Saturday, March 26, 2005

From DUI Blog - Is LA DA Cooley inching towards facism?

DUI Blog : Bad Drunk Driving Laws, False Evidence and a Fading Constitution
Read this post by Larry Taylor. He quotes further comments by LA DA Steve Cooley, who was a little pissed off last week that Robert Blade was acquitted (in a failed prosecution by his office). I searched and found the whole article that Taylor's post refers to, and here's the salient line that is really chilling:

"It was harsh. It was blunt, and I could have phrased it differently, but bottom line it was the wrong verdict. Sometimes jurors should be held accountable for their mistakes."

Now, let's think about that. Cooley may be saying (and probably is, to be charitable to him) that jururs need to be held accountable through public criticism of their idiotic verdicts. However, when one of the chief law enforcement officials in the county, a man who has the ability to get just about anyone arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts (the old saying that you could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich - it's true, and there are so many laws and crimes out there that finding one, any one, on just about anyone would be easy. Even short of indictment, the amount of harassment that a DA can do through search warrants, subpoenaes for personal appearances and every document you own, or other actions, is so easy that it's chilling), starts talking about holding jurors who don't vote the way his office wants when they sit on juries for his office's cases, well, then I think it's time to wonder if he's trying to intimidate future jurors.

In fact, maybe defense lawyers need to start making motions to recuse his office in any case, so that new jurors will not have the impression that they may be intimidated into reaching guilty verdicts everytime they sit on one of his office's cases. This is something that people should check out. Thoughts, anyone (I'm sure Patterico will have some strong objections to my idea and my views).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Correspondence from an unhappy customer

I can tell you until I'm blue in the face how our clients hate us and think we're in conspiracies to subvert their rights and try to win points with the DA to get convictions, but perhaps just passing along this little correspondence from reader SM will give you the best insight.

Why do you call yourselves public defenders when all you really do is make a deal with the DA before you even speak to your clients and then coerce your clients by the use of the "fear factor" into taking the offered deal. Is it the "win/win" for both sides that really gives you the best feeling at the end of the day? Or just the brownie points you can rack up at the expense of your clients who believe they are actually get what the constitution affords them.....innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?

And you guys think I must make all this stuff up.

As an aside, the biggest nightmare for the court or a DA is when a client of ours decides to go "pro per," or represent themselves. Why? Because now they get all this stuff unfiltered. So, when I have my bigger pain in the neck clients that go pro per, I'm happy on two fronts. It's one less pain in the neck that I Have to deal with, and the pain has been shifted on the necks of the people who deserve it the most, the ones actually trying to put my client away, rather than those trying to help him.

Now that's justice!

The only thing I hate is when I have a client with a good case who goes pro per, and I can't talk him out of it, knowing that it is going to screw him

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Have I gone crazy re the Schiavo case?

I have never commented on this in the past, and I certainly don't claim to have all of the information (although, I'd point out that there has been a great dearth of reporting on the history of the case: what prior hearing have been held, what have they discussed, what evidence was produced about the intentions of Terry Schiavo, what has her husband done regarding this case, etc...), but it seems to me that the Schiavo case represents a fault line that has run down the middle of our society.

I wonder what my views on the situation would be if so many people whom I consider to be, put mildly, political opponents, had not picked this case as their cause celebre. I am curious what my unvarnished views on the situation would be (although, as I vaguely remember it back several years ago when this first burst on the national picture, I felt that the parents were really deluded and that they were keeping their daughter alive in a manner similar to a stuffed pet on the mantle, albeit with a little more life left in her).

But, as I look at this situation through the prism of the modern political football it has become, I have to think that this represents all that is going wrong with our country. The fundamentalists that I have seen take up her cause, and subvert the rule of law and government to make a political point, have no respect for our society and it's traditions rooted in the non-coerciveness of our religiousity. Simply put, these people will do anything to foist their religious views on the rest of society.

Now, I don't pretend that this dilemna is a tough one, and that perhaps the default should lie with keeping the person alive, if there is a default. But, by all indications, this woman had discussed with her husband, and sister and brother by the way, the fact that she didn't want to be kept alive as a souveneir for people. She chose her husband as her life partner, and despite the numerous bribes offered to the husband to relinquish his power of attorney, he has said that her present suffering is something she wished to avoid, not to embrace. From what I hear, every doctor who examined her said she is in a vegetative state, and will remain so for life. At some point, we have to respect our courts, no matter how much we don't like the result. The alternative would be anarcy, or legislative tyranny, as is attempted to be imposed right now. Both are frightening alternatives.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Defense Lawyers at greater risk of attack than prosecutors/judges

Jonathan Soglin, at Criminal Appeal Blog, has an interesting post about how defense lawyers are at a greater risk of attack than prosecutors or judges. As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, as bearers of bad tidings, defendants tend to engage in the practice known since ancient times as "killing the messenger." In fact, every time a judge or DA is attacked I wonder to myself, "now how did this defendant get the sense to attack the people who are really trying to screw him rather than the one person out there who really has his best interest at heart."

