It all began with an innocent phone call from an old university friend.
Sabino Fornelli is a civil lawyer. If one of his clients runs into criminal problems, Sabino calls and gives me the case. Then he washes his hands of it. Like many civil lawyers, he thinks of the criminal-court system as a dangerous and disreputable place. He tries to steer clear of it.
One March afternoon, while I was absorbed in an appeal I was scheduled to argue the following day before the Court of Cassation, I received a call from Sabino Fornelli.
We hadn’t spoken in months.
“Ciao, Guerrieri, how are you?”
“Fine, how about you?”
“Same as ever. My son’s doing a semester abroad, in the US.”
“Great. Wonderful idea, that’ll be a memorable experience.”
“It’s been a memorable experience for me, certainly. My wife’s been driving me crazy since the day he left. She’s been worried sick about him.”
We went back and forth for a few more minutes, exchanging the usual platitudes, and then he got to the point of his call: two clients of his wanted to see me about a sensitive and urgent matter. He spoke the words “sensitive and urgent” in a hushed voice that struck me as slightly ridiculous. The most serious case Fornelli had referred to me so far was a dramatic little affair involving obscenities and insults, a beating, and a breaking-and-entering charge.
Basically, given our past history, I couldn’t take it too seriously when Sabino Fornelli called any case he sent my way “sensitive and urgent”.
“I’m going to Rome tomorrow, Sabino, and I don’t know what time I’ll be back. The next day is Saturday.” I glanced quickly at my appointment book. “Ask them to stop by late on Monday, some time after eight. What’s the case?” He didn’t speak for a moment.
“Fine, some time after eight. I’m going to come, too. We’ll tell you all about it in person. That’ll be easier.”
Now it was my turn not to speak for a moment. Fornelli had never come to my office with any of his referrals. I was about to ask him why he was doing it this time, and why he couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but something stopped me. Instead, I just said that it was fine and I’d expect them in my office at 8:30 on Monday. Then we both hung up.
I sat there for a minute, wondering what this was about. I couldn’t think of an explanation, so I went back to my appeal.