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The Good Prosecutor

By Joe Roubicek

            “All rise,” said the bailiff. “Existential Court is in session. Judge Maggie Temple presiding.”

            John O’Malley watched the judge enter briskly from the chamber door and take her seat behind the bench. She looked familiar, attractive too, he thought.

            John sat, stunned to find he was at the defendant’s table. Who was he defending? There was no one beside him. On the other side of the courtroom, the prosecutor took a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase.  

            John scanned the empty gallery. The room reminded him of church, with wooden pews and a judge who sat on an elevated platform that looked a little like an altar. He eyed the prosecutor shuffling papers on his table and thought he was not a bad-looking fellow. Then he remembered that prosecutors could become persecutors, depending on their intent.

            A good prosecutor pursues a just outcome, while a persecutor only pursues a win.

            John refocused his wandering thoughts on the matter at hand. How had he gotten here? And what had the bailiff said—Existential Court?

            Judge Temple glanced his way and, as if reading his mind, explained the court’s proceedings briefly. “This court handles only personal matters, and especially matters of the mind.  We’re a timeless place where past, present, and future coexist as needed,” she said.

            John swallowed hard but nodded his understanding. He’d been in countless courtrooms in his life, but this was a new one. “Your honor,” he began. “If I may, who is the defendant?”

            The judge’s gaze softened. “Why, you are, Mr. O’Malley.”

            Drawing in a deep breath, John looked around the courtroom again, searching for any face that might be familiar. The prosecutor caught his eye, expressionless. John looked away first, then noticed the tall windows behind the empty jury box. Through the glass he saw snow falling in huge feathery flakes, drifting earthward in a soothing pattern.

            John pressed his hands against the tabletop in front of him, feeling the solidness of it. He didn’t know how he had gotten there, what the charges were against him, or why he had to defend himself. Making me a fool for a client, he thought.  

            “So, counselor, what’s the charge today?” the judge asked. “Authenticity? Despair? The meaning of life?”

            “Not good enough,” the prosecutor said as he stepped before the bench.

            John sat back in his chair. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! He’d beat this handily.

            The prosecutor continued. “John O’Malley is forty-three years old with a wife, Mary, and a young boy named Thomas.”

            That’s when it registered in John’s mind—the judge looked like Mary.

            “They’ve been married for fifteen years, churchgoers living under honest and modest means. He’s a career man who works long hours with dedication to his job while serving the community.”

            The judge looked at John and smiled. “Oh, one of them.” Then she pointed to the witness stand. “Have a seat, Mr. O’Malley, and raise your right hand.”  

            After John was sworn in, the prosecutor wasted no time. “So, John . . . may I call you John?”

            “No,” he said. “I think we should stay professional here.”

            “That’s fine, John,” the prosecutor said. “Now for starters, tell me about your son, Thomas.”

            “What does my son have to do with this?”

            “It’s a simple question. You’re his father.”

            “That’s right—and he’s the most important thing in my life, everything any dad could want. He’s bright, innocent, curious.” John smiled, “When I look at him, I see myself, in a way. I’m proud of him.”

            His eyes drifted back to the courtroom windows just for a moment. One overly large snowflake caught the breeze and made a loop in the air. John’s smile widened as he recalled a snowball fight with his son years ago.

            “You’re a lucky man,” the prosecutor said. “He just turned eleven, right?”

            John snapped his attention back to the prosecutor. “Yes, a month ago.”

            “And when he asked you to volunteer to coach his soccer team last spring, did you?”

            “No,” John said. “Would have loved to, but work made that impossible.”

            “And when he asked you to take him to a ballgame? Chaperone his school trip just before Thanksgiving?”

            He knew where this was going. “My career requires my complete dedication and commitment for the sake of the community. My son understands that and so does my wife.” His eyes darted to the judge, who had the same habit of pursing her lips as she listened—just like Mary. “And, if I may be so bold, I’d think that, as a prosecutor, you would understand this as well.”

            The prosecutor narrowed his eyes a fraction. “But I’m not the one facing this charge—you are.”

            Then, turning to the judge, prosecutor announced he was ready for his next witness.

            Judge Temple instructed him to take his seat, and John stepped down from the witness box.

             “Your Honor,” the prosecutor said. “I would like to call Johnny O’Malley to the stand.”

            Sighing, John started to get up. What kind of games were they playing here?

