For All Nails #70: "Call Me Judge Lancito"
Simi Valley District Courthouse
Puerto Hancock, California, USM
9 October 1973
Bobby Contreras was a distracted man. This court hearing he
was attending was potentially vital to his father's hopes of
remaining in the USM and continuing to do business. The
plaintiff's attorney, the love of his life, was making her
first appearance in a real courtroom. If he _wanted_ to think
about something else, he had a midterm exam to write and a
lecture on multiplication circuits to give the next day at
MIT . But here he was, thinking about his girlfriend's
When he'd first met Anna at that dinner in Palo Alto over a
year ago, she'd been wearing a black halter-top dress that had
shown all of her beautiful shoulders and much of her equally
beautiful back. As a student at PMU she'd quickly adapted to
California fashions -- sundresses with string straps or even
no straps, even once or twice a tight "Tania-top" showing her
navel as well, like one of Tania Monroy's many teenaged
imitators. Bobby had almost forgotten that the CNA had different
dress standards (never mentioned, but never violated). A
respectable North American woman bared her shoulders on
the beach, in an evening dress, or in bed -- nowhere else.
Bobby had missed Anna's shoulders during their six weeks' summer
visit to the CNA. To be honest, the CNA standard that had bothered
him more at the time was that a respectable engaged couple there
did _not_ share a hotel room as they would in Mexico. (He had
never heard the saying "Why would he buy the cow if he can get the
milk for free?" in Mexico, but every CNA daughter seemed to have
heard it from her mother. Fortunately many Champlain coeds hadn't
listened to their mothers...) Only one time had Anna risked her
reputation, quietly knocking on the door of Bobby's room at three
in the morning, almost tearing his clothes off, making some of the best
love they'd ever had, and sneaking back to her own room, all without
saying a word. Lucky they hadn't had to suddenly advance their
wedding plans after that, since Anna had never taken to _La Pildora_...
Today Anna's shoulders were covered by a long-sleeved tailored shirt
and a bolero-style vest that matched her long skirt. Bobby had never
actually seen a Mexican _abogada_ in the flesh, but the ones in the
_vitanovelas_  dressed rather aggressively -- short skirts, high
heels, sleeveless silk tops under jackets. Anna looked more like a
little girl dressing as a great lady than like an _abogada_. No, that
wasn't fair -- she looked like a Mexican coed, accustomed to cotton
shirts and blue jeans, suddenly told to look businesslike for an
interview. Her shoulder-length hair was up in a bun, prepared for
the legal wig she'd be wearing in a North American courtroom. Had it
even occurred to her _why_ she had decided to put it up?
If this legal battle were a fashion contest, then, Anna would be
outmatched. Her opponent was wearing a very nice three-piece Buenos
Aires suit -- Bobby priced it at five thousand _dolares_ off the rack,
maybe ten thousand tailored. A nice Beretta watch as well. Mexican
_abogados_ knew how to dress, that was for sure. He suppressed the
slew of lawyer-as-homosexual jokes that immediately came to mind, and
took a closer look at this guy. A definite look of Somebody's Nephew,
he decided. You couldn't be sure without hearing him talk, of course,
but the FCS just might have sent an unarmed man into a battle of wits.
And _that_, Bobby thought without any loyal exaggeration, was a battle
to which his girlfriend came loaded for bear.
"All rise! The District Court of the State of California in and for the
County of Hancock is now in session. Judge Jefferson Lanza presiding!"
The judge was short, about five foot three, Hispano-looking with perhaps
a trace of Asian features. Anna had judge-shopped very carefully and had
been overjoyed to get this man. All Mexican judges were independent --
the members of each bench filled their own vacancies with only a minimum
of input from elected state officials. But Lanza, Anna had said, was an
independent among independents, who just _might_ have the guts to take on
the federal government.
"Call the first case, please, Conrad."
"Yes, sir! Number 436, Contreras Machine Tools of California versus
Federal Customs Service!"
"Anna DiMaggio for the plaintiff, Judge." She'd said that it would be
hard to keep to the Mexican honorific and avoid the CNA's "Your Honor"
or even "My Lord", which would not go over well. A long adolescence of
imagining herself arguing before the Supreme Law Lords had its effects...
"John Marshall Clark for the People, Judge."
"You're objecting to his _name_?" What was she doing?
"No, Judge, but if I'm not mistaken "the People" in this court refers
to the State of California, as represented by a duly sworn State's Attorney.
While I'm sure my opponent has the People's interests at heart, as do I--"?
"This is nonsense, Judge, it's petty harassment and _I_ object." Ha!
Bobby concluded that this Clark _was_ an idiot. Anna had taken a calculated
risk in annoying the judge. But apparently her plan was to bait the Nephew
into annoying the judge even more, and the Nephew was cooperating fully.
"Exactly who _are_ you representing, for the record, Counselor?"
"The Federal Customs Service of the United States of Mexico, Judge."
"So that's settled then -- let's get on with it. Miss DiMaggio?"
"Your-- Judge, I represent Contreras Machine Tools of California, a
division of a nationwide firm that produces capital goods for the oil
industry. The firm's branch in Jefferson has been accused by the Federal
Customs service of violations of several provisions of the Export Code
involving sale of drilling tubes to private firms in the CNA. We are
vigorously contesting these charges and they are now before the Federal
Court of Borders, Customs, and Immigration in Henrytown."
"If they're before another court, what are we talking about here?"
"Judge, the Customs Service has acted to freeze the operations of the
California branch of Mr. Contreras' business, which is not even a party
to the customs action in Jefferson."
"It's a single company, Judge, a single criminal enterprise under the
"You'll have your turn, Mr. Clark. What's the statutory basis of this
"That's the point, Judge, there _isn't_ any. Their claim, as I understand it,
is that an internal order of the Customs Service gives them the authority
to act here in California without any judicial process at all. I'm asking
for a state restraining order against the seizure pending the resolution of
the case. Otherwise they are carrying out a sentence before there's even
been a verdict."
"Judge, this is a simple matter of national security, which is the province
of the Customs Service as a division of the War Department. There's no
jurisdiction of a state court in a Federal matter, particularly when we're
dealing with a corporate combine that crosses state lines."
"Well, Miss DiMaggio?"
"Judge, the Federal _court_ system has jurisdiction over this matter if it
chooses to exercise it, but so far it has not done so. In the meantime, the
Basic Statute empowers the courts of California to safeguard the life, liberty,
and property of all Mexican citizens in the state. That includes Mr.
Contreras' property, the interest of his employees in the smooth operation
of his business, and even the property of the corporation itself under _United
Dry Goods v. Corporate Malfeasance Commission_, 1937--"
"That's silly, judge. She's saying that even if an enemy criminal flees
the country from Jefferson, we can't seize his ill-gotten booty in California.
But the Enemy Assets Act says--"
"The Enemy Assets Act of 1951 is a _statute_, Judge. By _Delaney v. Hoffman_,
1967, Mr. Justice Denton writing for a _unanimous_ Mexico Tribunal. All
Presidential and War Department decrees of the Emergency of 1950 to 1965 are
retroactively given the force of acts of Congress. So when you seize
something under the Enemy Assets Act, you're following the Constitution and
the rule of law. Besides, you _still_ need a hearing before a military
"Your client will be finding out about that pretty soon, _chica_. Maybe
you will too."
"That may be. But my point is that those seizures are legal proceedings.
What we've got here is an _administrative_ ruling of a _federal_ agency
claiming consequences as to the _state_-protected property rights of various
California citizens, both individual and corporate. _Without_ any statutary
"And you want me to stay the _War Department_ with a restraining order."
"Yes, Judge. Let CMTC carry on its business until or unless the federal
proceeding in Jefferson comes to a conclusion that would warrant a seizure."
