Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Why do our clients so frequently dislike us?

I've often wondered why it is that our (public defender and defense lawyers in general) clients dislike us so much. We are, afterall, the only people who ever really stand up for some of these people. So many of my clients have no family support, or people who care. Sure, their families frequently show up when they're in court, but where are they before that, when the client is out selling drugs or gangbanging in the streets? Only when the client is arrested does the family come out in force, challenging me that I'm not fighting for them or doing enough for them.

I think I have an idea. You see, when I first started practicing law, before I had heard every story a dozen times or so, I would repeat my client's statements to the judge when they were coming up with excuses for failing at certain things. Thus, when a client failed to come to court for a few months, or a few years, after they were supposed to, I would argue something like: "Your honor, his mother died, and he had to go to Mexico to take care of the arrangements." The judge would respond: "Well, why didn't he at least call? Why didn't he come back as soon as he returned from Mexico? Why did he have to be arrested in order to come to court?"

Obviously, after a few times of making that argument, and having the judge say the same thing, I realized that it is not an argument worth making to a judge anymore. In fact, I learned that just hearing that argument made the judge think that my client was a weasely little liar who coudln't be trusted, and so I stopped making the argument.

Of course, my client hasn't heard the argument made a few thousand times, he's using it for the first (or maybe only the 10th) time. So, when he tells me "I went to Mexico," and I don't immediately turn to the judge and say those seemingly magic, get out of jail free card words, he gets pissed off. Why won't you tell him my side of the story? "Well," I'll tell my client, "why didn't you at least call, why didn't you walk in voluntarily when you got back from Mexico? Why did you need to be arrested in order to get you into court?" In other words, rather than embaress mysefl and my client with those ridiculous arguments, I just tell the client what the judge is going to say. It is frequently to spare the client the bad results of my using this excuse as his first, best, excuse, but just as frequently it is to spare me the inevitible repartee with the Judge where the conversation will invariably go the way I have heard it go a million times (even though I don't make some of those arguments anymore, I watch many other defense lawyers make them, to the inevitible result that I used to get, further strengthening my resolve never to make some of those idiotic arguments anymore).

Obviously, my client doesn't like to hear his lawyer sound like the judge, so now he accused me of being on the prosecution's side. I have to explain that I'm just trying to spare him from the bad result of having an idiotic reason given to the judge. A judge far more respects a person who says "I messed up, I'm sorry," than someone who tries to lie his way out of it with excuses. I certainly have more respect for such a person. But, when I try to explain this to my client, and that I'm only saying exactly what the judge is saying so that I can try to go a level deeper with him, to explore the real reaons he didn't make it to court, or to prepare him for the let down he's about to get, I don't get a great deal of understanding. All I get is anger.

This type of discussion goes on a million times, over a million things. Why don't you run a motion to suppress (even if there is nothing to suppress, or absolutely no grounds to do so)? Why don't you ask for OR/release without bail (even though he's charged with murder or has failed to appear to just about every case he's ever been charged with)? Why don't you make a motion to dismiss (when there is no basis to file such a motion). Every time, I must explain why it doesn't apply to their case, even though they tell me that their cellie got a far better deal, or a dismissal on the "exact same" facts.

I frequently wish that the DAs would come in to lockup and talk to our clients. Let them try to explain why they are going on a theory of implied malice for murder when a shooting was clearly accidental. Let them explain why they won't offer my client anything less than 5 years in prison on a case. At least this way I don't have to do the explaining, and my clients won't hate me when I tell them the facts of liife.

Remember, in Ancient Greece, they really did kill the messenger if the King didn't like the news he gave Some things never change.

No comments: