SECOND PRE-TRIAL INTERVIEW
I felt battle fatigue after the locksmiths had left, and I still had to go to my attorney's office. I hated the whole idea of rehearsing the lies, or as a journalist puts it "being coached to commit perjury before a jury", but told myself I had to go through that anyway, that it was the last time.
Leonard Slavit told me "Now pretend it's not me asking you the questions but another attorney". He didn't say "the defense attorney". There followed a mockery of cross examination where he asked me questions in a benevolent tone, as if he were a daddy or something. He never turned a question the cross-examination way, beginning with "Isn't it a fact that you..." in an accusatory tone, but I played the game. He asked about my stay in the hospital and I said that I had had two operations. "What was the second operation for?" "It was to reposition some pins." He looked at me in a way that made me feel uneasy.
At the end of the interview he observed that I had answered his questions better than the first time, and congratulated me on doing my home work. I asked him how long the trial would last, and how a trial developed. He showed some impatience, saying that I was not to worry about anything except what I had to say. But I insisted that I needed to know how much time I would have to schedule, and he said it could take one week.
Back home I faced the problem of my missing pens. Now I had evidence that someone had copies of my two new $100 keys. I had a chance. The locksmiths had left Thursday around 3PM, so my check couldn't have been cashed already.
At 9AM on Friday the 13th of August, I called my bank and ordered to stop payment on my check. The check for the new locks had been paid already, and I could only stop the check for the grills.
TRYING TO GET LEGAL ADVICE
I called David Margolick, the columnist of the New York Times whose column, "At the Bar" appears every Friday, and asked him if he could refer me to a personal injury attorney. He gave me the name and number of Susan Benson whom I called. After listening to me for a while she said that she had to check with her boss to know if the firm would be interested in taking my case.
On Saturday the 14th, she called and asked if I had had a 50-H hearing. I didn't know what it was and she explained it to me. I said yes, I had had a 50-H hearing. Then she explained that I had committed perjury and she talked to me like I was a despicable lout. I said I had said what my lawyers had told me to say but it wasn't under oath. "But a 50-H is under oath." "I am positive that I wasn't sworn in. If I had been put under oath I would remember it, and I wouldn't have lied." "You must have been sworn in." I was horrified. I had committed perjury and didn't know it until now. But I had not made the false statements under oath, I was absolutely sure of it. How was this possible? Now I felt dirtied by her accusations of perjury and talked up to her from the gutter of my crime. I asked what would happen if I recanted and she said it would be bad for my credibility. He voice was dripping with contempt. She said that her firm was unwilling to take on my case because it looked too messy. "So what do you think I should do? Drop the case?" She said that she had given me a lot of free advice already and that she left it up to me to make a decision.
THE LANDLORD AND THE LOCKSMITH
During the following days, other proofs that someone had entered my apartment in my absence appeared. I found a book I was currently reading and which I left on the floor, standing on the small side in the middle of the room.
I went to see the landlord and accused him of having copies of my keys. He called Steve on the phone and feigned antagonism with him by pretending to be cross that Steve had not asked his permission before drilling holes in his wall. "But I told you I was going to have them, and I showed you what I wanted!" I exclaimed. He couldn't keep the argument. He said to Steve that the young lady was not happy with his work, there seemed to be a problem. He asked me what kind of keys they were, pretending not to know, and I showed them to him instead of telling him that he knew perfectly what they looked like.
On Tuesday August the 17th, Steve called to ask why I had put a stop payment on the check. I didn't dare to accuse him straight out of having given duplicates of my keys to my landlord, but he started talking about the grills. I said it was not what I had ordered. He said I had checked them at his shop. I said I had showed Willy what I wanted and finally Steve convinced me to pay him the amount of the check plus $15 bank fee for the stop payment. After all the grills were okay, I had spent another $15 to have them examined by another locksmith who said they were. I said I would send him another check. He protested but I said "I'm not going to put a second stop payment" and he accepted.
That night I was sitting on my bed, ready to go to sleep, with all the recent events spinning in my head and making me dizzy. A voice in my head had been trying to make itself heard for a long time but I had not wanted to listen. In the beginning it had sounded very distant and I had easily ignored it. I had been afraid to listen to it because I knew it had bad news for me, but this time the voice was pressing, insisting with desperation to be heard above the din. Maybe that voice wanted me to warn me about something, maybe I should listen to the bad news before it was too late, so instead of getting into bed I remained seated, motionless, and I listened to the voice in my head:
"Now, this is serious, a trial is not an experience that happens frequently in a lifetime. It is very, very serious business. You're going to be on the witness stand, there will be a judge, twelve jurors who will scrutinize you, lawyers, doctors, and you will have to answer questions. Until now you've been avoiding picturing the scene in your mind's eye, the scene as your lawyers want you to describe it because it is not part of your experience, because it feels alien to you, because you feel no emotion about it, like it's a foreign object, you've been parroting the lies your lawyers told you to say without visualizing how it looks like, but the time has come to do it. You must visualize it before you get on the witness stand.
