18 January 2004

(Yet Another) Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney:

Sunday: Up past midnight writing a petition for appeal which has to be mailed on Monday.

Monday: When I arrive at the local courthouse I walk in and a bunker has been built over the weekend at the front door. I kid you not. There is an island made of kevlar walls and bullet resistant glass right inside the front door. All that is missing is a 50 caliber mounted machine gun. Because we all know that al-Qaida is going to do a frontal attack on a courthouse in Chesterfield, Virginia. Any moment now. Real soon. Maybe. Perhaps. Well, it could happen. Riigghht.

Once I'm in the courthouse I go to one general district court where the prosecutor drops an unauthorized use felony against my first client. However, I don't get any warm and fuzzy feeling from it - the prosecutor is dropping the Virginia charge so my client can be extradited to Kentucky to face his third strike. Then I go upstairs to the circuit court and walk into the courtroom I'm supposed to be in. I don't see my client (who has no phone and hasn't contacted me in about 2 months). I go out and walk up and down the hall checking the other courtrooms to make sure my client hasn't gone to the wrong place. I then ask the deputy at the back of the courtroom if anyone has been looking for me (no) and go look at the posted docket at the end of the hall. My client's name isn't on the board. Confused, I look at my PDA calender and the folder- both say we have court today. So I go down to the clerk's office and have them pull the case up on the computer. It turns out that they had tried to serve a show cause summons on my client and couldn't find him so a week before they issued a capias and took him off the docket. Hmmm . . . I've never had a court do that before.

I have no court in the afternoon but late in the day I get a call from Keith Jones, a fellow attorney, and he asks me if I'm going to be in court Tuesday morning on the Maxwell case. I already know that I don't have any cases scheduled for Tuesday but I check my calender just to be on the safe side. I tell Keith I've never even heard of this guy and he's not on my calender. Keith tells me that he thought he'd been assigned to represent the guy but when he checked the case online my name was the one in the Supreme Court's computer as representing him. That said, I then go and check my pending files and my "dead" files and find nothing. I look everywhere to see if a file might have been displaced or something but I come up completely empty. Finally, I call Keith back and tell him that to be on the safe side I will come to court the following morning.

Tuesday: I show up at court in the morning and there is no Maxwell case on the posted docket. I go into both the criminal and traffic courts and ask the clerk if they have papers on the case and they both say "no." Keith Jones is nowhere in sight. I call Keith's office and they tell me that he has gone to juvenile court this morning. Finally, I make one last check. I ask the deputies if they have shipped Maxwell to court today; they tell me they have and they have him in lockup. Then I go back to the clerk's office and one of the clerks is kind enough to look on the computer and tell me Maxwell is supposed to be on the docket. Then I walk out into the hall and Keith shows up (a hour late because another attorney in his firm had dumped a juvenile case on him). We go back to see Maxwell and I don't even recognize the guy's face so we agree that Keith will represent him. I go back to the clerk's office and ask them to find the papers for the case. They do so with little muss-n-fuss (it's amazing how efficient they are) and send them into the courtroom. Keith later tells me that his name was on all the paperwork; somebody just typed the wrong name into the computer.

No court in the afternoon so I spend the time doing paperwork. In the middle of copying a ton of things my copier breaks down. So I have to switch from lawyer mode into repairman mode (ah, the joys of being a single practitioner). The little lights on the front indicate that the problem is with the ink cartridge so I pull the cartridge out and shake it a couple times. It fixes the cartridge but it also proves the hypothesis that you shouldn't shake a copier cartridge when you are wearing your favorite tie and a $60 shirt (at least not if you want to wear them again in public).

Wednesday: I go to court and find out that my client cannot go into the drug treatment program he had been accepted into because he is homeless and nobody can find a place for him to live (client wanted to go into the program). So we go in front of the court and my client is found not guilty and ordered released from jail. Then I go to a second courtroom where the judge has already called my case without me and dismissed it because the prosecution didn't have its witnesses. I spend my lunch time negotiating with a prosecutor about a Thursday case. He agrees to drop one felony marijuana distribution charge against my client (if he'll plead to the second felony marijuana distribution) but won't agree to a specific sentence because the guideline recommendation is too low.

Thursday: I go to general district court and negotiate deals in two cases but before I can get my clients in front of the court I have to go deal with the circuit court case. It should be really short because I've already worked out the deal with the prosecutor. Nope. The client shows up a little late, I talk with him, and we sit in court for about half a hour waiting to get called. The prosecutor calls the case and moves for nolle prosequi on one of the charges. Then my client pleads guilty. In Virginia, before a judge accepts a guilty plea on a felony he questions the Defendant to make sure he understands. So the judge starts the questioning. About 2/3 of the way through the questions he asks Client: "Do you understand that the sentencing guidelines are only recommendations and not binding upon me?" Client looks very confused so we stop and I turn to speak to him. I'm whispering intensely into his ear when he cuts me off and in a loud whisper says "What's binding mean?" After a couple more seconds of whispering on my part, we both turn back to the face the judge who - having heard the question - is chuckling. Anyway, we get finished and set a date for the sentencing hearing about three months out. I hurry back downstairs where my clients are among the last left in the district court. I get the first before the bench. His driving suspended is reduced to driving without a license and his marijuana charge is reduced to paraphernalia (no jail time and his license wasn't suspended). The second comes before the bench and his driving suspended charge is dropped by the prosecution but his felony eluding is certified to the grand jury.

Friday: It's Lee-Jackson day so the courts are closed. I do some work from the apartment in the morning and take my dogs out to play with them. I waiver on whether I should go to the office for my open office hours because it is an official holiday and nobody's shown up for the last three weeks. Then I remember that the last time I skipped a Friday (26 December 2003) people showed up and were very upset that I was not there. So, I go in and what do you know two clients actually come by the office. TWO. That's almost a miracle.

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