02 December 2004

Day Four


Juvenile court day. I don't often take cases from juvenile court; in fact, outside of the circuit wherein I have my office I don't take any. Some of the worst cases I've ever had have been assigned came from juvenile court. Some of the worst run courts I've been in have been juvenile courts (although not the ones in my circuit). The court appointed pay at juvenile court can destroy you because you can end up on cases for months doing all sorts of time consuming research and making appearances at 8 hearings and in the end only get paid $112 (it's happened to me more than once). It's also a frustrating court to practice in because it doesn't seem to have sunk in to a lot of people that the juvenile record no longer goes away. Convictions seem to come far too easily and they now taint the kid for life (although, judging from recent experience, this has changed in my home jurisdiction). All that said, I still take cases in my home jurisdiction because (1) it's my home jurisdiction and I have a duty to serve in it, and (2) the prosecutors aren't entirely out of touch with reality. ;-)

So my first case is called. It's a possession of cocaine case. My client's mom is with him and she's all over him about how stupid this was and how it could ruin his future; Client is embarrassed and a little ashamed. Client pleads guilty and the judge decides that he should test Client for drugs today. So the case is recessed while Client goes to get tested.

Next is a young lady charged with petit larceny of a license plate. We go in to plead guilty and get it taken under advisement when the judge realizes that the lady who came with Client isn't her mother but her aunt. The case is continued for a month until my client's 18th birthday when it won't matter if her mother shows or not.

Then comes a case in which my client drove up to the drive through window at the fast food joint where he worked and sprayed pepper spray in the window as a prank. His mother is mortified and has already punished the kid pretty severely. The kid is overcharged with felonious assault by use of a caustic substance causing injury. The prosecutor agrees with me that the charge should be simple A&B and the officer recommends the same thing to the prosecutor (he doesn't think it's an overcharge - he just thinks the kid did a young, dumb, male thing and doesn't need a felony adjudication). When we go into the courtroom the judge realizes the complaining witness is his next door neighbor and recuses himself. So we get sent to a courtroom down the hall and when we get there it is closed. We all stand there for a couple minutes trying to figure out what was going on and finally a deputy comes and tells us to go back up the hall to a courtroom right next to the one we came out of. Once we got in front of the other judge it was relatively easy: Client's case is taken under advisement for 6 months with a requirement he do community service and an eye toward dismissal.

When we get back to the original courtroom we are in for a bit of a shock. While we were gone my next client and the officer had negotiated a continuance between themselves. They're already sitting at the tables when we get back in the courtroom. So we have a quick joint continuance motion and my client leaves.

We finally get back to my original client who comes back to court completely clean of any drugs or alcohol. Client's mom knows that even if this case is taken under advisement the judge will take her son's license for 6 months and wants me to see if I can talk him into not doing it. I tell her that this county always takes the license (because it's often the most effective punishment) but she still pushes me to ask. So we go back in and the judge takes Client's case under advisement, orders community service, and suspends my Client's license. At this point I point out that my client has two jobs and drives to and from school and ask if there is any way the judge can allow him to have a license. "Sure, Mr. Lammers, there's a way but we don't do it." He then launches into a well rehearsed speech about how even though the law allows restricted licenses the judges in Chesterfield County don't issue them to minors. You could tell the judge had given this speech many a time before; he even had a prop. About a minute into his speech he pulls out a bumper sticker which says "You Use, You Lose." He asks my client if he's seen these around (Yes). He asks my client if he knows what it means ("If you use drugs you lose your license."). Judge: "So you knew what would happen if you used drugs." The judge then tells the kid that he's going to have to ride the bus to school and that Mom is going to have to drive him to and from any job. When we leave court Mom is totally satisfied. Hearing from me that her son wasn't going to keep his license was unsat but hearing it from the judge made everything hunkey-dorey.

That case ends the 10 a.m. docket at about 10:40. I have one case on the 11:00 docket but he's never come see me. I go out in the hall and call for him but no one answers. I go back out at 10:50 and call and he doesn't answer but the mother of his children walks up and tells me she doesn't think he's going to show up because "he's always here by now if he's coming." Nonetheless, Client shows up just at 11:00. I talk to him a little about the contempt of court charge he is facing and we go in. Client's contempt charge rises from failing to appear for a hearing about child support. The judge and him talk about child support issues and it becomes clear that Client now has a job which pays decent and money is getting where it needs to go. Then we address the contempt charge and I point out to the judge that it makes no sense to either fine a man who is already behind financially or throw him in jail and cost him his job. The judge says, "We'll see Mr. Lammers" and puts the case off for 6 months so Client can come back with more of a record as to his job and child support payments. I talk to Client for a couple seconds in the hall and he takes off.

As I go back to grab my briefcase from the courtroom the deputy stops me and tells me Mr. Smith is looking to talk to me. I don't know Mr. Smith from Adam but I walk over and he tells me I'm his court appointed lawyer. News to me. So I run back and check the paper copy of the docket and, sure enough, on the very last page I'm this guy's lawyer. It's a little bit of a shock because this clerk's office has always been very good at letting me know that I'm appointed to represent someone. Anyway, Client is an adult accused of grand larceny against his father. Proving that I can do a larceny in my sleep I talk to the client for a few minutes. Then I talk to the officer and the prosecutor. Client then comes into court and pleads to a misdemeanor with all suspended time on the condition that he enter and complete Day Reporting Center (a year long, intense drug treatment program). Everybody leaves court happy with this.

When I get back to my car I check my voicemail and there's a message from another prosecutor about my two felony cases for the next day. So I go over to the main courthouse and spend a hour or so there. A good portion of that time is spent when the prosecutor and I go looking for a detective who might have some good information about the case (we know he's in the courthouse, we're just not exactly sure where). I eventually find the detective but the info's not helpful (at least for my purposes).

And thus ends my day in court.

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