December 6, 2016
“I just don’t understand how you could have thought it was appropriate,” Mrs. Campbell, the mother of the aggrieved Native American student, Benjamin, said. Jeremy sat next to his clients, Mrs. Billings and Mrs. Coughlin, and across from Dorothy Peking, another local attorney with whom he’d crossed paths before.
“It was a joke,” Mrs. Coughlin said, chuckling and not helping the situation very much. “We just didn’t understand the significance of this piece of history to you people.”
“For the love of God, please don’t say ‘you people’ again,” Jeremy muttered under his breath, shaking his head. He looked up to address the plaintiffs. “Look, I understand that you’re hurt, but let’s focus on the task at hand. Clearly, this was a misunderstanding, and my clients would like to rectify it if at all possible.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Heworth, I don’t think you do fully understand. This is one of the most tragic events in our people’s history. If you were playing a Jewish school, would you have a sign that reads ‘get ready for the Super-Holocaust’?”
“My clients? Yeah. Probably,” Jeremy said. “And perhaps greater sensitivity on their part is in order, but what’s done is done.”
“Do you have kids, Mr. Heworth?” Mrs. Campbell asked as her attorney stifled a laugh.
“Me? No, thankfully. Nobody wants kids. The ones who really don’t want kids are those who already have kids. They’re awful.”
“Then you couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to have your child singled out for ridicule. And when it’s sanctioned by the school, well, that just makes it worse.”
“We weren’t singling him out,” Mrs. Coughlin scoffed. “Maybe you people should learn to take a joke as well as we can take your land.”
“Kathy, shut up,” Mrs. Billings said before Jeremy could do the same. Mrs. Billings took a deep breath. “Look, we apologize deeply for the incident. Benjamin’s a great kid, and it was an inexcusable oversight on our part. But I don’t know what we can do to make this right.”
“You could have done your job in the first place,” Mrs. Campbell sneered.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be looking to turn everything into a federal case,” Mrs. Billings said, sitting in the conference room of the state courthouse.
Dorothy looked at Jeremy, who nodded and turned to his clients. “Maybe you could two could give me and Dorothy the room for a moment.”
“Why?” Mrs. Coughlin asked indignantly, but Mrs. Billings nodded and grabbed her purse.
“Fine,” she said, standing up and touching Mrs. Coughlin’s shoulder. Mrs. Coughlin remained confused, but followed Mrs. Billings out of the room.
Dorothy reached over and touched Mrs. Campbell on the shoulder. “Daisy, why don’t you go and see how Benjamin’s doing out in the hall, okay?”
Mrs. Campbell nodded sadly, stood up and left the room. When they were alone, Dorothy took a deep breath. “So, what are the odds of settling this?”
“I don’t know. What’s her bottom line?” Jeremy asked.
Dorothy scoffed. “There is no bottom line. They’re hurt. Their school humiliated her son and mocked one of the sorest points of Native American history. She’s upset.”
“I don’t see how this lawsuit is going to help that. For what it’s worth, however, my clients do feel badly about this. The principal, at least. We’re just not sure what your client wants us to do about it at this point.”
“An apology would be nice.”
Jeremy nodded. “I think I can do that.”
“And we want to change the curriculum to teach about the white oppression of Native Americans.”
“Isn’t that basically just American history?”
“Obviously, it’s not being taught very well. Not if they didn’t recognize that the Trail of Tears wasn’t appropriate fodder for a sports chant.”
Jeremy nodded. “I’ll see what I can do on that. If that’s all, if all you’re seeking is to right this wrong, I think we can take care of this. As I said, it really was an honest, if completely bone-headed, mistake.”
“And then there’s compensation.”
“Way to bury the lead there, Dorothy. You should have led with that.”
Dorothy shook her head. “It’s not that big a deal. If we can agree on the other points, the money is mainly an afterthought for them.”
“So you say,” Jeremy said. He took a deep breath and sighed. “Well, let’s hear it, but that is the sticking point. There just isn’t a whole lot in the budget.”