“There’s a horse in the bar.”
Adam Reposa’s head swivels. His mouth creases into a wild grin, his teeth big and white as piano keys.
“Hunh you say?”
He is hunched over a bisected oil drum sizzling with white-hot charcoals. Turning chicken breasts and cheddar-jalapeño sausages. In the backyard of what Reposa has crowned “the diviest dive bar in Austin.” Saying something.
“There’s a fucking horse in the bar.”
Reposa’s thick dark brown beard and hair, billowing over his shoulders, drip with grill sweat and grease. It is over 100 degrees, a hot wind blowing up from old Mexico. It is his birthday. Thirty-eight. Taken over the entire saloon, inside and out, for the party. His wife and two-year-old son are not present. Many former and current clients are. As Reposa is a defense attorney in an already peculiar city’s atavistic underbelly, this may bode ill.
To me, “Check it out.”
I thread my way through a group passing a purple hash pipe. Sun still high, two bottles of Jack Daniel’s empty on the picnic table. Bourbon whiskey jug, Evan Williams brand, half full.
Up a short flight of metal stairs, there is indeed a horse in the bar. Brown and sleek, shod, saddled and reined to the rail.
A voice in the dark. “Idiot, that ain’t a horse. It’s a mule.” Well.…
Back outside, someone hands me a longneck Lone Star. Chippy, one of Reposa’s oldest friends. Tall, thin, grew up on the south Texas side of the Sabine. Accounts for the clipped bayou accent. Did a seven-year federal bit for smuggling major-weight weed, back when Reposa was still in law school, or else he would have defended him. Probably would have walked him. Chippy’s straight now, owns a pizza joint.
I nod toward a corner. Two zaftig Hispanic women—Rubens would paint them, Tracy Jordan would bed them—chatting at an outdoor garden table. Smoking grass and sipping vodka.
“Those, um, the strippers?”
Chippy, laconic, pulls on his own longneck. “Well, you know, everything’s bigger in Texas.”
Getting ahead of myself.
THREE DAYS EARLIER
The door flies open from the outside, releasing the faint aroma of wood varnish and Jim Beam. Adam Reposa doffs his white straw fedora, loosens his Carnaby Street neon-blue tie and carefully folds his cranberry-striped seersucker suit jacket over a chair back in his new office suite.
He slumps into a larger chair, snaps his suspenders like an old-timey banker and plops his alligator boots onto a desk. Lowers them. Stands. Sits. Plops. Stands again. Paces. All kinetic energy. If I am a personal pronoun, Adam Reposa is a verb.
“I’m pretty constrained in what I can do with this space.” He waves his arm about the cramped, three-room attic. “Some Bondo and paint on that wall. Put in that little window. Those bricks, they were the chimney. Covered ’em with cement and painted ’em. The look I’m going for? Better than an attic.”
An attic in a run-down clapboard house steps from the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse in downtown Austin, Reposa’s stage and laboratory. Have to climb the fire escape to enter. Convenient, at least, if maybe not what you’d expect from a man some view as the best criminal defense attorney in the Texas Hill Country, perhaps the entire state…and others view as the legal profession’s version of a monstrous hybrid of Charlie Sheen and Russell Brand.
Saw it up close. Within an hour of my landing last night he plied me with oysters, local-brewed IPAs, many (many) shots of Kentucky bourbon. Bartender refused to let us pay. Reposa once skated him on a DWI. I tipped appropriately.
So I dragged this morning when we hit the courthouse. Scut-work day in a holiday week: filings, rescheduled hearings, no trials. Reposa, by contrast, was…chipper. Everyone admired his rainbow getup in a world of gray flannel and repp ties. Almost everyone. Five courtrooms, five judges. I counted three amused smiles, one raised eyebrow, one mean stare and glare. “Me and him got into it one time,” Reposa explained.
Just one time? From the lawyer who advertises himself as “Bulletproof” and owns the website DWIBadass.com? From the lawyer whose photoshopped mug leers from the back page of every issue of Austin’s most popular underground newspaper in poses ranging from French-kissing a pit bull to banging a policewoman doggy style? From the lawyer who gleefully performed a cameo in Total Badass, a notorious documentary that tracked one of Austin’s biggest marijuana dealers—who now happens to be Reposa’s legal assistant? From the lawyer whose most famous YouTube video shows him ramming an old Chrysler with a massive truck while screaming like a pirate, “I am a lawyer—don’t get in my way!”?
Naturally there are reality-show producers sniffing.
But oh my, lots of people don’t get, and don’t like, Adam Reposa. Predominantly prosecutors and judges. His trademark: despises the plea bargain. DWI, assault, drugs—the charge does not matter. Always a trial. Usually wins, then brags on it just to piss people off.
Riffing on the attic again. “They come in, I got this shitty fuckin’ space. So I have to do something with it. I’m sort of like the architect. It’s the same thing with a criminal case. Somebody brings you a shitty set of facts. ‘Okay, dude, let me think how I can creatively litigate this case.’
