THE LAW AND LENA LEVARIO

She became a public defender to do the right thing. In the hard world of criminal law, that can be a problem.

ALVAREZ WENT DOWN STU-pid. The narcs were all Anglos, and anybody with a half ounce of street smarts would’ve never mistaken them for anything but cops. But at age 41, trying to make a living as an Irving mechanic. John Alvarez wasn’t hip to the subtleties of Dallas drug stings. All he knew was that a few buddies had asked him to join them for a ride over to a grocery store in north Oak Cliff. Before he knew it these Anglos who said they wanted to buy a kilo of coke were pulling badges and guns. And Alvarez was busted. It was stupid, claro-avoidable in every respect. But there it was. Now he was facing time and the Dallas County district attorney, and things seemed very, very bad. His only hope for any kind of break at all. he figured, was to cop a plea and hope the judge would let him off with less than 40 years.

Which struck Lena Levario as wishful and dangerous thinking, and she had been telling him so. That was her job. Alvarez didn’t have any money, and he was in custody. American law, since Gideon vs. Wainwright in 1963, playing off the Sixth Amendment some years earlier, says everybody, poor or not, state court or federal, white, black or brown, must have an attorney: “.. .the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial… and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” Courts may appoint private, or ad hoc, attorneys to meet the requirement, but in Dallas County for the past nine years-unique among major Texas urban areas-there’s been an alternative.

Levario is a public defender. She works for the county, same as the prosecutor, same as the judge. But while it is the function of her counterparts in the urban criminal justice game to pretty much shuffle people into the pen, Levario’s job is to keep them out-or to get them out as soon as possible. A lot of good citizens concerned with crime and the degradation of society naturally wonder whose side she’s on. They don’t like taxpayer money going to pay for lawyers for criminals.

Many private attorneys and, according to one jurist herself, most judges, don’t care much for Levario or her colleagues either. But they have a different reason. To the private legal profession, public defenders aren’t moral subversives, they’re marketplace competitors. The growth of the public defender system in Dallas, as elsewhere in the country-only six major urban areas in the United Stales, four of them in Texas, lack PD programs-means fewer lucrative court appointment fees for “free market” lawyers and less political good will for the election-minded judges who hire them.

But that’s Big Picture stuff. Alvarez is little fish, and he likes Levario plenty. She, on the other hand, is getting increasingly restive about his chances. The guys in the holdover tank outside the fifth-floor courtroom of the Frank Crowley Courts Building have been telling Alvarez he’s better off trying an “open plea.” That means he admits he’s guilty, as in a straight plea bargain, but instead of agreeing to a fixed offer from the DA, he leaves sentencing to the judge. The idea is that the judge might be more lenient. Levario thinks it’s a very bad idea. Relying on the mercy of a judge in the county’s special “drug court” is something you’d only do, as she’s told Alvarez, “because you’re a moron.”

Levario thinks he’d do better if he went to trial, though there’s still a risk. As Levario’s boss, chief public defender Carl Hays, says, “Most juries in Dallas figure that if they don’t convict, they’re not doing their job.” On the other hand, Hays estimates. PDs are now winning about 25 percent of their felony trials, compared to only 2 percent when they started in 1983. And so far this year, Levario is three for three.

Besides, she likes her chances on this case, It’s a typical “knockout”-cop talk for a sting. Narcs set it up and goaded it along at every step until it reached fruition in the parking lot of Bob’s Market at Bishop Avenue and Davis Street. The police won’t even let their own informant, not exactly a Jaw-abiding citizen himself, be called in to testify. To Levario, it’s a case of four white cops going to a lot of trouble to bust three very small-time Hispanics who were doing some minor dealing the way some people take second jobs. They needed money. “What pisses me off,” Levario says, “is that the cop who set this deal up was white. So was the informant. And they got the three Mexicans. Why don’t they ever go after white guys? Who do you think buys all these drugs anyway?” But she knows nobody’s interested in the sociological roots of crime these days. Especially in a felony court system choking on 30,000 cases a year. Questions of social justice long ago succumbed to the appetite of the beast. If Alvarez wants to take his chances before the judge, that’s his right. As his attorney, Levario can only lay out the options. And the stats: About 80 to 90 percent of the defendants in the Dallas criminal district court dockets are non-Anglo, higher even than the 70 percent rate in the state’s prisons, where one in three inmates are in on drug-related charges. Nine out of 10 defendants are indigent. The same ratio-90 percent-agree to plea bargains: intense, high-stakes games of human barter that have all but replaced trials as the main business of urban criminal courts. You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is going to blow for Alvarez.

