May 13, 2005

Playing possum

"Other peoples' problems, they overwhelm my mind.
They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time."

Yes, I've seen this. Yes, I see that you have too. Other weeks I'd leave it at, damn that's funny and yes, that's true, but this week I'm adding, whoa, somebody's having trouble with the whole sublimating-rage-against-the-clients thing. Where do other p.d.'s and I come by being so angry? The public-pretender thing, it just rolls off by now. And it's not my freedom that's being taken. Of the two of us in the jail visiting booth, at the end of the conversation I'm the one who gets to leave and go home. But there it it is, a raft of negativity from attorney-client relationships. I still don't have a handle on the emotions this job conjures up. Still, I've got to give the Craigslist writer some solidarity. It can be a healthy form of venting, converting frustration into black humor. It's better than watching our clients compound their mistakes and feeling nothing at all; "the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Well, I care, but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and immobilized. Here am I in my new p.d. office going on four months now. This is the chapter in travel books which falls between the time after the euphoria of arrival has faded, and before the traveller has acquired any sense of competence in his new surroundings. Since arriving I've been laying low when I can, hanging back and observing, and trying to figure out as much as I can before commenting, for as the "Dances with Clams" commercial put it, "he is a newcomer, and unfamiliar with our ways - soon he will be eating at Ivar's" (though really, Spud has better fish-n-chips).

Somehow, in the past weeks I haven't felt much like writing. This post by AmbImb, about whether or not to blog about a summer p.d. internship, and the general sussing and scolding tone of most of the comments in response, have set me to thinking about this blog and the ways that it ebbs and flows. Lately it's been ebbing more than flowing. Consciously or not, I've been posting less personal material, or at least less material directly connected to my dealings with my clients in and out of court. In its place, more and more links to stories of p.d. and client foibles, like this one:

An Arizona couple is in the Ada County Jail accused of taking a $37 cashiers check, forging a new figure of $317,000 and attempting to use it to buy a new $300,000 Meridian home... Kathy Lynn Jean, 42, and Robby Joe Jean, 39, moved furniture into the home... over the weekend before they were arrested at the home Tuesday..., Boise police detective Wade Spain said. "I don't really have a clue how they thought they could get away with it," Spain said. "It's just totally odd. I guess they thought they were smooth talkers and could get away with it."

Objectively speaking, and I think polling data would bear me out on this, this sort of human-foibles post has more entertainment value than the alternative:

Damn, I am tired of condescension and superiority from prosecutors, particularly from the sort who would accidentally hit a button on his laptop, turning on his PowerPoint presentation during a private defense lawyer's closing argument, and splashing the word GUILTY on the big screen (literally) behind the lawyer's back. Damn, I am tired of second-guessing and distrust from clients, particularly from the sort who commit offenses in the double digits putting themselves in danger of doing 120 months or more, who reject an offer of 90 months to serve and instruct me to go back and ask for one year, who end up getting a stipulated exceptional sentence, below the standard range, of 60 months, and who are convinced that their lawyer screwed them over.

I hope that I get the hang of this new jurisdiction soon. Some aspects of criminal defense are not universal after all, and I have a new respect for lawyers who can move easily between two alien worlds: Washington and Idaho, say, or state and federal court, I imagine. It's like struggling to come up with the Spanish word for something, and remembering only the French word. It's like that recurring dream from old times where I sat down to take the bar exam and it was printed in Arabic. I misunderestimated this challenge. When I watch some of the private contract lawyers in court rattling off mid-ranges and acronyms like they've memorized the entire sentencing guidelines manual and two volumes of the Revised Code, I wonder exactly what sociology experiment my new boss was conducting to hire me over them.

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

So you see my conundrum, especially in this town where harshing another's mellow is a gross misdemeanor. Any reason why this blog should reflect my discouragement, except by omission? Perhaps some things are better left unblogged. AmbImb is right to be concerned, as are others, about how many work-day details to put on-line. Just one example: I blogged my last trial before I moved, and without intending to, I alienated the one district judge who treated me with respect, and who I never would have considered disrespecting. Why do that? At the same time, if the law job is important as it is to me, then I'm going to blog about it, else what's a blawg for? I'm not quite inclined to adopt the advice to avoid blogging about work, which is kind of a hard discipline to maintain in a blog that is primarily about work.

Consequently, I think I may just have to suck up my ambivalence about blogging the job and muddle forward. And there is that sweet colorable suppression issue that popped right out in a client interview this morning that I'll get to work on (car passenger, driver's arrested on a warrant, no warrants on my guy, gets handed a citation for no seatbelt, not arrested, asks if he can cross the street to make a phone call, cop tells him words to the effect of, 'no, you can't leave, I haven't searched you yet').

I need to get back on this horse - just don't snicker too loud as I haul my big ass up on the saddle.

Bonus link: Bah! If you've gotten this far, this from Injustice Anywhere will restore your spirits.