"Judge, that would be a California court intervening in a matter of national
security, against all precedent."
"Well, this is all very interesting. I think we have enough to hear full
oral and written argument -- say, sometime next week? Conrad?"
"Thursday the 18th is open, Judge, 9:00."
"Fine. I'll hear this at 9:00 on the 18th. Something else, Miss DiMaggio?"
"Yes, Judge. I'm a little worried about what happens _before_ the 18th --
is it your ruling that the seizure is suspended until then?"
"Judge, that would let them loot the assets of the company completely,
transfer them to Jefferson or the CNA or who knows where!"
"Perhaps a special master of some sort, Judge? To let us carry out normal
business but not 'loot our assets'?"
"That's quite reasonable. The Customs Service is hereby enjoined from any
action against your client _today_, and I'll have a special master appointed
before tomorrow morning. We're adjourned. Miss DiMaggio, I'll see you in
my chambers in five minutes?"
"Um, of course, Judge, um, just me?"
"Did I mention anyone else?"
"Um, no, Your- Judge, but--"
"Five minutes then. Conrad?"
Bobby stood and moved forward through the crowd to the edge of the gallery.
Anna pulled her papers together.
"That went well, I thought?"
"I don't know until I hear what he wants in chambers. The special master
is good, that _should_ keep them from any funny business, and he wouldn't
have bothered if he thought I was completely off my wicket. I hope nine
days isn't enough time for them to find a real lawyer, though."
"But aren't you right on the law?"
"Of course I am, Bobby, but who knows whether the _law_ is right on the law?
Right now, the law is Judge Jefferson Lanza. Which is better than it being
Vincent Mercator, sure, but how long is that going to be true?"
Judge Jefferson Lanza was a troubled man. This case could lead to
no end of trouble, with him smack in the middle of it. He was proud
to be part of an independent judiciary, but _remaining_ independent meant
knowing where the limits of your _real_ power were, and staying within
them. Most of the time. Until it was time to test the limits. Was this
the time, and more importantly, was he the man to test them?
Who _was_ this little girl, anyway? She'd never practiced in PH before, as
far as he knew. Must be just out of law school, given her age and the way
she threw precedents around. Though any fool could pass the bar exam in
_this_ state, look at the clown that the Customs Service had come up with.
Ah, here she was now...
"Miss DiMaggio, come in. Call me Judge Lancito  -- everyone does,
outside of court. May I get you a beer? Wine?"
"Um, a small glass of wine, thank you." Lancito poured the wine from a
cut-glass decanter and pulled a beer for himself out of a small cooler.
He opened the beer against the side of the table and sat back down with
his feet on the desk.
"Um, Judge Lancito, is it even proper for me to be talking to you
without my opponent here?"
She was from the _CNA_! That began to explain things, starting with that
funny accent. "Perfectly proper under _our_ procedure, Miss DiMaggio.
Though some judges might insist on a chaperon to meet alone with a woman
as young and attractive as yourself. No, the state trusts me to make up
my own mind whether I talk to counsel singly, both at once, or not at all.
I'm the one who has to write up the opinion in the end. So if you feel
_personally_ safe with me, then I don't see a problem, do you?"
"Well, no, Judge, you're the judge, uh, so to speak--"
"I understand they do things a bit differently in North America. Which
is where you came from, if I read your accent correctly -- New Orleans?"
"Why, yes, Judge, born and raised there."
"And how long did you practice on that side?"
"Uh, not at all, Judge. I got my law degree at UNO and then came over here
for a scholarship at PMU. I passed the California bar last June, but I can't
practice in the CNA." Not likely, he thought, given the clubbiness of the
CNA barristers. From what he had heard, a Catholic _man_ would have trouble
getting admitted to the bar there unless his accent was as cultured as Carter
"How many cases have you argued upstate?"
"Uh, none, Judge, this is my first. I've drawn up the papers for a small
corporation but haven't litigated anything until now."
"So you just thought you'd take on the War Department for your first case?
How much _do_ you know about Mexico?"
"Quite a lot about the history, Judge, I'm writing a book on Jackson and
Theodore. The _current_ political situation I don't really understand, but
it doesn't look to me like anyone else really understands it either." That
was about right, he thought. The President led his Administration, and the
Secretary of War led an almost parallel Administration. Under Dominguez it
had been reasonably clear that the President really worked for the Secretary,
but where El Popo was concerned _nothing_ was reasonably clear...
"There's something about _this_ case that I don't understand myself.
What does the Customs Service really want with your client? Bribes for
"No, Judge, with respect, we tried that, and someone just seems to want to
hurt Mr. Contreras personally. It seems to have something to do with some
of the work he did for the President in the '71 campaign, but we don't
really know who's pushing the buttons, or why. Believe me, we've tried to
figure it out."
"Mm-hmm. Such things do happen on occasion. It's never good to have
enemies, if you can avoid it. Somehow the struggles between the big fish
always wind up with some littler fish getting hurt. I hope you're being
careful yourself -- you're rather young to be burning any bridges, aren't
you?" There was a blacklist of lawyers, he knew, lawyers who had crossed
the wrong people. They had a lot of trouble finding work...
"Well, I'm not wedded to the idea of litigating all my life, if that's
what you mean. I want to write books, and run a business, and maybe practice
law, and raise a family, and God knows what else. But I _had_ to take this
case, Judge Lancito. First of all, there's an innocent man whose life could
be ruined here. Second, that innocent man's going to be my father-in-law
"Oh ho! Congratulations."
"Thank you. Bobby, Mr. Contreras' son, he's a professor at PMU. That
business I mentioned, Pomona Calculators--"
"Pomona? You make those calcs that you have to put together yourself?"
"Yes, that's it."
"Conrad bought one of those -- he loves it! Every day he's all hot about
something new he's figured out how to do. Are you selling a lot of them?"
"In Mexico, yes, all the electrical hobbyists  want them -- we had to
hire twenty people to put together the packages and mail them out. We could
sell a lot more across the line, but--"
"Exactly. Judge Lancito, have you really looked at those regulations? Under
the FCS's interpretations, they can find a violation with _absolutely any_
export to the CNA, and nearly anything to any other country. If you read the
statute sensibly, it's a little better, but not much. We can't risk sending
even a machine screw out of Mexico, not with the FCS looking for a way to
hurt Bobby's dad through us."
"It must be an interesting case in Henrytown."
"That it is. I _think_ we've got a good chance of an acquittal or at
least a hung jury. I have a lot of confidence in Mexican juries, actually,
to use common sense. If there was no way for Mr. Contreras to follow the
law, then how can you punish him for breaking it?"
"That bill in the last session of Congress would have simplified your case
"Right, if the law he violated was already superseded. But of course the
Progressives had to drop that bill at the end, and not one of the ten
"There's an argument to be made, of course, that Congress has decided, and
the Federal court in Henrytown is going to decide, so why should one state
judge and a district judge at that--"
"With respect, Judge Lancito? General Jackson and Colonel Theodore have a
lot more confidence in _you_ than that. _You're_ the initial finder of fact,
because in this case _you're_ the first part of the whole system to get the
facts of this case. Once you've made a decision, _then_ the rest of the system
can argue about whether you're right on the law, but _you_ decide what's
right on the facts. That's how the Basic Statute has it, in black and white."
"I'm a big fan of the Basic Statute as well, Miss DiMaggio. How does a
North American come to have such strong feelings about it?" The enthusiasm
of a convert, he thought. Touching, but naive. There was judicial
independence, and judicial suicide -- the trick was to walk the line
"Well, as I said, I'm writing this book on the Mexican legal system. It's
been through so much, and it still works, because the most important rules
are written down, and independent judges have let it evolve to meet all the
new things that have happened but still stay the same system."
