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Passing the Bars, continued

This is Morey's second trip to Walpole. Her interview on the first trip went fine, although she says she was surprised the client was not behind Plexiglas, but sitting in a chair next to her and Denton. She was also surprised then to learn that she would be doing the talking at today's hearing. The Department of Correction allows only one student to speak at the proceeding, so although Denton is accompanying her (new students always pair up with a more experienced PLAPper for at least their first hearing), this will be Morey's case. As she navigates brisk traffic on 95 South, Morey goes over her strategy with Denton. "Anticipate the answers to your questions before you ask them," Denton tells her. "Don't leave [the reporting officer] any wiggle room. . . . If you don't get what you want, ask again, but don't get greedy."

An officer reported finding a 30-inch wire in Parker's cell during a search. (Always say "allegedly found," Denton says.) The inmate had previously brought a civil suit against some of the guards, and he contends that the wire had been planted as part of retaliatory harassment. ("Never refer to him as the inmate," Denton counsels. She tells her to call him by name or say, "my client.")

They review the applicable sections in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations. Morey will argue that her client didn't place the wire in his cell, that the charges should be consolidated, that the burden of proof has not been met, and that the offenses should be reclassified from major to minor. Morey intends to argue that another prisoner might have hidden the wire.

As Morey takes the road to the prison, passing houses where American flags flap over pumpkins, Denton tells her not to bring up the civil suit until the end. "And don't forget to ask him directly, 'Did you put the wire in the cell? Were you planning to use it as an escape tool?'"

Morey says she's not used to this kind of questioning. Before law school she worked for two years for the Union of Concerned Scientists doing research and advocacy, and she has confidence in her public speaking abilities, but not in this aggressive, tactical way.

Denton checks in with the prison on her cell phone and reports back to Morey that they are looking forward to seeing her. Morey laughs: "They say that now."

The chalky white façade of the prison is almost cheerful in the sunlight, except for a curl of razor wire. Morey and Denton pass three men in blue jeans and sweatshirts, prisoners on work detail who wait for the next task. The women take off their jewelry and check it with their briefcases and coats in the lockers that line the front wall. The correction officers are friendly, although at first they don't want to let the students bring in the tape recorders they need to create an official record of the proceedings. Finally they relent, and Morey and Denton disappear behind the automatic metal door. The Bulletin was previously denied access to the hearing. The waiting room is quiet, except for the murmur of children waiting with their mothers and the light jangling of keys that marks the correction officers' every step.

* * *

An hour later the students emerge. Morey looks discouraged. She was allowed only a few minutes to meet with Parker before the hearing. Although initially he wanted her to focus on his civil case, he ended up approving of her strategy. Morey says he seemed perfectly calm and asked her whether she was nervous.

A few weeks earlier, as part of the training for new students, PLAP staged a mock disciplinary hearing. Fitzpatrick played the hearing officer. The students laughed at the rapidity with which his objections piled one on top of another, at the exaggerated way he led the witness. It wasn't going to be that bad, a PLAP student later reassured; for educational purposes they were presenting the worst-case scenario. But based on Morey's account, it no longer seems like such an exaggeration. The hearing officer objected to most of her questions as irrelevant. She was not allowed to call witnesses she thought essential to their case. When the hearing officer was questioning the reporting officer, Parker himself spoke up and asked why he was sending the reporting officer signals telling him how to answer.

On the way back to HLS, the mood is somber. Fitzpatrick will review the hearing with Morey, but the students go over it themselves, wondering how it could have gone better for their client; it seems to be a given that the officer will rule against him. When asked if they believe he's innocent, Morey thinks for a moment. "It's a tough case," she says. "If [he] were guilty, that wire could do some damage." The two women debate the possibilities. But then they recall the way the hearing officer manipulated the proceeding and move on to a discussion of the appeal.

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