31 October 2003

It has been a truly weird week.

It started out normally enough. The high point of Monday was when the prosecutor dropped four grand larceny charges and my client walked out of court free and clear. Tuesday was a day without any cases assigned so I spent it negotiating with Commonwealths and trying to get all the various paperwork (which never seems to end) done.

Wednesday got a little weird. I walk into district court in the morning and find out that my big case for the day had co-defendants (well, I already knew that) and that they have both hired counsel who were up at the bench as I walked in trying to convince the prosecutor that my client is the bad guy. I scotch that notion as quick as I can but the preliminary hearing doesn't take place because the prosecutor hasn't been able to locate a witness and the judge grants a continuance. Then I go up to the circuit court because I've got couple hours to kill before my next case and I go in and sit down to watch part of a civil jury. I no sooner sit down then I hear the plaintiff's attorney telling the judge, "Your honor, at this point I want to read the doctors' testimony into evidence but I didn't bring anyone to read the doctors' parts so I guess I'll just read it all." Yep, you guessed it - the judge looks into the gallery and says, "Well Mr. Lammers is here. He could read the doctors' parts." So I hustle up to the witness stand, get handed a transcript, and have to read cold testimony which includes all sorts of fun terms like "pneumothoraxic." What fun. All I can say is thank God I took Latin in high school and a semester of Greek in college.

That afternoon I get bounced around a little bit because the prosecutor's office isn't really sure who is assigned to my cases the next day but I finally track them down. In particular I talk to one about the bench trial we have Thursday afternoon which is for felony petit larceny and assaulting a police officer. We bang out what is a very reasonable offer and I spend 40 minutes driving down to Riverside Regional Jail. Then I wait over two hours before I am finally able to see my client. A hour after that I leave and drive straight home (another hour; it's 9:30 when I get home).

Thursday started out O.K. In the morning the prosecutor drops a grand larceny charge against my client and reduces the felony selling fake drugs to a misdemeanor selling fake drugs. The kid gets 30 days actual jail time and is approved for work release so I'm feeling like I'm actually doing pretty good (should have known better). I watch another attorney do jury selection and opening arguments and then go get lunch at what passes for a cafeteria in the local courthouse1.

Finishing early, I go to the basement holding area and talk to my client. Afterward I go and tell the prosecutor that the deal she offered has not been accepted; she asks if we are going to have a bench trial and I tell her yes. At 1 p.m. the prosecutor and I are sitting in the courtroom waiting. My client's witness is missing and her officer has not shown up. About 5 minutes later my witness shows but the officer is still not there. The prosecutor goes off, makes some phone calls, and comes back to tell us the officer is on the way. He finally shows up in sweats having come straight to court from the gym. I go back to tell my client we're about to start and we have a discussion. I come out and tell the prosecutor that a jury trial is going to be demanded.

At about 1:45 the judge sits at the bench. I stand up and tell him that the right to a jury trial is being asserted. The judge looks about as upset as I have ever seen this particular judge and says, "O.K. Mr. Lammers then we're going to have the deputies assemble a jury and we'll start at 3 p.m." As soon as the judge leaves the bench I bolt downstairs and take care of two cases I have in district court. The prosecutor in district court is kind enough to expedite my matters which thankfully were not complicated (a trespass dropped by the prosecutor and a petit larceny continued because the prosecutor did not have his witness). Still, it takes over 1/2 hour and I run over to get a copy of the instructions which the prosecutor has printed up - thankfully, none of them are objectionable. Heading back upstairs, I get there exactly at 3 p.m., just in time to wait another 30 minutes for the 20th juror to arrive.

The judge calls my client out and arraigns him; my client pleads not guilty to both petit larceny and assaulting an officer. The judge asks him if he's ready for trial (yes) and a series of questions to make sure he knows what's going on. Then he asks him if he's ready for trial a second time and the kid says, "No." The judge questions him about that and the kid's answer is pretty much incomprehensible - all that really makes sense is that he wants a continuance. I try to help him distill what he's saying but it doesn't get much better and there comes that moment where he starts saying things about me. At that point I just pick a point on the wall and stare at it (attorney-client privilege being the wonderful thing it is I am unable to talk). Finally, the judge cuts him off and asks if he is happy with my representation; he says, "Yes" and the judge moves on with the trial. I, of course, have to stand up and make a formal motion to continue based on my client's desires but the judge, of course, denies it.

Then we go to trail. It's not too long - the only witnesses are the officer, my client's aunt, and my client. The jury's out for more than a hour before they send a note to the judge telling him they have a verdict on one charge but are totally deadlocked on the other. The judge brings them out and asks the foreman for the verdict forms. The foreman says he hasn't filled them out yet so the judge sends the jury back in to do so (he tells them to write something like "deadlocked" on the one they disagree on). They go back in and then return about 10 minutes later. The forms are handed up to the judge and he reads "Guilty" for the felony petit larceny and we are all a little shocked when rather than "deadlocked" he reads "Not Guilty" on the felony assault of a police officer. Apparently, when they went back the last time whoever the holdout was must have finally come around.

However, then the jury has to go back in to decide the sentence for the felony petit larceny. The jury returns with a sentence of 3 years and 6 months on a petit larceny of a $5.00 T-shirt, instantly turning a pretty hard fought win into a pyrrhic victory. That's 3 times the sentence he probably would have received if the judge had found him guilty of both charges and sentenced him. The judge asks for motions and I ask for a poll but I really can't pay attention because I am arguing with my client. The judge asks for further motions and I say "No" so he starts to sentence my client and I have to break in and tell him I thought he would do that outside the presence of the jury and I need to speak to my client. He sends the jury out and I tell him I need some time to talk to my client because we are having a difference of opinion as to whether he should have a sentencing hearing (wherein I might convince the judge to suspend part of the jury's sentence). Rather than giving me time the judge tells us that he wants a sentencing hearing and that ends the discussion. My client is led away (I go and talk to him for a few minutes) and the jury is dismissed. Actual sentencing will happen sometime in January.

Gotta love trying a full blown felony jury trial on the fly.

1 Not that I'm complaining. Before they started this place up in the court's basement about half the time my lunch consisted of the ubiquitous snack machine crackers and cola.

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