Saturday, December 30, 2006

Final Caseload Update

Our case management software says that I closed 604 cases this year. That includes a number of things:
  • Original cases.
  • Probation violations.
  • Clients that opted to proceed pro se or to retain counsel.
  • A small handful of cases that we opened because we are/were required to contact inmates within 72 hours of their arrest.
  • A few post-judgment matters.

We aren't really following the 72-hour rule anymore. If so, my stats would be more like 850 cases, probably, and I never would have worked the file because we got the person out at inmate arraignment and, at the regularly scheduled arraignment, the person resolved the case pro se. The number is just too great for us to handle, and we aren't really accomplishing anything.

In any event, when the boss distills the numbers, I suspect I'll come out to around 375. I haven't talked to him yet about how he does that, and I hope to next week.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Brief Vacation and Other Updates

Mrs. P.D. and I went to Chicago this weekend -- god I love that city. It was good to get away, and I'm feeling as if my batteries are somewhat recharged.

I had my last courtdate of the year today. Inmate arraignments went pretty smoothly today, but I am still trying to find ways to expedite the process. We had a Division meeting last week, and I suggested that the inmates be brought up to the courtroom 30 minutes before court actually starts. That gives the prosecutors and me some time to get things rolling, which hopefully comes off the back end. So, we had 25 or so inmates today, and we were done in about three hours. Not too bad.

I had a small falling out last week with my two prosecutors, but I think we've patched things up. I think most everyone was suffering from crankiness last week. I know that I was.

So, I have appointments and paperwork scheduled for the rest of the week, and then we're heading back home to Michigan for Christmas. I'm hoping that there will be some snow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Why can't they understand that these are misdemeanors -- these are not the crimes of the century. When the charge is simple battery and they offer me a plea to disorderly conduct for an 18 year old client, they aren't offering me a deal at all. This is a person that is just starting into adulthood. What possibly justifies branding her a criminal, for the rest of her life, when the same ends can be accomplished by diversion?

So maybe we lose at trial, but at least we've gone down swinging.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Sad State of Affairs

In February, I had a client that was examined by a State psychologist, who determined that my client was incompetent to stand trial. That means that (a) he couldn't help me put the case together and (b) he didn't understand the object and nature of the proceedings against him. In other words, he was so disorganized that he didn't know what was going on.

As a result, he was committed to the State psychiatric hospital, in an effort to return him to competency. He has been there this whole time.

Today, we received a letter from the State psychologist saying that they've treated him all that they can, and he simply isn't responding. In addition, the State psychologist specifically found that he wasn't a threat to himself or others, which takes civil commitment off the table. So, they're going to return him to the jail -- even though he is only marginally better than when I saw him back in February. At this point, the State has exhausted its resources, and now he is being thrown back on the criminal justice system.

So, I expect that we will get his case dismissed and he will be released in the next couple of weeks, still disorganized as when I first met him. And, in two weeks or three months, he'll be back, on some other classic mental-health-client offense. Criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, etc.

That's a damn shame.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


A very full day:
  • Started at 9:00 a.m., ended at 7:00 p.m.
  • 200+ cases on the morning and afternoon calendars combined
  • 34 new files
  • 1 case sent to diversion
  • 2 dismissals
  • 3 or 4 cases set for the motions calendar in January
  • 3 slices of pizza in 10 minutes for lunch
  • 2 tired feet
I have calendar call tomorrow, but, thankfully, there are only 35 or so cases set for tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I've been spammed twice -- time to turn on word verification.

Monday, December 04, 2006

First Week of Trial Recap

So I had another five cases set this past Thursday. None of them went, and I did end up getting two dismissals. This Court is working out a lot better -- I may have 20 cases set for trial, but they are spread out over two weeks, as opposed to one day. It makes for a more relaxed pace.

Sadly, I learned this morning that one of my client's passed away on Friday. He was one of the guys that entered a plea on Thursday. It was a domestic case, and he was going to admit that he broke his soon-to-be-former-wife's cell phone. The prosecutor worked with us and we ended up entering a plea just to the cell phone charge. (It's called criminal trespass here, if you can imagine that.) Anyway, he had health problems, and was taking dialysis three times a week. Apparently, he had a heart attack on Friday. This past month has not been the best, on that score.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Common Law, Part 1

Justice Holmes' book is a history, really, of the common law and an attempt to analyze the values underpinning it. Even now, written a 125 years ago, the book has great relevancy and is an interesting read.

Justice Holmes examines offenses at the margin in an attempt to expose the values that gave rise to the common law. He then turns to some pretty obscure injuries -- a freeman killed by a horse, or a tree, or even a slave. In his reading, the early forms of the common law required the chattel to be turned over to the family of the dead man, to satisfy the loss. From these examples, he concludes that the common law was initially motivated by vengeance.

That's an interesting word. It's derived from the Latin verb vindicare, meaning "to lay claim to" or "to avenge." So, in Justice Holmes' estimation, the common law was concerned with buying off the blood feud. In other words, the purpose was retribution.

On a side note, Justice Holmes observes that "[t]he customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula. In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains." He then traces the evolution of these causes of action into their present form. For instance, modern law about an employer's liability for his employees actions dates back to the original requirement of the slave owner to turn the slave over to the family.

So, the bottom line for a public defender is that, every day, we are struggling against centuries of tradition.