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July 1st, 2003

Meeting young Caroline

by Thom McVann

The winter of 1978-79 was one of the coldest and snowiest of the 20th century. It was also perhaps the best time of my life, although I did not know that at the time. But in retrospect….

Despite the snow I had just opened a small law office in Westhampton Beach after an eight (8) year stint as an Assistant District Attorney in both New York City and Suffolk County. I prosecuted many high profile cases involving murder, robbery, white collar crime, mob activities and political scandals.?Ǭ Being a trial prosecutor was a great experience for me as a young lawyer. I learned a lot. The work was exciting and interesting and if that wasn’t enough I got a small but regular paycheck.

January 1, 1979 was going to be the beginning of a new life for me as a non-salaried worker, working for myself and supporting myself. So I did the only logical thing to do on New Year’s Eve…. I gave away the very last $100.00 I had in the world to a bag lady in New York. I did it mainly to impress a girl I had just met. She had agreed to be my New Year’s Eve date. The gesture blew the bag lady away. But she must have been a gypsy queen. She was overcome with gratitude and she promised me a long and lucky life starting right then. My date was duly impressed and kissed me right on the spot.

A few weeks later, as I was trying to get my new small office up and running with no money, the gypsy delivered in spades.

It was a cold silver gray January morning, threatening snow. I was just leaving a meeting with my new landlord, Joe Rhodie, owner of Hampton Square in Westhampton Beach.With more faith than sense he had agreed to rent me an office with no security deposit and the first rent payment deferred until April 1st, just the kind of deal I needed. On the way out I ran into another freshly minted local lawyer named Don Noonan.

“Do you know how to get a no show arrest warrant recalled? ” He asked.

I said yes.

“Are you busy at the moment?” He asked.

I said no.

We adjourned to his new Hampton Square office, first rent due March 1st. He suggested that we share the representation of the then 19 year old Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the 35th president of the United States. She was the target of a no show warrant. JFK’s little girl Caroline, now a teenager, was subject to summary arrest because she had failed to appear in Suffolk County District Court to respond to a speeding ticket. It seems that Don had just received a call from Jackie Kennedy, who he did not know, and Jimmy Breslin, the famous New York columnist. At the time Breslin was Noonan’s brother-in-law. Breslin had just seen the layout of the front page of the Daily News. The tabloid was about to hit the street with a major story and a headline stating that every cop in New York was on the lookout for Caroline Kennedy because of a “no show” warrant.

Breslin, it seems had called his buddy Pete Hamill to tell him to warn his good friend Jackie Kennedy about the Daily News spread. After Pete Hamill told Jackie the news she called her usual “white shoe” lawyers. After learning they had no idea what to do about it, she called Hamill back. Hamill called Breslin. Breslin called his brother-in-law in Suffolk County, Don Noonan, who just happened to be the guy in the office next to mine.

Just at that moment the gypsy brought me to Noonan’s path. He told me his problem and I agreed to help. As the snow started to fall, I left Westhampton Beach for the Suffolk District Courthouse in Hauppauge to get the warrant recalled.?Ǭ Hauppauge is about thirty (30) miles from Westhampton Beach. As I drove, the snow continued to fall. The storm was starting to pick up. By the time I got to the Courthouse, the chief judge had declared an early closing, kind of a legal snow day, and everyone was leaving. I ran to the office of Ed Barry, the chief clerk and a good friend. He quickly found the Kennedy file and prepared a recall order.?Ǭ Together we raced through the now almost empty Courthouse looking for a judge, any judge.?Ǭ We finally found a judge kicking the snow off his shoes. He had just returned to the building only because his car would not start.

Thank You, Gypsy Queen.

The snowbound judge signed the recall order but he also demanded the standard $250.00 bail be posted to assure my new client would show up next time. Then he set a new court date for the following month. I just happened to have $262.00 in my pocket. I had gotten a retainer the day before from another new client for a future real estate closing. I gave Ed Barry the $250.00. That left me $12.00 for my big date that night. Ed Barry stamped and sealed the warrant recall order and I went to the pay phone to call Noonan. He told me to call a number at Kennedy Airport and ask for Mr. Alex Forger, Jackie’s “white shoe” attorney.?Ǭ I did. I told the perhaps unfortunately named Mr. Forger that the warrant had been officially recalled. He asked me to hold on for a few minutes. I had to put $2.00 in quarters into the pay phone. My life savings had dropped to $10.00 by the time he got back to the phone. He asked me to please bring the warrant recall order directly to Kennedy Airport. About 15 police officers had the place staked out, waiting to arrest Caroline Kennedy who was expected to land on a Pan Am flight from Tokyo in about two hours. It seems the plane was already in the air starting the fourteen hour flight to New York City when Pete Hamill placed the first call to Jackie to warn her about the Daily News headline. Jackie knew she had a crisis on her hands.

If the New York City police arrested Caroline she would be “processed” the same way as any other New York City bustee, i.e.:?Ǭ handcuffed, strip searched and subject to other unpleasantries not fit for the daughter of a President.?Ǭ The Daily News story had by now hit the streets and the media roiled in a feeding frenzy.?Ǭ More than 100 media types crowded in behind the cops at the Pan Am terminal with TV cameras, microphones, Nikons and notebooks at the ready.?Ǭ A helpless Forger informed me that the police refused to cease and desist. They demanded to see the actual warrant recall order presented to them in person. Forger said that I needed to bring it to the Pam Am terminal at Kennedy Airport as fast as possible. Come right to the front door, he said. I would be met, he promised.

After I hung up the phone I pointed my four-year-old Ford Grenada west into the deepening storm.?Ǭ The Blizzard continued to gather strength. It is about 40 miles from Hauppauge to Kennedy. The gypsy queen on my shoulder must have been doing the driving. I practically flew through the snow to the airport and got there in record time.

Forger kept his promise. Two men in trench coats met me at the front door. One took my car. The other took me to a really snappy executive lounge in the Pan Am offices.

I walked in the door and saw Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis sitting on a chintz sofa. Forger introduced me to her.?Ǭ She was demure and gracious and lovely. And she asked for my help. I would have laid down in traffic for her.?Ǭ This was the idol of my generation. I stood there awe struck but I knew I had work to do.?Ǭ I went back out to face the phalanx of police and press waiting by the international arrival gate. Caroline’s flight was about half an hour from touchdown.?Ǭ I spoke with a detective and a sergeant.?Ǭ We conversed and bonded a little with the jargon I had learned during my prosecution days in New York City. It all came back. They scrutinized my papers. They conferred in whispers. Radios crackled. After more whispered conferences the police abruptly marched off. TV lights and camera flashes lit up the scene like a disco. First, they all focused on the retreating police. Then they turned the spotlights on me. I was a star but, who was I? What did I have to do with the whole thing? Where did I come from? Was I some high government official come to arrange special treatment for Caroline? I felt like a deer trapped in the high beams of a big eighteen wheeler, but I kept the newshounds at bay. I told the clamoring reporters that I was Caroline Kennedy’s lawyer. I explained that I had organized the recall of the warrant in the normal way, just business as usual. I broke the news. There would be no arrest.?Ǭ They did not believe me, or want to believe me. They kept showering me with questions. Finally I put a lid on it and I fled back to the warm executive office and the cozy chintz sofa graced by Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Basking in her presence in the Pam Am lounge, I told Jackie that the police had left. There would be no embarrassing arrest.?Ǭ She offered me coffee. I accepted. We talked for ten minutes.?Ǭ I was falling in love with the most glamorous woman in the world.?Ǭ I was talking to a very concerned mother.?Ǭ She said she was grateful for my services and knew that I had made a long trip in the snow but would I please go on with her and Caroline to her Manhattan apartment. She had been told more police awaited there.?Ǭ Of course, I would have done anything for her. I told her that I would certainly be glad to help. But I also knew I had to explain that I had a dinner date with the girl from New Year’s Eve. I had put up my entire $250.00 bank roll to cover bail for her daughter. I had no idea where my car was. My date was waiting for me in the dark in Westchester. I was in trouble, too.?Ǭ Jackie instantly spotted me the $250.00. She told me that her apartment was on the way to Westchester.?Ǭ I could ride in the limousine with her and Caroline. After that her car and driver would be mine for the rest of the evening.

The Tokyo flight landed.?Ǭ Mother and daughter met and hugged at the gate.?Ǭ Jackie looked mad. Caroline looked upset. Jackie introduced us. Then Pan Am security formed a flying wedge. With Jackie, Caroline and I in the middle we sliced through a boiling sea of media, across the terminal and into the waiting limo.

On the way to New York City we talked.?Ǭ Caroline quickly confessed.?Ǭ It seems that she had been at a summer party in the Hamptons and decided to drive home to Manhattan even though Jackie had told her often not to drive long distances. She got stopped for speeding on the Long Island Expressway and the cop gave her a ticket.

Caroline was afraid to tell her mother, Jackie. She did not know what to do.?Ǭ She was 19, so she told no one except her brother, John. He was only 16. They simply hid the ticket and hoped it would somehow go away. She had no idea “all this would happen”.?Ǭ She was so sorry.?Ǭ Jackie was stony. The New York skyline went by in silence as we went North on Park Avenue. Suddenly Jackie gave Caroline a warm hug and let her know that she was forgiven but still in trouble, as was John.

We got to the Kennedy apartment on Fifth Avenue and there were no police. I walked mother and daughter to their door. Jackie asked me to call both her and Caroline for the coming court appearance. I was to be their lawyer. Finally I left for my date, tired and more hours late than I wanted to think about, but happy.?Ǭ After a brief nap in the car, Jackie’s driver woke me in the driveway of the Westchester house where my date lived with her mother.?Ǭ It was dark and still snowing lightly.?Ǭ I was really unbelievably late.?Ǭ I rang the bell. My date opened the door and admitted me with the same stony demeanor Jackie had fixed on Caroline. She was mad!?Ǭ Looking out her living room window at the car she said:

“You left your lights on. You’re going to have a dead battery.”

“I told the driver to keep the car running so that it would be warm

for you”.?Ǭ I replied.

She brightened and said: “I didn’t know you had a car and driver”.

“I don’t.” I said.?Ǭ “Jackie Kennedy gave it to me for the night”.

A chance in a million. What a line
Not long after that my date became my fianc?e and then my wife. Now twenty five years later my small Hamptons office has moved, grown and flourishes. I own the building. Members of the Kennedy family remain valued clients, mostly for real estate matters. Most of all I am still a sucker for New York bag ladies.

We all miss Jackie and her son, John.

-Thomas T. McVann, ESQ.

Filed Under: Articles | Arts & Leisure | the Hamptons





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