It turns out that Lammer's old Saab bit the dust about a year ago.

And I was hoping he'd let me drive when I make my way to Virginia.

(Either way, gotta love these comments on over at Seeking Justice.)

Take Your Headphones Off!

That's my advice to new attorneys.

Also, open your office door. And, once in a while, around lunchtime, find an attorney that looks approachable and seems to know what they're doing and say, "Hey, what are you doing for lunch?"

(I'm not saying you should buy them lunch. Although I'm sure they'd appreciate it. Or ask them on a date. Which they may or may not appreciate, depending on the circumstances, I guess. But you could just grab a slice of pizza, no big deal. Hey, maybe they'll even buy you lunch! Or you could just bring your sandwich in her office while she eats her crappy lean cuisine meal and wishes she had your delicious sandwich and you can chat about your cases or what's been going on in the office.)

But this isn't about lunch.

There's a new attorney in my office who walks around with headphones in his ears constantly (except in court, of course). And every time I see him, I just think, "God, he's probably missing out on so much."

Maybe guys are less likely to feel lost. Or maybe they're less likely to let on.

And I'm not saying that you have to be super-outgoing. But when I was new, I learned so much by seeing a colleague in the morning and saying, "Hey, are you walking to court? I'll walk with you," and chatting during the walk. Or, if I didn't feel like talking in the morning, just listening.

Or, sitting down next to a colleague in the courtroom and discussing (very quietly, of course) what book you're reading or what's up with the judge's hair. And not just public defenders, you can chat with private counsel, or co-counsel.

I've made friends with other attorneys just by saying "Good morning!" every morning. Or, you know, just making small talk. Which turns into, "Hey, I saw that case you stood on today in court, I tried a case sort of like that..." As we've gotten to know each other better, these attorneys have offered help to me ("Do you want to see my trial file for that case?") and have offered to let me help them ("I have a trial coming up, want to second seat me?").

But I'm not saying that you should be more outgoing just to further your career. Although, that's a good thing.

I think it's also good just for general job happiness - to get to know people, to make friends, to just get general fun information (like, that the bathroom is out of order, or about the judge's new hairdo, or who's sleeping with who, or whatever). And who doesn't want to know that kind of thing?

So, take your headphones off. You might just learn something.

On the Beauty of PDs

Ok, ok, apparently the big topic of the week around the blawgosphere (here, here, and in the comments here) has become "Who is prettier, prosecutors or public defenders?"

I will say, where I work, hands down, the women of the PD's office are prettier. Sure, I'm biased, but so what?

The men? Heh, that's a tough one. I'd say if you like clean-cut guys, the men of the prosecutor's office are probably better looking. If you like someone a little more rough around the edges, you'd have to give the prize to the public defender's office. I generally prefer clean cut guys, but personality counts for a lot with me, and like I said earlier, I have a hard enough time just mingling with prosecutors, nevermind getting over their personality to actually find one of them attractive.

But when I quoted the paragraphs below and said that it's true, I was thinking of something a little different than straight look-at-these-two-groups-of-people-and-tell-me-who-is-prettier. Let's review the quote:
From the defense side, it's easy to despise what seems an air of privilege and hauteur around the opposing table. The young prosecutors believe God is on their side. They relish their power over delinquent kids only slightly their juniors. They possess the sheen of the effortlessly charmed, of straight-A students and future politicians. They aren't driving to work in ratty cars.

Or at least that's how it feels from across the room. It doesn't help that whereas PDs look like ordinary people, by and large, their state attorney counterparts are uncommonly good-looking, the kind that used to make classmates feel weird or fat or gangly. Beating the state becomes sweet on so many levels.
Alright, I thought no one would dispute the first line, that the prosecution has "an air of privilege and hauteur," but maybe that is called into dispute with the car debate. (I love Saabs, by the way.)

But I think that privilege has a lot to do with it. Many of the prosecutors went to ivy league schools. Don't get me wrong, many public defenders did too, but we also have a good public-interest-school contingency.

I think that if we took each prosecutor and each public defender here and put them in the same white t-shirt against the same background and took a Polaroid, and then put those pictures in a amihotornot.com style poll, I think the PDs would win.

But what I thought was true about the assessment is that in the courtroom, the prosecution has a confidence that comes from knowing the judge will never rule against you (and if they do, they won't be a judge much longer), and that you're doing "God's work." (The latter is what I believe their opinion to be, not what my opinion is, obviously.)

Here, they do make more money. And they're much more likely to come from money. So, they have the things that come with money - more expensive haircuts, obviously whitened and orthodontically perfect teeth, nicer suits, and they wear their clothes wrinkle-less, as if they've, as an office, discovered a magical place where you can drop off your clothes (other than their floor), and they'll come back to you not only cleaned but also free of wrinkles. Likewise, their clothes are somehow mysteriously free of stains.

Ok, I'm kidding, but only about that last part. But they do, as a group, dress a bit nicer than the PD's office.

And, let's face it, Tom McKenna can post photos of whoever he wants, but it looks like he left out one very important one - wasn't John F. Kennedy Jr., one of the hottest men in modern history, a prosecutor? After he, like Charley Demosthenous, failed the bar a few times?

I rest my case.

More On The PD Article

I want to expand just a little on my earlier review of this article about the Florida PD.

There were things in that I could relate to, and other things that I couldn't. Overall, I like reading about PD work in other places, and how PDs came to be PDs, and about PD work in general. Which is probably part of the reason why we PDs all read each other's blogs.

Like I said earlier, I couldn't really relate to just falling into a job at the PD's office. Here, as in most places, PD jobs are highly sought after positions. And no one is getting hired here if their response to why they want to be a PD is "because the prosecutor's office isn't hiring." But I'm willing to believe that it might happen some places, at least occasionally.

I can't relate to PDs who aren't good lawyers, who don't really care about their clients, or who are just trying to get experience at the expense of their clients. There are some people who come to the PDs office purely to get trial experience, but I don't think it'd be fair to say that they're doing it without concern for the clients. And there are many PDs who make a lifelong career of it and have a great deal more experience than private practitioners.

One of the issues in the article I found interesting was caring whether or not the prosecutors like you, and ganging up on particular prosecutors. I, personally, don't care if any prosecutors like me. But I do care whether or not my word is good. You don't have to like my personality, you can call me a true believer, but no one should ever have any reason to doubt my honesty. There are lawyers in my office who seem to think it's really important to be friendly with the prosecutor's office or to be liked by them. I have prosecutors that I'm friendlier with, but to me, it's more important to be a zealous advocate than to make friends at the prosecutor's office. I've already got plenty of friends.

I can relate to, and had to smile when I read, the awkward Christmas party where it's just so difficult to mingle. If I'm trying to avoid discussing work, what am I going to say? There's nothing I really can say. And it's so hard not to just start spouting off hypotheticals that involve the prosecutors' mothers accidentally or innocently doing the same exact conduct one of my clients is accused of.

I can absolutely relate to the image of looking at yourself in a suit and thinking, "Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer," and of feeling like an imposter. And then the day comes when you think, "Wow, I am a lawyer. And a good one."

I really like the description of the courtroom:
There are TimeMist boxes mounted behind the state and defense tables, which now and then spurt jets of fruity perfume, discoloring the nicked wooden benches below.
While we don't have that in the courtroom, I like the imagery. And we have plenty of courtrooms that could use some time-released air freshener.

I can relate to the first trial. When my supervisor sat next to me and had to whisper almost every word that I then, dutifully, repeated. I wonder now what my client thought of that. We still keep in touch, and I've always thought about asking him, but I know that he doesn't know yet that he was my first trial. Not that he'd mind, given the outcome.

I like the discussion of whether or not to cut the prosecutors a break. Whether to stipulate or make 'em prove it. Of course you make 'em prove it! Every little bit of it. That's what you're there for.

I love this part...
From the defense side, it's easy to despise what seems an air of privilege and hauteur around the opposing table. The young prosecutors believe God is on their side. They relish their power over delinquent kids only slightly their juniors. They possess the sheen of the effortlessly charmed, of straight-A students and future politicians. They aren't driving to work in ratty cars.

Or at least that's how it feels from across the room. It doesn't help that whereas PDs look like ordinary people, by and large, their state attorney counterparts are uncommonly good-looking, the kind that used to make classmates feel weird or fat or gangly. Beating the state becomes sweet on so many levels.
...Because it's true.

Ganging up on a prosecutor? We can gang up and decide to be tougher on someone in particular, but I don't think it's ever gotten to the point that we've made someone cry. At least, not that we know of. We're more subtle. But, for instance, there's a particular prosecutor who quickly became known in our office for not keeping to her end of negotiated bargains. The result? Not a single lawyer in our office will negotiate anything at all with her. Every single one of her cases goes on a trial track, which means many of them get dismissed because she can't try them all. If only she wasn't known as a liar, she'd probably get pleas in some of those cases. But I don't think it's anything personal, I don't think anyone is out to make her feel like shit, but you're really doing a disservice to all of your clients when you waste your time negotiating something that the other side is going to disregard anyway. That kind of cooperation where we can work together to make things difficult for a prosecutor, and that sharing of knowledge, is just another advantage a public defender might have over a private practitioner.

The point here is, I disagree with the basic premise of the article, which is that the PD job is the lowest of the low, reserved for someone who couldn't beg his way into any other job, and who is just there to make a name for himself. I'd really like to think that after a year or two on the job, even if he hasn't "become a True Believer overnight," he has more respect for the job. And it bothers me that a newspaper would choose to run a story when the subject was that type of PD, who is presumably the minority, rather than highlight the many dedicated PDs who aspired to that position. (Although I really liked Milbarge's analysis of why this particular PD was chosen. And he's probably dead on.) But I do like some of the imagery, some of the issues that are universal to being a young public defender. And I think that makes it worthy of printing and reading the next time you're going to be stuck in court waiting for a while. Because there are a few parts that will make you smile, and at least a few parts that will make you remember why you love the job, even if it's not for everyone.

PD Reading

Christopher Harbin, a law student reader, emailed me this interesting article which follows a Florida PD over the course of a year.

Interestingly, the subject of the article, Charley Demosthenous, didn't want to be a public defender. But I guess it was the only place where he could get hired.

I'm not sure whether it's because I work in a big city or what, but I think that most, if not all, of the lawyers are here because they really wanted to be public defenders.

I hate the image of public defenders as public defenders only because they couldn't find any other job. But I guess it's a fact of life in some, if not many, places.

Either way, it's a good read. I recommend it.

A Shack?

E.McPan turned me into the modern incanation of MASH.

There goes my hope of ever being a lawyer. And living in a house.

Do they even have shacks any more? Not around here, at least. Maybe it should stand for "shelter."

All of my childhood dreams, shot. Well, at least I got over my dream of marrying Jared Leto. Look at him now. Eeew!

Just A Little Patience

Doctors have patients. Public defenders have clients, who have none.

Here's what to do...

If your mother is arrested
If your father is arrested
If your brother is arrested
If your sister is arrested
If your son is arrested
If your daughter is arrested
If your man is arrested
If your boyfriend is arrested
If your baby daddy is arrested
If your girl is arrested
If your baby momma is arrested
If your friend is arrested...

(I'm phrasing it each of these ways so that no matter who got arrested you might find this page when you google it),

It's nice if you can go to court and show your support. I firmly believe that it humanizes your loved one so that the judge sees more than just a docket number or a charge, but an actual person with a family that cares. And I believe that in some cases this might make a difference in whether someone is released or held in jail, whether someone is believed or disbelieved.

But when you come to court, behave yourself. I don't know what to tell you to behave like. Like you would behave in a library? Maybe you've never been to a library. Or maybe you've been there and you didn't know how to behave. Like you would at church? I can appreciate that not everyone has been to church and that different behaviors are appropriate in different churches.

So, let me lay it out for you.

First, dress nice. Dress like you would for a job interview (but not an interview to be a stripper), or like you would for a funeral, or for anything more serious than a nightclub. In particular, no clothing with logos or musicians (I see waaaay too many Bob Marley t-shirts in drug court) or cute little sayings like, "Don't be Jealous" or "Rock out with your cock out."

