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Great Moments

A Prince Among Men
Mark L. Dembert
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 1)

I resolved to coax this man into smoking a cigar with me during his deposition. He would, of course, be far too cagey to lower his guard merely because I offered him a fine cigar and a moment of relaxation.

I set my sights on his lawyer. His lawyer in this case was a partner in a large New York law firm, unreadable, unflappable. The Sphinx, I called him. Although the deponent's connection with this business dispute was secondary, he and his lawyer were key players in any resolution. They were, until this time, unreachable.

The Spectre was the last of the Sphinx's four clients to be deposed. Over a period of two weeks, in the Sphinx's stuffy white-shoe law office, I conducted the depositions. There were a few revelations, but only a few, and the Sphinx could not have been displeased with the testimony.

On the last day, at moments before 10 o'clock, The Spectre entered the conference room with The Sphinx and I introduced myself. Just as we were about to begin, I said, "Excuse me for asking, but I heard a rumor that you are a cigar smoker."

"That's right," said The Spectre, perhaps a bit surprised both that I knew this and that we were talking about it as the court reporter prepared to take down our words.

"If I could produce some really exceptional cigars, do you think it would be possible for us to smoke them here?"

There were really two answers to such a question. The building and the law firm were plastered with No Smoking signs. On the other hand, this man was one of this huge firm's biggest clients, big enough that he and the firm's managing partner prepared for the deposition over a weekend of golf in Bermuda. (You can learn a lot by listening to small talk prior to a deposition's opening moments.)

Not giving him a chance to respond, I pulled out two Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas. Even men with a half billion dollars don't have as many Hoyos as they want.

His eyebrows danced. He asked his attorney, though the answer he sought was already clear. "That's not a problem, is it? If we smoke these in here?"

It was a LARGE problem. Anti-smokers, used to smoke-free offices, do not relinquish their ground easily. Someone would have to be employed outside the door, just to keep angry office staffers from barging in and disrupting the deposition, or worse, riling the firm's biggest client. It also meant The Sphinx was losing control over the environment, in his own office.


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