Law & Order “Strike” offered an interesting twist on a case by putting ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) in a role working for the defense. It seems like it’s been a long while since an ADA got so much focus on Law & Order, and I think that De La Garza shined in this episode.
The story opens with the eventual murder victim, Frank Dresner (Justin Hagan) being dropped off near the courthouse by his wife. The city’s legal aid is on strike, and Dresner is there to help keep the strikers motivated for the cause. Dresner is tipped off by one of this fellow strikers that people are trying to use the administrative entrance to get in past the strikers, so Dresner heads there alone. He’s later found dead, apparently struck by a car.
Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) are dispatched to the crime scene, and discover a security camera that appears to have been tampered with. Initially, in viewing the security camera video, it showed that Dresner had an altercation with a man in a black BMW, who says he only tapped Dresner. He also said that he had gotten nails in one of his tires from strikers and had to have the tire changed, and he shows the detectives his old tire with the nails in it. But, ME Rogers tells the detectives that it wasn’t a BMW that hit Dresner, it was probably something like and SUV or a pickup truck. She also says that there was grease and sand in Dresner’s wound. When Lupo asks her what kind of sand, she responds, “SAND sand.” Of course, she knows that Lupo wants her to find out specifically what kind of sand; seeing that he knows there are “31 flavors of sand” in the Middle East.
When it’s discovered that it’s golf course sand used for bunkers, they scan the video looking for any connection to a car or SUV to a golf course. How lucky for them that they see a Suffolk County golf course maintenance truck on the video and they head there to check things out.
Also lucky is that Bernard recognizes someone who works at the golf course as Ted Sanderson (Brad William Henke) who was convicted for the murder of his wife, but his conviction was overturned due to new DNA evidence. Lupo and Bernard drive out to Sanderson’s home and question him, telling him they know he was late to work the day that Dresner was killed. Bernard then produces a nail what he said he found in Sanderson’s tire, basically implying that Sanderson was there that day. As they put Sanderson in the car, Lupo objects to Bernard, saying he should have left evidence where he found it. Bernard tells Lupo that he never said he found it there, clearly indicating he deceived Sanderson into thinking he did.
Let me break for a second and talk about the nail. The nail that Bernard showed to Sanderson looked completely straight. Being someone familiar with striker behavior, my knowledge is that when they want to puncture your tires, they don’t want the nails to be straight. I know this because I had to cross a picket line for 4 years (yes, four years) for a company I worked for who’s union workers went on strike, but the non-union people could not. These strikers purposely bent nails, sometimes fastening two nails together like they were “jacks” and would throw them down on passing cars. Nails that are bent, especially two nails bent together, will stand up and be very easy to pierce a tire. (While non-union workers were not the target at my company, some of us sometimes got “nailed” by accident.) Anyway, unless these strikers were forcing the nail into the tire with their hands, which I doubt, I don’t see how those tires could have been pierced the way they were.
OK, back to the episode. Sanderson is questioned by detectives, and when a gun is found in Sanderson’s vehicle, the detectives think Sanderson was going to shoot up the courthouse. They also discover that the DNA found on Sanderson’s dead wife had a marker for cystic fibrosis, and that Dresner was showing signs of the disease They think Dresner was having an affair with Sanderson’s wife, and that Sanderson murdered Dresner in retaliation for her death AND Sanderson wrongly having to serve time for her murder. He finds himself being arraigned for murder, without a lawyer. Since legal aid is on strike, Rubirosa is appointed as his temporary counsel for purposes of the arraignment. She argues for low bail and gets $100,000 bail from the judge. Mc Coy (Sam Waterston) is amused:
McCoy: $100,000 for Murder 2? I’m impressed.
Cutter: Aw, the judge was in a hurry.
Rubirosa: Sore loser.
Connie’s involvement isn’t over yet, as Sanderson argues that Connie should continue to represent her, and he cites precedent. Cutter (Linus Roache) begins to argue against it, but Connie shuts him off, saying that she is not privy to any knowledge that wouldn’t be revealed in discovery. So she becomes Sanderson’s attorney.