Before you head to court, speak to the lawyer if possible. Find out what courtroom to go to, and what time to be there. Ask the lawyer if he or she thinks it's a good idea for you to be there. (On occasion it's a bad idea. Like if it's a domestic violence charge and you still have a black eye.) Ask the lawyer if there's anything you should bring with you. (If you have anything that might be evidence, he may want you to bring. Also, you may need to bring bail money.)

Most importantly, once there, sit quietly and patiently. Expect to be there a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised if it goes quickly. You can bring a book or newspaper, but be prepared that there some judges who don't allow any sort of reading in their courtroom.

Leave the kids at home. Yes, I know you're probably thinking, "Maybe if the judge sees that he has these little kids, he'll let him out to take care of his kids." Most judges are really thinking, "God, what kind of parent brings their kids into this building built for dealing with criminals?" or "What kind of parent wants their kid to see daddy in handcuffs?" or "I really don't want to let him out to keep doing these kinds of crimes if there's a next generation that's going to be learning from him at home." I know it's hard to find a sitter. I know you think your kid is cute and well-behaved. And you should feel free to ask the lawyer if you're unsure, but in general I think you want to keep criminal court an adults-only affair.

Don't eat, don't drink, don't chew gum. Don't sleep. Don't snuggle, kiss, or make out with anyone. No, this is not cute. Turn off your cell phone. And anything else that's going to make any noise. This most definitely includes that annoying nextel walkie-talkie beep.

And I'm really really serious about the "sitting quietly and patiently" thing. There is nothing worse than someone who lets out a big sigh after each case is called. Or does that clucking the tongue thing. Or rolls his eyes. Or sighs and says, "Oh god!" Or throws up his hands. Or slams down his hands. Or makes any sort of visible reaction to each and every case name called, obviously frustrated that each case isn't his loved one's. And if you really can't control your eye rolling and sighing, at least sit toward the back of the room so you're not doing it right in the judge's face.

I think that most of the people who do this think that the judge couldn't possibly hold it against their loved one because the judge won't be able who they're there to see. He can. It's obvious!

First of all, the judge can tell which case you were waiting for when you spent all day rolling your eyes and sighing and then finally one case is called where you sit up and act interested.

Now, I'm not saying that most judges are going to say, "Gee, I was going to give you five years in prison, but now I'm going to make it ten because your mother sighed all day." But I do think that it can be a factor, either conscious or subconscious, particularly if the judge is undecided or, for example, wavering whether or not to give your loved one a break.

Second of all, you went up to the court officer or the court clerk twenty times and asked when your man's case was going to be called. You don't think the court staff talks to the judge? You don't think the court staff can move your loved one's case to the end of the day because they're sick of your attitude?

I sat in one courtroom for three hours this morning. There was a woman across the aisle from me, obviously waiting for someone's case to be called. For three hours straight, after every single case was called, she sighed or said, "Oh my god!" or threw down her newspaper, and made her entire body language show frustration. After every fifth case, she approached the court clerk and talked to him. (I couldn't hear what she was saying, but experience tells me it was probably something along the lines of, "I've been waiting here all day!") To which the court officer thinks, "And you'll be here waiting the rest of the day too if you don't leave me alone and let me do my job."

A colleague sitting next to me leaned over and whispered to me, "What defense is his lawyer going to use? His mother didn't raise him right?"

And I just knew that the louder and louder she sighed, the more and more likely it became that her loved one's case would be called dead last.

But I didn't say anything to the impatient woman. I thought about it, but decided it wasn't my place. It wouldn't be polite. And my mother raised me right.

Meme of 4s

Energy Spatula tagged me with this meme of 4s. So, here goes...

Four Jobs You've Had
I'll give you four jobs I had in high school alone...
I worked about a month as a hostess in a restaurant.
I worked summers in a summer camp for special ed kids.
I worked about a year in a consignment and vintage clothing store.
I babysat for really cool kids. And total brats too. But not at the same time.

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over
Legally Blonde
Dude, Where's My Car

Four Places You've Lived
A college dorm
A sorority suite
My parents' house
A really bad neighborhood

Four TV Shows You Like to Watch
Best Week Ever

Four Places You've Been on Vacation
You know, no one really knows where the Simpsons live. Yes, Springfield, but in what state? I've always thought I'd figure it out by where they go on vacation. A family isn't going to say "Yippee! We're going to ____!" and name the state where they live. By process of elimination then, someday we should know where they live. Therefore, I had to geographically anonymized this section. Sorry.
On a sailboat
On a cruise ship
Tropical Islands
Central America

Four Websites You Visit Daily
Google News

Four of My Favorite Foods
Ben & Jerry's
Macaroni & Cheese
Chocolate Chip Cookies
(And E. Spat thought her list was unhealthy!)

Four Places I'd Rather Be
(Not my photos, just some beautiful scenery.)

Four Albums I Can't Live Without
1964/1993 (I can use that even though it's a box set, can't I?)
Ani DiFranco
James Taylor: Greatest Hits

Four People to Tag With the Lists
I've lost track of who has done it already and who hasn't, so I'll leave this open for volunteers. But four of you better do it!

Go On, Take The Money and Run

I called a client today who is accused of stealing quite a bit of money. The prosecutor has made an offer which would require my client to repay the stolen money in exchange for a non-jail sentence.

I spoke to my client a bit about the plea before the holidays, and he was pretty non-committal about the amount of money he could come up with, or when he could pay it.

You see, most of my clients who steal money steal it for a very specific and very immediate purpose. Drug use, a debt, or just rent money to keep themselves afloat. None of my clients are stealing to pad their savings account. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that it happens - look at those Enron guys - but the poor are generally looking for a more instant gratification.

So when I spoke to the client before the holidays, I just really wasn't in the mood to pry about how or where my client could up with the money, or to lecture him on how important it was to pay up so that he could avoid jail. Instead, I told him to put some thought into it and we'd talk about it more after the holidays.

Despite the big pink tree in my living room, it is indeed "after the holidays," so I called the client again to discuss the money. (Notice how I have to call him? Wouldn't you be so concerned about jail that you'd call your lawyer to follow up? Then again, you'd be so concerned about jail that you wouldn't steal the money in the first place, right?)

My client informed me that he does have a plan for getting the money: he expects to get his W2 from his job soon, then he will file taxes, and then he will wait for his refund, and then, depending on how much the refund is, he will be able to pay restitution. He is just one of many clients who will be able to make his case better after tax day.

