11 February 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Lawyer: (Last Week)

Monday: No trials. I go over to the courthouse and while I'm discussing something with another lawyer I see one of my former clients getting pretried for statutory burglary, abduction, and grand larceny. His immigrant parents are there and they don't understand anything that's going on. I take them out to a conference room and after some back and forth they seem to understand what's going on. Afterwards I go back to my office and put the finishing touches on a brief for a suppression issue. Late in the afternoon the client's father comes to my office. Figuring that he's a hard working guy with a family I quote him a rock bottom price. He pulls out a wallet stuffed with hundred dollar bills and counts out my fee (and leaves much more in the wallet). Oh well . . . that's what I get for not trying to be a money-grubber.

Tuesday: Another day with no trials. I drop off some papers at the courthouse and then go visit clients at the jails. One of my clients has bonded out but not bothered to come see me. The client whose parents hired me the day before has already been shipped to the regional jail so I take a couple of hours to travel out there. The only thing of note that happens (which I can talk about) is that the jail sends the wrong person out to talk to me. I look up through the glass and the guy's the right ethnic group but he's not my client. When I tell him this he laughs, tells me that the guards can't tell their names apart, and says he'll go back down and get my client sent up. He leaves and in about 10 minutes my client arrives.

Wednesday: In the morning I go to court and my client pleads guilty to possession of cocaine. That was supposed to happen. What wasn't supposed to happen was that when I got to court I found out my client had been violated by pretrial services for testing positive and skipping a few drugs screenings. After a pretty little bit of tap-dancing the judge agrees to let my client stay on bond until his sentencing (with more intense supervision).

In the afternoon I go off to the US Attorney's office in Richmond to get copies of all the papers in my client's file and the files of his co-defendants. The AUSA I'm dealing with is a pleasant enough guy but it was kind of a weird meeting. Apparently because he has back problems he doesn't sit in his office. Therefore, the whole time I'm sitting comfortably he was standing on the other side of his desk. It wasn't intimidating or anything; I just felt like I was being a little rude sitting there while the poor guy had to stand. Altogether, substantively it was an unremarkable meeting. Although, I must say that when the third person told me about their 99+% conviction rate I had to use a lot of willpower to keep from pointing out why.

Thursday: In the morning I go to court to make sure my client has actually been extradited to Kentucky to face his third strike (he has). Then, while waiting for an 11:00 bond hearing a guy just walks up to me in the hall and hires me on the spot to represent him in a DUI set for later this month. At 11:00 I go in and argue a bond hearing for the client whose parents hired me Monday. It was bad. My client was clearly the least culpable of the three co-defendants but during the hearing the prosecutor alleges that it was preplanned, that a gun might have been involved, and that my client confessed. The judge denies any bond. Afterwards while I am explaining what happened to his parents both pretty much disintegrate when they realize that the prosecution is alleging a gun and that the prosecutor is saying that Client confessed.

In the afternoon I go to court with a client who is accused of a couple check cashing charges and a charge of bringing drugs into the jail. When I tried to negotiate with the prosecutor I got told she was lucky they weren't bringing several more charges because the drugs she brought into the jail were 4 different types of class I or II drugs. Consequently, Client pleads guilty on the charges as they stand. As Client is leaving the courthouse with her mother, I hear Mother tell Client, "Pshshssst. That lawyer is terrible. He hasn't done anything for you."

All in all, this day stinks.

Friday: The morning goes pretty well. I get one client's felony embezzlement changed to a misdemeanor with only 4 weekends in jail and my second client's driving with a suspended license gets changed to driving without a license so that his license is not suspended again (he got it back before trial). Afterward I am standing around with a couple other lawyers in the hall talking when a really hot looking young woman walks by wearing clothes that are a little on the tight side. Being the male chauvinist pig that I am, she catches my attention. As I watch, she walks up to the courtroom door. She looks in the glass window at the (male) judge. She reaches up and pushes her breasts up and in and pulls the top of her blouse open a few inches more so that even more cleavage is showing. Then she opens the door and goes into the courtroom. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stick around and see if it helped her any with the judge.

Half a hour after leaving the courthouse, during lunch, the mother of a client who had been recently assigned to me calls. She had also called while I was in court but I had only gotten that message once I left the building (for some reason the judges just aren't all that fond of cell phones in the courthouse). Thankfully, she had the decency to let me call her back when I got back to my office. However, once we have the conversation it does not go well. She wants her child to get therapy while he is in jail. For the umpteenth time I have to explain to a parent that the jail just isn't going to provide for that service and for the umpteenth time a parent gets mad at me about something over which I have no control ("That's just not going to be an acceptable answer!"). So I, being the good lawyer that I am, punt. Mother has told me that the kid threatened suicide to her several times since being locked up. I call the jail and tell a lieutenant about the client's future threat to harm himself and possibly others (I'm obligated to do that anyway). Then I try to lean on him a little to get some sort of promise that a psychologist will meet with client. The lieutenant finds it all pretty humorous but, pursuant to jail policy, he won't promise anything other than that Client will be taken care of. I call mother back and tell her this (which I had told her would be the result prior to the call) and it placates her for the moment. Who knows what will happen this week when she realizes that the jail really isn't going to give her child expensive medicine or provide ongoing psychological treatment? I feel sorry for parents who are stuck in these situations but there is rarely anything I can do for them.

The rest of the afternoon is pretty quiet. One client drops by to discuss his upcoming showcause during Friday open office hours and another doesn't show up for a 5 p.m. appointment but there's nothing too shocking about that.

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