Just as a gospel artiste knows if he or she is still relevant depending on the gigs they get during the December festive season, we are at a time when a criminal lawyer will know if they are on top of their game.
This is due to the ongoing arrests of individuals linked to corruption. The swoops often occur on Fridays and my imagination tells me that criminal lawyers must be keeping their phones fully charged and with at least four standby power banks every Friday night, awaiting a distress call to act for someone who has become a guest of the State.
At times I visualise a lawyer who has woken up on a Saturday morning when the crickets are still awake. I see his dreary eyes looking at his phone in askance, wondering why no one has looked for him. He checks if he accidentally activated aeroplane mode; but swallows a bitter mound on realising the gadget is fully online. He then checks news to see if anyone might have been arrested, and on realising there is a big shot who is now acclimatising at some basement cell, he wonders how he missed out on that “business”.
They are interesting beings, these criminal lawyers. In my career, I have interacted with many of them. I have seen the fiery ones who lead a witness into a hole during a court session and by the time the witness discovers how deep a mire he has dug himself into, the lawyer has poured soil on him and buried all his evidence.
I have seen short-tempered lawyers who blow their fuses and turn the courtroom into a battleground for shouting and finger-pointing as they face off with their opponents. I have seen some who recite submissions to magistrates or judges as if it is a script they have crammed. I have witnessed those who know the laws of the land like the back of their hands, wrestling down hapless prosecutors with fine mastery of the law.
But whenever I attend a court session, I often wonder if a strictly religious person can be a criminal lawyer. This is a job where you are needed to help a person to be set free, whether or not they committed a wrong. You are required to examine every nuance of the prosecution evidence and spot that one weakness that you can magnify and in the end get a lighter sentence for your client — or having the accused released altogether.
Being a criminal lawyer, I believe, needs guts. Not everyone will want to plead on behalf of a person who everyone knows they committed a heinous crime.
And whether it is by design or by the demands of the profession, I have never heard a lawyer saying their client’s goose is cooked in our chats outside court. Every lawyer will always sound confident that their client will survive.
I recently overheard a conversation between two criminal lawyers representing high-profile Kenyans in an ongoing corruption trial. One lawyer said, rather boisterously, how he saw a way through for his client. He, however, said the other man’s client was in trouble for having been mentioned a couple of times in witness statements. The other lawyer did not think so, or he rather chose to make light of the situation.
I would love to know how they really feel when their clients are found guilty by the courts. Do they go home stressed when someone is escorted from the dock to the cell after being jailed or do they just lick their lips and say it was a “pleasure doing business”?
As government agencies continue to smoke out individuals linked to corruption, my curiosity would be satiated to know how much criminal lawyers will have minted at the end of the year. I can bet there are those already counting a fortune, experiencing some sort of an early Christmas.
I wonder whether in the evening as they watch news with their families, they look at the highlights of their court appearances and feel proud for standing for individuals being ridiculed and vilified by virtually every other Kenyan. Do they use the “somebody’s got to do it” argument perhaps? Or do they say kazi ni kazi?
Finally, I hope you have watched the skit by English comedian, Mr Bean, where he plays the role of the devil welcoming people to hell, classifying them into groups.
He calls murderers to one group then looters, pillages and thieves in another. He then adds that lawyers should join the thieves. “You are in that lot, too,” he says. The laughter from the crowd reveals that the public knows there is some sad truth in the joke.
Elvis Ondieki is ‘Nation’ reporter. Caroline Njung’e’s column resumes soon.