When the senior Beasley first stood before a judge and jury, lawyers spent most of their days in courtrooms. Cases rarely settled. The discovery process had yet to evolve into the foul, paper-generating beast it’s become today. This meant that lawyers essentially walked into court blind, unsure what witnesses might say. For Beasley Sr., this was an advantage. Having worked as a cop and driven a bus, the old man had skills no law school could teach. He looked at witnesses and determined what questions to ask by instinct.
Today, the Kid — and, by extension, every other attorney in Philadelphia — clambers over a vast mountain of paperwork before entering the court. Cases settle more often than not. The discovery process is so comprehensive that Beasley Jr. knows pretty much everything a witness will say. And he faces a jury made more sophisticated, or cynical, by decades of courtroom TV dramas. Courtrooms are still theaters, of a sort. But Beasley’s direct examination of Robert Black was theater of a remarkably subtle kind.
Because the junior Beasley lacks his father’s commanding presence and long list of accomplishments, he is easy to underestimate. “What do you want to write about him for?” one prominent attorney asked me. “What has he ever done? His father was a legend. He built all that, working cases. The kid just had it handed to him.”
But the junior Beasley is a lawyer for his times. And against all odds, the buzz on the Beasley firm seems to be changing. Both Dick Sprague and high-flying criminal defense attorney Fred Perri say they’re hearing from local judges that this Junior-led Beasley firm is once again receiving a lot of referrals. This, too, shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a sense, the firm was passed from father to son in the Legend’s last trial, a 2004 medical malpractice case. Senior tried wrangling the judge for control of the courtroom, his usual method of forcibly beating a path to victory. But the jury wasn’t with ahim. He lost. He was diagnosed with cancer directly afterward.
His sudden end marked the passage of his older, freewheeling brand of lawyering. And the final act of an eccentric, brawling old man.
The Legend flies his family to San Diego.
Being a child of poverty, the multimillionaire refuses to equip his private airplane with the necessary upgrades to soar at higher altitudes. He flies in the same manner he lives his life: turbulently, at a height of 4,000 feet, chain–smoking Tiparillos. Behind him, his wife, two daughters and son rattle in the silver metal tube and choke upon his exhalations. Before long, they take turns puking into plastic bags. And they beg the Legend to find some calmer altitude for flying.
This is the usual scene whenever the Beasley family takes to the air. But on this particular trip, after the Kid pukes, he convinces his father to take an unplanned detour. “C’mon, Dad,” the 11-year-old boy says. “Take a left.”