I’ve moved office just about every year now. I live in a different jurisdiction from that in which I practice, and the jurisdiction in which I live isn’t very friendly to ‘foreign’ lawyers. So, since this state borders the one I’ve been practicing in, I just drive around the god forsaken beltway to get to my office. I am constantly looking for a place that is closer to home, closer to the courthouse, just Gah, just closer.
If you’ve ever been to the DC metro region you know that there is no place that is quick and easy to get to. The Maryland border (the state I practice in) is a mere 5 miles away. It takes me at least 20-25 minutes to get there with no traffic. It’s another 20-25 to my current office. But, once I am there I am pretty happy. I have a nice big desk, my books, and a seemingly unlimited supply of coffee. I’ve got a back door that leads out to a grassy area where a woodchuck will come and keep me company (from a decent distance) now and then. It was just me and my little filing cabinet chugging away and trying to make this work.
Last year, May, I hired a legal assistant. Ann is admin, paralegal, and the other side of my brain. Here, let me tell you something honestly – if you think you can’t afford an assistant I will tell you I think you can’t afford to not have one. This person has allowed me to concentrate on the stuff I know how to do and that is to keep clients happy with the law. She knows how to keep clients happy period. She knows their cases, their names, who their best friends are and who to call if I can’t find the client. She knows the judges secretaries and she makes a killer pot of coffee and enchilada. Ann makes me and my practice better.
Then I decided gee, wouldn’t it be great to have a real live immigration practice. And wouldn’t that practice need someone Spanish? Enter Astrid. She is half Guatemalan from Nebraska. I am pretty sure she is the only one ever in that breed. Like a labrabeagle or something. Her parents met when her dad was in Guatemala for the peace corps. I asked her during her interview how her mom felt about moving to Nebraksa and she said “Well, she was happy about it because she thought she was moving to Alaska.”
So what’s the point of all of this? Well, to let you all know that we are moving again. We now have three lawyers and one paralegal and one brand new admin person. Katie joined us two days ago and I think she will fit in because well, she lasted the past two days and it’s been fairly chaotic. I figure anyone who can manage three lawyers working out of one office has got to have some staying power. But we’ll see.
The other point of this post is to write it. Just to sit here and put these words down and to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about all of you. I know I keep making promises that I never keep. And sometimes I say I won’t make promises I will just write. And I don’t do that either. But I figure if I just sit here and let you know what I’m up to at least you maybe won’t forget about me either.
I am practicing law which is the thing I always wanted to do. It’s the only thing I know I can do. I am teaching other young lawyers how to practice law. And I am teaching an office full of humans how to care about people and how to do this thing as well as I know how. I was taught by some of the best, and I still reach out to so many lawyers who have much more experience than me and it feels unreal sometimes to be able to teach another generation of lawyers how not to suck at this.
So, we are moving. We’ve got our own suite of offices with just my name on the door. We can walk to the courthouse, although we probably never will. We will continue to try to improve what we do and how we do it. And we will continue to remain committed to this thing we’ve signed up for. Oh, and we’ve got a three year lease so we are pretty committed to the space too.Share on Facebook
There has been a lot of talk about a lot of death these days. My last post thanked people for joining us in the fight against the injustice that takes place regularly in this country. Our system is broken and it’s just the lot of us out there on the front lines trying to put it back together with some duck tape, gum and paper clips. Â It’s hard folks. We haven’t been given a whole lot to work with here, when we do appointed work our vouchers get cut (you spent too much time reviewing discovery) or caps are reached before crucial stages (like, uh, trial.) When we are retained we have to factor in the cost of investigators, experts, overhead.
And there is this thing we like to call “the awesome power of the government” and all of its unlimited resources. You know it is unlimited because these folks believe they protect you, right? And how could anyone spare any expense in the protection of it’s people? Experts to say you are sane when you have clearly lost your marbles – don’t worry, we got it! Investigators to spend years following you and your college buddies selling marijuana – the entire DEA is at your service. A guy with a criminal conviction from 2002 who now has a house and some kids and a good job- Buh Bye, we can pay for your one way plane ticket back to Jamaica and get you all your documents to make sure you don’t run into legal troubles when you get there.*
Honestly, the point of all of this is this – if you think at any time that because someone like Marilyn Mosby is going after some cops in Baltimore (shitty, terrible case, by the way and if there is a conviction on anything other than maybe an assault I will be shocked) that somehow someone somewhere is serving the ends of justice you would be mistaken. If you think the justice department issuing a 100 plus page report on Ferguson and it’s racist ways means the government is going to do something about it, you would be ever so wrong. Did our black president move us forward on civil rights or did he allow us to be stalked and spied on by our own government agencies without any repercussion. Are you waiting for Bernie Sanders to save your soul?
