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“May I ask you a question?” Rocco answers in a distinctly non-crazy tone of voice.
“First, you must answer my questions,” Brown says.
“Yes,” says Rocco, still not sounding crazy.
“I will require you to follow all of the technical rules of law, even though you are not trained in the law,” Brown continues. “Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” Rocco replies.
“The prosecutor, Lynda Fernandez, has a lot of training and practice,” Brown warns, adding that Rocco doesn’t and that the trial would therefore “not likely be a very fair contest.” Brown continues her line of questioning for several minutes, each question a variation on the same theme: Don’t do it, for God’s sake, Rocco; you’d be crazy to represent yourself. Call it a Catch-22 Q&A: If Rocco answers by saying he knew what he was doing was crazy, he’d be admitting he was nuts, and if he says he doesn’t think what he was doing was nuts, that’d also be tantamount to confessing craziness.
Suddenly, Brown discovers she is dealing with a man who once described himself (on the cover of his own book, no less) as “America’s premier legal technician.” Rocco interrupts Brown and tells her that in his expert legal mind, all these questions about whether he is capable of realizing how “unwise” and “ill-advised” his decision to act as his own attorney are proof that she has already made up her mind about the case, and therefore she needs to recuse herself. “I don’t feel I can get a fair trial,” Rocco explains. “I would like you to recuse yourself and leave and get another judge.” Brown refuses to grant Rocco’s request because he hasn’t put it in writing or cited any legal framework for her disqualification.
Rocco scratches his head for a few moments, then tells Brown he’s had a change of heart: Maybe acting as his own attorney isn’t such a great idea after all. “I’m confident [Bell] can do a good job,” Rocco tells the judge. “If she wants to represent me, I’m fine with that.” Perhaps the fact that Bell could objectively be described as “cute” played a role in Rocco’s decision to keep her around. Or maybe Rocco’s not really crazy, and he realized that, unlike him, Bell is a competent attorney and his best shot at beating the rap and defeating the Partnership’s latest attempt to silence, discredit and assassinate him.
Either way, Bell doesn’t have the slightest idea what the hell to do with Rocco now that he’s her client, so the judge agrees to delay his trial until next month, allowing Bell to wade through Rocco’s elaborate defense strategy involving the Partnership’s plot—and maybe subpoena me again. Who knows? At press time, the Great Ketchup Caper, also known as the biggest waste of resources in the history of our county’s justice system, was scheduled to resume on April 9.
Portions of this story previously appeared on OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog.