Troy Douglas did not fit the mold of the typical southern lawyer. Born and raised in the small town of Starke in northern Florida, only hours away from the Georgia border, you would expect to hear him speak with a southern drawl, but definitely not with a Hispanic accent.
In reality, Troy suffered from a rare illness called Foreign Accent Syndrome brought on by a head trauma he suffered when he was ten years old, while playing tag football.
Troy could still remember the following morning when he woke up in the hospital and noticed the shock on his parents’ faces when he started talking to them. It was later that the doctors explained to them that the cause of his new accent was his head injury, and that his medical condition was rare but real.
Later in high school, when his male classmates realized that the girls went gaga for his accent, they resented him and started spreading rumors that his accent was fake. That was the end of his gigolo teen years. He could not come out and tell people that his accent was caused by a head injury. They would definitely call him retarded. Back then, less offensive terms like “mentally challenged” were not used.
After high school, college and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, Troy was offered a job at the Goode and Sharpe Law Firm, a firm started by two buddies, Richard Goode and Stephen Sharpe, who used to be part-time used car salesmen. How they both managed to end up being accepted the same year at the same third-rate law school was a mystery. However, they brought the innovative skills of their past profession into their law practice and ended up creating one of the largest foreclosure firms in Illinois.
When Troy was hired at a six-figure salary, he was ecstatic. He made more money per year than his mother, father, and even his late aunt Sophie who, at that time, was the richest person in his family.
Granted, at the Goode and Sharpe Law Firm, all lawyers started with six figure salaries. The firm was proud of that. That was the selling point to many prospective hires.
At the Goode and Sharpe Law Firm, a six-figure starting salary meant you got paid one hundred thousand dollars and one cent. The truth was that most of the money the firm made went into the pockets of Richard Goode and Stephen Sharpe. To maximize profits, most of their paralegals and clerks were unpaid interns from different law schools. As second and third year law students anticipating large student loan payments, they worked for free, hoping to be hired by the firm after they graduated.
When Troy was hired, he was assigned to the condominium section. That was the section where they handled foreclosures for condominium associations. If you were a widowed grandmother and failed to pay your condominium fee, even as little as ten dollars, the Goode and Sharpe Law Firm would start foreclosure. By the time you realized what was happening, you already owed them thousands of dollars. It was not hard work but it necessitated long hours to bring that many foreclosure lawsuits. The routine was the same. The unpaid paralegals typed the legal papers and the lawyers signed them. Except for the names of the parties, the papers were the same and were churned out in assembly line fashion.
Troy burned out quickly and left the firm nearly ten months later, the day after a company picnic, when the partners gave them a lecture about revenue maximization and made everyone chip in to cover the cost of the food.
“You have to do whatever it takes, especially if it’s legal,” Richard Goode told them that day. He explained that marketing research showed that a catchy firm name would attract more clients, and then he continued, “That’s why I changed my name to ‘Goode’ to go with ‘Sharpe’ to enhance the name of the firm. I’ll expect you to do the same if we make you a partner.”
That was how Troy landed in Miami.
After he left the firm, he moved to South Florida, opened his legal practice and paid some Hispanic and Haitian radio hosts to appear on their shows and answer their listeners’ questions about the law.
After his first shows, he was inundated with clients. They were mostly immigrants who were taken in by his accent. They never asked him where he was from. The few who knew that he was born in Starke assumed that his parents were from Puerto Rico, Mexico or South America.
To the immigrants who came to his office, he was one of them, the son of immigrants who did well in the United States but who never managed to learn his parents’ native language.
This morning was no different for Troy. He was having a meeting with his client Mario Finolo, a wealthy native of Venezuela.
“Do you know what discovery is?” a concerned Troy asked him. Troy and Mario were seated across from each other around the rectangular mahogany table in the conference room of Troy’s law office in Coral Gables, an upscale area west of Miami. Seated next to Troy was Marsha Gibbons, Troy’s trusted paralegal, who was writing on a yellow pad, taking notes of the conversation. Her hands had turned completely white due to the excessively low temperature in the room generated by the overactive overhead AC vent.
