Practical Ethics

If yesterday's post left you wondering just what kind of ethical dilemmas I encounter as a public defender, you're not alone.

So here's an example, which is somewhat fictionalized because as far as I know, the case is still ongoing.

I was in arraignments when I picked up a case where my client was charged with drunk driving, causing an accident with serious injury, and leaving the scene of an accident. She had been arrested many hours after the accident. The client was a student in a professional program and had never been arrested before.

Before speaking to my client, I realized that I'd need to get a lot of information from her because there were a few different defenses that might be worth pursuing. First, maybe my client wasn't really drinking. Second, maybe she was really drinking, but she wasn't intoxicated. (There wouldn't be an accurate breathalyzer because of the time that had passed.) Third, maybe the other driver caused the accident. Fourth, maybe my client wasn't even the one driving. Maybe someone else borrowed her car. And, finally, maybe once I learned more I would see an entirely different scenario.

So, I met the client and I asked her what happened. She told me she didn't remember. (Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in drunk driving cases.)

Immediately, she asked me, "Is my roommate here? She told me she was going to come get me." I told her that I didn't know, I'd have to check. "She told me not to talk to anyone until she got here." Alright, in that case, the easiest thing for me to do is go look for your roommate.

I found her roommate waiting in the audience. We went in the hallway to talk, where she told me, "Look, she shouldn't be in any trouble. Just tell me what you want me to say, anything I can do to help her." Wait, maybe I misunderstood. Maybe she meant, "She shouldn't be in any trouble (because I know she didn't do anything wrong), Just tell me (what questions you want answered honestly) and I'll do anything I can to help her."

So, I said, "Ok, were you with her tonight? What did you see?" She said, "No, no, I wasn't with her. But I could say she was with me if that helps. If she needs an alibi."

I told her friend that, while I appreciated her helpfulness, being dishonest wasn't going to be helpful in any case. For example, if she provided an alibi to say that my client wasn't really driving, they might have a videotape from a traffic camera to show that she was lying, and prove my client really was driving. In the alternative, if she provided testimony that my client wasn't drinking, they might have a witness from the bar or her credit card paying a big bar tab.

In my mind, even if I could ethically and legally get away with putting liars on the stand, I think there's just too much opportunity for it to backfire. My client got out of jail that day and one week later I received a call from a private attorney. I told the private attorney some general information about the case, and offered to send a copy of the papers I had received.

The private attorney asked me, "I understand there is an alibi witness. Did you get a chance to speak to her?" I said, "Well, I spoke to her roommate, but I'm not sure if that's who you're talking about." For all I know, my client could have remembered something about that night and come up with a real alibi witness. We ended the conversation with me telling the private attorney that I'd send the file to her.

About a week later, the private attorney left a message on my voicemail. "Hi, it's private attorney again. I spoke to client and she told me roommate is her alibi witness. You said you spoke to her, so I wanted to see if you took a written statement from her. I didn't see it in the file you sent me, but I just don't want to reinvent the wheel if you've already done it. Could you call me back and let me know?"

This was a situation where I checked with my supervisor. In the end, I called the private attorney, and, thankfully, she wasn't there. I left a message that said, "Hi, it's Blonde Justice returning your call. I didn't take any sort of written statement. Good luck with your case!" I tried to use my best not-too-friendly no-need-to-keep-calling-me tone. We'll see if it works.

I guess now we could play devil's advocate. What more could I have done? Could I have told her "If you're talking about the roommate, she's full of baloney?" Probably. It wasn't protected by privilege. But did I have to? I, obviously, don't think so. Should I? I figure that the private lawyer is going to figure it out sooner or later, but I don't think it's my job, at this point, to tell her how to handle her case.

What about the flip side? Could I have coached the roommate through a perfect story? Could I have made her the star witness of my case? Ethically? I suppose that if I wanted to, there could have been a way to skirt the ethical rules. I could have asked the roommate all leading questions. I could have said, "Oh, good, so what you're telling me is that you were there with her at the bar? And she was only ordering soda the whole night? You're positive? And then you're telling me that you were at the corner when the other car ran a red light? You're positive? Ok, and then you're telling me that the other driver said she was alright, no damage done, go on home? Oh, ok. Thanks. Let me just get your contact information so I can put you on my witness list." A witness that wanted to help her friend out would have figured out exactly how to answer my questions. And a witness who couldn't figure it out isn't too bright and wouldn't be of much use to me anyway. So, would that be unethical? Probably not. I would have no reason to know that my witness was lying.

