October 31, 2004

From someplace more rugged than Idaho even

Welcome Alaskablawg, from a criminal defense lawyer with a very long commute.

October 28, 2004

First Idaho DP jury votes for death

Well, they did it. The first jury in Idaho to be given the power of life or death has chosen death. A Boise jury has given Erick Virgil Hall the death penalty for raping and murdering flight attendant Lynn Henneman four years ago.

The jury was the first in Idaho to decide whether a convicted murderer should be executed. Until Ring, Idaho judges decided the sentence in capital murder cases. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries must determine aggravating factors in a case to justify execution, the Idaho Legislature simply turned over the sentencing decision in capital cases to the jury entirely. Many of my colleagues fear that Idaho will see the death penalty imposed more often as a result.

October 27, 2004

Not gonna let 'em catch the Midnight Rider... well, on second thought...

Duane and Gregg would be proud, up to a point:

Brody drove up to a death penalty CLE in North Idaho last weekend, and came back with a copy of the weekly paper from one of our smaller counties. The front page caught his eye, at first with the name of the guy in the headline, who also has a criminal record in our county, over 200 miles away, and then with the sheer drama of the story:
 Posted by Hello

"Brian Ivie Busted: The Midnight Rider gets tazed, sprayed, and booked"
. Standing alone, that's got to get some kind of Pulitzer for small-town headlines. The article begins: "Brian Ivie the fellow who led the police on the wild midnight ride from Riggins to Council and back again was finally arrested last week." Sheriff's deputies Martin and Stamper tracked Ivie to a closet in his mom's house. "When no one came out Martin opened the door, Ivie leapt out at the deputy, as if to attack him but then stopped. Ivie was holding a beer in one hand. Martin spent several minutes trying to persuade Ivie to surrender peacefully. Ivie was not convinced it was all that good of an idea. Martin finally warned Ivie he was going to "go hands on" and arrest him."
"At that point Ivie leapt at Martin and Martin shot him with his tazer gun. Two electric wires dangled from Ivie's chest as he fell back onto his bed. Ivie pulled the wires out, bounced back off the bed and shoved Martin backwards over a pile of clothes into the laundry room. Martin's flashlight landed in a mop bucket. As Ivie raced down the hall to freedom Deputy Stamper shot his tazer into Ivie's back. The barbed tazer needles are connected by 21 foot wires to the tazer gun and Stamper shot Ivie from about 20 feet behind him. As Ivie stumbled the needles pulled out. Ivie leapt back up and ran out of the house. Out into the yard Ivie stumbled again and Martin was on him with pepper spray. Ivie stayed down for the count." This is when Ivie's troubles really started:
 Posted by Hello

I think that the cops charged him with felony alluding after he began explaining his crimes by stating, "My father was a gambler down in Georgia, he wound up on the wrong end of a gun."

I don't know why this paper doesn't feature this reporter's work on its website, so I hope he doesn't mind the lengthy quoting here. He scored on the same front page (below the fold) with this shocker:
 Posted by Hello

Fortunately the same county, population 3476, is getting $215,000 from the Department of Homeland Security, and not a minute too soon.

"The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there."

Public Defender Dude is back, but perhaps for a limited time only; after a long contemplative spell, it sounds as though he's about to transform into Private Defender Dude. What a world.

October 26, 2004

Good question

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association will be sponsoring a lawyers' retreat immediately preceding its annual conference. The day-long session on December 1 is in collaboration with the International Centre (sic) for Healing and the Law. Participants in the retreat will try to find answers to questions such as:

"* How do I continue to practice with passion and integrity as pressures within in the legal profession build; as dysfunction, poor management or funding cuts plague my organization; and as the external political and socio-economic environment continues to demoralize my clients?

* How do I stay centered on my core values when so much of legal practice is life draining and at times feels compromising?

* How do I reclaim my wholeness and authentically integrate who I am with the profession and the clients and communities that I serve?

* How do I learn to "lead by listening" to my clients and colleagues?

* How do I balance life-giving and life-draining aspects of practicing law?"

If they do come up with some answers, I hope that they'll share them with the rest of the class. As long as we don't go overboard with the drumming circles and psychodrama, it seems that asking these sorts of questions in the context of continuing legal education would be beneficial for all of us. There's a lot of emphasis in criminal defense training on the manly art of dominating the judge and jury, almost none on how to keep your head in the game for the long term without going nuts.

At NCDC, one of my Section D team-mates, a kind woman from Milwaukee, tried to bring up questions like these, of how to cope with losing so often, with so many cases, working through burn-out and discouragement, with clients who mistrust you, many of whom are (major third rail here) of a different race or culture than you. Our famous defense lawyer instructor of the day, who I won't name (but whose name rhymes with Boglevest) ripped her a new one, flamed her for being weak, and made her cry. We studied no more that day. It was a good team-building exercise, though; we rallied around our classmate, and froze out our tormentor.

So if individual poor people's lawyers are asking the questions internally, it strikes me that they need to be aired among ourselves, in relatively safe flame-proof settings, and not be censured or pushed aside by this tough-guy p.d. legal culture. The alternative seems to be to accept the drip-drip-drip of attrition of good people from the ranks, until only the biggest *ssh*les remain to defend the downtrodden.

October 25, 2004

Tats that

Today in the courthouse, with shorts weather drawing to a close in southern Idaho, I saw a woman, not a client of mine. That is, I hope she wasn't anyone's client, or at least not on the criminal docket herself today. For there she stood, with professional - results - not - to - be - expected tatooed letters down her calves. Down the left leg: OUT. Down the right leg: LAW. Look, Your Honor, I'm an (sashay)OUT (sashay)LAW. It could be a trend: CRIM on one side, LAW on the other, perhaps.

All the same, much better than the skinhead I was assigned to years ago in Canyon County, after some White Pride asshats decided to terrorize some people on the north side of Nampa. This guy had a swastika covering the back of his empty shaved skull, and to prove he was a real hard Aryan brother, the symbol part was white, the filled-in area of the circle around it tattooed in solid black. Ow, it had to hurt, but it hurt much worse for my Vietnamese client who was in on some bad check charge, and had to sit next to the skin in the jury box. I moved on shortly after Nazi Boy's prelim, so I never knew if he'd taken sound legal advice and let his hair grow out in time for trial. All the AB wannabee's were happy when they heard the lead p.d. was named Klaus Wiebe, but he wasn't any more hip to their weltangschauung than was our Nigerian-American co-worker Dayo.

One of the pleasures of criminal defense is its anthropological aspect. You learn that people do the darnedest things, sometimes with needles, sometimes with needles and ink. When I got out of law school, I was full of critical legal theory, but I didn't know an XIII from an XIV, let alone an AB or an SWP. Mi vida was a lot less loca back then, but much less interesting. Tattoos have become more mainstream too, to the extent that I unwittingly hired an attorney with one once (it didn't show in go-to-court clothes). I'm no longer safe in the assumption that gettin' ink done is a great way of saying, "I've been to prison." Still, I'm pretty safe in telling the dude with the Hitler portrait on his forearm to wear long sleeves next time he comes to court.

October 22, 2004

But don't get me wrong...

I love my work - it can be deeply gratifying even on days when it's not a laff and a half. For me, being a p.d. imparts meaning to the law. I really don't give a damn what Rehnquist said in footnote 4 of a hot-off-the-press slip. I do care that I never forget to see G-d's likeness in every chimo, rapo and tweaker that He sets in my path, and I'll be damned if I can't make the judge, prosecutor and jury acknowledge it too. Many of us p.d.'s are embarrassed to say it, but this vocation of ours is a calling. This job challenges me every day to do a better job of trying to be a man for others.

Now if I haven't totally scared away the 2L's and 3L's, Blonde Justice has some excellent advice on how to get a p.d. job, or just a law job you love.

October 21, 2004

Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere

Yesterday Ken lead me to a decent "how-to" essay about blawgs by our colleague Fed 84. It would seem that I've been going about this blawg business all wrong.

I've noticed looking back that I haven't been telling as many war stories as perhaps I should, on this site and in Real Life. In its short time, the blawg has migrated from personal disclosure more often to a collection of news clips about public defenders behaving badly, of which I suppose Fed 84 would say snarkily, "The point is that we can read news stories and check news.google.com ourselves. What we want in a blawg is you." Sorry, but some days you won't get me - the clients have already gotten me first.

It may be age setting in, or it may be a peculiarity of this corner of the law, but I find that I don't tell war stories as I did as a young pup p.d. The thing is, unlike most divisions of The Law, as you move up the ranks of public defender-hood, the work gets worse, not better. Still fresh out of law school, I could have regaled you with the tale of Hamburger Man, the client who was arrested driving down State Street in Boise late one night clad only in a jockstrap, with several pounds of morally - affronted ground round beside him in the passenger seat. Or the story of my unfortunately - surnamed indecent exposure client, Mr. Dick, or our sweet-natured cross-dressing Nez Perce client, Melvin. Or of the mistaken identity defense in a jury trial on a gas-n-go, where I published a certified copy of an Idaho driver's license issued to my client's "brother," "Guido Bini," looking astonishingly identical to my guy, and asked my client on direct and in all young p.d. naivete, "where's Guido now?," to be answered, "he's shootin' smack in Tampa!" (Yes, we lost, and Judge Hamilton flipped me sh*t about it for years, even at her retirement party)

Somewheres along the way, though, probably during the move up from misdemeanors to felonies, Lost in the Funhouse gave way to The Tragic Sense of Life. Coming home, the potential responses to "what did you do at work today?" became darker and scarier until it seemed more considerate to respond with, "oh, the usual," or with nothing at all. The charming liar, "Guido's" brother, became the lying jailhouse snitch in the Kuzmichev murder trial. The gentle Native American client stepped in front of a speeding semi. And as we got older and had kids, the endlessly amusing weenie-waggers turned out to be perping on children not so different from our own.

Everybody hurts. By the third murder case or so, unless you've become a cynical armor-plated bastard (which is not the worst coping strategy for the job), you're moved and more than a little shaken by the harm humans can endure, and can inflict on others. We still produce and consume plenty of in-house black humor at Public Defender Incorporated; it helps clear out the emotional space for dealing with the next client. But keep it amongst us. Most days, it feels unseemly to be broadcasting a client's f*ck-ups and Stupid Human Tricks to the wider blawgosphere, no matter how hillarious. I'd probably broadcast prosecutors' and judges' Stupid Human Tricks if I didn't know that they were in the audience of this blawg's microcast and would take it out on me and the next 20 clients, so if I'm reticent about telling tales, it's not from a noble impulse. Besides, telling it the way it really is could tend to scare off the few idealistic young things in law school who I'm counting on to relieve us middle-age p.d. plodders.

Ultimately, when I talk here about being a public defender and how it makes me feel, the talk necessarily is about my relationships with real individual humans, my clients. Can't have one without the other. A few months ago, I wrote about how I felt about a child protection client, who came all the way back from the brink, and decompensated in a spectacular way on the very day she was to get her daughter back. I went back to the post shortly after and deleted most of it. It was too personal for both of us. As it happened, I deleted the thing a week before I applied for the job which I just accepted, a job which has no child protection or dependency duties. This week I saw two of those clients I wrote about, one in the holding cell firing me from her termination of parental rights trial as it was about to start, the other expressing her disbelief and grief that her parental rights had been taken away. Their stories will not entertain or edify, and they aren't mine to tell. Sometimes empathy is better expressed by silence.

October 19, 2004

Officer (of the court) down

A 29-year-old attorney, recently moved to private practice from the Maricopa County Public Defender, has been shot and killed by a stray bullet while driving home.

"While Justin Blair played poker with buddies on Saturday night, he kept thinking of his girlfriend, sending her text messages by phone saying "I love you. I want to marry you." When the game ended around 2 a.m. Sunday, he called to let her know he was on his way home with a friend."

"The Phoenix defense attorney and fiancé Toni Stallone were giddy with love, fresh into a new house and planning a life together. But a stray bullet early Sunday morning ended all their plans."

"I just want to know who did it," Stallone said, weeping softly, "and tell them to come forward and tell the truth. . . . Justin fought for people's rights - the underdog. Now it's time to fight for his. He used to tell my son, 'You do what's right no matter how hard it is.' "

"A bullet through the windshield killed Blair, 29, instantly. Glendale police say the shooter was in a red pickup truck, firing at a Jeep Cherokee in an apparent road-rage dispute that erupted near 57th Avenue and Bethany Home Road. Three passengers in the Cherokee were wounded. Blair and his friend were innocent victims, traveling in the opposite direction."

October 18, 2004

History will absolve me

Here's a headline I'd like to clip out:

Public defender retires vindicated

"When Lassen County Public Defender Toni Tweedle Healy retires effective Dec. 1 she will leave vindicated in her challenge to Superior Court Judge Ridgely Lazard. Lazard is “biased and prejudiced against Public Defender Healy and other attorneys in her office,“ according to Galen Hathaway, a retired judge from Mendocino County, appointed by the Judicial Council of California to hear the challenges for cause the public defender filed against Lazard. Hathaway issued a decision on Friday, Oct. 15.

“The Challenge for Cause is supported by court records, transcripts of recorded arraignments, official transcripts, court minutes, sworn statements of defendants and others, all of which indicate that Judge Lazard actively prevented the public defenders from properly representing clients entitled to representation,” Hathaway’s decision said."

October 16, 2004

Idaho headlines

Twin Falls: The story of my client getting 27 to life ran in the same edition of the local paper as news of my resignation. My co-workers who remain will get to defend the guy who is alleged to have stolen all those Hot Tamales.

Boise: There are two simultaneous death penalty trials going on in my home town. This is the other one. Amil is a very good attorney, with a very tough mission. The town that once went on and on about liveability now spins the case as a city's end of innocence.

Nampa / Caldwell: There's an eruption of violence in the community where I went to college, and too many people are being killed and wounded. It's frightening and tragic.

Pocatello: For the first time, a fairly forgiving p.d. is driven to object during the prosecution's opening statement.

Moscow: Searching for the gun that killed a U of I football player last month, divers located a different gun that may have killed somebody else two years earlier.

Coeur d' Alene: A college student who lapsed into a coma and died after ingesting LSD, and the creep who put it in her drink is facing a charge of manslaughter.

It's been a hard week here in Idaho. Looking forward to greener pastures.

October 15, 2004

One of our own this time

Arkansas public defender Joe Kelly Hardin was arrested Wednesday on a second-offense driving while intoxicated charge. A BAC of 0.22 no less.

I must run and tell True Believer.

October 13, 2004

Enormous changes at the last minute

I don't want to end up like Yeoman Lawyer. Unfortunately, there've been days when he's pretty much channeling me:

"Typically when a person is at that stage where leaving will be easy, ie., they are starting out, single, etc., they think they need to give it a chance first. After a while life moves on, they marry, have kids, the kids are in school, the wife likes where she is, near her family, in a house that is comfortable, and a decision to leave means a lot more than leaving. It's one thing to leave and go back to school, on to another career, etc., if you are 26 years old. It's quite another to take your kids out of school, send your wife back to work, move, sell your house, with no guarantee that any of it will work out, when you are in your 40s. Having said that, I desperately hope there's a way out. I'm sure looking."

40's? Check. Kid in school? Kindergarten counts. All the rest? Check. So what do I do today but stop looking, and leap. I accepted a job offer and submitted a resignation. Six years of carrying a full-time caseload on top of full-time management and brushfire-fighting duties will be over in a few weeks, to be replaced after Christmas by a full-time caseload, and a lot less chest pain, in a green and pleasant land where red-state Democrats get to go if they've lived a good life. My new colleagues will have unpacked by the time I arrive.

October 12, 2004

How dare John Edwards bring up meth labs on the campaign trail?

Methamphetamine abuse and meth labs are on John Edwards' radar:

"“Methamphetamine has become a cancer in rural areas and small towns in this country,” Edwards said in a conference call with reporters immediately after a campaign rally yesterday."

"Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards called meth "this poison" during an Aug. 16 campaign stop in Greene County, where more than 40 labs have been taken down this year. "The spread of this has just been deadly out in rural communities and small towns," Edwards said, adding that meth is a growing problem in his home state, North Carolina. "We have to have a commitment as a nation to do something about it."

Talk Left thinks that talk about meth labs doesn't belong in a presidential campaign, and gets it exactly wrong. The comments section sets a few things right. In addition, there were two meth labs investigated in 2004 and six in 2003 in Commerce City, Colorado, where Edwards is having his town hall meeting today. Commerce City is a working-class town of 30,000 that's also home to a meth lab clean-up company and who knows how many active meth users.

Maybe it's a class thing, or an urban vs. rural thing; it might be hard to see through the smog from the 17th storey of a Denver office tower, but meth is as big a problem in Talk Left's backyard as it is in the rest of the West, the Midwest, and the South. Why not see it as a national problem in a presidential campaign? If one's advocating a better life for those of us out in the country, why not acknowledge how destructive meth and meth dealers are to rural communities, and speak to how you're going to address the problem? Edwards has tried to, and good on him for it.

While there's been little said about meth in the national campaigns, Republicans and Democrats from states like mine seem to get it: "Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican whose state ranks No. 1 in busts of makeshift methamphetamine labs, calls peddlers of the highly addictive drug "domestic terrorists." Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa says voters in Midwestern presidential battlegrounds are more likely to encounter a meth maker than an operative for al-Qaida."

October 11, 2004

Caseload to Borg: "Resistance is futile"

I really, really feel for this colleague in Missoula: Posted by Hello

"On Aug. 4, the Missoula County Public Defender's Office essentially stopped taking new cases. The office was down four attorneys from a full staff of 11, and the lawyers were utterly overwhelmed, said Chief Public Defender Margaret Borg. Several months ago, Borg realized she and her staff had lost control of their caseloads and needed help.

"Borg was having trouble both retaining lawyers and hiring replacements for the ones she seemed to always be losing. The work is hard, the caseloads are overwhelming and the pay is hardly what's available in the private sector, she said. The office is also part of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union has filed, alleging the state of Montana is not adequately representing indigent defendants.

"So on top of everything else, you've got the ACLU going into the jail and telling our clients we're not representing them well," Borg said. "It makes it hard to attract people to the office."

So about 80 private attorneys have been dragooned to help.

Then, when the county commissioners move to alleviate the problem of p.d. recruitment and retention, who b*tches about parity but the prosecutor, traditionally the higher-paid side of the courtroom?

Cruel and unusual

"Imagine a public defender, standing at your side as you face the judge on a misdemeanor charge, humming a catchy tune while you both wait to hear the decision on your case. Hours after the judge reads you the amount of the fine you’ll have to pay, you still can’t get the song out of your head, and then it hits you – it’s “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow."

The horror, the horror...

October 08, 2004

Medicinal meth

I've done a jury trial involving medical marijuana, but this really kicks it up a notch:

"Craig Harris' argument that he manufactured methamphetamine for medicinal reasons was rejected Thursday by a Crawford County jury, which recommended that he spend 25 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction."

"Harris said he tried methamphetamine about five years ago but didn’t like it. However, about 18 months ago, he tried it again for relief from pain and found that it helped.“I started making it so I would know what I was taking and wouldn’t get someone else’s stuff,” Harris told the jury."

If one thing stands out about meth cookers, it's their craftsman-like devotion to pure ingredients and quality control.

"Harris said he began manufacturing the drug at his Cedarville home about a month before it was raided, and cooked methamphetamine about once a month. He said he used the drug every few days. “I would use it whenever I felt I needed it,” he said. “If I hadn’t been using it, I probably wouldn’t be here now,” Harris said."

...in a quote apparently recorded at the Arkansas State Pen.

"“It helped me get through the day. It had a healing effect on me. I was able to function during the day,” Harris said.“It (methamphetamine) worked my heart and it needed to be worked. I couldn’t walk, so it took the place of exercise,” Harris said."

Forget Atkins and South Beach! Now it's the Cedarville Diet! It's how so many of our clients stay so fit. Enjoy your 25 years on the yard, schmendrick.

Blawging Detwiler

Good discussions going on about U.S. v. Detwiler here and here.

Extra credit to Professor Sheridan for using the phrase that pays:

"The problem in sentencing has been that no matter how you arrange the process, it often seems so arbitrary and capricious in result."

October 07, 2004

Red Badge of Courage: trial continued

Following an attack on his attorney Wednesday in a Baton Rouge court, the trial of New Orleans man Barbette Williams has been suspended.

He now faces an additional charge of attempted second-degree murder after his attack on public defender Bert Garraway. No word as to whether the prosecutor who characterized the bloody slashing incident as "a total fabrication" will be handling the new charge for the state.

Breaking down in the Mojave

There wouldn't the slightest connection between this

Public defender shortage could result in backlogs

and this, would there?

Pichel, Perkins guilty of murder
"VICTORVILLE — A nine-man, three-woman jury spent less than five hours deciding Wednesday that two Apple Valley residents kidnapped and murdered a Pinon Hills man. Even without evidence linking Lynda Pichel or Reginald Dewayne Perkins to a murder weapon, the jury found both guilty of the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Steven Douglas Shane in August 2002... Pichel's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Linda Forrest, was unable to attend the verdict, interim Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert Gericke said."

What's that about? Covering another courtroom when the jury's coming back on a murder trial? Or back at the office packing up the desk for greener pastures?

October 06, 2004

Bad combo

Way down on the Mojave desert: "Fewer public defenders, more cases"

"It's stressful and hectic," said Jon-Marc Petersen, a public defender in the Victorville office who recently decided to move his family back to Tennessee, where he went to law school. "Personally, it's not how you want to operate as a lawyer — you end up compromising your personal philosophy to operate on a day-to-day basis."

You and me both, compañero, you and me both.

Red badge of courage in Baton Rouge

My G-d, did you see this? Man attacks public defender with razor in court
 Posted by Hello

You know what's even more offensive?
"It's my belief it was a total fabrication, and I'm not agreeing to a mistrial," said prosecutor Aaron Brooks.

Public defender Bert Garroway has claimed throughout the trial that his client is mentally unstable. Very luckily, doctors said Garroway's injuries were not life threatening, and he went to the emergency room under his own power. Get well soon.

Despite the attack, prosecutors say they will fight any attempts by the defense for a mistrial when court resumes Thursday. I suppose that asshat prosecutor wants Garroway to pick right back up as trial counsel for his own attacker.

October 05, 2004

Country Joe and the public defender

I always look up to my grey-haired hippie elders, especially when they're senior p. d.'s like Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish, now chief p.d. in Yolo County, California:

"My office handles 10,000 cases a year, so in some way I'm involved in the entire gamut of antisocial behavior from driving without a license to first-degree murder," he observes."

Vicariously, I think he means, but ...

"I've been doing criminal defense work for the 22 years that I've been a lawyer," he says, numbering five of those as the pubic defender for Mendocino County."

I watched the movie "Woodstock", so I can't be sure whether or not that's a typo.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown

From a police officer's affidavit in a file I just closed:

"He stated God had given him the task of being President of America and the pressure was too much and he couldn't handle the responsibility."

I didn't even know that W. had been in town.

October 01, 2004

Lost our lease! Everything must go!

The good people of the Thurston County, Washington, Office of Assigned Counsel have been made homeless:

Public defenders scattered temporarily as lease expires

"Attorneys and staff were forced to move out of their office with two days' notice because their lease expired and officials were unable to get an extension.With court dates still to be met, lawyers and legal assistants packed up phones, file cabinets, furniture, plants and copy machines, and moved into a scattering of temporary locations until their new office is settled."

"Some worked from home or out of their cars while county officials worked on solutions. "The past two days, I've been putting my open files in my car and finding a desktop wherever I can," said Robert Jimerson, an attorney who has worked with the office for four years."

Nomadic defenders of the people's rights, a wandering light cavalry of criminal defense lawyers, striking camp and lighting out for wherever prisoners may be freed and justice may be done... Yeah, I guess I could handle that for a while.