Troy’s question caused Mario’s brown eyes to become narrower, and he shouted, “Discovery? A space shuttle or TV channel? Who cares? I’m not Webster’s Dictionary. What’s that got to do with my divorce case?”
Troy ignored Mario’s frustration. “Discovery is the process that we lawyers go through to find out about the evidence the other side will bring against our clients at trial. Your wife said that she has proof that you were not faithful during the marriage.”
Mario flinched but quickly recovered. “She’s lying. She’s just a gold digger, trying to get my money. My prenuptial agreement was supposed to be fool proof.” He paused and asked, “What proof does she have anyway?”
“Your wife said that while she was out of town, she has witnesses who saw a female friend of yours walking your dog very early in the morning outside her house.”
“That’s all my wife’s got?” Mario asked, frowning, as he avoided eye contact with Troy and rested his eyes longer than necessary on Marsha’s chest. “It must have been my dog sitter.”
“The woman, who was walking the dog is one of your company’s vice presidents, and your car was parked in her driveway the whole night,” Troy replied, causing Mario to briefly give up his admiration of Marsha’s curvature to lock eyes with him.
“You called me to meet with you to tell me that I fooled around?”
“No. Your wife’s attorney filed a motion in court and they are asking the court to revoke the prenup. Besides arguing that your cheating is in violation of the prenup, your wife is saying that the prenup is a document that discriminates against her as a woman.”
Mario’s eyebrows were now slightly raised. “How so?”
“Your prenup limits the amount of money your wife can get from the divorce if she gains more than ten pounds during her marriage.”
“So? If she was not comfortable with it, she should not have signed the agreement.”
Instead of commenting on the remark, Troy surveyed Mario’s clothes and wondered whether it was possible to make him look humble in court. Mario was wearing an expensive white linen suit, with a dark blue shirt. He had a square jaw and kept his hair in a ponytail. His smooth complexion masked his forty-three years of age and he was wearing a gold Rolex watch and an oversized diamond ring. His whole appearance screamed, “I’m handsome and rich.”
After a short contemplative silence, Troy said, “In her sex discrimination claims, your wife said that the fourteen pounds she gained was due to her pregnancy and only women can get pregnant.”
Mario waved his hand dismissively. “She never lost the weight after the pregnancy.”
“She also said that your cheating has caused her stress which caused her to be unable to lose the weight.”
Troy’s last remark caused Mario to emit a sarcastic laugh. “You don’t really think the judge will believe that, do you?”
Not seeing the levity in the case, Troy said, “Your wife is an usher at her church and spends her weekends volunteering at a homeless shelter, while you play golf at a country club with your buddies.”
“I don’t see your point. Being rich is not a sin, is it?”
“You’re right, Mr. Finolo,” Troy replied, “all I’m saying is that being credible in court wins cases. By the way, do you know why your wife is insisting that you keep the chihuahua and that she keep the pit bull?”
Mario’s face turned deep red. When he spoke, his voice rose with displeasure, “No way! First, she blamed me for our daughter’s death, saying that her fatal genetic disorder came from my side of the family. Now, she is just trying to insult me by taking my dog. I am 6 foot 3 and I’m not going to walk a chihuahua. I want a masculine dog.”
“The pit bull is a female,” Troy reminded him.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Mario replied, his annoyance regarding his wife’s request not receding. “A chihuahua is not a big man’s dog.”
“OK, we will fight for the pit bull and see what we can do about the prenup,” Troy finally said in an effort to calm him.
Troy’s promise appeared to have the intended effect. The conversation lasted another five minutes before Mario left the office, leaving Troy to wonder whether it would be ethical to charge his client an additional fee for lying to him about his cheating.
However, had Troy known what would transpire in the next couple of days, handling a client like Mario Finolo would be the least of his problems.