08 February 2005

A Court Appointment

I'm sitting in court waiting for my clients' cases to be called. The judge is doing a pre-trial hearing up at the bench for some minor matter. Suddenly, from outside the courtroom we all hear a rising incoherent sound which coalesces into thumps a voice: ". . . wanna call my dad. [thump, thump] I wanna call my dad. MAN, I JUST WANNA CALL MY DAD!!" This is followed by more thumping noises and all but one of the deputies in the room leave quickly out the exit toward the holding cell. Things quiet.

A couple minutes later another pretrial hearing is in progress. The door from the hall leading to the holding cell opens and a young man walks in flanked by two deputies. He's in a jail orange jumper and his hands are cuffed to a chain around his waist. His head has a gash on it which looks like it just stopped bleeding and there are two big swollen bumps on his shaven skull. He has blood on his arms from cuts around where the handcuffs are. Where the jumper has fallen off his neck and shoulder there are black ink tattoos. He's walking in a way which is hard to describe except to say that I think every man in the court instantly knew this guy is extremely dangerous and capable of an irrational and immensely powerful explosion at any second. As he gets through the door a third man (a guard from the jail) comes in behind him with a handful of the back of the defendant's coverall, controlling where he could walk.

I was sitting next to the prosecutor trying to negotiate when the guy was escorted in. They have to hold the guy over to the side so that the judge can finish the pretrial in front of her. Meanwhile, the prosecutor leans over and tells me: "There was a group of Troopers eating supper at a local restaurant last night. Their cars were parked outside and they were sitting inside eating. That guy came in, bought his food and left. He got in his truck and then spun it around in a circle in the parking lot 3 or 4 times and took off and led the Troopers on a chase."

A minute or two later the judge is pretrialing this defendant. She reads his charges to him and then asks him about what he is going to do for an attorney. He asks for a court appointed attorney. After a little dickering about whether he qualifies the judge looks up to appoint an attorney and - you guessed it - fixes her gaze on me. "Mr. Lammers, would you represent this gentleman?"

Of course I will. I walk up to the bench and we figure out what date the next hearing will be on. Then we start to address bond. My client says some incoherent things about the bumps on his head and wanting bond in slurred speech. The prosecutor suggests that I go out with my client, discuss bond issues, and come back in for a bond hearing. I'm all for that and the judge agrees so I walk out of the court as the newest member of my client's entourage.

Once we are out in the hall the deputies turn around and go back into the court. The two guards from the jail both hover nearby, one within 5 feet and one within 8-10. My client asks not to be put back into the cell so we sit in the hallway and talk. Obviously, I cannot disclose the matters discussed. However, I leave the conversation, return to the courtroom, and tell the prosecutor that I am going to ask for evaluation as to competency and sanity at time of offense. The prosecutor walks over to the clerk, I follow, and the clerk prints out the proper form.

After I fill it out the case gets called back before the bench. The judge thinks it's going to be a bond hearing but we tell her that it's changed into a hearing requesting a mental evaluation. The judge looks at me and says, "I think your client has to be here for that." The clerk looks up and shakes her head in agreement. I say, "Your Honor, that's going to be somewhat problematic." At this point my client starts yelling loudly and incoherently from his cell and there are more loud thumps. The judge then states, "But, if he's acting in such a manner that it is unsafe to bring him into the courtroom he can be deemed to have waived his right to be present and I find he has waived that right." She then signs off on the paper.

A deputy tells me that my client's father is present and would like to talk to me. However, before I can talk to him my first case of the day is called. I try the first case and then have to duck into the clerk's office to get some papers copied. I find the assistant clerk and another attorney staring out the back window. My client is standing at the back of the jail van. His back is to the van and he is standing off four deputies. His father is out there trying to calm him down so that he will get in the van. Just then a deputy comes in from the court and tells me that my next case has been called. I go try my case.