This entire post started because of Charleston. I had these thoughts swirling in my mind and then I read Scott Greenfield’s postÂ and I got to thinking of this song byÂ Rage Against the MachineÂ and I thought it’s us. He’s right. It is truly us. We (even me and my fellow defenders) they us. We kill here and there and we kill for sport and for hate and for passion and love and money. We kill for oil and to ‘protect democracy’. We kill when they are ‘the other’ and we kill when they are ‘the us’ and it truly doesn’t matter or make a difference. At the end of it all, people are dead and they aren’t ever coming back. It won’t matter if it’s a hate crime or how many years in prison the culprit gets, they will all be just as dead. And if he, himself gets the death penalty, then he will be dead too and we as a nation will be in the same place we were before he walked into a church and killed 9 people.Â
Maybe people feel that they need to politicize this murder in order to make sure it never happens again. I think that’s a nice gesture, but completely fruitless since it will happen again. I mean, hey, we have the Civil Rights Act and we are still fighting about that. Maybe if there are no more guns this won’t ever happen again, or maybe if everyone in the church had a gun it wouldn’t have happened. I have no idea but I am pretty sure neither of those scenarios would be preventative.
I saw that movie “Twelve Years a Slave” and afterwards I posted on facebook “How do white people live with themselves” and the responses I got from white people wereÂ vicious. Most of them said they didn’t feel bad or guilty because they didn’t do it and they aren’t responsible for what other people did. But I mean, my family didn’tÂ even come to America until 1971 and I felt bad. How could you not? The stuff white America did was terrible. And this is why in order to truly prevent something likeÂ Charleston from happening again we each have to own the murders. Not by calling the perpetrator a terrorist (although I get why people want to do that) but by acknowledging that each of us contribute to the fabric of this country and that it’s pretty torn up right now.
* All trueShare on Facebook
It has come to my attention that our criminal justice system is broken. Did you know it might also be racist? And justice isn’t blind? I know, I know, I was just as shocked to hear about it as you were. It absolutely devastated me, considering all the equality there is and that I see every day in my job. Considering this blog, and so many others that I link to frequently, and that are over there on the blogroll have never mentioned it. Ever. We’ve never once mentioned that our system is atrocious and doesn’t actually work as it should, that we imprison black men at rates that may rival slavery.
Nah, no one has ever said that.
Okay, we did.
If you notice, all of those posts that I linked to above are not from last year, they were written years ago. That’s because Trayvon Martin was not the first.
Nor was Eric Garner.
Or Michael Brown.
Or Tamir Rice.
Dear friends, our system has been broken for as long as I have known it, and long before I knew it even existed. I first learned it was broken in my own terrible way, after 9/11 when I realized that I was wanted, my brother and my father and my future children would be looked at with some measure of fear and scorn because we were muslim. Hell, it had never occurred to me before. I was a prosecutor. I didn’t look at people’s skin color or ethnicity. I just cared that they did the BAD THINGS. And my job was to protect the whole world from THE BAD THINGS.
And one day I called bullshit on it all. And I’ve never looked back. I don’t even advertise “I used to be a prosecutor” even though we all know that’s what people look for in a criminal defense attorney. Someone who knows the other side. The problem is when you know the other side and then you truly come over to this one, you no longer understand what you could possibly have been thinking. How did I think that justice was blind? How did I think that we didn’t see race or religion or, or, or anything at all but THE BAD THING? How? I figured that since I couldn’t figure that out, I probably shouldn’t be bragging on my ”former prosecutor’ title.
Look, I’m glad you’ve decided to join us. I love the protests. In fact, I took my kids to one in DC because hell yeah, this is America and in America we protest the stuff we don’t like. That’s what I told them when they asked me why they were walking in the street with their hands up saying “don’t shoot.” Because you are lucky to be born here. You are lucky to be fair skinned, you are Â just lucky.
But as usual, I digress. The fact is that I’ve been waiting for you all. I would like it if there were some more of you on the right involved, maybe a few more white folks from smaller towns, but even now, this is a good showing. Â It makes me feel less alone, and less like I am just preaching to the choir. It’s a shame, though, that it took so many dead young men for you to pay attention to what was happening. It’s a shame that you didn’t pay attention and help us out before when we were screaming that the system is unfair. It’s not too Â late though, not for the others who may be in harm’s way.
Every day we get up and we fight this fight for our clients. We make the state and the federal government uphold the Constitution, we quote it and protect it. We argue for what we consider justice, since our job isn’t to seek justice (that’s what the prosecutor is ‘supposed’ to do) but there is justice in every plea we make. And we plead indeed. (The begging kind of plead, but we usually plead too, but that’s a post for another time.) We ask that every person who comes before the court is treated with fairness and is given the same opportunity as every other person. Â We explain the way in which the system has failed our clients, has failed their communities. But the truth it we know as we stand there and we argue and we fight that the system broke down long before we stepped foot into that courtroom. It broke down when the cops randomly stopped and frisked my client, or made him give a statement inculpating himself when he didn’t even know he was doing it. It broke down when my client was pulled over for driving while black and then the cop says there was no seatbelt (even though there is NO WAY the police could see through that dark tint.) It broke down when the police decided that two boys walking down the street at night must be up to no good, since they are black and young and maybe they have some weed. Â Ah look! They do. It broke down when we were looking the other way and not doing anything about it.
