Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 6:19 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: Saturday Night with Bea

Everybody hates lawyers until they need one

“They made me feel so small.”

Bea does my nails. I found her because she works seven days a week until 8 at night.

She sits at the front table, which in the world of Vietnamese nail salons means the money is in her drawer, and she’s the one who makes sure everyone gets their fair share of business.

Until last Saturday night, though, I didn’t know she owned the place.

I came running in way after 7, my nails black from cleaning my suede shoes without wearing gloves for a trip the next morning to New York . Dumb as a doorknob.

When I walked in, near closing, black nails, Saturday night, Bea looked at me like I was God’s gift. I tip well — but not that well.

She was almost done, and the place was almost empty except for the other workers, who had gathered around me, no doubt because the message had been spread in Vietnamese: Look who’s here, what luck. You’re a lawyer, Bea said. She knows I’m a lawyer. What kind of lawyer? I represent big companies in the biggest fights they have — when the farm is on fire.

Can I ask you just one question, she said, just a small question?

My father was what we call a solo (a sole practitioner) in Lynn, Mass. He never made a dime. On the day he had the heart attack that killed him, 35 years ago, he was walking back from the courthouse where he successfully had helped grandparents keep their beloved grandchild from being taken to foster care. No retainer. No fee.

I don’t do those cases, except when I do. I worked from the time I was 14, worked my way through college, bartended my way through law school. The big cases are paying my kids’ tuitions. The little cases are my way of honoring my father. I can help a person like Bea feel a little bit bigger. I write a letter. Make a call. Give them a voice, mine. Win or lose, it’s about dignity. Right now, I have my hairdresser and my secretary.

And Bea.

A fancy white lady walked in with a little dog hidden in a carrier. No dogs allowed in the manicure shop.

OK, there are three Estrich dogs. If I could, they’d be sitting next to me on this plane. So fine.

Except the woman didn’t keep the dog in the carrier. She let the dog out, and the dog bit a pregnant manicurist. And the woman who was bit screamed, and Bea jumped up, and the customer started huffing out of the salon, claiming she had no ID and had to leave right then, and Bea took hold of the dog’s leash and called the police.

The right thing to do? Of course.

Except when the police came, they treated Bea like the criminal. The customer said Bea had pushed and shoved her. Hit her. The police told Bea that she was subject to arrest, that they could handcuff her and take her to the police station and lock her up. Bea said, “But I have witnesses.” The police officer (yes, the white police officer) walked over to the next station, to a woman who speaks broken English, and started battering her with questions. She got flustered. She couldn’t answer. As she told me later, the officer announced that if your witnesses can’t speak English, they don’t count.

At that point, some of the customers stood up. They offered their names and their testimony. The police officers went back to focusing on the woman whose dog had bitten the pregnant woman.

Eventually, the customer left, the pregnant woman went to the hospital, and Bea sat there shaking for the next six hours until I got there, when she finally broke down.

In every city and town, there are police officers who respect the dignity of every citizen, who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. And then there are the ones who make hardworking Americans feel like powerless criminals, turn them from people striving for the American dream into people who are small and scared.

Shame. Shame.

Everybody hates lawyers until they need one. We don’t just fight for the big guys. We stand between the Beas of the world and the people who, without us, would abuse their power with impunity. We do our best to make the rule of law mean something. We are the priests in the temple of our civic religion. In the rush to find jobs and pay debts, I try to remind my students of this. And myself.

What do I do if the police come after me, Bea asked, still shaking? I gave her my card. Tell them to call your lawyer.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.