But, practically, none of this really came into play. I know that messing with a lying witness isn't worth it, and I know that asking only the question answered ("Did you take a written statement?" as opposed to "Did you take a written statement? Why not?") is one of the greatest tactics of lawyering. And, I think that's how real life ethics differ from classroom ethics.

But feel free to "dispute!"

The Devil Made Me Do It

A week or two ago I was talking to a friend, who I went to law school with, about the Zacarias Moussaoui witness tampering situation. (David Feige had a nice piece to remind you of the situation here on Slate.)

My friend said "Yeah, that's what happened to [another friend we went to law school with.]" I asked her to elaborate and she said, "He was at the prosecutor's office, but he got in trouble for coaching a witness during a break in a hearing."

Hmmm. Mostly I was interested in how he got caught. Just like David Feige says, we all know it happens, but it's usually very difficult to prove.

My friend told me that she didn't really know how our classmate got caught, "but," she added, "you can't really blame him. His supervisor told him to do it."

My first thought, and my automatic response was, "No, that's no excuse. I don't give up my law license (or my credibility, or my reputation) for anybody."

"But really, he had to. When you're in a situation like that, and your supervisor tells you to do something, you have no choice."

"You have the choice to say no and deal with the consequences."

Maybe it's unfair for me to say that. I very rarely, if ever, have any ethical conflicts with my supervisors. Instead, it's usually my other "bosses," my clients, who challenge me. Fortunately for me, the rules of what I can and what I can't do on behalf of my clients have been pretty well hashed out in the appellate courts. If I'm not sure, though, I use my best judgment and check in with a supervisor.

On the other hand, I see a lot of prosecutors who, to put it nicely, skirt the lines of ethical behavior quite a bit. I wonder why. A lot of people in our office figure that they're trained to do it, and their supervisors reinforce it. But don't the young prosecutors have the same obligation to say, "Sorry, I'm pretty sure that's unethical and I'm not allowed to do it?"

And, I guess maybe I could imagine if a prosecutor let their emotions get the best of them and said, "I can't let this little girl's killer walk free. I'd rather lose my law license than this case." I'd say it's a bad decision, but I can imagine it could happen. However, the prosecutors that I have the most experience with are dealing with shoplifts or misdemeanor drug possession. How can it really be worth it? Except for the fact that you know that you'll either (a) never get in caught or (b) have nothing worse happen to you than a few embarassing minutes. (Meaning, a judge may call you out on it, and embarass you, but it won't go any further than that.) And maybe they think it'd be more embarassing to be the one who stands up to a supervisor.

Later, though, (and after a little bit of a debate with my friend), I wondered if I was wrong in my quick response of, "I don't give up my law license for anybody."

Obviously, it's easier for me to say no to a client than it might be for any young lawyer to say no to a supervisor. But we all agree that it's no excuse to say "A supervisor told me to do it," don't we? What I guess I want to know is, we all - even young prosecutors - know that you have an obligation to stand up to an unethical supervisor, right? For those of you who just took the MPRE, the law hasn't changed that much since I was in law school, has it? I realize that sometimes when you are really unsure of the right thing to do, you might cover your ass by checking in with a supervisor (so that you can always say, later, I wasn't sure but I sought the advice of a more experienced attorney), but that's clearly different than if a supervisor said, "Shred that Brady evidence," and you said, "Yes sir."

My torts professor used to (and probably still does) present two sides of an argument and then say "Dispute!" in this weird little mouse voice. If I knew how, I'd imitate it and leave a clip of it here for you.


Know Your Current Events

My client and I faced a particularly tough judge today.

All things considered, my client took it fairly well. Afterwards, I went to see him again in the pens before I left. I knew he'd want to vent about what a jerk the judge was, and I figured I had a minute to spare if it would make him feel better.

In the pen, my client told me, "What happened? Did that judge think my name is Moussaoui? Because he was treating me like a terrorist. He wanted to give me the death penalty!"