             “Not you, Mr. O’Malley,” the judge said. “Sit down.”

            “Your Honor, this is absurd,” John protested. “And ‘not good enough’ is not a crime.”

            “May I remind you that this isn’t criminal court,” the judge replied. “Existential Court handles different matters. Now, please sit down.”

            The bailiff opened the courtroom door and a little boy with blond matted hair, wearing a soiled Yankee jersey, walked down the aisle. He smiled at the defendant as he passed.

            John half-rose out of his chair to watch himself as a child approach the witness stand. His mind filled with memories and his eyes with tears as he recalled being that child. He fought the urge to hug that boy and tell him that he was safe, that everything would be okay.

            “Have a seat, young man,” the judge said in a softer tone.

            “Good morning, Johnny,” the prosecutor said, smiling kindly. His demeanor changed as well with the boy, and John appreciated that.

            “Good morning,” the boy said.

            “And how old are you?” the prosecutor asked.


            “Same as Thomas.” The prosecutor shot a look at John. “You’re a young man already. I’d like to hear all about your family. Let’s start with Dad—his name is Bill O’Malley, right?”

            The boy nodded.

            “And what does Mr. Bill O’Malley do?”

            “He lives in a camper in the outdoors, the woods and all.”

            “But what does he actually do for a living?”

            The boy hesitated. “I don’t know that much about him. I just see him sometimes on the weekends.”

            “How about your mom—Sharon? What does she do?”

            The boy smiled. “She’s a teacher at a high school in another village.”  

            “Really. Teaching is an important job.”  

            “Yep. She has to drive a long way and gets home after supper sometimes, when she has meetings and stuff.”  

            “So, who’s there when you get home from school?” 

            The boy paused. “No one.”

            “How do you feel about that?”

            “Mom says she keeps a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs,” Johnny replied.

            “Yes, yes, but she does other things as well, right?”

            The boy thought for a moment. “She was in a bowling league for a while. She’s the president of a church club—and she’s helping my friends get first communion because their moms have to work too. She’s pretty busy.”

            “She sure is,” the prosecutor said. “But what about you? I mean, why isn’t she spending more time with you?”  

            The boy hesitated. “It’s just the way it is. My mom’s not a bad person.”

            “Not at all. Like you said, she’s very busy, and mom is always right.”


            “But if she doesn’t have time for you, what does that say about you?”

            John O’Malley stood. “Objection! Your Honor, he’s leading the witness, putting words in the mouth of a child.”

            “What clichés would you like me to use, then, Mr. O’Malley?” the prosecutor shot back, his voice rising. “She did the best she could? Her intentions were good?”

            “Objection!” John yelled again.  

            “Dad, Dad!”

            John O’Malley sat up in the church pew, dazed at first, and then realized he had fallen asleep. Beside him, his wife, Mary, shook her head. “You are so embarrassing,” she whispered.

            “Dad, you yelled, ‘Objection.’ Everyone’s looking,” his son, Thomas, said with a giggle.

            “Sorry, guys,” John murmured.

            He looked up at the pulpit. John mouthed “sorry” to the minister and folded his hands.

            “There being no further objections,” the minister said, and continued his sermon filled with familiar images—of shepherds and sheep, and a woman about to give birth who had ridden a donkey such a long way to a humble stable, and a husband who never left her side.

            John knew the story well, but somehow it seemed new.

            “That night, a star in the sky showed what was most important. It reminds us that the road to heaven is paved with good deeds,” the minister concluded. “Have a blessed Christmas, everyone.”

            The choir sang the final hymn as the minister proceeded down the aisle greeting the congregation. Still seated in his pew, John Malley pondered his dream and realized that sometimes a good deed can serve some while denying others, despite intentions.

            The minister paused at their pew, “How’s our county prosecutor, Mr. O’Malley? Objecting to my sermon like that. Was it something I said?” A smile played on the clergyman’s lips.

            “My apologies, Pastor,” O’Malley said. “By the way, I hear you’ll be needing a soccer coach this spring?”

            The minister clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s good, John.” He pointed to the window, turning the attention of the entire O’Malley family to the window. “Imagine that—snow.”

Joe Roubicek is a south Floridian who just retired from a thirty-eight-year career in law enforcement. He writes short fiction and finds it to be a painstakingly wonderful new career. 

The Good Prosecutor

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