01 November 2004

Different Types of Client Families

I was appointed to two different clients today and they demonstrate how different client families can be.

First, you must understand that in Virginia a pretrial hearing is held to make sure the Defendant knows what he is charged with, find out what he's going to do about an attorney, and review the bond set by the magistrate. This particular county doesn't even bring the Defendants over to the court for the hearing. They use a system of cameras and TV's which allows the hearing to be done between the judge in the courtroom and the Defendant at the jail.

The system works okay except that when families come to court to support their son/brother/cousin. The family is there hoping to see there loved one and they have to settle for a picture on the TV. However, generally the judge will allow family members to come up to the bench when the pretrial hearing is going on, say a few words in the Defendant's favor, and then say something to the defendant through the microphone.

I'm sitting there waiting to see if the judge will appoint me to a case or two. The first I'm appointed to is a drug case. The client's wife is already standing up at the bench when the judge calls me up. The judge looks at Client's record, including a number of prior minor drug convictions, and is told by the pretrial officer that a couple misdemeanor offenses are pending in another jurisdiction. Pretrial's recommendation is no bond. The judge, not too happy, asks me what I think and I point out that pending misdemeanors do not trigger the presumption against bond, I think Client is entitled to some bond, and if the bond is too high I will come back in a couple days with a bond hearing. The judge then asks Wife if she has anything to say in his favor and she says "No." The judge then sets a bond of $10,000. Wife doesn't even blink. Judge lets me say a few words to my client then lets Wife speak to him: "Joe, we'll meet with a bondsman and have you out this afternoon." At this point the judge kind of backs up, looks kinda sideways at Wife, then turns to me and adds pretrial drug screens and reporting requirements to the bond. He surely did not expect that reaction from the wife of my (indigent) client. After the hearing ends I walk out of the courtroom with Wife (and a couple of other guys who were in the back). Wife barely stops long enough to take my card before she scoots out of the courthouse to go get the bondsman.

A little later I am called back to the bench. When I get there I am appointed another client. His mother and uncle are already standing at the bench. I get handed the paperwork and look down to see attempted murder. Needless to say, the judge does not grant any bond despite a heartfelt plea from Mother and what appears to be a sterling past (no record, good job, steady residency, etc.). I speak to Client for a second and then Mother is allowed to talk to him. She's sobbing a little but gets through some comfort words; then Uncle tells him to hang tight. As I'm getting ready to walk away from the bench with the family, Client (who has been pretty stoic to this point) puts his head in his hands and sobs. With that Mom starts bawling. Uncle guides her down the aisle toward the back of the court. Halfway out the rest of the family (8 people came to court) starts filing out and then Mother lets out a wail and collapses. Uncle catches her and he and another male family member carry her out of the court as she wails at the top of her lungs. We get out of the courtroom and go to a quieter corner of the hallway where Mother quiets to alternating crying/sobbing. I'm surrounded by the family and have to explain several times why Client has no bond. Eventually the family seems somewhat satisfied and go on their way.

I can't think of two families reacting much differently to the incarceration of a loved one.

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