The Daily Mirror

Los Angeles history

« Previous Post | The Daily Mirror Home | Next Post »

Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

June 8, 2007 |  3:03 pm

Paul_coates June 8, 1957

Maxwell Spencer knows more drunks, habitual and occasional, than most men know sober people.

But he is a man of strong constitution. So far, he hasn't permitted his associations to drag him down the neck of a bottle.

And he has, through it all, maintained a level sense of humor. And justice.

By trade, Spencer is a public defender.

Not long ago, he spent a year in pursuit of his work at Lincoln Heights, where he was entrusted with the fate of as many as 450 drunks a day.

At present, he's working in Division 32, Van Nuys, where, he reports proudly, his wobble-kneed clientele has slimmed down to some 30 to 50 a week.

"It's an outstanding community," he admits, almost pompously.

It is general knowledge around the courts there that Spencer handles his now-limited clientele with dedication.

Even though most of his cases plead guilty, he works hard to earn a sympathetic ear from the judge.

1957_ad_something And frequently he does.

As example, I cite his brilliant recent plea for a man whom he had the honor of defending more times than he can recollect.

Police records showed the man with some 88 drunk arrests and revealed that he had completed a 90-day sentence only hours before he was back in court with Spencer at his side again.

"In view of this man's past record," Spencer spoke out ably, "I think he deserves a suspended sentence."

And the stunned judge, I'm told, concurred.

Then, a short time later, there came another frequent repeater.

Except, he didn't exactly come.

He was too far under the weather to make it from the jail to the courtroom.

So, after conferring with his client in jail, Spencer stood alone against the court.

"My client wishes to enter a plea of guilty," he spoke in a brave voice, "but he is too ill to make an appearance.

"My client," Spencer's voice was now shaky with emotion, "is a victim of toxic poisoning."

The understanding judge didn't quite understand.

"Toxic poisoning?" he questioned.

"Spencer nodded. "A preliminary medical investigation shows that he has an overabundance of alcohol in his blood."

More sympathetic than ever, the judge gave the ailing man 10 days to recover.

But last week there came a case, and oratory by Spencer, which could easily stand for years as the high point of his legal career.

The accused was a small, thin man of 50 hard winters. Hanging from his shoulders was a piece of cloth which might once have been recognizable as a shirt. His trousers bagged and the thin legs covered by them knocked against each other uncertainly.

His hair was wispy and uncombed and a three-day stubble grew at random around his face.

"It was quite possible," Spencer related later, "that a strict judge might have observed that my client wasn't wearing a necktie.

"And permitted it to influence the harshness of his decision."

But the judge was Martin Katz, a magistrate noted for tempering justice with mercy.

And immediately he took a personal interest in the man's plight.

"What," he asked, "is your occupation, sir?"

The man grabbed unsteadily for the railing. His stoplight eyes blinked open and shut.

Bewildered, he looked around the court and asked:

"Did that man up there say something to me?"

The judge started to speak again, but Public Defender Spencer broke in:

"I'm sorry, your honor, but my client is hard of hearing."

Then, pushing his mouth against the client's ear, he shouted:

"What is your occupation?"

Beaming, the client shouted back:

"I pass bills sometimes."

Without hesitation, Spencer turned again to Judge Katz.

"My client," he said solemnly, "is a legislator."