Connie has a serious discussion with Sanderson about his involvement in Dresner’s death, but he provides an explanation for everything. He said the police confused him about the dates when they produced the nail, and that he had been in the area 3 days before the murder. As far as him having the vehicle cleaned, it was because he hit a dog a few days earlier. Connie goes to the area where Sanderson says he hit the dog, and finds a dead dog. This seems to make her believe Sanderson, and she argues to a judge that the nail the police used could be considered planted evidence and she wants Sanderson’s subsequent statement to the police thrown out because of it. Bernard is clearly angry that Rubirosa seemed to imply he would tamper with or plant evidence. She wins her motion, and later tells Cutter about the dead dog she found, seemingly confirming Sanderson’s alibi. Cutter says, “ You know he killed Dresner,” to which Connie responded, “Well, as Jack always says, I only know what I can prove in court.”
Cutter is talking over Connie’s performance in court with Jack, and says:
Cutter: You know, not that I’d ever admit this to her, but she eviscerated my case.
McCoy: It’s to be expected. Connie was trained by the best! (Cutter smirks.)
It’s good to know that Jack, even as DA, still has a big ego.
Connie, trying to confirm Sanderson’s story that he was there 3 days in advance, checks the video tapes and find nothing. But, she sees a bank in the area and goes to the bank to acquire the bank’s security tapes. She uses her ADA badge as identification, which was obvious would be a problem later on. Cutter discovers that she obtained the tape 2 days before she got the subpoena for it, using her ADA identification, and makes a successful bid with the judge to get his hands on it. The judge also chastises Rubirosa for her tactics. Of course, Cutter gloats, in one of the best lines this year, say to Connie, “See? The paddle spanks both ways.”
While viewing the tape, it appears that Sanderson was stalking Dresner, and Cutter uses this information to offers a plea of vehicular homicide. In discussing the deal, she chews out Sanderson, saying she knows he lied about his alibi. He admits that he just couldn’t take the knowledge about Dresner and his wife and he just smashed him. Still, Connie tells Cutter Sanderson is due a defense, and turns down the offer.
Back in her office, Connie is ribbed by a coworker, who asks her what it’s like to work for the “dark side.” Jack overhears, and gets angry, telling anyone in earshot, “ And if I hear any more crap from any of you, you’ll all be working traffic court for the next 5 years.”
They go to trial, Bernard testifies, and Rubirosa pretty much rips his testimony to shreds, making the detectives look even worse. An outburst from Bernard on the stand gives Connie the edge to have Bernard’s testimony stricken from the record and the chance to have the videotape thrown out.
In going over the situation with Sanderson, he mentions in passing that when he is freed, he wants to go to the beach, and that there is a nice place called Turneffe Island off Belize that has the best fan coral. Something in his comment sparks interest with Connie, and she digs deeper, finding that Dresner and Sanderson knew each other through a common interest, and certification in, scuba diving. Now that she has the knowledge, she’s clearly conflicted about what to do and seeks informal advice from Jack. His basic advice is “Follow the law.”
The judge rules that the tape will not be suppressed, and Cutter makes another offer to Connie for a deal. Connie takes the deal to Sanderson, but also clues him in on her theory that Sanderson and Dresner knew each other beforehand, that Sanderson had Dresner kill his wife for him, and Sanderson became concerned when information about the DNA on her body could point them to Dresner and the plot. Sanderson wisely takes the deal, and Connie promised to keep her theory to herself, in accordance with attorney-client privilege,
At the end of the show, while talking to Jack, they see the strike is over. This was another possible flaw in this episode. The strike, and the murder, took place in late January. The trial took place in April. I would think that if legal aid was on strike for that long, the court system, and the DA’s office, would have been faced with more delays and problems than it appeared. If they could have made Connie a lawyer for the defense, couldn’t they have done that in other cases and other ADAs, throwing the whole court system into a tizzy? I’m not saying that the couldn’t have been an strike all that time, it just seemed like the court system and the DA’s office was moving along like if nothing was different. I’m not sure what I expected to see, only that it just seemed off.
Putting Connie on the “dark side” was a perfect opportunity for her to show Cutter that she is not a person to be taken lightly. It also was a great change for De La Garza to establish herself as a formidable presence with the show, not just window dressing. While I was very disappointed in her first season with the show, they seem to finally have developed Connie Rubirosa into one of the best ADAs that the office has seen in many years.
I also think Anthony Anderson is fitting in very well, and it’s almost like the show hasn’t missed a beat.
“Strike” is probably one of the better episodes this season, and seems to indicate that despite the many cast changes this season, that the show has staying power. Which makes me, a die hard Law & Order fan, very happy.
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