A Time to Kill
To settle the case, and admitting no wrongdoing whatsoever, the firm generously offered to pay
$50,000 per child, plus the full sum of Lontae's earnings, for a total of $770,000.
"That's not even close," Mordecai said. "I can get that much out of a jury for one dead kid."
They sank in their seats.
He went on to discredit almost everything in Rafter's pretty little report. He didn't care what
juries were doing in Dallas or Seattle, and failed to see the relevance. He had no interest in
judicial proceedings in Omaha. He knew what he could do with a jury in the District, and that
was all that mattered. If they thought they could buy their way out cheaply, then it was time
for him to leave.
Arthur reasserted himself as Rafter looked for a hole. "It's negotiable," he said. "It's
The survey made no allowance for punitive damages, and Mordecai brought this to their attention. "You got a wealthy lawyer from a wealthy firm deliberately allowing a wrongful eviction to occur, and as a direct result my clients got tossed into the streets where they died trying to stay warm. Frankly, gentlemen, it's a beautiful punitive damages case, especially here in the District."
"Here in the District" meant only one thing: a black jury.
"We can negotiate," Arthur said again. "What figure do you have in mind?"
We had debated what number to first place on the table. We had sued for ten million dollars,
but we had pulled the number out of the air. It could've been forty or fifty or a hundred.
"A million for each of them," Mordecai said. The words fell heavily on the mahogany table.
Those on the other side heard them clearly, but it took a second for things to register.
"Five million?" Rafter asked, just barely loud enough to be heard.
"Five million," boomed Mordecai. "One for each of the victims."
The legal pads suddenly caught their attention, and all four wrote a few sentences.
After a while, Arthur reentered the fray by explaining that our theory of liability was not
absolute. An intervening act of nature-the snowstorm-was partly responsible for the deaths. A
long discussion about weather followed. Mordecai settled the issue by saying, "The jurors will
know that is snows in February, that it's cold in February, that we have snowstorms in
Throughout the meeting, any reference by him to the jury, or the jurors, was always followed by
a few seconds of silence on the other side.
"They are horrified of a trial," he told me.
1998 John Grisham