A Slash Of Scarlet in A Gray Court

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

What seemed intriguing last May seems tedious now, post-Spitzer, post-Craig, post-Paterson.

$250 a session? Meh.

Nevertheless, into the U.S. District courtroom at 9:30 sharp, for the continuing trial of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, alleged prostitution provider. It's less "Law & Order" and more "Minority Report," lots of computer screens and pull-down screens and big-screen TVs, which allow everyone to view scanned-in evidence at the same ti --


There she is, the accused madam, oddly tiny-seeming, surrounded by her defense team at a conference table. Her look today is biker chick-meets-fundamentalist Mormon, calf-length skirt and the trademark bouffant, paired with a leather jacket and boots. Great lipstick color for her, it really is -- red but not Bozo-trash, and that look is hard.

She's unreadable, a sphinx, she covers her mouth when she whispers to her attorney to shield against lip readers. When she's not whispering she's totally silent, her cupid's-bow mouth looking . . . concerned? Amused? Defiant? Those red lips exaggerate every quiver.

First witness: Amanda Hardaway, a former employee of Pamela Martin & Associates, the escort service that was allegedly a prostitution ring.

She and the next witness, another former employee, have similar testimonies: They say the expectation of sex was implied, they were paid in cash, which was transferred to money orders, which was overnighted to -- Is that man sleeping?

That man, in the polo shirt in the back row of the audience, his head nodding slower and slower and slllooowerrr, and now, yes, now his chin is resting on his chest and in the middle of the most salacious trial of the year, this man is snoring.

Richard Bowden, the deputy U.S. marshal of the courtroom, goes over and glares the man awake before pointing him to the exit. Happens more than you'd think, he says later.

Palfrey slips on a pair of thick-rimmed reading glasses to have a look at a document, but her lips -- less red than rose, L'Oreal Cherry Freeze, maybe?

(Juror in the second row: Just unwrap that cough drop and get it over with.)

Squirming on the hard wooden bench, mentally awarding prizes to the defending and prosecuting attorneys' questions to witnesses.

Most Obvious: You're not particularly happy to be here, are you?

Most Abstruse: Without stating what it is, did you have an understanding of what the business was?

Most None of Your Business: Did you have any discussion about menstruation?

Most Horrendously Boring: Did you, in the course of your investigation, review and collect express mail labels?

Most Existential: What do you mean by "normal sex"?

Really, what does anyone mean by "normal sex"?

Late in the morning, Judge James Robertson calls for a 15-minute break.

Out in the hallway, where everyone checks cellphone messages, you turn into an elevator bank and encounter . . . Palfrey.

What a reportorial opportunity! What to say?

Your lipstick is lovely. Where did you get it?

Palfrey looks surprised, then flattered, murmuring in a sweet voice that she actually uses two colors.

She gamely digs through her purse to produce two lipsticks: Big Apple Red, which comes in a traditional stick, and Jane 06, a berry-colored gloss that goes on top.

The elevator comes. The defendant gets on. Her lips are sealed.

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