Lincoln Mintz died. He was an East Bay celebrity – well known for his work defending the worst of the worst criminals from the streets of Oakland.
And he was my first boss.
A year after graduating from college, I went to work for Mintz, Giller, Himmelman and Mintz to decide whether or not I should take my father’s advice and apply to law school. I started as a receptionist, eventually decided against law school but earned a paralegal degree and stayed at the firm for eight years.
I always figured some higher power decided my childhood was far too sheltered, so it plunked me down on the corner of 14th and Franklin to get a taste of the real world. I did.
Lincoln treated me like a favorite puppy. He would fabricate some random reason he needed me with him in court, treat me to a giant burrito from a hole-in-the-wall on East 14th Street on the way, and then let me watch from a wooden bench in Superior Court while he intimidated witnesses and worked the jury.
I knew that if anyone accused me of murder, I would hire Lincoln to defend me. From the moment he entered, he took over a room – as charismatic as any Hollywood star.
He would drop large boxes of “discovery” (police reports, witness statements and other case-related documents) on my desk to organize and summarize. He said, “You don’t need to open that manila envelope, Alice.”
It was marked, “Coroner.” Of course I had to open it. The graphic images in the grainy black and white photos remain in my mind, even after all these years. I won’t describe them in detail. I’ll just say that something happens to a dead body, several days old.
One day he brought me discovery for a case where, for the first time, I was acquainted with the victim. I told him I couldn’t do it – couldn’t help an alleged murderer who shot an innocent shopkeeper and permanently disfigured his beautiful young sales clerk.
Lincoln sat down in the wooden chair on the opposite side of my desk and gave me a stern and unforgettable lecture on every person’s right to a fair trial, the importance of good counsel, and that because he just happened to be the greatest, it was his duty – and mine – to ensure our client had our combined best effort, no matter whether he proved to be guilty or innocent.
I still didn’t like it, but I learned a lesson and did my job.
At his memorial service, more than one speaker referred to Lincoln as a complicated man. (I try to live each day of my life so that no one will use the word “complicated” as a descriptor at my funeral. When I shared that with my older brother, Bob, he said, “ Don’t worry, Honey Bun. I’ll make sure to say, “Alice was such a ‘simple’ girl.”)
There’s nothing like an older brother to keep you humble.
But Lincoln Nathan Mintz was most definitely complicated. In 2000, the State Bar of California disbarred him for neglecting his law practice. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that although he was brilliant in the courtroom, he was not so good with honoring statutory deadlines or returning phone calls. Once one of his clients became so angry and frustrated with him that there was a bomb threat and we had to walk down seven flights of stairs to evacuate the building.
Lincoln was a romantic. He loved falling in love, but not so much staying in it. He had several failed marriages and countless lovers. (Fortunately for my family and me, I wasn’t one of them.) When he complimented my intelligence and UC Berkeley education, I thought, “How cool is it that this Perry Mason-like high-powered criminal defense attorney thinks I’m smart!” If he was hitting on me, I was completely oblivious. Thank heaven for oblivion.
Lincoln was a father. He adored all four of his children, and I watched his heart break when his eldest son, Jimmy, died. When my daughter, Sarah, gave Lincoln a preschool construction paper picture of the Lincoln Memorial with a shiny copper penny taped between the crooked columns, he hung it on the wall above his desk right beside his Boalt Law School diploma. It stayed there for years, fading in the sunlight through the window.
His law partner, my good friend Jim Giller, was supposed to speak at the memorial service. Jim was abroad when Lincoln died and Lincoln’s children postponed the memorial for Jim’s return, but his flight was delayed. Throughout the service, I kept turning to the back of the chapel, expecting to see Jim in his rumpled “Colombo” trench coat, pounding on the locked doors like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, managing to stop the service just in time.
But he missed it. It’s hard to attend the memorial of a close friend. It must be even harder to miss it.
At the end of the service, Lincoln’s family led us in “Hail to California.” (Their father was a diehard Cal fan.) At the Lair of the Bear – UC Berkeley’s family summer camp – they always end it, “Good night, campers!” They asked that we end with, “Good night, Lincoln.”
Good night, Lincoln. Rest in peace.