Now take a good look and don't avert your eyes. Now look, the front side of the bus hits you on your left shoulder, then what?"
And to my absolute horror, I realized that only two things could have happened:
Either I would have fallen on my right side (but then how could I explain that it was my left knee that was injured?) or, if I had fallen on my left side, I would have been run over by the rear wheel of the bus, and if I had been, I would have lost my life, or at least my legs. But either way, if I told what my lawyers had told me to say, it was impossible to reconcile my injury with my lawyers'version of the accident.
And then, another horror: the witness stand! I was going to lie on the witness stand! I was going to lie under oath, to commit perjury!
On Wednesday the 18th, Jose handed me a subpoena duces tecum together with the mail. I was furious that he hadn't given it to me as soon as it was served. The subpoena required me to show my income tax returns for the years subsequent to the accident, as well as my original passport. I knew the TA attorney had no business asking for these documents. I felt it was part of the scheme.
TRYING AGAIN TO GET LEGAL ADVICE
I had an appointment with attorney Michael Brookman, whose referral I had obtained from the ABA. His offices were luxurious and modern. A man in his thirties came to take me to a conference room. First he asked me to write a check for $20 to the ABA and he asked me to talk to him about my problem. Then he showed me to Mr. Brookman's office.
Mr Brookman was sitting in a sumptuous corner office on Madison Ave. He reminded me of a pig: fat, with small beady eyes and a very low forehead. I explained to him that I suspected that my family was acting behind the scene to make me lose the lawsuit and force me to sell the estate's property. He said that if it was a problem with my family who lived in France, then New York didn't have jurisdiction. He treated me so coldly that I didn't feel like giving him more explanations. The accident had happened in NYC, no? I left without getting my money's worth.
letter from Maitre Laurent, the estate's notary:
August 10, 93:
Please find enclose copy of a letter I'm sending to your sister Veronique and your brothers Fran‡ois and Norbert:
Dear Miss Picart:
Regarding your sister Brigitte's expressed desire to sell her share of the house in Brittanny, and considering that your sisters Sophie and Agnes want to do the same, your sister Elisabeth would agree to receive this house as part of her settlement of the estate. etc.
It's so obvious that they do this just to prevent me from getting my share in cash of this house. They have remodeled this house a few years ago to make it more accomodating for large family gatherings, this house which has been the family's vacation home for more than twenty years, they have worked on the garden and everything, and all of a sudden they act as if nobody likes this house, except my sister Elisabeth who lives in Germany and wants it for herself and her husband. Ridiculous!
DISMISSAL OF THE SLAVITS
On Friday the 20th, I faxed my attorneys that I dismissed them and sent a copy to the TA attorney. When I returned 45 minutes later, I found a bottle of nail polish lying near the garbage pail. I had swept the floor in the morning and hadn't used nail polish for two years. I called my bank and put a stop payment on the second grill-check I had sent to Steve the day before.
On Saturday the 21st in the morning, when only Glen and Jose were working, a music chart ("Ill Wind" of all songs) I hadn't touched for a while was lying on top of the newspaper I had been reading just before leaving for food shopping. None of this could be blamed on the cat. When I found out, I went to the office and complained forcefully that either one had entered my room while I was out. I knew Glen felt guilty from the look he gave me when I had returned. Later when I passed Jose I told him I was going to press charges against him and Glen. I went to the police to report that someone was entering my room in my absence. The woman who was on duty behind her typewriter started asking me questions that showed she was doubting my sincerity. "How do you know someone had duplicates of your keys?" "Because it's the only possible explanation." I almost started yelling and explained I was overstressed with this situation. A female officer wrote down my complaint without saying what she wrote. I talked about the things being moved around my apartment. They are so obtusely materialistic, fixated on the robbery of valuables as the only possible motive for a break in, that they cannot fathom how someone can be terrorized by finding herself stripped of privacy, or having to question her sanity, and that this can be the exact object of the break in. Since I did not complain that any valuables had disappeared, they didn't see the point of my complaining. The officer wrote me an incident information slip, complaint Nr. 10061. I asked what they were going to do and she said "nothing". My complaint would be filed away. When I went two weeks earlier to report the disappearance of the driver's testimonies, the police refused to write a complaint, saying that I had lost or misplaced the papers. In vain I explained that these documents were important papers related to a one million dollar lawsuit. I felt I was hitting a brick wall and that they thought I was off my rocker.
On Monday August 23, I went again to speak with the landlord about the fact that someone was entering my place when I was out and accused him of doing it. He smiled trying to look innocent and raised his hands, asking me to call the police, to have him finger- printed. He said he was in this building as little as possible and that he was staying away from it as much as possible.
BEFORE THE JUDGE
Later, Leonard Slavit called. I asked if he had received my fax. He said he did. He was calling to remind me that the trial was tomorrow. I said I knew and I was going. He said he was going too. I said I would talk to the Judge myself.
I wore a dark grey linen jacket, white wide pants, a pale pink tee shirt and my brown and white shoes. I perfumed myself with the happy endearing Paris by Yves St Laurent. Luckily, my name was called early. I closed my magazine and realized it was my turn to get up and approach the Judge. L. Slavit and the TA attorney were close behind me. "So, you're Brigitte Picart" the Judge said, and he seemed agreeably surprised. "Yes, it's me." I let it sink in a little. He had seen my name in this cloudy case and he must have been wondering what kind of bird I was. "Your Honor, I am no longer represented by Mr. Slavit" I was trying to avoid saying "I fired my attorney". "What did you say? Speak up!" "Can I have a word in private with you?" I asked. "OK. Please step back" he said to the attorneys, who instantly made two steps backwards. "Your Honor, I no longer have an attorney to represent me." "Why?" "Because I dismissed Mr. Slavit." "Why did you dismiss him?" "Because he told me to lie. He told me to lie about how the accident happened." "How did it happen?" "I was not hit, I was sideswiped. I was not wearing a helmet like he told me to say." He started to write on a card and ordered his secretary to take the case off the calendar. "Come back when you've found yourself another attorney." "Your Honor, you know how difficult it is to find another attorney." "Well, that's your problem." "Thank you, your Honor". I turned around. Slavit had a long face. I marched out of the courtroom with my head high and a feeling of rage, satisfaction and relief. In the street I was elated. The feeling was wonderful. I had done the right thing, and it felt so good!
Back home, I called another locksmith to change my locks. He changed only the cylinder. I don't remember having given him the brand name of the lock but he showed up with the right thing. He didn't accept payment by check, but I had the cash ($120). I spoke to him about my misadventures and if he's not honest, I spoke way too much about them. I told him that my landlord would not break the door open because then it would require police intervention.
What I understand furthermore, is that he wants to keep the explanation of an entry through the window possible, the better to avoid the suspicion of having copies of my keys.
Steve called about the second check I had stopped and he was fuming, telling me I had promised not to stop the check. I told him people had entered my place since I had the new locks and that he must have given copies of them to the landlord. He protested that he wasn't friend at all with the landlord, that he had taken heat for drilling the wall without his permission. I said that the landlord knew it 24hrs in advance and had said nothing, and that all the other ground floor windows have grills of this type. He said that if I didn't come to pay him in cash, he would lock me out of my apartment and it would cost me $500 to get in.
I called the police and was referred to Officer Lawson. He said that if Steve did this he would have him arrested.
Next morning, there was a young cop at the entrance of Central Park at 103rd Street. After having bought my newspaper, I crossed CPW and went to talk to him. I asked him why he was there where there was nobody, and not at the corner with Manhattan Avenue. "I'm always there, you see me all the time, but today I'm here." I told him I was speaking about my problems to officer Lawson and told him about the legal papers stolen. I asked if he knew my landlord, and he said he knew him just by name. He asked me a lot of questions. He asked me about Carlos. I said he was holding meetings with his associates right in front of my window. I mentioned how young the men were, still teen agers it seemed. Since I mentioned this, Carlos holds his meetings somewhere else. He asked me about Cuba. I told him Cuba had been spying on me for the landlord and that I thought he had moved to the building on Amsterdam at 95th because I hadn't seen him for quite a while. (Since I told him he was not my friend). He asked me if I was French and I said yes. Shortly after I had left him, I realized that he was in fact paid by the landlord to gather intelligence from me.
A STRANGE SCENE
Around five, as I was going out to get some beer at the bodega, I witnessed a strange scene. It looked like a bogus arrest by undercover cops. I had witnessed the real thing previously and this was different. The arrested was a drug courrier who lives on the corner of Manhattan and 103rd. He was held with his face against the wall between the two doors at the entrance of the building and the guy was yelling "I have no money. I tell you I have no money." while a woman was telling him to shut the fuck up. One of the guys was tall, slim and looked really mean. He looked at me with an inquisitive eye, as if to check that I was fooled. He asked if anybody had entered the building just this minute and I said yes, but he didn't go after the guy in the stairs. When I returned from the bodega they were still there. I don't know anything about guns, except that the guy pulled a gun from the front of his jeans and it was not a cop's gun. I felt the sight of the instrument of death was obscene. But I was absorbed in writing a complaint about the Slavits to the Lawyer's Grievance Committee and I was able to mail it the next day, with copy to the DA's office.
The landlord called me about the stopped check. He said he had given me a $200 share of the cost in real money deduced from the rent, and that I paid the grills with funny money. He said Steve would have the grills taken down if I didn't pay. I said the grills were fine but I had a problem with the locks. I said he knew I was not a rip-off artist but I wanted my money's worth. After all what I had bought was privacy, and I didn't have it. As expected Steve called later. He said I was playing games and he didn't like it. "Why should I be playing games?" I answered, "All I'm interested in is to have privacy. I trusted you with my privacy and you betrayed me. You've given copies of my keys to the landlord." "Why do you think your landlord would want to enter your apartment and eat the food in your refrigerator?"