IN the days of transition from printed reports of court cases to fully digital reporting accessible on the internet, a prominent law reports publisher from Nagpur had devised a tempting scheme for lawyers.
The publisher offered to load the entire database of case-law reported by their well-known journals covering reports from the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts into the computers of those who would subscribe to the various schemes on offer.
Different permutations and combinations of Civil, Criminal or Labour & Service Laws etc. were on offer.
For the entire database the one-time payment was quite substantial.
Thereafter, for a reasonable annual subscription the company’s representative would visit the subscribers every month and use his code to update the subscribers database with the newly added cases for that month.
This is the story of a representative of that famous company who decided to do some unauthorised moonlighting.
We can call that salesman Mr.Cheatkar.
He first visited my chamber soon after the scheme was introduced in the mid-nineties.
All the “packages” and “modules” he deftly presented were quite attractive.
However, they were priced way beyond my reach at that time.
Each package was in the range of 1.25 lakhs as a one-time down payment and a 25k annual subscription for physical loading of monthly updates by their representative viz., Mr.Cheatkar.
I was impressed by the demo given by Mr.Cheatkar and by especially his friendly demeanour but at the end of that meeting I frankly told him that I could not afford the packages on offer at that stage of my career.
He smiled and replied:
“Sir, you are absolutely right!”
I was surprised.
He continued:”Most lawyers I met have said the same thing!
So I have come up with a “special scheme” for all such lawyers from my side.”
Naturally, I was eager to know what this “special scheme” was.
Mr.Cheatkar said he would install every available database of his company only for Rs.25 k each and upgrade it for only 500 rupees every time!
He made it clear that he was doing this at his own risk as a “service” to the legal profession.
Therefore, his customers had to trust him fully.
There would be no contract, acknowledgement or official invoice and the transaction would be strictly and entirely in cash.
In short, he would use the company’s “codes” and “keys” in his possession to unlock the collective wisdom of all legal brains over the years into our computers for a fraction of the official price charged by his company.
Tempting though the offer was, I regretted my inability to accept it.
I told him that I felt it was wrong on his part to be disloyal to his employer company and that I would not be comfortable being a participant in a scheme which was morally (and legally) wrong.
I told him that in my opinion what he was doing was most unethical.
Mr Cheatkar looked genuinely surprised.
He told me that he has “sold” his “special scheme” to over a thousand lawyers till then and I was only the second one among all of them to have declined his offer.
But he said I was the first one to do so on ethical grounds!
I was not at all surprised to know that so many lawyers had opted for Mr.Cheatkar’s scheme but I was curious to know from him who was the other lawyer who had declined the offer..and why?
I therefore offered Mr.Cheatkar a cup of tea and requested him to tell me about the first person who had declined his special offer.
He named a very eminent and flamboyant criminal lawyer who was a designated senior advocate.
Apparently, that senior lawyer was impressed by what was on offer and even lauded the “enterprise” of this bright young “Marathi manoos” as such “schemes” had hitherto been the monopoly of Gujaratis and Sindhis!
But the reason he gave for declining the tempting offer was that at his age and seniority, most judges accepted whatever he said was the law, as the law.
With every passing year, he had told Cheatkar, the standard and quality of appointments had steadily deteriorated so much that there was hardly any studious and hard-working milord left on the bench to challenge whichever submission he made on any question of law!
“I no longer need case-law to win cases.
My face law is enough for me” is what he had told Mr.Cheatkar.
As he was leaving my office I once again tried to persuade Mr.Cheatkar to stop being disloyal to his employers and told him that he could get into serious trouble if his “operations” ever got discovered.
But Cheatkar said he had all his bases covered.
He had opened a seperate account in a small co-operative bank which had an even more “co-operative” manager in Navi Mumbai and all the cash collected from this “side-business” was deposited safely over there..out of harm’s way and scrutiny.
Mr.Cheatkar had then vanished from my life only to resurface once again around six months later.
This time as a prospective client!
His tale of woe is worth sharing here.
It seems in order to hawk his “special scheme” in newer areas, he had landed in Seawoods Estate, a posh residential area in Navi Mumbai.
There he noticed a lovely bungalow.
A board proclaiming “Justice Vichitre (Retd.)” hung at the gate.
Sniffing another prospective client, Mr.Cheatkar ventured inside and rang the doorbell.
After a servant let him in, the learned judge himself emerged from his bedroom to meet the visitor.
Cheatkar went through his entire well-rehearsed routine with Justice Vichitre.
Imagine his joy when Justice Vichitre not only appreciated his wares but asked:
“If I want to officially purchase each and every database you have for subscribers, how much will it cost?”
Cheatkar: “Sir, that would be 7.5 lakhs”
Vichitre: “And if I pay you hard cash and don’t want any bill ?”
This was music to Cheatkar’s ears.
“I shall unofficially load everything in your computers for 3 lakhs and even update it every month for free!”
Justice Vichitre did not bargain at all.
He asked Cheatkar if he could do the job immediately.
Cheatkar said if he got the cash immediately he could load everything immediately.
Thus the deal was finalised.
Justice Vichitre led Cheatkar into his study and showed him the computers.
As Mr.Cheatkar started working, Justice Vichitre went off to fetch the cash.
Soon, every database of Mr.Cheatkar’s company from Nagpur was in Justice Vichite’s computer database at Navi Mumbai.
Justice Vichitre treated Cheatkar to snacks and tea and handed him brand new notes totalling 3 lakhs.
As Cheatkar left Vichitre’s bunglow he thanked his lucky stars and decided to go home and celebrate.
At this point in his narration Cheatkar angrily exclaimed:
“I want to teach that Justice Vichitre a lesson!”
I asked: “Why?”
Cheatkar: “Sir, on the very next day when I took the notes to my co-operative bank manager friend he checked them and said that all of them were fake!”
I told Cheatkar that it was possible that someone had given them to the judge and in good faith he had given them to him!
All he had to do was take the fake notes back to the judge and sort out the matter.
Cheatkar: “Sir, that is exactly what I tried to do but the judge kept dodging me for two weeks.
Finally, I had to literally barge into his bungalow to gain access to Justice Vichitre!”
“Then what happened?”, I asked.
Cheatkar: “Sir, Justice Vichitre was well aware that those notes were fake. He said he had been cheated by a lawyer just a few days prior to his retirement.
He had granted bail in a case of murder and this money was given by the lawyer of the accused as part of a “goodwill gesture”.
Since he had retired there was no way he could do anything now about being duped!
So he was waiting for a chance to get rid of these notes.
Cheatkar had probably rung Justice Vicitre’s doorbell in answer to his prayers!
Justice Vichitre also proceeded to give a lecture on ethics and morality to Cheatkar and told him he was free to go anywhere and file any complaint.
He said the result of any such move against him by Cheatkar would only result in a one-way ticket for Cheatkar to jail.
Justice Vichitre gratuitously advised Cheatkar that just as he had passed on the fake bucks to him, he should pass them on to unsuspecting others!
And to top it all Vicitre invited Cheatkar to share a round of drinks saying: “People like us should stick together and collaborate!”
Cheatkar wanted me to help him recover his 3 lakhs from Justice Vichitre.
I told him that he should just write off that amount as there could be no legal remedy in an entirely illegal transaction.
Cheatkar was not happy with my advice but realised he had no options.
Several months later, I bumped into Mr.Cheatkar on Dalal Street.
He looked very happy.
I asked him how his “side business” was doing?
He replied that it had flourished rapidly and Justice Vichitre was responsible in no small measure in boosting it by his word-of-mouth publicity!
Mr.Cheatkar and Justice Vichitre had become good friends.
It seems Vichitre had a round of drinks with Cheatkar every time Cheatkar visited his residence to upload new case-law.
For his bosses in Nagpur however, ignorance was bliss.