THE COMEBACK

From the archives of Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters.

The names and locations of the story have been changed, but the basic plot is true. Reprinted with permission of Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters.

Martin Jefferson Wolfe pushed himself up out of his chair and walked to the door of his cabin, Bernie, his 150-pound Saint Bernard, close at his heels.

Visitors to Martin’s cabin -- he called it a cabin, but it was more like a luxury hideaway -- were rare.  He had built the home on the side of a mountain overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia when he retired.

He and Beth had lived there in peaceful retirement until she passed last year.  Martin had dealt with the loss by taking long walks through the pines with Bernie and throwing himself into his painting.

At 82 Martin still took Bernie for walks of a mile or more through the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains every day that weather permitted.

He opened the door to find his oldest son, Michael, standing on the porch looking out at the magnificent valley below.  He turned, smiled, and walked over to his father and gave him a hug.

“Hi, Pop,” Michael said.  “I never get over this view.”

“Me either,” Martin said.  “Come on in.”

“Cuppa’ coffee?”  Martin asked.

“That would be great,” Michael said, and took a seat on a stool at the kitchen bar.

While the coffee was brewing, Martin scooped a large spoonful of peanut butter out of a jar and let Bernie lick it off.  When the coffee was done, he poured them both a cup and brought them over to a polished oak coffee table in the den.  They sat.

“What brings a prominent D.C. lawyer all the way from the nation’s capital to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western Virginia?”

“A son can’t come and visit his father?”

“A son can, and his father appreciates it, but a son doesn’t drive 130 miles on a Wednesday morning to see his father for a cup of coffee.”

Michael smiled.  Then turned serious.  “Pop, I need your help,” he said.

“You need money?  Is the family okay?”

“No, no.  They're fine.  I’ve got plenty of money.  It’s a case at the office,” he said.

Martin’s face turned dour.  He had retired from Wolfe & Weinstein, the firm that he had built in Washington 20 years earlier, and turned the reins over to his son, who had expanded the practice handsomely.

In retiring, he had told Michael and his partner, Max Weinstein, who had also passed years ago, that retiring meant retiring.  He was going to build his dream home in the Blue Ridge Mountains that he loved and spend time with Beth and paint.  He had spent his entire adult life fighting the good fight but that was over.  Michael could carry the torch.

“I know.  I know,” Michael said, seeing the look on his father’s face, “but this is big and important.  In 20 yearshave I ever asked you to get involved?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but that was because you knew Chief Justice Roberts.  This is different.  No one knows bank fraud like you, Pop.  No one.”

In this, Michael was right.  Martin Wolfe had cut his chops as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.  He had investigated and prosecuted some of the biggest banks on Wall Street.  When he went private and opened his office in D.C., those same banks came to him to defend them against shareholder lawsuits and other litigation that deserved defense.  Over the years, Martin Wolfe had developed such an intimate understanding of the operational activities of major financial institutions -- both the good and the bad -- that he could have run a bank himself.

Martin didn’t dispute his son’s statement.  He took a sip of his coffee, which Michael took as a possible opening, and explained the case to his father.  Martin tried not to show it, but he was intrigued.  The firm’s client, a large regional bank, had apparently been set up by a former employee who was now suing the bank for acts he had done himself.

“All I need you to do, Pop, is conduct the deposition of the plaintiff.  It would give a huge lift to the case.”

Martin took another sip of his coffee, looked over at the painting he had just finished, and asked Bernie what he thought.  The dog barked.

“Okay, Michael,” he said.  “One deposition.  Where and when?”

Michael knew this was going to be the hurdle.

“Next Tuesday,” Michael said.  “5:00 p.m. here, 9:00 a.m.  Wednesday there.”

“What do you mean?” Martin asked.

“The plaintiff is in Auckland, New Zealand.”

“I’m not flying to New Zealand.  I don’t care what it means to the firm.”

“No, no, Pop.  We do it by web conference.”

Martin Jefferson Wolfe was a brilliant lawyer, but he did things the old-fashioned way.  And he did not abide modern technology.  As impossible as it sounded, he had no internet connection in his house and had only gotten a smartphone at Michael’s insistence.  Even then, he only used it to call or be called.  He didn’t access the internet or use it for email.

“What do mean?” Martin said.

“Our court reporter is in Auckland with the deponent and his counsel. They are on a video internet feed from Auckland.  You can see and hear them perfectly, and they can see and hear you perfectly.”

Martin stared at him like Michael had lost his mind.

“It all goes over the internet, Pop.  Clear as a bell.”

“I don’t use the internet,” Martin said.

“Atkinson-Baker, our court reporting firm, sets it all up.  They handle all the technical details.  You conduct the depo from the conference room in our office.”

“What about documents that I want to question him about?  If we overnight them, he’ll be able to see them in advance and formulate responses,” Martin said.

“They are securely transported over the internet electronically,” Michael said.  “But only when you want them read by the plaintiff.”

Martin groused.  “I still don’t like it,” he said.

Michael played his ace.

“Saves the client thousands in travel costs and 40 hours of lawyer travel time coming and going,” Michael said.

For Martin Wolfe, frugality was one of life’s commandments.  He thought about this for a minute and nodded without saying a word.

“After the deposition, we get a DVD of the entire depo.  We can review it again and again, watching the deponent’s reaction to questions -- "

“The entire deposition?” Martin said, his interest showing.

“Exactly,” Michael said.

“I like that,” Martin said.

Atkinson-Baker supplied their reporter and videographer in Auckland and set up the technical arrangements at both ends of the deposition, which went for seven hours, with one meal break.

The technical end ran flawlessly.

When it was over, Martin Jefferson Wolfe turned to his son with his patented look of a legal warrior.  “I don’t know how that works, but get me the DVD asap.”

“You got it, Pop,” Michael said, and left the conference room trying to hide his smile.

Reprinted with permission of Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters.