The rumors had been percolating for weeks. A new trial supervisor was joining our public defender office and he was “a legend.” The regular line supervisors seemed cautiously thrilled, our Executive Director made vague promises as to how great it would be when he arrived – but until he actually showed up, nobody uttered his name. So the legend was born even before we had met. A lone-wolf trial god who would be the ultimate resource for everyone in the office who was serious about trying a case was joining our firm. “He knows everything about trials” they said. “He has never answered ‘not ready’ for trial” we were told. “He could never actually empanel a jury because during voir dire, no potential jurors could bring themselves to say that they wouldn’t be impartial in his presence.” That’s how good he was.
He arrived in the night on a weekend. He brought with him more than two dozen banker’s boxes full of case law and legal memoranda dating back four decades. Some of the copies of old cases were yellowed with age. Some had been reproduced using antiquated technology like ditto machines. Ditto machines. The Wolf had file folders full of documents reproduced on two-ply “spirit masters” or “ditto masters.” Seriously. These machines hadn’t been used since before I was born. I would grow to learn that to use this sort of machine the top sheet could be typed upon while there was a second sheet, coated with a layer of colored wax and the pressure of the typing transferred colored wax to the back side of the top sheet, producing a mirror image of the document. The wax-supply sheet was then removed and discarded, and the other sheet (containing the image) was fastened onto the drum of the (manual or electrical) machine, with the waxed (back, or reverse-image) side out. Only then could you make a “copy.” That’s how The Wolf explained it. But the point is, these documents that he travelled with were old. But the law was well settled. The law was still good. And The Wolf knew it all.
With the exception of the story about The Wolf as a young lawyer going into court and the judge asking him if “that was an erection in his pants or if he was just ready for trial,” all of the rumors and whispers that we had heard about Him turned out to be true. He was a true legend. He was a trial god. Born, raised and educated in the schoolyards of 1950s Queens he volunteered for the Marines, honorably served three tours in Vietnam where he saw a great deal of action, killed many people, was injured twice (one shrapnel and one bullet), highly decorated, and ultimately and honorably discharged to study criminal law. He was a public defender in Queens for decades, ultimately running that borough’s office before moving himself and his boxes to Brooklyn. And in those decades of criminal practice he had truly seen it all. He tried and won “a million” cases, and supervised even more.
Even though he decided to relocate his career, legal teaching and supervision to Brooklyn, as a life-long resident of Queens he was not about to move himself and his wife into Kings County just to improve his commute. So every morning he gets up before first light and gets on the first bus well before 6AM so he can be in the office by 7 to send the daily email of the newest applicable law to the entire office. Some mornings we would receive Appellate Division decisions from the day before, others would have applicable United States Supreme Court decisions, while some mornings, if there were no cases from the day before, he would send an email scan of one of those old Ditto Machine cases reminding us all of some well settled law. He expected everyone not only to read the cases each morning, but also to understand them and remember the holdings forever. Because he did. Because he does.
When he first arrived at our office some of the lawyers found his tone a little hard. He refused and continues to refuse to accept incompetence, laziness, ignorance or lack of passion. He cannot fathom the notion that someone failed to either read or understand one of his emails. And if he senses that a lawyer who comes to him for counsel doesn’t understand an issue or missed a point of law or hadn’t thought some detail of the case through – he will scream at them. He wants to win. The whole point of trying a case is to “walk the client out of the building” and if you think you’re a trial attorney and that isn’t your number one goal – then he is dismissive and unforgiving.
His rules are simple: know the case, know the law, win the trial.
And for these reasons The Wolf is the perfect commander during trial. I have had the pleasure of trying four very difficult cases while he sat in the front row, offering advice, legal strategy and relevant case law. We have won all of these trials in no small part because of the advice and expertise that he provides. His tone is firm and uncompromising. Whether he is speaking to seasoned lawyers, young lawyers fresh out of law school, judges, Assistant District Attorneys or clients he says what he believes and is unwavering. In the last case I tried with The Wolf we were speaking to the client and trying to determine if he needed to testify. The client was wavering as to whether he should or should not. The Wolf told the client in no uncertain terms that “you’ve got two major problems: your mouth and that brain below your belt. If you don’t listen to me I’m gonna fix them both. I’ll cut off your dick and cram it down your throat.” Although it could be argued that his bedside manner could use some softening, he is right. We should all be so fortunate to have mentors as categorically obdurate as The Wolf. When evaluating any case, I will always first ask what He would think.
The Wolf has touched and shaped hundreds of lawyers’ trial practice over the decades and undoubtedly save clients thousands of years of potential incarceration. He has been featured in highly successful criminal defense memoirs and is a true lion of New York City’s criminal defense bar. But every day he gets up before first light, with the brown paper bag lunch that his wife packs for him to ride two buses and a subway from Queens into Brooklyn to scan and email cases to his collection of lawyers. And then he goes about his business of walking clients out of the building.
Although I have chosen to omit his real name from this post, if you have had the pleasure of working for The Wolf or have ever been represented by him or one of his lawyers or opposed him or one of his lawyers – you know who I am writing about. The Wolf is one of a kind. The Wolf has taught us how to evaluate a case, tell a story and ultimately walk the client out of the building. And when you are a criminal defense attorney that’s really all that matters.
Next Time on Brooklyn Criminal, Stop Frisk.