It's Just a Misdemeanor
In the 1970's I worked defending misdemeanor clients in Hennepin County Municipal Court. The felony lawyers in the office were like gods. Sometimes one of them would say “it's just a misdemeanor.” This would make me grind my teeth, but only briefly. I was busy.
One morning I got a “Simple Assault” case involving a 50-year-old guy from Hinckley, 80 miles north of the Twin Cities. (This was before there were 15 kinds of assault.) He had come down to visit a friend in Minneapolis for the weekend. The two of them decided to go see pro wrestling. My guy had never gone before.
So they went to the old Minneapolis Auditorium. They each had a couple big cups of beer—you knew that was coming, right? Then they watched. My guy noticed one of the wrestlers was a bad person. The black leather mask was a clue, plus he would hit the other wrestler when he was down, make ugly gestures, etc.
Well, at one point the bad wrestler was on his back. My guy ran down a million stairs, jumped up by the side of the ring, and gave him a few good kicks. I met him in the “in-custody” interview room.
What to do? Perhaps my best option was to ask for a 10-day speedy trial. Chances are the bad wrestler wouldn't show up, so we would win. But, then my guy would be doing the 10 days. I went back to my office to think, and eat lunch. The phone rang.
It was a woman in a nursing home in Hinckley. For some reason, she told me about growing up with her parents in a cabin in the woods. Once her mother had put a pie on the windowsill to cool, and it had disappeared. The next day, a handmade basket showed up on the windowsill, full of wild blueberries. She remembered, when she was 8 or 9, her Dad hitched up the horses to go fight the Hinckley Fire. The Hinckley Fire was in 1894, so she was pretty old.
Anyway, the point of her call, my guy who kicked the wrestler was her wheelchair pusher; without him, she was having trouble getting to dinner.
That afternoon I had the case called again. I explained that my client was needed back in Hinckley to push the wheelchair. The judge and prosecutor agreed to continue the case for dismissal in a year, if my client agreed to stay out of Minneapolis. Which he was glad to do.
I suppose these days we would need some better agreement—the Department of Human Services would never license a “personal care attendant” who drinks beer and assaults wrestlers. But to me the lesson from the case was, every misdemeanor has a story, every client has people who need him. Did the wrestler become Governor? Because of the mask, we'll never know.