By the time that I've finished the father is sitting in the courtroom again. We go outside the courtroom and I explain to him what is going on. He is not upset at all that his son is not getting a bond and is getting a mental eval. However, he wants to know how to get his son's truck out of impound. So I walk him around the outside of the building to the clerk's office. While we are walking around the building the father tells me how the deputies finally had to capstun his son in order to get him in the van and even then had a very hard time doing it.

Once we get to the clerk's office we find the prosecutor who says he doesn't need the truck for evidence and a deputy who is willing to help Father contact the State Troopers and get the truck back. Before the deputy leaves he shows me pictures of the other inmate whom my client head butted this morning (he had a big knot on the side of his head). Then he shows me the damage my client did to the holding cell before they could stop him. There was blood splattered on the wall where he was hitting it with his head and he put a head size hole in the plaster over the bricks. He insinuated that more charges would be coming down the pipe.

And thus it begins . . .


Windypundit said...

Great story. I love the way you can keep the story interesting even though some of the juiciest bits are privileged.

I spent a lot of years doing computer support. Although your customers are a whole different level of trouble than mine, it's funny how often you can tell there's going to be trouble within the first minute of meeting its cause.

Ken Lammers said...

I defended my client in his charges for not having come to court previously.

moi said...

That's absolutely brilliant. Reminds me of a client a colleague had who decided to show prison officials he was boss by inserting 8 (yes eight) D batteries into a place where things shouldn't go.

Ken Lammers said...

Well, I cannot claim the most outlandish client. A buddy of mine tells the story of a client who chewed a chunk out of his arm the first time he came to court.
The next time he was brought to court he was in shackles. This time after he walked out into the courtroom for his hearing he turned to my buddy and opened his coveralls, showing where he had plunged his toothbrush into his stomache so deep that only about half the bristles were still visible.
The next time he came to court the deputies put him in a straight jacket and a helmet. They moved the trial to a courtroom with an observation room where they could keep the defendant segregated behind a 2 way mirror but he could still observe the jury trial he was demanding. As well, the courtroom had at least 6 deputies standing by (with the medkit). Of course, once everything was ready for the trial the defendant decided to take the prosecutor's offered deal.

moi said...

Wow. I'm assuming there was a competency eval?
Talking of troublesome clients and exhibitionist clients, the worst are those who just blurt things out, even if you're just asking for a continuance.

I had a client who plead to 5 years. The judge continued the sentencing and warned the client that if he picked up any more arrests between plea and sentencing, he would increase the sentence. Ofcourse, the client gets arrested. In his infinite wisdom, he thinks he is helping himself when he blurts out on the record:
"Well, your Honor if smoking marijuana is wrong, then I am wrong. But it was just marijuana. The crack wasn't mine, I was just hiding it for my friend because I knew if I was arrested with it, I'd get in trouble with you".

He got five more years.

Ken Lammers said...

My buddy swears to me that the guy was found competent.

I know what you mean about people hurting themselves by blurting out. There is a judge here who likes to lecture people. Usually the lecture means that the sentence isn't going to be as stiff as it would have been otherwise unless the defendant argues with him - then things can get bad. The problem is that his lectures are delivered in a conversational tone and often ask retorical half-questions ("why anybody would steal a Snickers bar is beyond me") with pauses that clients like to fill with answers.

I regularly tell clients "Judge Smith isn't talking with you, he's talking at you and you don't say anything to him unless he asks you a direct question. Even then keep it short as possible." It works for most. However, about 10% of the time the client just cannot resist the urge to tell the judge why he's wrong. And that client always leaves through the door leading to lockup.

moi said...

I do believe judges nationwide undergo some sort of psychological rhetoric speech training. I've seen judges here do the same thing you just described.

It becomes a real problem when you're dealing with juveniles. I've heard of judges launching into prolonged rants about "kids today" being irreponsible, which provokes the kids into defending themselves, which in turn the judge views as insubordination and round and round we go.

Sometimes I wish clients came with mute buttons.