any more argument about the name, “even if he was lying to his clients about who he is, we have to show that he has relied on that lie to cheat them. He gives them a discount if they sign that last page. So, he’s not getting anything extra - even if he leads them to believe that he is a devil.”

“That’s not right.” It was the man to Mrs. Potts’ left. “My brother says that if they hired him because he claimed to be the Devil it’s fraud in the inducement. He’s cheating them. It’s a crime.”

I tried to read the man’s name tag, but he had clipped it on his right side and the angle was wrong. “Sir, it’s not fraud in the inducement and it’s a typical attorney-client contract except for that last page. There’s nothing to show he is cheating anyone. He has got to get money or something else based on a lie for fraud to occur.”

“A person’s soul is something.” The white woman chimed in.

“Yes Ma’am. But it’s not a tangible thing. The law deals with tangible things.” I raised both my hands in a stopping motion before they could start arguing that point. “Even if it were, the contract isn’t for a soul. It’s for legal representation. The stuff about the soul only kicks in if the client violates the contract by not paying.”

“You’re missing the forest for the trees, Mr. Benedict.” This time Cassandra Potts held up a finger to stop me before going on. “You are focused on the minutiae of the contract. We are talking about why these people hire this man as their attorney.”

“They hire this man, Mr. Benedict, because he is either telling them that he is Satan or leading them to believe it. And who would be better as your attorney in a corrupt, worldly courtroom than the Devil? They are entering into a contract with a man claiming to be Satan because they think that Satan can get them better results in the courtroom. And that’s what we need to investigate.”

I stood there, trying to think as quickly as I could. I mean, how do you answer something like that?

Cassandra Potts must have sensed my confusion, because she swooped in for the kill. “I call for a vote. All those in favor of questioning the people who signed these contracts and Sammael Scratch raise their hands.”

She raised her hand and the other people sitting on her end of the table raised theirs as well. That left the three black men and the Asian sitting on my end of the table. Mrs. Potts looked at the oldest of the black men. “Charles?”

The man looked back at her levelly. “We’ve already had this argument Cassandra.” Nodding to the other two black men sitting to his right he continued. “The three of us are not going to follow you into this insanity. We have jobs to go to and families to support. We don’t have the time to waste on this.”

She didn’t fight with him. She just turned to the Asian man. “Professor Trinh, it looks like you are the tie-breaker again.”

The man looked from her to me and spoke with a slight British accent. “Mr. Benedict, as a sociology professor, I find all of this terribly fascinating and, as most likely the only person in this room who wasn’t raised Christian, I think I bring a less clouded view to the situation. I think that Cassandra is correct in stating that these people may be hiring Sammael Scratch because of the mystique surrounding the Satan myth in Christian cultures. If so, they are doing so in an expectation of better results. I think we need to do a statistical study comparing his results with similar attorneys for at least the last five years. We definitely need to investigate this matter further.”

He raised his hand.

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