Still, he’ll go for the open plea. Reluctantly, Levario says OK and leaves the cramped cinder-block counseling cubicle between holdover and the courtroom to hail down Patrick Kirlin. the prosecutor. He’s slender, handsome, 34, up from Oak Cliff, went to high school only blocks from where the knockout went down, and he’s unyielding as hell about drug stuff. District Attorney John Vance maintains a policy of zero probation for drug dealing charges. Office policy. War on Drugs and all. Whatever the sentence, Alvarez will have to do real time.

Levario asks Kirlin if the state will agree to 30 years instead of 40. She points out that the other main defendant in the case, Anas-tasio Juarez, a 22-year-old Mexican immigrant, is really the one who set it up, and he’s “lying his ass off1 about the way things happened, trying to implicate Alvarez and a third defendant, Pedro Leos, to save himself. Kirlin doesn’t dispute that, but he doesn’t yield. Anyway, he points, out, Alvarez has a prior, and although it dates back 13 years, it shows, in the prosecutorial mind anyway, that the accused hasn’t reformed himself.

Naturally, Alvarez disagrees. “Give me a break,” he pleads through the speaker box in a thick, glass window separating lawyers from clients in the cinder-block cubicle. But it’s not working. Kirlin’s hands are on his hips, aggressive. “They’re all lying.” he snaps to Levario. Then, to Alvarez: “You shoot straight with me and I’ll consider a reduction.1’ Alvarez says he is shooting straight. Kirlin shakes his head and walks out.

It’ll be up to the judge.

Even as Levario continues to press Kirlin for a pre-sentence bargain (“I hate to beg, but sometimes you have to”), the Honorable James Walker of Levelland is settling into his chair behind the raised bench in the corner of the austere, oak-filled courtroom, reading the day’s files. He’s just visiting. Each week the 15 felony courts call in judicial backup to reduce overload-14,000 carry-over cases this past year alone. But Alvarez won’t have to wait.

Before the proceedings start and Alvarez is brought in for Walker’s ruling, the judge quietly signals to the defense table. The law requires a warning to any non-citizens about their liability in U.S. courts. Seeing Alvarez’s Hispanic surname has prompted a routine question. Walker asks Levario, “Is he wet?”

She’s wearing a tailored, conservative, dark suit, tight at the waist. Her thick, black hair is combed straight back over her shoulders. She never wears makeup. At 31, she is somewhere between beautiful and handsome. Bailiffs say her name appears in graffiti on holdover tank walls. And just now, her cheeks flush deep crimson, her nostrils flare slightly and her eyelids involuntarily contract.

“Is he wet?” Walker repeats, smiling slightly. “1 mean, is he a wetback? That’s what we call illegals where I come from, in West Texas.” He glances toward Kirlin, one good ol’ boy to another, but Kirlin isn’t looking back.

Levario is. Looking real hard. “Yes, I understand that,” she responds. Her voice is even, but so sharp at the edges she can barely keep it from cracking. “No, he’s not wet,” she says. She waits a beat. “And I’m not either, your Honor.”

She asks for a brief recess. Waiting for the bailiff to unlock the door to the counseling room, she’s fuming. “He’s a f–ing redneck,” she says under her breath. Strong language doesn’t bother her. She hears it, and uses it with juries when she wants to shock them into seeing the world from the point of view of those she defends, for whom strong language is the lyricism of the hard life. She tells Alvarez he might have a problem with the judge. Once more, she asks him to reconsider throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Once more, he refuses.

She’s quiet a few moments, her brow furrowed, Part of her is back in Pecos, a young girl, hearing her father, an oil field roustabout, tell her about the way Anglo cops treat Mexican-Americans, busting them for infractions that don’t exist for Anglos. He always told her she’d be a lawyer and she is, first in her family to graduate from college, then law school at Texas Tech. The law is how she accommodates the “tremendous sense of injustice” she learned about through her own life. The law is how you fight back.

OK, she tells Alvarez, stick with the open plea if that’s what you want. She also decides, to herself, that she’ll try yet again to get a better deal from Kirlin. But as soon as she returns to the courtroom, Walker calls her up for an off-the-record tête-à-tête. “I’m from West Texas,” he says, covering the microphone on his desk with his palm.

