Reaching across her desk covered with small stacks of legal pleadings and letters, Angie Tipton reduces the volume of the music playing through her cell phone and presses the speaker button on her office phone.
“Myra, have you seen Andy?”
“Okay, let me know when he shows,” Angie says. “He has an 11:00 o’clock hearing at D.C. Superior and I know he’s coming in first because I have the file here in my office. Tell him it’s not on his desk.”
Angie checks the clock on her monitor, and then sips from her coffee cup. 10:15 a.m. Typical she thinks. I wonder if he forgot. He famously forgets stuff, even when I remind him the day before. Better text him, she concludes.
“Where r u? Hearing at 11 on Jones motion.”
She turns the music back up and fingers her way through the Jones file, assuring everything is in place in each divided file, the way he likes it.
“He just walked in,” Myra reports.
“Good morning Angie, got the Jones file?” Andy asks a few seconds later, peeking around her door frame.
“Here you go. Cutting it a little close aren’t you? Uh, where are your socks?” She says, feeling motherly. But Angie is not a mother. Angie was a model in college during her college years at Georgetown. Never super model stuff, just magazine shoots, but only because of school. After graduating at the top of her class, she took a job on Capitol Hill as a congressional aide, but her Congressman lost his reelection bid. That’s when she applied for the paralegal job and Andy hired her. Just months before 9/11, when terrorism changed the U.S. forever.
Andy hates dressing up and despises ties and suits. That’s one of the things she likes about him. Monkey suits, he calls them.
“Don’t need socks.” He barks back. “I’ll throw on my backup shirt, tie and blazer in my office. It’s under control.”
Right, Angie thinks. He keeps the emergency gear in his small office closet – usually. Pressed shirt, a couple ties, and a stand-by blue blazer.
“You’re not dressing like the Tort Prince. You look more like the court jester.” Angie says as Andy heads toward his office.
At just 35, Andy was crowned the “Prince of Torts” by Capitol Law magazine for his masterful representation in the groundbreaking suit of the families of three Pentagon workers killed in the 9/11 jet crash. Having sued two airport security firms and Hemispheres Airways in D.C Superior Court, he and the families refused to settle, despite being given the option to tap into the victims’ funding set up by Congress. Only crafty pleadings allowed the case to stay in D.C. Superior Court rather than being shifted to federal court like the others.
After five years the case went to trial. Andy tried the victims’ case for a week – just long enough to expose the appalling lack of security by everyone involved – then the families agreed to settle. Getting their day in court is what the families had demanded from day one. Millions were eventually paid to each family, and millions were earned by Andy and his Georgetown personal injury law firm. It was the next to last of all the 9/11 victim cases to settle, according to the cover story in Capitol Law.
He became the youngest of three partners after the case settled. The framed magazine cover hangs over the brown leather couch in the small but cozy reception area of their law firm, Wilson, Hopper & Michaels. The headline reads: “Prince of Torts: How Andy Michaels Made Them Blink.”
The reason he got the case in the first place was Angie. It just so happened that Angie was the cousin of one of the Pentagon victims. Angie told her cousin’s wife, Georgia Jones, that Andy was perfect to handle the case: he worked on Capitol Hill as an aide for a couple years, graduated at the top of his Georgetown law school class, had been a law clerk for a D.C. Superior Judge, and was young and hungry. She pointed out that Wilson, the firm’s managing partner, was a former U.S. prosecuting attorney who had handled many high profile cases, including major white-collar crimes and those involving Hollywood stars. Andy himself was a rising star. As his paralegal, Angie respected his ethics, ability and energy. Two other families signed with Andy after Georgia retained him and the stage was set.
Andy quickly surveys the paper stacks on his desk that only he could decipher, powers up his pc, and hits the voicemail button on his phone. He listens to two messages and forwards them to Myra with a brusque message about how to handle each. He grabs some other files on his desk and shoves them in his leather satchel as he walks quickly toward the door.
“Andy, Mrs. Erwin is on line two about her Medicare lien,” Myra announces on the speakerphone.
“Can’t take it, walking out for a hearing at D.C. Superior Court,” he says. “See if Angie can help her.”
Andy bolts out of his office, bounds down the stairway and out the door of the two-level row house, and hails a cab, mentally organizing the points he will cover at the hearing.
In the cab, his phone vibrates. He glances down and reads the text from Angie: “Just got tweet. Hemispheres commuter jet crashed. PA somewhere. DC-NY flight.”
He ponders a moment. Hmm, Angie must think this may mean a case. He texts back: “Where in PA?”
“Will talk after court.”
The cab stops in front of the sprawling courthouse.
“Keep the change,” Andy says, slapping a ten in the cabbie’s palm and sliding out of the cab. He dashes into the courthouse and up the escalator to the third floor.
Pulling his D.C. Bar Association card out of his wallet, he flashes it at the bailiff and bypasses the long line at the screening area. Moments like this make him happy to be a lawyer, but there are other moments he isn’t so proud.
Andy had clerked in this courthouse for a year for Judge Hoffman, a great job. He had soaked up the lawyers’ techniques in court and drafted Judge Hoffman’s legal opinions. Hoffman now had senior status, sort of semi-retired. Andy learned a boatload from him – how to be prepared, never to dodge a judge’s question even if the answer hurt, and answer honestly but in a way that helps your own case.
He stops reminiscing and pushes the heavy doors to the courtroom open, feeling a rush of air and having no clue that this motion hearing would be the least important part of his day.
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