May 29, 2006

Eat a peach

After "the sweetest public defender south of the Mason-Dixon line" had to pull down her blog apparently for office-related reasons, I was able to save a few more cached posts written by her. Here are a couple for posterity:

* Today I ran into my Cautionary Tale. She wasn't technically my client, but I was backup in court that day and my partner wasn't relating to her very well so it fell upon me to take care of things. I generally step in to take care of more emotional clients when my somewhat gruff male co-workers are having difficulties.

I call her my Cautionary Tale because she's a classic example of a good kid who really messed up her life with a couple bad choices. Now she's got a felony drug conviction because she got a ride from a couple of friends she shouldn't have had. Because of her, I tell all my friends not to let their druggie friends ride in their car.

She really changed the way I thought about my job, even though I hadn't been on it very long. She wanted to go ahead and plea because she knew there was enough evidence to convict her, and that technically she was holding the stuff at the time. She was worried about the amount of time she could get and wanted to keep it off her record. But when she stood up to enter her plea in front of the judge she got teary, and this judge (the same judge who chewed me out) wouldn't take the plea because of it.

Court for us who do it all the time is an exhausting process. And it becomes relatively routine. But even then, I have trouble with his actions. I don't think it's at all unusual or unexpected for a girl who's all of 19 to get a little upset about the consequences of her actions and the gravity of what she's doing standing there in front of him. His yelling at her about crying didn't help.

We had to stand back on the case and I sat with her for a long while. She told me her story, I let her talk and cry and get it out, and after lunch she stood up there and entered her plea and stayed calm...

Today I ran into her around town and she seemed happy. We talked and joked for a while. It took us a bit to recognize each other. But she's still having trouble finding work and I really hope things get better for her. I assured her that I had a lot of clients with worse records than hers (which is spotless except for this one thing) get good, well-paying jobs and to keep trying. I hope she does.

But seeing her reminded me that she's the first client who I won't forget. I see a lot of people, hundreds a year, but there will always be a few who stick with you and there's no getting around that.

* ...Today a girl was in on a case, she has a long, complicated history, but it's more her family situation that's troubling than her criminal past. At issue today was where to place her now. Hours were spent, arrangements were argued about. I talked to her a few times, sat with her for a while, and when I sat watching her in court I just wanted to hug her...

After all the details had been finalized, a placement was found, everyone was happy, and it seemed like we'd reached a good resolution. (Actually, this is what I like about Juvenile. You don't always have good options, true, but sometimes you can really get that Go-Team thing going.) At lunch, I went out with the Juvenile DA and some people with Juvenile Court. We saw this girl with the woman who was taking her to her new "home" and joked to each other that we should keep our cell phones on hand in case she tried to run. We came back from lunch to find out that she had, indeed, made a run for it. Last I heard she hadn't been found yet.

Once I found out, I was momentarily dumbfounded. And then I thought that these kids are more like adults than I give them credit for. And while I can talk to them differently, I have to keep that same kind of distrust and skepticism that I keep for clients. I want to believe them, but I'm never sure I can. You take everything with a few grains of salt. And if I think about it, I had a lot of motivation to lie as a teenager. So, you know, it makes sense...

Please God, don't ever let my kids end up in the criminal justice system. And please even more, don't let them end up in the juvenile justice system. But I might as well be here for the ones that do.

Carry on and hang in there, southern colleague; more than a few people are grateful that you're there.