Others will be able to pay their child support or their traffic tickets or their loved ones' bail.

Most people hate tax day. (Especially the aforementioned Enron guys.) But in my clients' world, where most get refunds, tax day is a lot like found-money day. Or, in some cases, pay-back-the-money-you-stole day.

And defense-attorney-can-relax-because-the-money-is-coming day.

More on Interpreters

Public Defender Dude followed up with more great thoughts on interpreters. I read it and kept saying, "Yes! I meant to say that too!"

I, too, am amazed at the work interpeters do. I have a great friend who is fluent in both Spanish and English and I keep telling her that she should study to be an interpreter - in some places, they make great money. But it truly does take some sort of ability that not all people have - the ability to speak and think and translate and do it quickly. To get the point across as literally as possible, but so that it makes sense.

When I started at my job, one of the interpreters in our office gave us a little intro to using an interpreter. Two of the biggest tips that I remember are (1) look directly at the person you're speaking to, not the interpreter, and (2) speak directly to the person you're speaking to, not the interpreter.

Like I said, I understand quite a bit of Spanish (but I definitely still need an interpreter). I can't tell you how many times I interview clients with a Spanish interpreter and I hear the client start every sentence with, "Tell her I said..." "Tell the lawyer..." "Tell Miss Justice..." If I know that it's going to be a longer conversation, I'll usually stop so that either the interpreter or I can explain that the client can just speak to me directly. But if it's just a quick conversation in the hallway of the courthouse, for instace, I usually don't bother.

And PDD's comments about a certain Asian interpreter reminded me of one Chinese interpreter that I work with often. I don't know whether it's a cultural thing or what, but it always seems to me that she's YELLING at my clients. I thought that if it wasn't cultural, maybe it's just this interpreter's character, but she's perfectly soft-spoken in English. I'd try to explain it better, but how do I type Chinese shouting? I remember one day, I was interviewing a female client who was crying hysterically. I said to my client, "It's going to be ok. Don't worry. Just tell me what happened." The interpreter interpreted, shouting at my client, and my client started crying harder and louder. What could I say to the interpreter? "Are you sure you're interpreting this right? And could you try to portray my gentle tone a little bit better?"

I'm Ashamed to Admit...

because I normally have my act together... but my Christmas Tree is still up.

It's pink though, so I was thinking... maybe it could double as a Valentine's tree?

Public Interest Office Makeover

No, not a public defender office, but a Legal Aid office in upstate New York.

My favorite part is the first line: The day Catherine Linnemann interviewed to become an intern in the Binghamton office of the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, she wanted to cry.

So, the Cornell law student, "who was born in Switzerland and maintains residences in Binghamton and Manhattan" and "is an interior designer by trade," decided to give the office a makeover.

"Linnemann, who has clocked more than 500 hours on her renovations," (does this count toward her credit hours?) "has dipped deep into her own pockets to buy supplies. Now she's looking for local companies to supplement her efforts so the second and third floors can receive a similar facelift (although "emergency surgery" might be a better analogy)." She's looking specifically for a mason and furniture donations.

Part of me thinks, "Couldn't that 500 hours and the money she's raised be better spent on client services?" But another part of me thinks, "That's right, don't public interest lawyers deserve a pleasant workspace too? Hey, my office could use a makeover! Maybe she could help me get some pink curtains."

Pink Curtains

No real substance today, just a joke:

A blonde enters a store that sells curtains. She tells the salesman, "I would like to buy a pair of pink curtains."

The salesman assures her that they had a large selection of pink curtains. He shows her several patterns, and finally the blonde selects a lovely pink floral print.

The salesman asks what size curtains she needed. The blonde replies, "Fifteen inches."

"Fifteen inches?" asks the salesman. "That sounds very small, what room are they for?"

The blonde tells him that they aren't for a room, they are for her computer monitor.

The surprised salesman replies, "But, Miss, computers do not have curtains!"

The blonde responds, "Hellllooooooooo.......I've got Windows!"

The Blonde Justice Mailbag

It's time to go to the Blonde Justice Mailbag.

An interpreter (who I think is this Court Interpreter, but I'm not positive), writes:
Hi, I read your blog every so often and just wondered if you get to work with court interpreters and what you think of them. I met some fantastic PDs in city court and now I'm with federal defenders on a lot cases and they seem more passionate on the whole, about their clients' predicaments.

Working with court interpreters is a huge part of my job and on the whole, I think they're great people. We really depend on them, and they usually go the extra mile to help us out whenever they can. For example, I've had times when the court is shutting down, everyone is trying to get out of there, and I have one client left who needs an interpreter. Sometimes there will be some pressure from the court, "Can't he just understand enough? Does he really need an interpreter?" But I've found that most interpreters are willing to stay late or do a little extra running around (covering more courtrooms than they're supposed to, for instance) to make sure that no one has to go without an interpreter.

And, no, my client does not "understand enough." The thing that some people have a hard time understanding is that even if you understand "enough English" to have a conversation, or even to rob someone in English, it doesn't mean that you can understand what goes in a courtroom.

If you've read this blog, you know that my English-speaking clients don't always understand what is going on, even though I explain it twenty times. For instance, how many times do my clients say, "Oh that case? That case was dismissed." Guess what "dismissed" means to my clients? It means that they pled guilty. And they're not just trying to trick you about whether the case was dismissed or not - they really think that the fact that they don't have to come back to court anymore means that it is "dismissed." If my English speaking clients don't get it, I don't expect speakers of other languages to get it.

I try to learn other languages, and I can speak quite a bit of Spanish and a little bit of a lot of other languages. When we're not too busy (how often is that?) I like to try out my language skills. Some of the interpreters are really patient in at least letting me try to introduce myself. The Spanish interpreter will sometimes let me do my interview in Spanish, occasionally interjecting to correct my grammar. I like to think that it helps the client trust me, to know that I make an attempt to learn his language.

