17 August 2006

A Week in the Life: Monday

I get to the Shire County courthouse at 9:15 because I have a duty day in circuit court. I'm supposed to sit and take any court appointments the court has during pretrials on this date, but I arrive a little early because I intend to find someone to take the duty day (I won't be around to actually do the cases).

As soon as I walk in the door a prosecutor standing out in the general district court (GDC) hall hails me: "Mr. Lammers, this is the place you're supposed to be." Huh? I know I was supposed to have a case today in GDC but it had a prelim for a felony and I wouldn't be able to follow thru. I'd been handing those cases off and thought I'd handed this one off. I quickly look thru my brief case and realize this is a case I tried to hand off twice but couldn't find a taker.

I quickly grab a friend from out in the hall and get him to take my duty in the circuit court. Then I sit down to talk with the prosecutor about the case. Client is charged with speeding 78 in 65 mph zone, driving without a motorcycle license, driving on a suspended license, and felony eluding. The officer says that he was only able to pace my client accurately at 78 but that as my client accelerated away from him. Client accelerated away officer got up to 140 mph before he backed off for safety reasons. Client continued to accelerate. Then he ran out of gas. Yep, you read that right, Client only got caught because he hadn't filled up his tank recently. Of course, then Client tells Officer that he got up to 170 mph. And it turns out he has about 5 other warrants for not coming to court on traffic matters (the reason I couldn't hand his case off is that I couldn't find someone who could cover all 4 of his court dates).

Needless to say, the prosecutor isn't interested in reducing the felony eluding to a misdemeanor. He'll drop the two citations and reccomend ten days for the driving suspended, but of course, we all know that the hens will come to roost a couple months down the line in circuit court. So, I go back and talk to Client for a couple minutes and when I come back out the case is called and everything goes as planned. I snag the same guy I gave the duty day to and get him to take over the felony charge.

I walk over and talk to a prosecutor who will be opposition for my client's show causes on the Tuesday morning docket and ask her to put them at the end of the docket because there was a calendar screw-up and I am scheduled to be in two courts at the same time. She's fine with it, even agreeing to move the cases to after lunch if I run extremely late because I already have a case after lunch.

Then I start the great defense attorney round-the-world trip. From Shire I drive a hour down to Morton II Prison to visit my client who was accused of having drugs in Vangrove Prison in Vangrove County. He chose a jury - they found him guilty and gave him the entire ten years. We have a sentencing hearing the next day to try to convince the judge to suspend some of that time and I got his presentence report at the end of the last week. I drive down to the middle of nowhere and wait 40 minutes for them to find him and usher me into a visitation room in the prison. We go over everything and 45 minutes later I'm back on the road. I had hoped to drive the 2+ hours to get to Entropy Regional Jail but it's gonna be real tight. I doubt I'm going to make it before things get shut down for head count - shift change - supper. I call another attorney who goes to that jail a lot and he volunteers to get a phone conference set up for me; he calls back 5 minutes later and tells me it's set up for 7 p.m.

With that settled, I have time to do something else. About half way back I stop at the City of Carlton's courthouse and go talk to the prosecutor about cases we have in Juvenile & Domestic Court on Thursday. Basically, we agree that most of the cases are going to have to be continued and have another attorney assigned because I am leaving at the end of the month and will not be able to follow up (these cases can go on forever). There's only one case which we think can be dealt with on Thursday and that's a mother who left her 8 and 9 year old kids at home to go play bingo for a couple hours. We agree that 6 months of parenting classes would be the appropriate remedy.

With that I drive back to my office. I eat some supper and cheat a little, calling Entropy Regional Jail at 6:45. They have no clue what I'm talking about. The supervisor tells me that if I'll call back in 15 minutes he'll be happy to go hunt down the two clients I need to talk to. I call back and the man was good to his word. The first conversation goes loooooonnngg because Client is going to trial the next morning and isn't the brightest bulb in the box so concepts we have gone over previously have to be gone over and over until I think she gets them (I hope). The next goes fairly quickly. Client is being sentenced tomorrow on a driving as a habitual offender and has a copy of his presentence report and guidelines. We don't have much to discuss but I always like to touch base before a sentencing hearing. The phone conference ends at about 7:45.

I jump into my car and head out to Lost Hope Juvenile Detention Center. I get there at about 8:15 and ask to see my client.

The 18 year old kid is to be sentenced the next day for felony assaulting staff at a juvenile facility and misdemeanor sexual assault. It was a case wherein, a nurse claimed he and a co-defendant forced open a door, hitting her on her side, dislocating her jaw, and grabbing her in all sorts of sexual areas before she and the other nurse could shut the door again. The nurse's story was full of holes such as there being no way she could be standing where she says she was and get hit in the jaw and absolutely no way these two ladies shoved the door closed against these two large muscular kids. Worse yet, the guard on the scene testifed that she was there the entire time and the kids never, ever entered the room the nurse was in. With the guard's testimony I figured there was no way to find this kid guilty beyond all reasonable doubt; prior experience hsa shown, time and again, that anything a guard tells this judge is golden - EXCEPT, apparently, when the guard testifies for the ward. The judge blew right past the guard's unimpeached testimony and found the kid guilty.

But it gets worse. Co-defendant's counsel, upon learning the result of my client's trial, went with a jury trial. There's a whole lot of back-story to it (much of which I don't know entirely) but suffice it to say on the day the jury trial is supposed to commence things are FUBAR due to paperwork errors, the staff at Lost Hope Juvenile not being cooperative (with the elected prosecutor, no less), and late delivery of the ward to the courthouse. The judge refuses a motion to continue and dismisses the case, laying blame at the feet of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Remember that a dismissal in Virginia is a dismissal with prejudice. Of course, I'm the one who gets to explain to my client that his co-defendant's dismissal had nothing to do with the facts of the case but was a punishment the judge imposed for procedural problems and it isn't going to do him any good. Let me tell you, this was a long, painful conversation.

Finally, some time after 9 p.m. I leave Lost Hope and, finished with the day, head back to my apartment.

1 comment:

CM said...

I don't know how you do it.

One question -- leaving your 8 and 9 year old kids at home is neglect, and you can be brought to court? I used to stay home alone when I was that age. Seems old enough, depending on the kid. How do parents know?