“Most defense lawyers, it’s like being a real estate agent. ‘Let me see if I can get a price the seller’s gonna be good with and the buyer’s gonna be good with. I get my money and we’re outta there.’ Fuckin’ plea bargains. People are gonna get half-assed representation, and they’re not gonna fuckin’ know any better, not gonna know they’re getting fucked. Happens every day.
“That’s the mind-set. Sit there and tell the client, ‘You better be scared. It could go badly. Oh, this is a good deal.’ If you’re the government, would you rather have that or not? Of course you would. I’m always the opposite. If I can justify going to court, then let’s have a fucking trial.”
It seems to work. By Reposa’s own count—it is hard to believe that no official body keeps track of wins, losses and pleas, but apparently none does—last year he nailed 10 not-guilties out of “probably, like, 17 or 18 trials,” with another half dozen walks or time-serveds through the first half of this year.
Reposa is pacing faster now, the words jumbled in his throat, racing to get out. Can’t come quick enough when he is riled. Gets him in trouble in court. Grievances with the state bar. Contempt citations. Probation. Even jail time.
“Really, what is it that these prosecutors want? They want a big trophy, a big jailbird they can hang on their wall and make themselves feel better, like they’ve gone out and killed it. You come to me, you know what I’m gonna say? ‘Trial, have a jury trial. Do not plead guilty.’
“Tell the jury, ‘If y’all feel like what you need to do is make this guy lose his job and lose his lease and literally just hurt him because of the fact that he went out and drank and drove and he could have killed somebody—if that’s what you think justice is, then y’all should do that.’ But the reality is, he’s either gonna get the message or he won’t. Plenty of people go to prison for DWI and get out and do it again. Just getting locked up doesn’t predict how someone’s gonna act.”
And this works? In Texas?
“Like fuckin’ gangbusters here in Travis County. Mothers Against Drunk Driving hate me. The jurors get it. You’re just gonna have one more broke dick down on their luck looking for a place to live, trying to get back on their feet. And if that’s what you think justice is, making it so people have to struggle to get back on their feet because they could have gotten in a wreck and hurt somebody, give ’em a big jail sentence.
“Jesus, that’s what pisses me off. I went after these defense lawyers here, talking shit about how they’re shitty lawyers, and the state bar sanctioned me. I’m like.…”
He makes the waggle-fist jerk-off sign, the same motion that got him suspended and thrown in jail when he directed it at a prosecutor in open court. “Picked up four clients while I was inside,” he says.
Reposa eyes a bottle of Cuervo standing on an end table, pushes his hair behind his ears, scratches the thick beard.
“People believe in the magic lawyer, the connected lawyer, the lawyer who can make things go away. And everybody sort of plays into that at every level. It’s fucking ridiculous. Put it this way: Before me they didn’t used to offer time served on DWIs. Now they all do.
“Everyone here goes to the judge on punishments. I go to the jury. You have a choice in Texas. When I started doing that, everyone was like, ‘Man, the jury’s gonna put Reposa’s guy in jail forever.’
“The first time I did it, DWI, jury came in. Lost. Went back to them for sentencing. Gave the dude four days in jail, time served.”
Pause. Big breath.
“Get a margarita?”
Austin is a state of mind. The top-selling T-shirt slogan says it: KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD. South by Southwest. The University of Texas. The gin mills of Sixth Street hard by the governor’s mansion. Hipster Portland meets drink-and-puke Beale Street. A town made for Adam Reposa.
He grew up middle-class in San Antonio, 70 miles southwest. Dad a family psychologist—sick now, early-onset Alzheimer’s—and Mom a community-college teacher. Right-thinking people, he says. “Liberals, sort of. For San Antonio.” Wanted something better for Reposa and his sister. Put them both through college and postgrad. She’s now an ob-gyn up in Fort Worth. He graduated from the University of Texas law school and stayed in town. “I’d say they’re proud,” he says with some warmth.
He hung his shingle out 10 years ago, and even his detractors, legion as they are, admit he is a brilliant attorney. “Dresses and acts like a clown show,” a local prosecutor tells me one morning at the Travis County Courthouse. “But yeah, he gets ’er done. Until they disbar him.”
“That’s a little harsh,” says an Austin defense attorney. “Most people think trials are like you see on TV. They aren’t at all, of course, except for Reposa’s.”
Another defense attorney, a petite, pretty blonde named Stefanie Collins, who once worked as Reposa’s assistant, tells me that since the birth of his son, Cash, two years ago, she’s found his “madness” has ratcheted down considerably. “Of course,” she adds, “Adam’s ratcheted down is most other people’s fourth gear.”
Judge Carlos H. Barrera, before whom Reposa has argued several cases, is more circumspect. “I don’t think the show hurts him a lot except with his reputation among traditional lawyers and judges.” The soft-spoken judge and I are chatting in his chambers, and this last remark pulls me up short. Isn’t Texas chockablock with traditional lawyers and judges?