"In some ways, Miss DiMaggio, in some ways. You realize, of course, that
even if you win this case, _and_ win in Henrytown, that won't be the end
"Oh, I know that. It only takes one decision the wrong way, and Mr. Contreras
loses everything. Everything in Mexico, that is, I don't think he'll starve
in exile wherever he goes. But that's not really the point."
"No, it's like I said. The _legal system_ will endure, probably long after
we're all dead, including the President and the Secretary. Your decision,
whatever it is, will be written down. If it gets overruled for the wrong
reasons, those reasons are written down. Sometime years from now, maybe a
judge will decide that you were right after all. In the long run, the
system usually gets to a sensible decision."
"You raise an interesting issue." Very interesting. Damn. The smart
thing to do was obvious -- use any excuse to get the hell away from this
case. But she was right. If the right facts and the right law weren't
written down now, they would never be written down for this case. Damn.
Fortunately, he was a judge. And the one thing the system gave him was
time to make up his mind. "I'll be very interested in your oral and
written argument next week."
"Thank you very much, Judge Lancito, I'm looking forward to it myself."
"Oh, one bit of friendly advice, Miss DiMaggio?"
"Yes, Judge Lancito?"
"You might not want to stress _United Dry Goods_ the next time around."
"Really? But it's settled law -- that's where it's settled that a
corporation has property rights in California law--"
"Did you read the whole case? United was a Kramer front, being sued
by Fuentes' boys. The courts stopped the government from regulating
Kramer the way it wanted."
"And for better or worse, your opponent is going to argue that _you're_ part
of a Kramer conspiracy to sell out Mexico. _I_ can make of that argument
what I will, but there will be other courts. You might not want to give
your appellate opponent any more ammunition."
"Hmm. Thank you, Judge, I'll keep that in mind."
"Thank you for your time, Miss DiMaggio. I look forward to an interesting
case." How did that Fukienese curse go? 'May you live in interesting times?'
Life in Mexico was getting more interesting all the time...
 PH is California's second-largest city and one of the world's great
oil ports. In area it overlaps somewhat with OTL's LA but is centered
on the site of OTL Long Beach. Like LA it has sprawled uncontrollably
and absorbed most but not all neighboring small cities, particularly
with the post-1950 expansion of _locopistas_ (freeways).
 Mercator Institute of Technology, in nearby Pasadena. The major
scientific institution in the Cambridge section of Boston is the
Benjamin Peirce School of Science and Engineering, a division of
Harvard University. As alum of OTL's MIT I regret this, but what can
 Described in FAN #22.
 Vitavised soap operas not unlike OTL's _telenovelas_...
 "Little Lanza", essentially.
 Conrad, Judge Lancito's bailiff, served in the infantry in the Global
War along with several million other Mexicans. Most of them learned
to field-strip a portable radio almost as quickly as a rifle. Units
without a special Dineh-speaking _indigena_ radio operator also had
to develop some expertise with some simple but effective field ciphers.
All in all, the base of amateur expertise in electrical tinkering in
Mexico dwarfs the CNA's "home radio" movement. "Homebrew computing"
is beginning to take off, as the Pomona-1 is an excellent platform to
experiment with. The next stage for Pomona is to build a self-contained
computer based on the next generation of GC chips. (While Mexico leads
the CNA in any kind of electronic technology you can _see_, the CNA's
massive capital investment and stronger scientific base have led to
its getting integrated circuits first.)
The business part of the emerging partnership between Pomona Calculators
and General Computing was settled over the summer during Bobby and Anna's
visit to Burlington.
 Export control revision was a part of Moctezuma's reform agenda that
was successfully blocked in Congress by supporters of the current plan,
who were largely allies of the War Department of course. For more on
this see FAN #68.
 This does seem to be a prevalent theme of Mercatorista rhetoric...