Read the post, it's very interesting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - Blake found not guilty in wife's killing - Mar 16, 2005 - Blake found not guilty in wife's killing - Mar 16, 2005

Well, If my credibility isn't shot by now, I don't know what I can't do to ruin it. In my defense, I did note that the "she deserved it" sentiment may carry him through, I'm curious if that's what won it for him. I know that they didn't overtly use this defense, but it had to have played in the minds of the jurors.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

PD in LA Slashed by Client

Click here for the story. I try to explain to you all that our clients often hate us more than they hate the judge or the DA, even though the DA's trying to give them all these years, and the judge is just a DA in robes, but no one ever believes me. You all have to understand this, the lawyer who was attacked here is one of the most hard working and sympathetic PDs around, visiting her clients incessantly, working closely with them, caring deeply for them. When she's a target, anyone's a target.

The fact of the matter is that we are the closest, and thus, the easiest person to go after. We bring them bad news, we tell them things they don't want to hear, we shut down their idiotic theories of why they should go free immediately even though they killed 2 people, and thus, they hate us.

A couple of years ago I fought my ass off for a client who was convicted and then sentenced to 3 consecutive 25 to life sentences plus 10 years. I tried like crazy to do anything I could for him, and actually won a bunch of counts that reduced his maximum from 10 consecutive 25 to life sentences to 3 (big wow, like he'll ever get out, but still, it should count for something). All along, the DA wouldn't give him a deal, and the judge wouldn't do anything to lessen the sentence. When we were doing sentencing, and the judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say, the defendant gave a long statement thanking just about everyone in the courtroom, the bailiff, the clerk, the court reporter, the judge, EVEN THE DA, but never said anything about me. For Chrissakes, the DA just got you convicted of a bunch of charges, and the judge just gave you 85 to life. You thank them but not me? This is the attitude that leads them to attack us and not the DA or judge, Georgia not withstanding.

Could I be wrong on Blake?

I know the jury's still out, but I did predict that Blake was going down, and over a week of deliberations is a long deliberation. Maybe this case was a little complex, maybe the celebrity aspect of the case still sticks, but ultimately, I find it hard to believe that this jury will give Blake much love.

Part of this stems from the fact that I know the juries in this courthouse very well, they are extremely conservative juries, for the most part. That being said, these jurors probably have no love for Bakely and the various sundry activities she was involved with. However, I also know the Judge and DA pretty in the case, that is something they are usually able to screen for pretty well. I also know that in jury selection, the judge bent over backwards to kick out any potential juror who may have shown the slightest bias against the prosecution, while I doubt (but don't know) that they did so for against the defense.

Maybe celebrity has it's value even in the San Fernando Valley, where most defendants don't blink until they see the whites of the juror's skin (that would be, by the way, nearly every juror there), or the blue of the elderly ladies' hair. To say that the Valley has juries that convict easily is undestating the situation. I figured that Blake's celebrity would not do much for him there. Maybe I'm wrong. On the other hand, maybe a mostly white jury will bend over backwards to acquit an aging white star in the valley when his woman gets out of line. Who knows?

Hope I'm not being too offensive on this one, but this is the simple, if not slightly offensive, calculus that we trial lawyers consider when thinking about how a case will proceed.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Becoming a PD

It's been so long that I've posted, but also a long time since I responded to any emails, for which I apologize.

Writer ambimb was curious about various aspects of becoming a public defender, and mostly interested in the nuts and bolts. As a 2nd year law student he was wondering if it was better to try and clerk with the same public defender's office for a 2nd summer, or go to a different one. The one he went to the previous summer would allow him, this summer, to actually appear in court as a law clerk.

I can't say which office is better, the devil is clearly in the details. But, one of the most important questions is whether or not he wants to work permanently in that one. The connections you make as a law clerk are invaluable in securing permanent employment. If you make a good impression as a clerk, the chance of getting hired increase exponentially. Many offices get thousands of applications for just a few open spots, the people best suited to getting those few jobs are those who have worked with the offices that would hire them.

I clerked for the office that I hooked up with for part of the school year. In that time I was able to show my interest, abilities (even though we couldn't appear in court), and interest in becoming a PD. As a result, when I passed the bar, I was able to get hired fairly quickly. Then again, one of the people with whom I clerked, who actually clerked much longer than I did, took over a year to get hired. Perhaps that is because he clerked at the same office he eventually wanted to work at - he was a pain in the butt and grated on people, and as a result, he was lucky to have been hired in the first place. Other people took varying amounts of time to get hired on, if at all, based in part on their performance as law clerks.

So, if you want to eventually hook up with an office, any office, plant some roots there and make them like you, it's your best chance.

I don't know if I ever mentioned this before, but when clerking for the PDs office, I wasn't paid. It didn't matter, I got used to doing various free externships for the experience in law school, and actually enjoyed many of them quite a bit. I really loved the PD's office the most, though. I remember about half way through my externship when I began to think of myself as an actual PD, not just a clerk hoping to catch on there some day. Once I started, I felt like I was doing work I had always been meant to do, almost as if everything I'd ever done that I enjoyed was coming together into this job. Then, when I got hired 9 months later, I still loved it just as much (hell, I still love it just as much, it's a great job). However, I'll never forget getting my first paycheck as a regular employee, I opened it, looked at it for a moment, and thought "damn! They're actually paying me for this? That's incredible, what a great scam I've found!" I still look at my paycheck twice a month and think to myself "they really pay me this much money for doing this stuff? It just doesn't seem fair."