What don't I like? There are a few interpreters who don't translate, and just decide to play lawyer and take over the interview. I come in to the pens area, and I start my interview by saying, "Hi! My name is Blonde Justice, I'm a lawyer with the Public Defender's office, I'm going to be your lawyer today." I pause for the interpreter to translate. I hear her translate what I just said (even in a language I don't understand, I recognize my name), and then keep going, and keep going, and keep going. My client says something, and instead of translating, she just responds. Wait, wait, wait! I need to know exactly what my client is saying! I know that the interpreter thinks she's being helpful - she think it will be quicker to do what she thinks are the important questions and then give me a summary. But, no, that's not going to cut it. I can't risk missing something just because the interpreter didn't think it was worth mentioning to me.

Overall, though, I really like the interpeters. They're good people and sometimes the only other friendly face in the courtroom. Even though, of course, they're neutral, I feel like at least they're on my client's side - they wouldn't be there if they didn't want to help my client better navigate the system. Which is essentially my job too.

Another reader writes (this one edited to preserve some anonymity, at the writer's request):
Hi Blondejustice- I'm a third year law student at a fairly prestigious school. I enjoy reading your blog. I have an interview with the __________ Public Defender next week and wondered if you can offer any advice. I work in a PD's office through a legal clinic at my school, but I've also summered in a DA's office and in a previous PD interview, I think this hurt me. I'd really appreciate any tips you have as I genuinely enjoy PD work and would really like to get this job. Thanks.

Hmmm... this is a tough one. I hope everyone will feel free to contribute in the comments. (I know some of the other PD bloggers have actually interviewed prospective PDs, so they might be have a better perspective on this.)

First, let me deal with the fact that you summered in a DA's office. I personally don't think that there's anything wrong with that, but I know that there are definitely people in my office who think that if you could even consider working in the DA's office, you aren't made for PD work. I don't agree.

But I think you may need to explain why you summered at the DA's office and what you learned from it. You want to stay away from completely bad-mouthing the DA's office (even though we do it all the time), because I think it looks unprofessional.

Consider these responses. Candidate one says, "Yes, I summered at the DA's office my first summer. I really just want trial experience and I feel like I could argue both sides, and get that experience on either side." Sure. Hey, at least you're honest, and you're not going to be a plea machine. But as far as I'm concerned, I'd rather hire someone a little more committed and let you get your experience elsewhere. Candidate two says, "I went to law school because I wanted to help people. I thought that I could do the most by being a D.A.: I could listen to complaining witnesses and make sure that defendants get the help that they need. After a summer in the D.A.'s office, I realize that I can do more good as a public defender. The D.A.s just didn't have the autonomy to do the good they could have been doing. I know now that the P.D.'s office is a better fit for me..." I think any interviewer would pick candidate two over candidate one.

And, I think that if you're getting an interview with the P.D.'s office with a resume that reflects your summer at the D.A.'s office, they're obviously not automatically precluded you because of your experience. You just need to think ahead about how you want to answer questions about it (and whether you want to bring it up if the question isn't posed). You also need to think about your response and how it's going to sound to the P.D.'s office. (Feel free to try it out on us.)

As for the rest of the interview, I guess I'd just give all of the regular interview tips: be yourself, be open and honest, be enthusiastic. I also think it would be a good idea to call ahead or ask the person who sets up your interview if there's anything special you need to prepare for your interview. Some of the offices I interviewed with did mock arraignment interviews, mock bail apps, or even mock summations during the interviews. If there's going to be a case file or something to look through, it'd be helpful to have that as early as possible. If there is something in particular you can prepare, you should practice it in front of many people as you can: your professors (especially a trial ad professor or other actual professional who works in the field), your friends, and your family.

I also think that you should be prepared to ask questions. If I interviewed someone and they didn't have any questions I'd think that either they really knew everything there is to know about my job (is that possible???) or they're just not that interested. And there are so many questions you can ask: What is the intake process? What kinds of cases would I handle? How and when do I advance to more serious cases? What's a typical day like? What's your caseload? What kind of training and supervision is provided? How is your office different from another nearby P.D.'s office? How many cases do the attorneys in your office take to trial? How about new attorneys? Wow... I could just go on all day.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have more specific questions. And I'm really hoping my commenters will jump in with more helpful suggestions.

Made Marathon

On MTV today.

How will I ever get out of bed?

(I'll post something of real substance later.)

Niche Lawyering

A few weeks ago I was at a little party with a bunch of law students. They had a lot of questions for me about my job, and, of course, I explained to them how wonderful my job is and how it has made me so happy.

One girl in particular said, "I don't know if I want to be a public defender, I'm more interested in helping people with mental illness."

Um, yeah, it's unfortunate, but it turns out that a lot of people with mental illness get arrested. And can't afford an attorney. And end up with a public defender.

This is where the post about how we pick up cases comes in. I realize that it's very different in other offices and varies a lot from office to office - and for those of you looking for a public defender job, you may want to consider how different offices intake cases, if you feel that it's something important to you.

After some time developing general skills as a public defender, I think that you can use the intake system to your advantage, if you'd like, to develop a little bit of a niche.

I think most people think of niche lawyering in the private sector context - as a way to specialize and generate business. For example, there's one attorney that I frequently see in the courthouse who seems to represent only Chinese defendants. In fact, almost every Chinese defendant I've seen who hires a private attorney hires him. He is not Asian, but I think that he speaks a little Chinese, although not fluently. So, how did this come about? I've never spoken to him about it, but I assume a lot of it is word of mouth - people are going to trust a lawyer recommended within their own community. But perhaps he's also supplemented that by (and this is pure speculation) having an office in a Chinatown neighborhood, advertising in a Chinese newspaper, or having a Chinese interpreter or Chinese-speaking staff.

Again, I've never spoken to him about it, so I don't know if it has worked out this way because he just likes working with Chinese defendants and has, therefore, based his practice on what makes him happy, or whether he just had a smart business plan - filling a need for a criminal defense attorney in the Chinese community. I imagine that it's a little of both. And, either way, it's what I'd call "niche lawyering."

So, how does this apply to being a public defender? Depending on the intake method in your office, and your interests you may be able to (if you want to) develop your own niche. Now, obviously, in the P.D.'s office it's not a matter of making more money, but perhaps it could help you to build a specialized practice that you could eventually take into the public sector or that you'll just find more rewarding.

For example, let's say that you worked in the my office (or a P.D.'s office with a similar intake system) and you spoke some Chinese. While I mentioned in How I Got My Big Caseload that it's considered impolite to "shop" the cases, this does not apply when you're shopping for the more difficult cases or the cases no one wants. So, go ahead and pick up the few Chinese cases that appear every now and then. Eventually, other lawyers will say, "Hey I have a Chinese client on the phone and I can't find an interpreter, will you help me out?" or "I need to go on an investigation in Chinatown, can you come along?" And maybe you'll know a few more people in the neighborhood, or the best Chinese interpreter to call, or just have more credibility because the locals know that you've helped their friends.

The same can be said not only for nationalities of clients but also for types of cases. If you find that you like the drunk driving cases, if you've tried a few and you're on a roll, no one is going to stop you from picking them up when they come along. And it might even mean less work for you, since you've already familiarized yourself with the evidence that commonly comes up in these cases (breathalyzers, coordination tests, etc.) and it will probably mean better representation for your clients, who will have a lawyer who can get up to speed with the evidence more quickly.

Or, finally, like the law student I met at this party, if you find that you like working with the mentally ill clients, that they relate to you, by all means, search them out (You'll see that it only takes a little practice to recognize types of cases that most frequently are committed by the mentally ill - stalking or arson, for example. Or, sometimes you can find prior mental health commitments right on a client's rap sheet.)

There's one man in my office who comes to mind immediately. He has an amazingly patient demeanor and a background in psychology. Once in a while I have to call him from arraignments when I have a mentally ill client that is so upset that he won't even come out of the pens to be arraigned. This attorney will work with you on any case involving mental illness, will go with you to meet your client to assess their mental illness, and will go with you to a competency exam. He keeps himself up to date with all new caselaw involving mental illness and knows all of the good programs and all of the best contacts at each program.

He's carved out a little niche for himself. I'm not suggesting that he could make a profitable living out of it in the private sector (although someone with a niche in drunk driving cases probably could), but he finds it rewarding. And his expertise provides a very valuable service to a very needy group of clients.

I think the areas available for niching are infinite and you could probably bring almost any other legal specialty into the mix. About a decade ago, no one would've anticipated how quickly sex offender registration and community notification laws would evolve - and if you were the person in your office who showed an interest in the area and took some initiative to become an expert, who knows where it could lead you? Maybe you'd end up running a training in your office, or maybe you'd end up touring the country lecturing lawyers or law enforcement on the topic.

So, two points come out of this. First, when I was a law student looking at public defender jobs, I mostly just based on my search on location. But, knowing more now, I feel that the office's intake style is really important and something that I would definitely advise considering. And, even if you ultimately choose a job based on location, I think the topic is at least a decent thing to bring up during an interview when you're asked if you have any questions.

But my bigger point is, and the point that I was trying to make to these law students, is that we handle many different types of cases in the public defender's office and that it would be foolish to say, "I was thinking of applying to the public defender's office, but really I'm more interested in..." Homelessness, Immigration, Working with the Mentally Ill, Working with the ____ Community, Working on Constitutional Issues of _____, or Focusing on something that will be profitable for me someday, etc.. Whatever it is, you might be surprised by how much it ties into the work of the public defender's office.

It's one of the things that keeps the job interesting.


It is E.Spat's 31st birthday. At least for a few more hours.

Rush on over there to Will Work for Favorable Dicta are wish her a good one.

Things I Wish My Clients Had

Just one, actually.

But then they wouldn't be my clients.

UPDATE: Whoa, this only reads up to a .12? Nevermind, it won't do most of my clients much good.

Why Ashlee Had To Lip Sync

Um... she had something stuck in her throat?

(That was too easy!)

Yes, that's right, Ashlee's got herself a leaked sex tape.

Absolutely, positively NOT work safe. Unless nudie havin-sex photos of Ashlee are safe at your work. I don't know, maybe you work in the porn industry.

This should finally satisfy all of the readers who find this blog by searching for "Ashlee Simpson's boobs."

Blonde Justice News - You Hear It First. (Assuming, of course you don't read WWFD. Maybe I should say, "You hear it second, about a day later than WWFD-readers.")

(And yes, I too have my questions about whether that's really Ashlee or just some look-alike. I guess we'll have to wait and see.)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: IT IS AN ASHLEE SIMPSON LOOK-ALIKE. So, not the real Ashlee. But, if you've got that big of an Ashlee thing (no pun intended), it might be something worth seeing.

Things I Wish My Clients Knew (Part 4)

(This entry is part of the long-running but infrequent "Things I Wish My Clients Knew" series: See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

I wish my clients knew (so that I wouldn't have to repeat these words) :

Double Jeopardy? No, it does not mean what you think it means.

No, that's ok, I don't care what you think it means, you're wrong.

No, really, you don't have to explain it to me, I know that you're wrong.

Seriously, you're still talking about double jeopardy? Believe me, double jeopardy comes up SO extremely rarely, I'm pretty sure that this case isn't going to be it. And when the issue is there, I'll spot it.

Wait, before you say anything else about double jeopardy, let me say one more thing. Double Jeopardy will not keep you from being arrested again for the same type of crime. Just because you were arrested for Grand Theft Auto five years ago, double jeopardy does not protect you from being arrested for stealing cars ever again.

No? That's not what you were going to say? Really? Ok, fine, tell me. Tell me why you keep repeating the words "Double Jeopardy" to me. And it better not have anything to do with Alex Trebeck.

Wait for it... Wait for it...

Ha! Because you've HAD TO COME BACK TO COURT TWICE!?!? Aaaah, that's a good one. You're funny.

Ha ha ha! I can't stop laughing!

Wait, I can't hear you! I'm still laughing!

Now, seriously, that's not double jeopardy. You don't know what double jeopardy means. Please stop saying those words to me.

And if you came here looking for the definition of Double Jeopardy, I'll give it to you. Just because I don't want you bugging your lawyer about it, the same way my clients bug me. Here it is, courtesy of Lect Law:
DOUBLE JEOPARDY - Being tried twice for the same offense; prohibited by the 5th Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution. '[T]he Double Jeopardy Clause protects against three distinct abuses: [1] a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; [2] a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and [3] multiple punishments for the same offense.' U.S. v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 440 (1989).

How I Got My Big Caseload

Someone asked me recently how we ("we," being public defenders) go about either choosing our cases or having them assigned to us.

I don't often write about the day-to-day mechanics of my job, but I thought this might be interesting enough, especially to law students wondering about how this whole thing works. (And, I had something else I wanted to write about, and thought this info was necessary first, so I'm seeing it as a lead in to a future post. Yes, as unorganzied as this whole thing appears, I'm thinking ahead.)

As a caveat, this is all pretty general (can you imagine how long this post would be if I decided to be specific?) and I'm sure that it varies quite a bit from office to office and city to city.

Every day, there are a few lawyers from the public defender's office assigned to arraignments - sometimes as few as three, sometimes as many as ten. The number depends on some system that may or may not exist that allows our bosses to have some idea how busy arraignments will be on any given day.

For sake of simplicity, let's just assume there are 3 attorneys assigned on a given day. Generally, they'll be of mixed experience levels - one very senior attorney who has tried all types of cases, one mid-level attorney who has mastered the world of misdemeanors and handles some less serious felonies, and one newbie who just handles misdemeanors.

We'll sit together at a desk in the courtroom and discuss the D.A.'s hair or funny nicknames for a mean judge until a court officer comes and drops a handful of cases on our desk. Generally, it's about 10 cases at a time, because they give us the paperwork as they bring the "bodies" to the pen behind the courtroom.

One person will grab the pile and do a basic triage of the cases. (Yes, I often do it, because I like to be in control of things.) If there's a rape or murder, something along those lines, you're going to hand it directly to the most senior attorney. If there's something like, let's say a burglary, you're going to hand it to the mid-level attorney. And if there's something like a petit larceny, you're going to hand it to the newbie.

But this isn't set in stone. For example, as a mid-level attorney, if I don't feel comfortable with a case someone hands to me - because I'm not experienced enough to handle the particular case - I'll leave it on the pile on the desk. Maybe later in the shift the more senior attorney will pick it up, or maybe we'll work on it together.

Now, some shifts there aren't many serious cases and every case is an easy misdemeanor. Then, everyone just picks up the cases more or less equally. In that situation, it's considered impolite to "shop" the cases - to sort through them and say, "I don't want the drunk driving, those cases are a pain in the ass, I'll take this petit larceny instead. I don't want this Chinese guy because I'll spend the next few months waiting for the interpreter, I'll take this guy 'William Smith' instead." Because then, obviously, you're just screwing your colleagues who are going to have to pick up the cases that you're leaving on the desk. So, in that instance everyone will just pick up the top three or four cases off the pile.

Likewise, I've also worked shifts as the newbie lawyer where every case that came in was a rape, murder or kidnapping (or some combination thereof). As the newbie, I just took every misdemeanor that came in. Some of the more senior attorneys only did one or two cases that day - it can take a while to prepare a murder case for arraignment, while I probably did 20 misdemeanors, but that's still considered fair.

Once I'm done with those cases (either after the interview or after the interview and the arraignment, depending on the pace of the judge), I'll return to the pile(where the court officers keep dropping more cases) and pick up a few more. And this continues throughout the shift.

And that is, very generally, how cases get assigned to me. And those will be my cases from arraignment until plea, trial, or dismissal. This is called "vertical representation" meaning the same attorney represents the same client all the way up to, and including the trial. Some public defenders offices may still use "horizontal representation," that is when one public defender meets you and does the arraignment but they're only assigned to arraignments so on your next court date, let's say for a preliminary hearing, you get a different public defender who, for example, only does preliminary hearings. I think that most PD's offices have moved away from "horizontal representation" because it means, among other things, that the client doesn't know "his" lawyer is if he needs to call someone between court dates.

There are a few other ways that I get assigned cases.

First, are "walk-ins." That's when someone - SOMEONE SMART WHO UNDERSTANDS THE VALUE OF HAVING A LAWYER - will walk in or call our office to say, "Hey, I heard the police are looking for me, I guess I have to turn myself in, but I thought I should talk to a lawyer first." Or, something along those lines. Then my boss will walk into my office and say, "Hey Blonde, there's this guy on the phone..." and that case will become mine. Maybe I'll have to take him to turn himself in, or to be in a line-up, and then, eventually I'll go to arraignments even though it's not my scheduled day, to arraign the case. Why me and why not someone else? Who knows. Maybe the boss is just looking for someone who is sitting at their desk at the time. Maybe they have an idea of who has a higher caseload and will give it to someone who has a lower caseload. Maybe they want to stick it to a lawyer who is a pain in the ass, give him or her more work to do. Or maybe they go to the lawyer who is the least likely to complain about getting more work. (I suspect I'm in that "least likely to complain" category.)

Another way I get assigned a case is when a client that I already have on an open matter gets rearrested. Even if someone else arraigns it, all of my client's new cases will be reassigned to me. Again, this is for continuity and it makes sense that they lawyer who has the longest standing relationship with the client should continue the representation.

And, finally, I ocasionally get cases assigned to me completely randomly. For instance, "Hey Blonde, Joe is retiring, you're going to take over this case."

And that is how I get my cases. Now, how don't I get my cases?

Often a client will call me and say something like, "Hey, you were my lawyer last year. My cousin got arrested today and my family wants to hire you." While I'm flattered, I'm not for hire.

Similarly, if a former client calls and wants to get their case assigned to me, I have to say no. I tell the caller that the public defender system is a "luck of the draw" system, and I assure them their cases will be assigned to someone who is more than capable. I also tell them that they can have their new lawyer call me - I can vouch for the fact that they made all of their court dates and appointments, or that I previously spoke to their family, have been to their address, have confirmed community ties. Overall, the view of my office is that it sets a bad precedent to take your former clients' cases when you don't have to. Eventually there could be questions about why you took one previous client's cases and not other's, and it sends a bad message of, "Yes, you're right, I am the only capable public defender here, so I'll do you a favor and help you." It can also lead to a weird lawyer/client dynamic where the client feels that you're pretty much on retainer to be his lawyer, and that's just not the way it works.

So, that's how a public defender get her (many) cases. Any questions?

DNA Testing of Roger Keith Coleman

I'm truly fascinated by this news that Virginia Governor Mark Warner has ordered DNA testing of Roger Keith Coleman, who was executed in 1992.

In law school, I worked on an innocence case, and our client died in prison while the DNA was at the lab. Despite our attempts, the court ultimately decided that we had lost all standing to go forward with the DNA testing.

