factory engulfed in
flames. He cruised past the assembled fire engines and drove
straight home, where he scoffed half-dozen Valium, climbed into bed
and pulled the blankets over his head.
However, the world would not
leave him alone. The company soon discovered it had no building
insurance and, within a month, Felix was charged with eleven counts
of embezzlement, to which he pleaded guilty.
Robyn made her plea in
mitigation to Judge Tony Tuck while her client sat in the dock with
waxy skin, cherry-red eyes and several days of stubble. His shirt
collar gaped away from his scrawny neck. His distressed wife sat in
the back of the court.
Robyn spent half-an-hour
pleading for the judge to be lenient because Felix was an honest
and loving family man battling the demon of addiction.
"Hard Luck" Tuck listened
impassively, then turned to Felix and accused him of abusing his
position of trust and causing enormous loss to his employer.
Indeed, the loss of its main factory without insurance cover almost
put it out of business.
The judge sentenced him to six
years in prison, with four years non-parole. Fortunately, he
recommended that the sentence be served in a minimum-security
Felix was led away and Robyn and
her instructing solicitor, Bob Gilbert, consoled Felix’s wife, who
asked if there were grounds for appeal. Robyn shook her head and
said the sentence was "within the range". Eventually, she
extricated herself and trudged back along Elizabeth Street to her
Her bad mood got even worse when
she saw Helen Muldoon sitting in the reception area, wearing a
battered straw hat and enormous floral frock. The old woman had a
square face, furry upper lip and snaggly teeth. But her most
arresting features were eyes which glowed like volcano vents.
Almost two years ago she was
charged under the Dog Act because her pet schnauzer allegedly
attacked a postman. The heaviest punishment she faced was a fine;
the dog faced being put to sleep.
Mrs Muldoon claimed her dog was
in her back yard when the postal worker lost a big chunk of his
arm. The real perpetrator was another schnauzer that lived
She couldn’t afford to pay for
legal representation. Nor was she entitled to Legal Aid. However, a
local solicitor generously agreed to act pro bono. He then asked
Robyn to take the case on the same basis.
Back then, Robyn was a
newly-minted barrister with high ideals and an empty diary. She was
desperate to gain experience, even if it meant representing a crazy
woman and her vicious dog. So she said yes.
However, she soon regretted that
decision. Mrs Muldoon had a persecution complex, chronic narcissism
and possibly schizophrenia. Conspiracies lurked everywhere. The
dark forces arrayed against her included the police, her neighbours
and the RSPCA. She had no doubt that, when the public finally
understood the horrific persecution that she and her dog had
endured, the legal system would crash to the ground. Robyn herself
had to continually demonstrate her undying loyalty to both of
Further, despite paying nothing,
Mrs Muldoon was unbelievably demanding. She telephoned Robyn almost
weekly to rehash her numerous allegations and proclaim every small
development a major crisis.
She also frequently turned up
without an appointment. So Robyn wasn’t surprised to see her in the
reception area clutching the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag that
held the key documents in her case.
Robyn managed a stiff smile.
"Hello Mrs Muldoon. I didn’t realize we’d arranged a
"We didn’t, but I was in the
city, so I thought I’d drop in for a chat."
"I’m very busy right now."
"Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be
long. I’ve brought you some fudge."
Robyn would have preferred some
money rather than risk losing a tooth on rock-hard fudge. "Oh,
alright. I can only give you ten minutes, understand?"
Mrs Muldoon smiled indulgently.
"Of course, dear, don’t worry."
Robyn led the old woman into her
room, where they