I'd have to say, if you ever get into a situation like that in life, don't ever leave it. If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What's Up with the Michael Jackson Case?

I've been keeping up with the Michael Jackson case and all I can think of is this: Could there be a more blatant example of a shakedown family than the mother of the victim in this case? Don't get me wrong, it's entirely possible that Michael Jackson molested these kids, and if so, he should be punished like any other molester (here in California that invariably means many years in prison, perhaps life). However, it may just be that he's a freak who is not a molester, but certainly primed for being shaken down because he's so bizarre.

I tend to be skeptical of wackos like Jacko, despite my typical public defender leanings. In general, I'm more sympathetic towards poor clients who haven't had the best of guilded opportunities their whole life rather than rich defendants who get the royal treatment everywhere they go, and still screw up. But, this doesn't mean that Jackson should rot in prison.

The case for a shakedown seems ever more obvious with every revelation that comes in this case. The family insisted for so long that Jackson was wonderful to them and never did anything wrong, even in response to a Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services interview after the Bashir tape aired. They took money from him, they spoke on a rebuttal tape glowingly about him, and they stayed with him for a long time. I know that they allege that they were forced to do this, but I don't believe that for a second. Apparently, they hung around Westlake or Calabasas for the longest time cruising around in the lap of luxury with Jackson's assistants, making hour long phone calls to the mother's boyfriend in Los Angeles (a boyfriend who was a member of the military - like he'd just sit around and take it if they tried to kidnap his girlfriend and her family). Add to this the fact that she hit up every other star she met for money, and filed a bogus lawsuit against JC Penny where she got her kids to lie for her about sexual misconduct, and I believe you have reasonable doubt.

Except one nagging problem I have. I was talking with some of my co-workers a couple of weeks ago and I played this theory out, and when I was done (I had been arguing both sides), two of them said that they found the argument devestating against Jackson, and that, knowing what they did about the weaknesses of the family's credibility, they'd still find him guilty. It goes something like this:

Most people are not exceptionally paranoid about molestation charges. But, personally, after the McMartin allegations of the mid-80's and the hysteria that swept the nation putting probably innocent people in prison on outrageous claims, I became a little concerned. There was one point I lived in an area with my then-fiancee (now wife) during law school where many little kids would hang out playing outside of my townhouse during the day while I was home studying or otherwise screwing around. These 2 cute little girls next door (probably 6 and 3) used to love stopping by and bugging me, and they were so adorable I didn't mind. One time, they came by and invited themselves inside like only little kids can do and began chattering while I was trying to study (or watch TV, far more likely knowing my study habits). At some point I got worried and thought, I really shouldn't have these 2 little girls hanging at my house without anyone else around. Thoughts of me being dragged away in handcuffs, my life ruined, all because their mother and her boyfriend decided to blame some of their woes on me and make up a molestation claim went through my head (alright, law school can make you a little paranoid, but just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not out to get you). I gently ushered them out and never let them in my place again without anyone else around.

Michael Jackson had good reason to be exceptionally paranoid about molestation complaints. In 1993, he escaped being charged with child molestation by the skin of his teeth and by virtue of a $25 million payoff. He had every reason to be more paranoid than not just me, but almost anyone else you could imagine. He should have been so concerned about future allegations, especially knowing about his close call and the fact that everyone thought he was a freak, that he would be extra careful from then on. Alright, so he loves kids, he loves his child-like lifestyle, and wants kids around. But what kind of wierd compulsion propelled him to have little kids around him in such close poximity, without any other adults present, without any objective proof that he wasn't doing anything untoward towards them. You have to wonder what kind of unnatural needs he had that he would continue to put himself in the position of being accused, after having gone through it so seriously once before, that he continued associating with kids in this "unnatural" manner. This kind of wierd compulsion is the type associated with someone who cannot control their behavior, and of one who has something to hide, rather than being open about everything. If he was paranoid about not being wrongfully accused, he would've invited disinterested adults to observe his conduct any time they wanted, he would've had cameras everywhere to ensure he was not doing anything wrong. Instead, he did the exact opposite, he kept kids away from responsible adults, he fashioned a system that allowed him to be far away and unable to be surprised by other adults. These actions were the type of a person who had an unnatural compulsion to do wrong, not a compulsion to avoid even an appearance of impropriety.

He may be innocent, but I don't understand how someone who had been through this once before could even allow himself to get put in that position again.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Back and ready for action!

The cast came off yesterday, and I'm ready for action. I'll post tomorrow or this weekend. Damn, I've been going crazy unable to type or write for the last month. So many things criminal happening, and me unable to write about it. I'll have separate thoughts on Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart, as well as a few other thoughts, when I'm able to get them all down.

UPDATE - For the first time since I began this blog, I deleted a part of a post. Too damn sappy. I was typing for the first time in a month and made it look like it was a seminal moment in life. Get a grip, Dude.