“I understand, your Honor. I’m from Pecos.”

“I didn’t mean anything disparaging. That’s just the way we refer to people without visas.”

She nods. “I’m aware of that,” she says, not flinching. “But I was surprised to hear that coming from the bench, your Honor.”

Then the bailiff brings Alvarez out of holdover. Walker, who would later preside over the retrial and acquittal of County Commissioner John Wiley Price on charges of assaulting carpenter Tim Short, listens to Kirlin and Levario present their arguments about Alvarez’s alleged crime and fitting punishment. Then Walker does what judges do. Forty years it is.

Levario watches her client, a small, soft-spoken man with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses, as he is escorted from the chamber. Funny thing, co-defendant Juarez is going to get only 30 years when he appears for sentencing tomorrow. Levario doesn’t know that yet, but she already thinks her guy has gone down too hard by at least 10 years. Even funnier, Alvarez, whose life is now completely in the toilet, thinks he got a good deal.



II

The sixth-floor assistant DA’s room off Judge John Creuzot’s court is thick and noisy with cops, attorneys and witnesses. Always is. In civics class fiction, cases are decided by judge and jury. In the real world, legal karma is cut up in banal, windowless governmental offices like this. The room is a major stop on Levario’s daily courthouse circuit. PDs. like prosecutors, probation officers, bailiffs and clerks, are assigned specific courts, on the theory it’s the most productive way to process the glut of human wrongdoing. Maybe it is. Sometimes the plea bargaining is so productive you’d think you were in a Chicago commodities pit. Whether that makes for good or bad justice is an interesting ethical point, but PDs, who handle an average of 457 felony cases per year-three times the recommended level-and prosecutors, who average 666, rarely get into ethical discussions. Later, over a few beers, maybe, but not on days 1ike this. when you do the best you can under the circumstances.

Although everyone in the room wants a little of John Withers1 time. Levario has staked out first claim. “All my client should get is five years,” she insists, peering over the chief felony prosecutor’s shoulder as they both read a computer printout on the accused. “You realty haven’t got a good case anyway.” Withers smiles indulgently. Although he’s only 31, he’s been an assistant DA for five years, and he knows a good case for the people when he sees one. He wants to give the guy a whole dime. Like the other two assistant DAs assigned to Creuzot’s court, he also likes to beat Levario-the only PD-when he can. He thinks she’s one of the best lawyers he’s faced-always fair, always tough, never “hits in the knees,” a metaphor the former A&M offensive tackle takes seriously.

“You know what he said when he robbed the victim?” Withers asks her. “He said, ’Give me your shit, or I’ll hit you over the head.’”

Levario shrugs. “It’s such a harsh word–robbed.’” Withers shakes his head. She hits high, but she’s still got a mouth. Suddenly, he focuses on a small line on the printout. “Look,” he gloats, “he’s got a prior here-under an alias.” Levario’s attitude- her armor, really, in this battleground of impossible odds- cracks in a flash of pique. Nobody ever said anything about aliases and priors. Of course, on a day like this, when the court docket hits you with eight clients at once, surprises come like flies at a picnic.

But as she scans the printout, her frown fades. The date of birth for the person using the alias doesn’t match that of her client, nor does the fingerprint data. She tells Withers to read it again. He does. Exasperated, he makes a couple of phone calls to concerned parties and finally concedes Levario’s point. The computer was wrong. Of course, so is Levario’s client. Each attorney’s eyes flicker with internal calculations, simultaneously sizing up just how far the other might be prepared to advance or retreat. Withers wads up the printout and throws it in the trash. Levario picks up her manila folders and briefcase and leaves the room. She’s willing to take seven, but hopes Withers will see how close things got to being screwed up by technology and settle for five.

AS SHE LEAVES. TWO DARK-SUITED attorneys come in. They’re not from the PD office up on the ninth floor, but from the free market. They take the cases Levario can’t gel to. The private attorneys exchange pleasantries with the PD. but the fact is. her presence is a harbinger of their absence. If there were enough money in the PD budget for two more PDs in Creuzot’s court-enough to match the trio of prosecutors -no ad hoes would he needed. I.evario never forgets her role as a symbolic threat, mostly because the private attorneys, who in the recession have been seeking out courthouse gigs like day workers at a job site, don’t let her. No matter h
It adds up.

In fiscal year 1991, Dallas County’s 15 district courts doled out over $5 million for ad hoc lawyers in almost 24.000 cases. The courts spent between $300,000 and $600,000 each, with some of the highest expenditures from five judges- Richard Mays, Jack Hampton. Michael Keasler. Harold Entz. and Joe Kendall (recently appointed a federal judge)- who refused to use public defenders at all. Some lawyers received special largesse- -10 ad hoes in 1990 received over $100,000 each in court-ordered fees Only one district judge, Gerry Meier, bucked the trend and used public defenders in all but a handful of cases.

The public defender office, meanwhile, billed the county commissioners-who oversee its budget-less than $1 million for about 6,000 cases during that same period. That’s only about one-fifth the total felony court load, but it is by far the most cost-efficient. According to a recent commissioners court study, the penchant among Dallas judges to privatize the Sixth Amendment is not only indulgent but spendthrift. Prosecution of the average indigent case costs the DA about $145. Defense by a PD averages $160. When an ad hoc attorney gets a case, however, the bill rises to $283. The discrepancy is even wider in the heavy-volume juvenile courts, where the DA spends an average of $216 per case. A public defender costs the county $146. A private lawyer charges an average $645 in fees.

Judge Richard Mays, one of the most steadfast toes of public defenders, says cost isn’t really the issue. “I never really think about it.” he says, because the most important thing is “providing the best defense.” He says only by appointing his own attorneys can he ensure high standards of counsel. And he says that although PD attorneys aren’t necessarily better or worse than others, they are overburdened and outgunned. “When they’re equal on paper, when the defense is equal to the prosecution, I could give up my authority to run my ad hoc system.” says Judge Mays. “I can’t do that now.”

He has a point. The PD and DA programs are David to Goliath. The public defender budget of $2.3 million supports 33 attorneys, five investigators and a small administrative staff. PDs work in 10 of the 15 felony courts, as well as nine county misdemeanor courts, two juvenile courts and one mental illness court. Thai’s a huge increase in capacity since the program, pushed by former County Judge Frank E. Crowley, began with eight attorneys in four courts, but it doesn’t match the might of the state. The prosecutorial armada includes 94 attorneys and 29 investigators, and runs on a budget of about $8 million Nor are salaries comparable. Public defenders top out at about $50,000 a year. Felony level prosecutors can make up to $68,000. District Attorney John Vance gets $107,000, plus a $400 per month parking allowance. Chief public defender Carl Hays draws $66,852. no perks.

It is inarguable that the PD office is underfunded vis-à-vis the DA. No one is more aware of that than Hays, who continually lobbies for expansion of the PD system, which he hopes will eventually be staffed fully enough to handle all indigent cases for the county It is a leap of logic, however, to conclude that the miserly funding of the PD program renders it interior and that ad hoc attorneys are by comparison superior. To be fair, court-appointed attorneys are generally not the lawyers from big. private firms who start at the $55,000-a-year level. And they’re not the big-name criminal attorneys available to the wealthy. Often working alone or in small firms, ad hoc attorneys-with notable except ions-rarely offer the superior resources or skills that even a tight-leashed PD program can muster. But to paraphrase Mae West, logic has nothin’ to do with it.

Job security does.

“Some judges,” says Judge Ralph Taite. who, as an attorney, headed the first PD program in 1983 and uses PDs exclusively in his county misdemeanor court, “feel if they didn’t appoint lawyers that it would affect their abilities come election time.” While there has, to date, been no evidence of illegal funneling of attorney fees to political pals in Dallas, the opportunities are obvious. The American Bar Association is on record against the ad hoc system. And many local attorneys think giving judges control over the purse strings of the lawyers they appoint in their own courts has already taken its toll. “You can’t be an effective criminal defense advocate if you’re being paid by the people you are attacking,” says defense attorney Frank Jackson, a well-known advocate of indigent legal services but a longtime opponent of ad hoc appointments. “You’ve got to be lock step in on these judges’ political agendas or you’re not going to be on their birthday lists.”

In the end. judges hold a life-and-death influence over ad hoc lawyers that they don’t have over public defenders. A judge can toss a PD out of court, or refuse to accept a particular PD, but that’s different from providing him or her with a direct paycheck. The frequently heard argument that ad hoes are preferable to PDs because of relative independence from judicial whim is therefore not only ironic, but contrary to both experience and common sense. The PD system may have flaws, but its very institutionalization has provided it with a kind of insularity from the control of the judiciary. Perhaps that is why so many major cities have converted to PD programs for indigent clients.

Dallas could, too. County commissioners continue each year to augment the size of the program. Based on the commissioners’ own data, it would be foolish not to. Consider just one theoretical projection. Assigning lower-cost PDs to the 24,000 felony cases taken last year by ad hoc appointments would have saved county taxpayers $123 per case. Total savings: approximately $2.9 million. That amount alone would more than double the current budget of the entire public defender office, and, according to the commissioners court study, would bring the PD program to equivalency with the DA in felony cases. But it would be hell on the free market.



III

“Midnight” maintains perfect posture at the defense table. A hard and muscular looking man in his mid-20s, he keeps his forearms flat and extended in front, his back straight, his head bent forward slightly, perhaps better to read the indictment in front of him. Sometimes he looks to his left at the 12 people-five men and seven women, including two blacks and two Hispanics- listening to the great drama of justice being played out around him. The cops, the judges, the lawyers, the court reporter, the sour-faced bailiff, the parking garage across the street, the whole magnificent edifice of The Man’s System. All for him. And if The System decides Midnight is guilty of a flubbed $30 bus station robbery, he could get up to 20 years.

Lena Levario is trying to get him off, but she knows the odds are preposterous. The DA has lots of evidence and witnesses. The story is that Midnight helped his buddy, Rolando Tucker, accost 16-year-old Shawn Deleon at the downtown bus station late one weeknight, ripping loose from her neck a silver necklace with a blue Jesus medallion, Midnight and Tucker then got into a heated quarrel with some of Deleon’s relatives and friends. Deleon ran next door to the Burger King and found two moonlighting DPD officers-“they usually sit right there.” The cops followed Deleon, grabbed the two suspects and found the necklace in Tucker’s pocket. They gave it back to Deleon. Tucker was busted on the spot, but Midnight managed to run away, only to be picked up later.

Midnight’s only real defense, Levario thinks, is a technical one-that he’s charged with the wrong crime. In the course of the testimony, about as straightforward as a Six Flags roller coaster ride, there are conflicting accounts as to whether Midnight was an accomplice in or the instigator of the robbery’. If he started it, then he can’t be found guilty of being an accomplice, which is the charge on the indictment. As a defense. Levario’s gambit is a stretch, but a stretch is all she’s got. Playing it out, she questions the accuracy’ of the police statements, shreds the credibility of the complaining witness and clashes frequently with assistant prosecutor Libby Tamez, who, along with Joe Shearin, is double-teaming Levario on the case.

“It’s OK to find the defendant not guilty,” Levario reminds the jurors at one point. “You’re not sitting in judgment of my client. You’re sitting in judgment of the stale of Texas.” She is trying to tip the scales back a little, to keep Midnight from being convicted because of what he represents. Black, poor, tough-looking. dressed gang-style in zip-pered blue jogging suit and designer fade haircut, he doesn’t exactly symbolize a Cosby kid. He even has a prior-aggravated robbery in ’84. That’s why Levario refers to him by his real name, Ricky Holmes. Street names don’t play well. The street is crime. Crime is the disease. Levario doesn’t want the jury to think of itself as the cure.

Repeatedly, Tamez objects to what she considers grandstanding by Levario, finally complaining to visiting Judge L. Clifford Davis of Fort Worth that Levario is slowing things down with too many objections, too much oration. For the most part, the judge overrides. It’s Levario’s right to put her own “spin” on the proceedings, he says. In her closing remarks, Tamez vents her scorn on the jury. “Don”t let her blow that smoke in your face,” Tamez fumes. “For her to say, “this poor innocent man-that’s a crock.”

The trial ends by midafternoon. One hour later the jury finds Ricky Holmes guilty. Nobody’s surprised. Since he had a prior, Judge Davis comes down hard: 18 years. That’s about a year-and-a-half pen time, and seven years less than Tucker, in a separate trial, represented by his own, privately hired attorney, would get. Midnight wants to appeal, but it’s out of Lena’s hands. PDs don’t handle appeals. No money in the budget.



