The first case I ever handled in which a stranger actually paid me money to represent him was a criminal case in which the charge against the client was seduction.
No, it was not 1668, it was 1968. Seduction was an offense in the state of Texas until 1973, when we adopted what I still think of as the “new” penal code.
The offense was committed whenever a heartless rogue lured a young woman in the flower of her maidenhood to his bed by the malicious (because false) representation of his intent to make her his wife.
She had to be both young (under 25) and a virgin in order to be the victim of a seduction. Presumably, the legislature thought that a woman over 25 ought to know the cad would not marry her and a non-virgin under 25 did not merit protecting.
The whole point of the statute, of course, was to preserve intact for the day a young woman was taken in marriage that indisputable emblem of purity, the maidenhead.
The history of the development of the statute is a short lesson in human nature. The statute originally simply provided that to induce a woman under 25 to share one’s bed by falsely promising marriage was a crime.
The first amendment to the statute was the addition of a proviso that a man could avoid prosecution for this offense by the simple expedient of marrying the woman; after all, if the intent is to keep our women “marriageable,” that purpose is very well served by the man who damaged the goods buying the bolt, as it were.
It does not take a great deal of imagination to guess that the next amendment to the statute provided that it was no defense to a seduction prosecution that the man married the woman, if he did not stay married for at least one year. Similarly, we can understand why the next amendment to the statute provided that the seducer must remain with his bride for at least two years in order to avoid prosecution.
This was the state of the law, then, when a handsome young soldier from Ohio, stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, came to be sitting across the desk from me, wearing a hangdog expression and bearing a letter from a San Antonio lawyer demanding that he marry the object of a particular night’s affection or face criminal prosecution.
“Can they do this?” he questioned. “Can they actually prosecute me just for sleeping with this girl?”
I tried to look as old, wise, and all-knowing as I could, and replied that it all depended, of course, on what promises, if any, he had made to the young woman to induce her to submit to his impassioned embrace.
“Promises!” he said, “I didn’t promise her a damned thing. The fact is, she practically threw me into bed.”
As we continued to discuss the situation, it became pretty clear that the young woman in question was one of a group of young women who liked to go to parties around Ft. Sam Houston and were well acquainted with the expectations of young soldiers on weekend passes. In fact, he said he had at least three friends who could be of assistance in proving that the lady’s status on the purity scale was no better than minus two.
The real problem, it seemed, was that the lady had simultaneously decided that she loved my client madly and discovered that she was pregnant. Leaving aside the question of whether he was the father of her unborn child, he was most insistent that he was not guilty on either requirement of the statute. That is, his acts (apparently there were several) had come no closer to a deflowering than had the preacher with Sadie Thompson, and the subject of marriage had not arisen.
The law on the civil side was equally antiquated; although my young client faced the (admittedly remote) possibility of going to prison, he had no legal obligation whatsoever with regard to the child, if he was its father, and no obligation to assist the mother of the child with any expenses incident to the child’s birth.
I was aware of all this as I was talking to him because it is just such anomalies as these which tend to draw the attention of law students as a moth to the light, and my law license was still off being framed when this young man came in to see me.
Knowing the law and knowing what to do with a particular situation are, however, two very different things. It was not nearly so clear to me then as it is now that one of the things lawyers frequently do on behalf of clients is to work out equitable solutions when following the strict letter of the law would benefit no one.
I knew that lawyers are not permitted to threaten criminal prosecution in order to gain an advantage in a civil matter, but was too naive to realize that the lawyer representing the young woman was more aware than I that neither party would be well served by a shotgun wedding. He was simply opening the bidding with the only suit his hand would support.
I spent about five hours in the library after the client left, trying to figure out what to do next. After I had found and read every case on the subject in the history of the State of Texas and the Republic which preceded it, I was, of course, no nearer knowing what to do than when I began. My client had a practical problem, not a legal one.
I spent the rest of that day and most of that evening, even after going home, trying to think what to do. I finally resolved that I would call the opposing counsel the next morning and advise him that his client’s prior history would not support a claim of seduction. I would then suggest that marriage was out of the question, that nothing but humiliation for his client would result from a prosecution of my stalwart, and hope that he would concur and the matter would be dropped.
Next morning, I went to the office full of resolve, prepared by having mentally gone through the script in (what I thought were) all its potential variations and devised an answer for any possible scenario.
I knew the lawyer, who was a well-established and highly regarded practitioner with a wide experience in the civil and the criminal law, and my knowledge of his reputation had played no small part in my nervousness about the call.
I placed the call. I was initially referred by the receptionist to the lawyer’s secretary, who tried to field my call for her boss, but I was having none of that. I was a lawyer, too, was I not, and entitled to speak directly with opposing counsel? She put him on.
To my surprise, he remembered me (I had handled an accident case with him while I was in night law classes, in my full-time job as a claims adjuster).
“Hello, Pat,” he said, “Long time no see. What can I do for you?”
I muttered something—I do not remember what—and told him what I was calling about.
“Oh, yeah”, he said, “that case. Well, listen, let me get straight to it, cause neither your client nor mine can afford for us to spend a lot of time on this. All I am really looking for is a little help on the hospital bills for the delivery. What can your guy handle?”
I was flabbergasted. That was not in any of my scripts. I finally managed to mumble something to the effect that I was glad he was not serious about criminal prosecution—“Only as a last resort,” he interjected—and that I would need to get together with my client (with whom I had thus far had only the briefest of conversations about his ability and willingness to help the girl with her medical bills).
I called the client in to discuss the lawyer’s proposal. He admitted he felt some moral responsibility in the matter, as the child might be his, and was more than happy to help with the hospital bills.
We worked the matter out, along the lines the other lawyer suggested, and everyone was happy.
I later learned that the lawyer had a similar conversation with lawyers representing two other soldiers, resulting in a little nest egg for the little one, in addition to payment of the expenses of parturition. I realized then, of course, just how good a bluff the other lawyer had run, and my esteem for him increased.
This case taught me a great deal, about human nature and about practical lawyering. In retrospect, I am glad I did not charge the client very much.
I am happy to say, incidentally, that both the civil and the criminal law have been changed since all this occurred. The offense of seduction no longer exists, but the unmarried father of a child born in Texas has the same obligation of support as a married one.