Monday, December 5, 2011

But, Why is the Rum Gone?

"May it please the court."

The judge asked if “The People” were ready, the normal beginning to any criminal trial. Daughter Beth, impeccably dressed in a dark suit and heels, stood with her co-counsel.
“We are, your honor.”
Courtroom 8, Justice Center, Portland, Maine. Criminal court, a man on trial for his life. Sort of.
My daughter is a 2L – shorthand for a second-year law student – at The University of Maine. Their trial practice final involved four budding attorneys, two each for prosecution and defense, an array of pretend witnesses (I was an eye witness to the crime's aftermath) and a collection of friends and family sitting in the jury box. We were there to support our lawyer, engage in the process and share these magic moments. It wasn't my first chance to watch Beth in action.

For a variety of reasons, in 1986 we moved from Denver to Upstate New York so I could attend law school. It was a raw and exciting time - wife, two young children, the focused optimism of an older student keeping me going. While I attended classes exclusively the first year, the kids spent most of their weekdays in child care.

From time to time, I took my children to school with me. Sometimes the outing was planned (a sort of nascent "Take Your Children to Work" thing) and sometimes ad hoc due to the madness of multiple schedules. On one particular day necessity required them to attend Property class, taught by a wonderful family law professor. I sat Beth and Katy in the back row, arrayed coloring books before them, begged them to be quiet and class began.

Property law isn't for the faint of heart. Arcane, counterintuitive, based on laws predating the United States, study requires concentration and the ability to endure frustration. Consequently, most of us sat perplexed as Professor Ramsey walked us through the ever enthralling travails of blackacre and it's ownership struggles.

Nose to text book, writing furiously (pre-laptop), the lilt to our teacher's voice signalled a question. Tittering on the other side of the classroom - an unusual sound during any first year law class. I followed their eyes daughter Beth, her hand raised.

Fast forward. Beth's mother and I divorced five years after law school began, and separately returned to Colorado. I resumed my police career of crazy hours, danger and as best I could parented my kids when it was my turn. My new wife unconditionally supported these efforts, our now blended family numbering five (three children, including her son Matt). Somehow, in spite of my shortcomings, the kids flourished.

Bringing us to the present. Beth and her husband scrimping, saving. Impossible hours in class, reading, writing. Stress.

Last year Beth called, laughing. A case she'd read for class involved the destruction of a ship's cargo, molasses converted to a non-perishable state. Apparently a member of the crew had been stealing portions of it and a fire broke out. Beth remarked, between chuckles, that she had finally been able to write "Yes, but why is the rum gone?" as a margin note in a law school text.

Now she stands in a real courtroom, a member of the US Attorney's office presiding as moot court judge. I was soon called as a witness - her questions crisp, her tone sure (even as her stomach turned somersaults). Not pretend - all of this for a grade - a grown woman developing the skills to survive in a big girl, highly competitive profession.

I'm not surprised. In that Property class twenty five years ago I told her she could not possibly have the right answer, to please go back to her coloring book. She explained her answer.

She got it right at five. She's still getting it right.


  1. Wow! What a story. Fascinating and the makings of a good book, I think. You've had such a varied life what with studying law and then police work and marriage and kids. Life can be a struggle indeed, but to be able to participate in your daughter's burgeoning career is so exciting.

  2. Thanks, Patti. Long, strange trip. Watching Beth was such a treat - and it's funny you should mention a book. She and I have discussed a father/daughter book about moving away from home. It'll have to wait until after the bar exam.

  3. She sounds like a chip off the old block, Jim. :D

  4. Hahaha!!! Thanks, but she is way smarter than her old man.