So, anyway, like I was saying. I am glad you decided to join us. Help us fix this thing, will you?Share on Facebook
When I was a young person, someone who did science experiments in school and wandered through life blind and naive, I thought ‘facts’ were real things – things that could be proven time and time again. Sure, sometimes things we called ‘facts’ would be disproved (unless you are one of 25% of Americans who still believe the sun revolves around the Earth, or the some staggering percentage that thinks the earth is 6,000 years old) by other science and newer methods of finding stuff out. Facts you could count on. They just WERE.
“Is that a fact?”
“Get your facts straight.”
Oh, the joys and privilege of youth.
When I started law school, I heard of this concept “the finder of fact” and it was very hard to wrap my brain around. Facts are not, in fact, what you say they are. Â They aren’t what I see with my eyes or hear with my ears. Not in a criminal jury trial anyway. There are no facts until the jury says what the facts are. In a jury trial, the jury is the ‘finder of fact.’ (In a bench trial, the judge is.) I present my facts as the criminal defense lawyer (if I feel like it, but I have no burden so nah nah nah nah nah) and the prosecution has to present their facts. Then we engage in the duel that is the trial with sparring on cross-examination, various objections to keep things out or let things in. We weave and dodge and punch and kick and at the end of it all, the jury gets to pick which things they think are true and which they don’t. And if they decide it is a fact, it becomes one. No matter what you think. Or I think. Or the prosecution thinks.
This past week, Michael Dunn was found guilty of various counts of attempted murder and there was a mistrial on the top count of the murder in the first degree of Jordan Davis. They called this case “The loud music case.” Basically, if you’ve been under a rock I can summarize it – Jordan was in his car with some friends. They were playing loud music. Dunn told him to turn it down. Jordan said no. Or said yes. Jordan either pulled what looked like a gun out and pointed it at Dunn or he didn’t. Dunn went to his car and got his gun and shot at the car. He was either afraid for his life or he wasn’t and just wanted to kill black kids.
See, there are no facts in that case on the top count. Not legal ones. In the criminal prosecution we do not know if the jury thought Jordan Davis had a gun or if Michael Dunn is a racist because the finder of fact could not come to a decision. We do know that they believed he shot at those other kids in the car and attempted to kill them. What happened before is still not sorted out.
Here’s the kicker – if the jury had decided that Florida’s stand your ground law was applicable, if they thought Dunn acted in self defense, then THAT would be the fact. It would be the truth just like saying the Earth revolves around the sun is a fact. Just like saying the earth is much, much older than 6,000 years old. And, if you said on twitter or somewhere else, that Michael Dunn shot that kid just because he wanted to and it wasn’t self defense, well, you would be wrong. It’s a belief that has no support because the finder of fact decided otherwise.
“Oh no, not guilty, that can’t be. What about all those people who are found innocent after convictions. The jury found facts and they were wrong.” Â But friends, it is right – see above sun and Earth.
Juries can be wrong. They can be wrong insofar as they are human beings and human beings are fallible, they can only work with the tools and information they have and if they are given shitty tools and incomplete information then they are going to get shitty results, wrong results.
The Michael Dunn case is tough. It’s dangerous these days to talk about defending people who shoot black kids. It’s always been tough to talk about defending people accused of child sex crimes but we’ve gotten used to that, I think. I know right now, I am afraid to talk about this case for fear of being called a racist when, in fact, I am worse than that – I am a criminal defense lawyer. Race doesn’t matter. Sex doesn’t matter. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your religion or your life philosophy. YOU are what matter. My client. My own personal dogma gets pushed aside. And if I can’t do that, I can’t take the case.*
The truth is if my client is afraid of black people and has a reason to be afraid of black people and then kills a black person and I can show his fear is reasonable then that is what is going to happen. Racism is a bad reason to be afraid, but it’s not a legal reason not to be afraid.Â (That link is to a law review article entitled “Self-defense and the Mistaken Racist”) And if the jury is going to decide the fact that my client acted in self defense, then that is what it is. Â That is my client’s truth. And while you can say ‘you don’t believe it’ it won’t matter.
When folks say “George Zimmerman is a racist” that is probably true. But when they say “He didn’t shoot in self defense” that isn’t true. Those things are not mutually exclusive.
I’m sure this incenses many of you. It’s why we get the questions ‘how do you sleep at night’ and ‘how do you represent THOSE people?’ I can direct you to hundreds of posts by all kinds of lawyers who describe the hows and whys of our sleeping and representation. I don’t agree with a lot of the choices my clients make, but by the time they get to me my ability to use my efforts to judge their decisions is limited at best. In fact, it does my client no good. And my job is to do good for my client.
This is our system of justice. I rejoice when it works in my favor, which isn’t as often as I think it should be. But for as long as I can use the system I’ve got, I will. And keep trying to get the jury to pick MY facts.
* Thus far the only cases I won’t take are where the client’s family is just ugh. That’s where I draw the line.Share on Facebook