Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Yesterday, I went back to my old courtroom to finish up the last case that I had kept. The poor fellow had had five attorneys in our office, because his case was almost a year old, so I figured that I would handle it, since I had worked the case the longest. (And I'll probably be posting more about that later.) In any event, I have a lot of respect for this Judge. He is my age, which is a little disconcerting, as we are both about 10 years out of law school. He is smart, he is fair, and he is knowledgable. You can't really ask for any more in a Judge.

While I was sitting there, waiting for our turn, the Judge took a DUI plea from a Defendant that had retained counsel. These were the last two cases of the morning session, and the courtroom was almost empty. I pretty much tuned it out, and made quiet small talk with my client. Mostly, I was concentrating on the points that I wanted to make during my guy's sentencing. I started paying attention to the DUI plea when I got the sense that it was winding up. During sentencing, the client, not the attorney, asked if he could be allowed to transfer the vehicle to his daughter, who was going to school. Because the plea was to a second DUI in five years, the Defendant was required to surrender the tags to the car he got busted in. The Defendant was asking for a break, basically.

His attorney didn't say anything. I figured that was either because (A) he didn't know or (B) he knew that the law wasn't on his client's side, which is more likely. The Judge didn't ask the attorney, though, and he didn't ask the prosecutor. Rather, he got the book out and started looking through the motor vehicle code. After awhile, he grew a little impatient, and calling me by name, asked, "Do you know if there's a hardship exception to the tag surrender provision?"

So everyone is on the same page, this ain't my case. I'm not standing in the well, I'm not sitting at counsel table. Rather, I'm actually behind the bar, sitting in the gallery with my client. (Who happens to be in orange.) I stand up, debating on how to handle the question. I was immensely flattered that the Judge asked me -- he could have just as easily asked either of the two lawyers who were actually involved in the case. As I walk forward, I realize that I'm pretty sure that the hardship exception was abolished fairly recently and that this Defendant is S.O.L. But, I don't want to screw things up. So I tell the Judge, "I'm sorry Judge, I just don't know." He thanks me and keeps digging through the book.

I'm feeling pretty good about myself on both fronts. The Judge consulted me and I didn't blow it for the Defendant.

I walk over to the Solicitor's table, where the two prosecutors on my case are sitting. I tell them that I think the exception has been abolished, and they rib me a little and tell me that I should disclose that to the Judge. And then, in the very next breath, they say, "It's not even your case. The guy's attorney should be doing the work." The thing is, the Defendant and his attorney are standing about 10 feet aways from us. And it's really freakin' quiet. I simply couldn't believe that they were talking that way about a fellow attorney, even if the attorney is on the other side. And they were (literally!) doing it right behind his back. I was embarassed for him that they were talking like that in the presence of his client. I was embarassed for myself, since I didn't want him to think I was a part of it. And I was really disappointed with them.

So I walked back to talk to my client.

The Judge eventually satisfied himself that there was a hardship exception, found on the record that there was a hardship, and allowed him to transfer title to his daughter as part of the sentence. After they finished up, I waited for the Judge to call our case, as he was filling out the judgment and making notes and such.

The DUI defendant's attorney made his way out of the courtroom, and ended up walking right past me. I was hoping to make eye contact and give him a "good one" or some other such encouragement. But he just kept his eyes on the door and walked out of the courtroom.

Monday, May 29, 2006


I'm feeling like I should turn in my bar-card.

I tried a case Tuesday, which I thought was a no-brainer. It was a typical domestic violence case, the alleged victim was recanting and was in fact saying that my guy acted completely in self-defense. She had been into the office before, and was completely supportive. I honestly believed her when she said that she had started it, and also ended it by calling the cops.

The two were under a lot of stress, of all sorts. He wasn't getting shifts like he should, so they were behind on rent and bills. So there was economic stress. They had a child under the age of one, who had been staying with her mother and whom my guy hadn't seen in a couple of days. The best part was, the complaining witness was packing on the day this all happened. So they had plenty of relationship stress, as well. She is in her early twenties and hadn't graduated from high school. It is easy to imagine the stress she was under and the frustration and betrayal she must have felt.

I thought it was a fantastic sign -- I had four men on my jury (out of six here) and I knew that she was going to say that she had grabbed my guy's groin in the middle of the fight. Four men!

The best part was, the cop didn't even show. No pictures, no corroborating testimony -- nothing. All they had was the 911 tape, in which she says "he beat me up for no reason." They aren't married, so the tape was coming in.

The problem that we ran into was that she did say that he spanked her, and that's how she got the bruise on her leg. However, at the same time, she was biting him. The prosecutor made some hay, asking the jury whether that scenario was very believeable. In any event, in light of the larger context and her repeated averments that he was only defending himself and that she wasn't afraid of him, I didn't think that we'd have a problem.

But the jury was out 45 minutes, which worried me, and they ended up convicting on two counts. I was stunned. Apparently, what someone says to a police officer, at the time of the incident, is enough (without the police officer's testimony, for god's sake!) to convict a person in the county I live in.

Good god.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Trial week

I have trials starting next Monday, the 22nd. Ten or so set on Monday and ten or set on Tuesday. And three or four bench trials on Wednesday.

It's Thursday's trial that has me concerned the most. I have a specially set vehicular homicide. The problem here is that I believe that my client is actually innocent of the charge. Those are the cases that scare me the most.