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The Bootleggers & Instigators: 6 types of legal animals you’ll meet in Delhi’s district courts (Part 3 of 3)

The final instalment of Delhi Barfly’s catalogue of Delhi district court animals concludes with The Bootlegger and The Instigators.

The Bootlegger

You want something? You got it.... or a Chinese version of it.

Lawyers love a good deal — some because the pay sucks (unless you work for a Law-Farm); others get a cheeky high from getting one up on another person.

Bootleggers don’t just love a deal; they want to marry it and have little one-plus-one sales with it.

The high court is also chock-full of BLs, the district court guys have a particular kind of charm. They will offer to sell you liquor in the court parking lot, right out of their car’s trunk.

“Sasti doonga, whiskey bhi hai. Cantt se laata hoon. Chalo aajao dekhlo,” he’ll croon into your ear while you’re both buying cigarettes from the kiosk. Correction: while you buy a pack,  he wants to bum some from that.

The BL is always broke, despite being the purveyor of great bargains and the bearer of basement price goodies. If the amount of time he spends hanging around outside the courtrooms is a clue, it’s because the business of law has not worked out for him.

Unarmed either with a fancy education or any helpful affiliations, the BL has not been able to attract paying cases. You will see him once a blue moon, defending a messy divorce case, or in the petty crimes courts where he’ll be bailing out a young-un or two.

The bootlegging, thus, doesn’t just supplement his income — it is the primary source.

“Yeh kala-berry kyon use karte ho. Isse cheap toh mein iPhone dila doonga tumhe. Bas bolo na, chahiye?”

And he’s undeterred if you say you cannot dream of affording an iPhone (Like, hello, you’re just a low-paid clog in the district court machinery.)

Chinese phone bhi hai mere paas. Bilkul chakachak kaam kartein hein. Chahiye?”

Mobiles, liquor, books even… you name it, he’ll get it. Just don’t ask how.

And so you’ll see a happy almad walking around with a second-hand (but chakachak) chi-Phone or an occasional junior lawyer smiling as he hides away a Teachers bottle.

To them, the BL — cigarette bumming and all — is the trial court Santa Claus.

The Instigators

Who are they? Nobody knows.

What do they do? Scream and shout.

These are the lawyers our trial courts are famous for — the punch-throwers, the slappers, the shouters, the hooters, and cat-callers.

You’ve read about them in the news and watched actors portray them in films, but a close-up encounter with an instigator would be a whole other thing.

For one, these lawyers have a fame-complex. You could go years without seeing one argue a case before the court. But when confronted with their general invisibility, the go-to dialogue seems to be — “Oi, tu jaanta nahin mein kaun hoon!?”

On occasion, there’s the “Abbey, vakeel key saath kabhi aise baat na karna phirse.”

And all you did was ask him to step aside in order to walk to the dais and argue your matter.

Very few dare to say more to these guys. Everyone who has worked in a trial court long enough has at least heard the stories — the young north-eastern lawyer beaten up by fellow lawyers in THC; journalists stoned near Patiala House.

And they don’t just pick on small-frys.

Recently, a district judge at a Delhi trial court was overwhelmed by hooting, cat-calling and shouting from a throng of instigators. It left him so frustrated that he near left his courtroom.

Scroll down to read about the other legal animals from previous weeks, and stay tuned for more of Delhi Barfly’s writings of the comings, goings and other gossip clogging up Delhi’s court system.

More Barfly diaries:

Mister Information
Mister Information

Mister Information (or the Media Mogul)

The stereotype of a trial court lawyer panting for his name in tomorrow’s paper is as nasty as it is exaggerated as it is over-used. In that context, the Mister Information (Mi) is a breath of (smoke-filled and paan-scented) air.

This man doesn’t run after journalists; they throng towards his chambers.

There, the Mi is happy to entertain. He’s as gracious with the freshly-out-of-EXIMS Capote-wanna-be slouching next to him as to the seasoned journalist he’s known since both their newbie days.

On any given day, his tiny room might be filled with a wealth of ‘gossip’ most writers would give their right arm to publish. And this is because an Mi knows how to cultivate sources better than most star crime reporters alive today.

He’s an affable opposing counsel with both young or senior advocates; he offers a chai with odd Bar Association hopefuls who drops by during elections. He jokes with cops who would see his clients rot in jail forever given half a chance.

Part of that easy acceptance comes from a morality code like Monet’s landscapes.

It can get a bit hazy for the Mi — often he’s litigating on behalf of the nefarious: scam-accused CEOs, violent criminals, gangsters, murderers, and rapists – that’s just how he Rolodexes.