I hope that this will open up a new avenue for that family to get the DNA testing that they so desperately wanted.

As for Coleman, I don't know much about the case other than what I've seen in the news in the past two days.

And, I feel torn because I don't really know what to hope for.

If the DNA testing confirms that he was guilty, I'm still not happy that someone was executed - whether or not he was guilty. So, it doesn't do much for me.

But, if the DNA testing exonerates him, obviously that's bad because it means an innocent man was executed. And it means that the actual rapist and murderer was not punished. But, on the other hand, it will bring a lot of attention to the flaws of capital punishment.

I know you might be wondering whether or not capital punishment and innocence really requires more attention. Especially if you're a liberal like me, reading liberal public defender blogs all day. You might not realize that there are people out there who have no idea that the whole issue exists.

I have a very good friend from college who is an extremely conservative Republican. When I was in law school, I told her about the innocence cases I was working on. And she absolutely positively did not believe that an innocent person could be convicted, much less given the death penalty. Even then, when I told her that nearly one hundred people had been exonerated by DNA testing, she responded, "Right, but they were finally exonerated. The system worked."

Except that it's generally not the "system" that is working with the convicted. It's charitable organizations and academic institutions.

We've talked about my cases a thousand times since then, but she's still of the same basic mind set. So, I guess that while I can't hope that an innocent man was executed, I think I can hope that if that's what happened, then some good will come out of it if ultimately brings some much needed attention to the flaws in the system.

Scandal in the Brooklyn D.A.'s Office

According to the New York Post, Overpayment is rampant in the Brooklyn, New York D.A.'s office.

You know, if my clients were involved in a business that had that much "long term financial mismanagement," arrests would be made.

Actually, someone emailed me a tip about this story. I did a simple search to find other sources, and I was amazed at the number of articles and editorials accusing this D.A. of corruption.

And this is really the person they let prosecute people? Amazing.

Amorous in the Courtroom

The courtroom can be a really romantic place.

You know... The overhead flourescent lights, the drone of the judge.

That's why, if my man ever got arrested, I would definitely go to court with him. And make out with him and let him feel me up right there in the audience.

Yeah, that's hot.

Geez, what are these girls thinking?

But that's nothing compared to the girls sitting with their men, practically getting it on, in the domestic violence part. Black eye and all.

Aaah, the ever classy black-eye-and-hickey combination.

I guess if you're going to violate the restraining order, might as well have some fun doing it. If you know what I mean.

Oh, yuck.

The Technology Is Called...

Absolutely true story.

The scene: The bus. Evening rush hour.

One older woman sitting directly in front of me. She seems a little weird, but not in any sort of dangerous-looking way. But when I sat down, I thought for a second that she was going to try to talk to me. Which would've sucked. We'll call her "WW" for "Weird Woman."

Across the row, a young man with an ipod in his hand, earbuds in his ears. (Yes, I like the word "earbuds," it's funny.) We'll call him "IM" for "Ipod Man."

WW: Is that an ipod that you have there?
IM: What? (Taking the earbuds out of his ears) Oh, yeah.
WW: Do you know if those are compatible with PCs?
IM: I think they are.
WW: I thought ipods are for Macs only.
IM: No. I'm pretty sure that they're PC compatible. I mean, I dont' know if this one is, I have a Mac. Maybe they make Mac ipods and PC ipods, but I have friends who have PCs and they have ipods...
WW: No, they probably have MP3 players.
IM: (Finally getting up and walking toward the exit.) "MP3" is what the technology is called. Ipod is one brand of MP3 player. But there are other brands.
WW: No, MP3 is one brand name, MP3s are for PCs. Ipods are for Macs.
IM: Ok, well, nice talking to you. Gotta go! (Getting off the bus.)

Three immediate questions come to mind. First, if she knew SO MUCH about ipods, why did she ask? Just to school him? Second, how much did that guy regret taking his headphones off, rather than just pretending he couldn't hear her? And finally, how many blocks early did he get off the bus just to end the conversation?

Poor guy, I just kept imagining that he walked 20 blocks home in the dark, just because he was dumb enough to take out his earbuds.

Happy New Year!

Alright, I'm back from a little New Year's hiatus. Because we went to see my parents for Christmas, we had to go see the boyfriend's parents for New Years. And, actually, I tried to blog a little, but, and I know this is hard to believe, there are people out there who are still using AOL on dial-up to connect to the internet. I just didn't have the patience to write much more than I did.

But I had a good time. I did get to go to a football game. Which kept reminding me of this joke that I read on Leslie's Omnibus:
A guy took his blonde girlfriend to her first football game. They had great seats right behind their team's bench. After the game, he asked her how she liked the experience.

"Oh, I really liked it," she replied, "especially the tight pants and all the big muscles, but I just couldn't understand why they were killing each other over 25 cents."

Dumbfounded, her date asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, they flipped a coin, one team got it and then for the rest of the game, all they kept screaming was: 'Get the quarterback! Get the quarterback!' I'm like... Helloooooo? It's only 25 cents!!!!

Blonde jokes crack me up!

We had a good time. And the trip was a good reminder that not everyone understands what I do for a living. Including the boyfriend's father ("TBF").

TBF: Do you know Joe Schmo*?
Me: No, I don't think so. Why?
TBF: Oh, I know his father. He was telling me that young Joe works in the prosecutor's office in your city. And so I told him, "Oh yeah? My son's girlfriend is with the prosecutor's office too."
Me: But, um... you understand that I'm not "with" the prosecutor's office, right?
TBF: No, no, I know that. But, it's all the same thing.

(*Name changed to protect the prosecutor, whether he's innocent or not. And, judging by this conversation, he might not even be a prosecutor.)

So, yes, I'm back. And I think I'm ready to be back. I woke up this morning thinking about an investigation that I can do to prepare for an upcoming trial.

It will be tough, but I think I'm ready to head back to work. Just as soon as I can get my lazy butt out of bed.

"Spicy" Blogger Leaves Attorney's Office

I hope there's this much press coverage on the day I leave the Public Defender's office.

Not that I'm planning to leave any time soon. Let's not start any false rumors. But Yahoo! front page news? Sheesh.

And I hope someone calls me "spicy."