IV

She doesn’t know if it’s eating on her yet, but she suspects. “People always ask what you do and you say, ’I’m a lawyer,’” she says. “They smile. Then they ask what kind. When you tell them, the smile goes away.” She’s been that kind for four years now. A good one, too-on the fast track. Colleagues say she may become president of the Mexican-American Bar Association, and there has been talk of pushing her for a district judge seat. If so, she wouldn’t be the first woman to take the bench, but she’d be the first Hispanic. She’s aware of the significance. Not long ago, when probation officers were bogging down movement on her cases, Levario was told the problem was that her clients didn’t speak English. She wrote to the head of the probation office. “I recommended they hire some Spanish-speaking probation officers,” she recalls. “And they did. But just for my court. That made me so mad. It was like they just wanted to put out a fire. And they didn’t put any Spanish speakers in any other courts. They just wanted to placate me.”

If she wasn’t in Judge Creuzot’s court, more of those battles might weigh her down, but she lucked out. Appointed by Gov. Ann Richards last year to fill an unexpired term, Creuzot is different from most of his Dallas peers, and not just because he rides a motorcycle. He’s black, and he’s a Democrat. Those two characteristics rarely occur, and have never coincided, in Dallas County’s at-large system of district judge elections, which are dominated by white, male Republicans. “This stuff goes on all the time around here,” he told Levario after hearing of the “wetback” remarks from Judge Walker. “You’d be lying if you said you didn’t notice it.” ’”But not from people in robes,” someone suggested. Creuzot’s eyes flashed. “That’s who I’m talking about.” He told Levario to write him a memo so he could bring it up at a judges’ meeting.

She did, but even that’s not what bothers her. She wonders if some of the raw sewage is beginning to seep in. If she’s not up to her own elbows in it, she hears it day in and out from her colleagues, who, all told, make up the city’s most macabre law firm. Today’s war story is The Case of the Suspicious Cuckold. To wit: Husband figured the missus was cheating, so he carved her name into the casing on a shotgun shell, shot her dead and then wounded the cop who responded to the call. Shot him in the face. Question: Should the husband get life? Two stacked sentences?

Or how about The Joy Ride? A couple of guys invite two gamblers over for a friendly game. Instead, they abduct them, put them in their car trunk and drive out to Joe Pool Lake. When the trunk is opened, one gambler bolts and gets shot dead. The other never gets out of the car, takes three or four rounds, plays possum and lives. Who was smarter?

Dante would have been at home with this stuff, but he was an Italian poet, not a Dallas lawyer. Yet it is as a lawyer, wanting to “represent the underdog,” that Levario has to absorb the downside of the human condition. Certainly she has a rationale: Every accused citizen has the right to a day in court. Even the truly loathsome. Maybe especially them. As a public defender, you handle them all, like a trauma doctor. Excusing yourself from a case is bad form. But what if sooner or later you start drawing lines?

Levario’s former colleague. Olivia Bledsoe, is still mad at having to defend the pet killer, who was so mad at his estranged wife that he went over to her house one day, killed all her cats and gutted her poodle. Bledsoe had been a PD since 1988, same as Levario. Rape, murder, child molestation-happens every day. But not dog butchering. Bledsoe got the guy parole, but swore she’d never take a case like that again. “Animals are different,” is all she said. Last summer she quit.

Everybody develops his or her own special wounds and consequent weaknesses. Yesterday, a young black defendant, arrested on a male prostitution bust, had to interrupt Levario during a routine conference outside holdover. “Why are you yelling at me?” he asked. She hadn’t known she was, but if she was, it was because he was lying, and she doesn’t “take any shit” from anybody, not even clients, and she had to make him tell the truth if she was going to defend him. And so she was yelling. Isn’t that her job?

Over a beer after work, she explains things like that to her husband, Mark, an engineer. “A lot of times my clients don’t like me because I’m not nice to them,” she says. “But if they sit and think about it they’re not going to want some sissy-assed girl to represent them. I mean I try to be nice, but if you’re a defense attorney you need to be pushy. And in the sense of wanting to get things done, now, I am.”

Her special hell is when there’s nothing to push. That afternoon she’d been assigned a guy who was down for three aggravated rob beries. His story was that he’d been pos sessed by Satan since November. Levario had listened, hands on hips. Her brown eyes rolled, closed, opened. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she interjected, pointing at a DA computer printout in her hand. “OK, if Satan possessed you in November, how do you explain this prior four years ago?” No conflict, he said, peering through the thick glass like Diogenes on a bum rap-’I didn’t do that.” Of course. To a defendant facing hard time, truth is not an ethical mandate, it is a bargaining position. But what is truth to a lawyer?

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