A good friend with whom I have recently been reconnected asked me, “What led you to Taiwan? … Why there?” It is a good question considering the fact that my formal education has nothing to do with teaching, let alone teaching English in a foreign country. My undergrad classes revolved mostly around psychology and sociology. Upon graduating, I entered law school to pursue my dream of becoming a trial lawyer. And yet here I am in Taiwan, my law degree packed safely in my dry box and my desk littered with grammar books, tests and homework. It is for this reason that I feel I must begin my response by first replying to a question that wasn’t posed: “Why not the law?”
In my second year of law school, along with a regular course load of crim., contracts, tax and torts I was also involved with legal aid. I was one of the lucky few who were given the opportunity to stand up for less privileged members of the community who had found themselves entrenched in minor legal skirmishes. As a legal aid caseworker, I handled some contract disputes, cases involving theft and damage to property, housing problems and motor vehicle related issues. For the most part we were required to do nothing more than write case reports. However, from time to time, we were obliged to step into the courtroom and make arguments on behalf of our clients. On one such occasion I was trying to defend a client (Not surprisingly, his is the only name of two years worth of clients that I remember.) who had been charged with a DUI – his second DUI to be exact. And did I mention that he blew more than four times the legal limit? Oh yea, and he wanted to plead not guilty.
The Crown at the time was only asking for a fine and one year suspension on his license. This was a pretty good deal considering the circumstances surrounding his charge. (He could have been looking at a minimum of 14 days.) I ran to my supervisor and asked for advice. How could I possibly defend this guy? Going to trial would certainly end up with him out of more cash, having a longer suspension and probably receiving a short stint in jail. My supervisor told me that I could try to convince my client that a guilty plea would be in his best interests, but ultimately his plea, guilty or not , was his choice – he insisted on not guilty.
Now my problem was arguing that both the cop who charged him as well as the reading obtained by the breathalyzer were inaccurate. And then I stumbled upon a possible solution – Accutane. Accutane is a drug which is used by many people to fight severe cases of acne. My client was one such person and was using the topical solution at the time that he was arrested. During my research into this controversial drug I came upon some instances where its usage in conjunction with alcohol consumption might cause some side effects. I made some calls, hoping that I could find someone who would argue that Accutane could possibly put the veracity of a breathalyzer reading into question. In the end, I couldn’t find anyone who would substantiate my hypothesis. I presented my findings to my client and, the day before his trial, he finally agreed to plead guilty. But only on the condition that I would bring light to the fact that there was the possibility that he wasn’t actually drunk at the time of his arrest. Being a second year law student, I thought this was acceptable. I might have been wrong.
The judge presiding over the next day’s docket was an artifact of the law. He had obviously been around for a good number of years. The lethargy in his movements and speech seemed to speak truthfully about his age. I swear that he had slept through the first three cases that were presented to him. He seemed to mumble a few words, padded the bench with his gavel a couple times and just sat there, head back, mouth open, seemingly oblivious to everything being said. Again, I might have been mistaken.
As agreed, my client made a guilty plea. And then as promised I asked for permission to address the court and began to present the judge with the possibility that my client might not have been intoxicated at the time of his arrest. My heart stopped as the relic of a judge whipped his head up and with a resounding bellow that filled the courtroom shouted, “No!” He looked at me in disgust and without missing a beat called a blood alcohol specialist who was in a separate courtroom to come over and give expert testimony to the contrary. Both my client and I were given a twenty minute lecture on drinking, driving and everything in between. The judge warned me to think a little more carefully about what I said the next time I stepped into his courtroom. He then proceeded to slap my client with the maximum fine of $2000 and a 3 year suspension on his license. (To this day I am baffled as to why he wasn’t also given a fourteen day jail term.) I walked out of the courtroom said good-bye to my client and went home feeling defeated.
A dark gloom hung over my head for the next couple weeks. Of course being berated by a judge before everyone in the courtroom was a blow to my ego; however, I was more upset that once again I had failed to get my client a lighter sentence. (The first time I had set foot in a courtroom I was trying to defend a gem of a man who thought it was cool to steal fire safety equipment from his housing unit. He was sentenced to seven days in jail.) Despite my best efforts and clever arguments, my clients were found guilty and given stiffer penalties than those which I was hoping they would receive. And then it hit me. THEY WERE GUILTY. One guy of putting the lives of everyone in his apartment building in danger and this man of putting the lives of anyone on the road at that time in danger. Everything that I was taught by my parents and teachers told me that these two individuals acted egregiously and therefore should have been punished. But suddenly it had become a game to me and I had lost. I don’t like losing. I realized at that moment that I was heading down a very dark road which wasn’t for me.
Sure, there were other avenues of law that I could have ventured into. However, my only real interest laid in criminal law and children’s law. I didn’t see either one as helping me to become the man I wanted to be. And so, in my second year of law school, two weeks after a guilty verdict, I decided that the law wasn’t for me.
“Jagged Little Pill”, by Alanis Morissette, was THE album of my first year in law school. It brings me back to parties, conversations, car rides and a good number of great people with whom I had the pleasure of knowing. I chose Ironic as track 32 because of the irony seeded in my life. There is most definitely an incongruity between where my life was going and where it ended up. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
As for the answer to my friend’s question, “Why Taiwan?”, that will come in a later post…
Ironic youtube link