In part, he uses congeniality to counterbalance the heinousness of the crimes his clients are accused of committing. The Mi has realised (and is thus able to use to his advantage) that there’s no use fighting the media trial. Rather, he’s adept at controlling the story.

The EXIMS wannabe could learn a thing or two about ‘khoofiya’ from one of these lawyer-types.

Just the right amount of information about his cases will trickle to the press. There’s enough to keep the printers running; not enough to irk the authorities; and just enough wins broadcast minutes to keep clients coming.  

The Curious Onlooked could be any of them
The Curious Onlooked could be any of them

The Curious Onlooker

They have no special talents, and are only passionately curious… about every case in which no one has engaged them.

Who hasn’t wrestled for space with the Curious Onlooker in a jam-packed courtroom? You might have been waiting for your  matter to be heard, but the CO was ‘observing’ some high-profile case.

Arnab won’t know a proper shouting till he’s seen an over-worked underpaid ASJ, the CO was probably thinking. Samosa and coke is all he was missing.

Now, courtrooms are public domain. These guys are well within their rights to come watch the justice system in action. But in July, when the fan’s not working and a 20-person-capacity room brimming over with 40 COs, even the most patient judge can be forgiven for kicking them to the curb.

And, boy, do they dislike being evicted from courtrooms. Even powerful and famous defendants are often not spared the wrath of an exiting CO.

A lesson recently learnt by a politician who — helpfully — tried to tell a lady lawyer that she must stop watching his case and leave. “This is not right… you’re telling a lawyer to leave a courtroom?” the aghast CO shouted at the man.

His only recourse was to put on a characteristic bemused expression and point to the dais: “The court said you must leave now, not I.”

Meet the LRL
Meet the LRL

The Living Room Lawyer

Possibly the most charming of all the different breeds of trial court lawyers, the Living Room Lawyer (LRL) comes with a honey voice — the kind that drips with sweetness, convincing judge after judge that what they’re suggesting is for the sake of the court and nothing else.

One LRL faced a difficult situation in which his client - alleged to be an arms dealer - faced deportation to a 1st world country.

He'd been instructed that a public arrest wasn't desirable, but they were staring down the barrel of a Ministry of Home Affairs extradition notice.

"Arrey milord, don’t need the drama-shaama of an arrest here. She will buy a ticket to the country. She will surrender herself,” was the LRL's submission to the court.

The bemused judge asked what the chances were of his client not buying a ticket to another country without an extradition treaty this time. And, quick as a mongoose, the lawyer replied, “You have my guarantee. She doesn’t get there; I will have myself arrested. What more can you want?”

Another LRL, on being asked how he had come to representing a client who had been absconding since the arrest warrant had been issued, dismissed the question as if it were a fly on a hot day.

“Cops ko kya pata hota hai, sirji. I know where he’ll be when he signs my vakalatnama,” he was heard saying.

That is the operating premise of an LRL. Throw the judge off with unearned - sometimes earned - familiarity and dodge difficult questions with over-the-top promises.

Basically, bas chokdi bana key beth jao court mein; sab kuch thik ho jayega. And the truth of it is, sab kuch thik ho bhi jata hai … for his clients.

Meet: The EJ
Meet: The EJ

The Eternal Junior (JR)

This lawyer peaked — peaking being a generous term — when he was still young. As a baby litigator, he was lucky enough to work in a prestigious chamber.

Perhaps his then senior is now an attorney general; perhaps the senior got lucky and now only handles Supreme Court or high-profile matters.

Whatever happened, proximity to that luck did not work out for the Eternal Junior. He remains, much to his chagrin, still dependent on that once-upon-a-time senior lawyer to give him the ‘good’ cases.

Often this lawyer is as charming as an LRL, in theory anyway. He lacks a certain relaxed persona, a je ne sais quoi required to be able to get away with being straight up insolent.

Instead, his courtroom demeanour is meek. His curtseys are so low it’s as if he’s about to break into a surya namaskar. His ‘mi lords’ may cause the judge to travel back to colonial times.

For his senior — his golden ticket to bigger and better things — the EJ will do anything and often does. Rumour has it one EJ regularly goes out of pocket to fly across the country just to ‘keep an eye’ on a matter.

He’s also fiercely possessive of the senior — there’s nothing gloomier than an EJ, who learns of his mentor engaging someone else for a fresh newsworthy litigation.

“Oh, well, of course, I don’t know everything he does. We have different chambers now,” he’ll rush in to explain.

All the while though, his hurt feelings — so painfully apparent in his skirting eyes and downturned mouth — are a dead giveaway that “different chambers” is an not entirely accurate description.

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