I'm so thankful that the jails do a good job keeping my clients up-to-date on their current events.

Destination Unknown

I think they mean well. In fact, I know they do.

But, I get asked it a lot. "So, what are you doing after the public defender's office?"

Generally, if the question comes from someone I don't know too well, or I just don't feel like discussing it, I avoid it by saying something like, "Oh, hmmm... let's see. I'll probably head out, get dinner, go home and watch Tivo. I really think West Wing is shaping up to be better than it's been since Sorkin left. Have you been watching it?"

But, I guess there will come a time when I have to ask myself, what am I going to do after the public defender's office? Or, perhaps more importantly, when will that time come?

My office has a "recommended" 3 year stay. There's no contract, it's not a commitment, but there's an informal agreement that if they're going to put the time and energy into training you, you'll stick around for 3 years so they can get their money's worth out of you. But there's also no rule that I have to leave on my 3-year-anniversary.

The people in my office run the range. There's a lot of lawyers in the 0-4 year range, there are some lawyers in the 4-10 year range, and then there are a few lawyers that have been there 10 years or more ("lifers"). There are also quite a few lawyers with 10+ years experience who had left, went into solo or private practice or did something else, and then came back.

I've been at the office for two-and-a-half years. So, if I have any intent to leave after 3 years, it would be time to start looking. But I still feel like I have a lot more to learn and I still feel like I have a lot more experience to gain.

As far as burnout, I think I occasionally feel exhausted, but I think it's more of "I need a vacation" burn out than "I need a new job" burn out. Overall, I would say that I am still in love with my job.

Not too long ago, I was on trial, I was super stressed out, and I found myself wishing I could be something absolutely intelligence-free and absolutely stress-free. Like, a grocery store shelfer. (No offense, grocery store shelfers. But I'm sure you never stay up all night worrying about your work.) Mostly, though, I interpreted this as trial stress and the need for a vacation.

But I also am concerned about becoming a lifer. Because I think that at some point you get typecast as a public defender and it becomes hard to get out. I know one lawyer in my office who had over 10 years of experience, who was actively looking for a new job, interviewing, and getting rejected. He told me that he felt like he had stuck around the PD's office too long, and that it was a factor against him.

And, finally, I don't know what else I would want to do. I mean, I guess I would probably be just as happy doing private criminal defense. But I'd want to stick with solely doing criminal defense. (In other words, I don't want to be at a small firm where I will sometimes get stuck doing a divorce or some crap.) But I think that I need at least a little more training and experience before I'm ready to handle my own clients without much more training or assistance.

Is there anything else I'd want to do? Any other dream jobs? Certainly not as a lawyer. Sometimes I think about being coming a not-a-lawyer. Maybe I could teach (college or law school, maybe trial advocacy). I'd really like to teach a clinic. I also occasionally think about just being a public defender somewhere else, maybe even internationally. But it's also very possible that I'll never find anything else I want to do as much as I want to be a public defender.

I guess the point is, I'm sticking around at least a while longer. I worry that I will make this decision and then forget about it, and the next thing I know, I'll wake up and realize that I've been a public defender for 20 years. I feel like maybe I need to send myself an email in the future that says, "Hello? Are you still there? Time to move on!" But at the same time, I'm not positive that being a lifer is a bad thing.

Most importantly, though, I think I feel a little offended by the question because it implies that my job is a "starter job." That it couldn't possibly be a destination career, which I kind of feel it is for me. This is what I've wanted to be for quite a while. I'm finally here, and I'm just getting started.

Cruel and Unusual

In the courthouse yesterday I overheard a defendant as he was exiting the courtroom.

"Five days!" he told his friend. "Five days! They want five days community service from me."

"Psssh, five days," his friend sympathized, "they buggin'."

"Yeah. They acting like I killed somebody."

Grammar Query

What is the past tense of "open fire?"

Is it "open fired?" Or "opened fire?" Or maybe it's just "open fire."

The guy on the news says "the gunman opened fire" at least ten times a week, and it just always sounds funny to me.

Someone out there has to know...

Who Needs A Pick-Up Line When You Have a Big Mac?

I was asked on a date yesterday. By a 3-year-old.

"Excuse me," he said, with near perfect delivery, "Would you like to have a date? We could go to the movies."

Really, how could I say no to that? He's got a better approach than most grown men I know. "Hmmm, I guess we'll have to ask your mom if it's ok. But what movie could we see?"

"NO SCARY MOVIES!" he pretty much shouted. (Ok, the shouting thing is going to be a problem if this relationship gets serious.) But he immediately made a suggestion, "How about... Curious George?"

(Guys, take a hint from this 3-year-old. No girl wants to go on the "I don't know, what do you want to do?" date.)

"Curious George sounds good. We'll have to find out if it's still playing anywhere. Do you know how to use that Fandango thing?"

He just stared at me blankly. Obviously 3-year-olds are not Fandango's target audience, despite their little paper bag puppet customers ads. "Mommy said McDonalds is bad, but I can have it if we go on a date."

I started to worry that maybe this kid was a little too much of a Momma's boy for me. Do I really want to date someone who lets his "mommy" choose where we go to eat?

I saw his mother a few minutes later and let her know, "Your son asked me on a date."

"Oh, yeah, he's looking for a date. He went on a date with a little girl from his preschool class. They saw a movie and went to McDonalds. I won't take him to McDonalds but now he thinks if he can get another date, he can go back to McDonalds."

I've never felt so used before.

Easily Amused

Did anyone else watch the Brad Pitt game?
A Sunday spent in front of the computer, writing cross-exam questions and reviewing piles of testimony, and I am so easily amused.

(FYI: Brad beat Pitt. I picked Pitt, but I'm still laughing. Brad Pitt. Ha!)

Man severs own penis, throws it at officers

Got to wonder what kind of drugs he was on. This might be one case where you might be able convince the prosecutor, "Hasn't he suffered enough?"

Jakub Fik was being arrested for smashing car windows, and breaking into a home when he threw knives and his own penis at police. No police officers were hurt, but Mr. Fik probably was.

He told paramedics he was distraught over problems with his girlfriend in Poland, police said.
Um, and don't you think those problems might get bigger when she finds out you cut off your own penis and threw it at police?

"About 10 feet from the front porch, right on the sidewalk, was his penis," Sgt. Dolan said.
I wouldn't want to be the one to arraign this guy 24 hours later.

Mr. Andrea Yates Remarries

Mr. Andrea Yates (aka Rusty) remarried today.

Around the time of the drownings and trial, I read quite a bit about the Yates family. And, obviously, while Rusty Yates wasn't home at the time his children died and can't be held responsible, I always thought that maybe he should have done more sooner. As I remember, she had a history of severe post-partum depression and was staying home full-time with all of the children. I read somewhere that they were specifically warned not to have more children before the youngest child was born. Also, it seemed like there was some sort of weird Christian brainwashing thing going on - I seem to remember that years prior they had lived in a bus and continued to try to have more children. I'm not saying he was the one doing the brainwashing, but he had some sort of job at NASA or something, maybe he could've helped a little with responsible family planning. Maybe he could have pushed her into more psych treatment, maybe he could have found a way to relieve her for a few hours a day. I don't know that it would have made a difference, but I was surprised how little blame he got in the media.

Maybe it's unfair to blame him, but I think a husband has a basic obligation to his wife, and to their children, to make sure that she's healthy physically and mentally, especially if she's not in a position to do so herself. Somewhat similarly, I have a very casual acquantaince who very obviously has an eating disorder. She looks like she's going to fall down and die any minute. A lot of other acquantainces talk about her ("Why doesn't she eat something? Doesn't she know how bad she looks?") but the thing that I can never get over is that she's married! Why doesn't her husband encourage her to get some help, or check her into an eating disorder clinic himself? It makes me wonder if he's at home encouraging her illness. I can't understand why my friends who know him better aren't putting more pressure on him to do something. (I don't know him at all, other than to know that she's married and what her husband does for a living) Isn't that part of his responsibility as a husband?

Anyway, back to Rusty Yates. I guess it's neither here nor there what he could have done prior to June 2001 to save his children. I'm just amazed that he came out of this looking like the mourning, bewildered, blameless husband. So blameless, in fact, that he has remarried. I would have thought he'd have a hard time finding a new woman. He's not a bad looking guy, but I would think any woman would say, "Hey, I heard about you. Didn't you push your last wife to keep having babies and stay at home with them 24/7 until she really cracked and now your kids are dead and your wife is in prison? No, sorry, I'm not available Saturday night."

But, no, not only has he remarried, his new wife looks pretty attractive in her wedding dress. Maybe Andrea Yates was that pretty on her wedding day, but she sure went downhill by the time they took her mugshot. Isn't anyone in this new young bride's family worried that the same fate awaits her? (Not just the unattractiveness, and maybe not murder specifically, but unhappiness in general.)

Now, Andrea Yates sits in prison or a psych hospital, all dull hair and big glasses, while her ex-husband trades up for a new little model and goes on his honeymoon. Does this seem a little disturbing to anyone else?

You're Just Working Against Me

It happens now and then. As I was leaving the courtroom, just after some small victory on some everyday case, a person comes up to me.

"Hey, can you be my lawyer?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, it doesn't work that way. I can only take the cases that are assigned to me."
"Well, how do I get assigned to you? 'Cause you real good."


"Well, how can I get my case assigned to you? Because my lawyer's real bad. She never shows up..." or "...she never calls me back..." or "...I don't even know who she is."

I try to make peace. I say, "She's probably stuck in another courtroom, just like I'm stuck here right now and my other clients are wondering where I am. We have a lot of clients and it's hard to be in more than one place at once."

Or, I say, "Well, do you have her phone number? Have you tried calling her? Do you leave messages? Do you include a phone number so she can call you back?"

Or, I say, "Come with me, I'll show you how to find out your lawyer's name and phone number."

Today, though, one of them said one of the most annoying lines I hear, "My lawyer, she doesn't even want to hear what I'm trying to say. She's against me."

And of course, I've heard it before. In fact, I've been accused of being "against" a few of my clients.

But what does this mean? From everything that I've heard, I've figured out that it can mean anything from "my lawyer doesn't believe my story" to "my lawyer has bad news for me."

So, I had to ask. "What does that mean?"

"Well, I tell her I want to go to trial, and she starts telling me all the evidence they're going to put against me."

"I would do the same thing if I was your lawyer. You can't go into battle without knowing what kind of weapons your opponent has. You don't want to bring a knife to a gunfight. So, you need to know what kind of evidence they're going to have to know whether or not you have a good chance to fight it."

"But it's all lies!"

It amuses me that clients think that means something. Sure, people are going to lie in court. Or be mistaken. In fact, if you have two sides presenting contrary evidence, one side has to be lying or mistaken. Sometimes it's possible to "prove" that someone is lying, but this usually requires having more information than the liar. Which is hard to do when your client won't or can't tell you what happened.

But would you really want to go to trial without your lawyer first telling you what kind of evidence is going to be used against you? Is it just going to be testimony? Is there going to be some kind of scientific evidence too?

Buit it happens a lot, not just in the trial context. I give my client bad news, such as "Unless you've got a few thousand for bail, you're not getting released," and they say, "Why you working against me?"

But bad news is just bad news sometimes. Don't shoot the messenger.

If you went to the doctor and he said, "I'm sorry, but if you don't get this surgery, you'll die," you wouldn't say, "You're just working against me!" You'd engage in a conversation. You'd say, "Ok, why?" "What's wrong?" or maybe even, "Are there other doctors that would be able to cure me without surgery?"

So, how do I convince my clients of this? How do I convince them that when I give them bad news (you're not getting released, you don't have a good shot at trial), I'm not just working against them?

Because I think what happens is that once I give them the bad news, they shut down and stop listening. And then I can pose all the doctor analogies I want, but they're just not listening. I suppose I could start the other way, before I even mention bad news I could say, "When a doctor gives a patient bad news, it doesn't mean the doctor doesn't like the patient or doesn't want the patient to get better..." But I think most of my clients would stop listening at the words "bad news" and start shouting "You're just working against me!" And some of my clients don't need the analogy, some of them know them know the bad news is coming, and know that it's not my fault. So, it would be a waste of time to start every piece of bad news (and believe me, I deliver plenty of it) with a little "don't blame the messenger" preface.

But what about the other ones? Anyone have any suggestions? Yes, I realize it comes with the territory, and I should get used to it (I already have, basically) but I'd like to hear if anyone else, particularly more experienced criminal defense attorneys, have a tack they like to take.

Girls Play Ball Too!

Not doing so well in your bracket? (You know who you are. And so do I.) It's not too late!

Sign up for the women's bracket and feel vindicated when you can later say "I won my bracket," (even if it isn't a men's bracket.)

Sign up today, don't delay. Tomorrow will be too late.

Well, actually, after tipoff will be too late. But, you know what I mean. Do it now!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Enjoy the wearing of the green!

Also, I had to mention, tonight Monk has jury duty.

Judge: You are juror number eleven.
Monk: Objection.

I can't wait.

New Soda Alert

I saw an online ad about a new flavor of Dr. Pepper. It's called Berries & Cream Dr. Pepper, and it said it's going to be only in test markets for the time being. (The ads are on ebay, they're having some kind of cross promotion.) I think regular Dr. Pepper is kind of gross, but I'm a little curious about this. If anyone gets to try it, can you let me know how it is? Thanks!

Blogging Conviction

I want you to know that I tried to blog the first episode of Conviction tonight. I really did. But it want just too terrible. Sorry, I tried. If you want to know how bad it sucks, you're going to have to watch it yourself.

I had a really hard time because I felt forced to watch it all. It's either a personality asset or a flaw, but I have a hard time leaving things unfinished... giving up a book halfway through, walking out of a bad movie, and pressing delete on my Tivo when a show just sucks.

Ok, let me just write about one little thing, and then I will banish this show from my memory completely. One of the young DAs hooks up with a woman (that he met at a party that night?) The next morning, he runs out, late for work. Later that day, his secretary tells him that there's a woman here, she says he left his DA badge in her bed. We're about 10 minutes into the show and they've used the word "DA badge" a few times. But, I'm just wondering, if they all work in the DA's office, don't they just know a "badge" is their "DA badge?" Like, if you were a police officer, would you say, "I have my police officer gun, my police officer badge, and my police officer belt, now I'm going to report to the police officer headquarters, meet up with police officer partner and we'll get in our police officer car which we'll drive around this policing zone assigned to my police officer partner and myself, also a police office?" Obviously not. Either they're trying to drive home the point of "Oooh, they're very powerful, they have badges," or it's just poor writing. My guess is the latter.

I could watch this show on mute and with my eyes closed, and I'd still write a better, more accurate show.

What's the over/under on Conviction cancellation?

Redemption Song

Today I had one of those "Ah, this is why I'm a public defender" days.

It couldn't have come a better time.

The Aggie v. The Horned Frog

I've joined the Annual THFB NCAA Tournament Contest brought to you by visiting co-blogger THFB over at BTQ.

I know nothing about basketball, and I mostly just picked the team that sounded better. When in doubt, I went with the better ranked. I've done this in office pools before and it's worked out alright, so I'll go with it again.

Anyway, while on the ESPN site, I noticed in tiny writing "Don't forget your Women's bracket!"

And then, just like that, I decided to start the First Annual Blawgers Women's Bracket Contest. How fun is that? And if you've already signed up for an ESPN username for the men's tournament, it's super easy to fill in your women's bracket.

Here is the shortcut to the group, which is creatively named Blawgers Women's Bracket (but is, of course, open to anyone and everyone), and the password is very creatively set to "password." If you're having trouble with the link, let me know and I can email you an invite. I've also taken the liberty of inviting everyone who is already signed up for Blawgers Fantasy Baseball.

For the winner, a chance at the all time glory of knowing you've won the First Annual Blawgers Women's Bracket. For the losers, just comfort yourself with the knowledge that there's always next year.

If you're curious about the Women's tournament and thinking, "Women's tourament? Really? Where I can find more information on such a thing?" I'll give you a hint, it usually involves going to the men's page and then reading the fine print at the bottom of the page which will say in tiny letters "women's tournament info." Here's Yahoo's NCAAW page.

Finally, may I suggest, that if you're unsure who to choose between two teams, that you consider their mascot? For example, Texas A&M versus TCU. You've got to think to yourself, "If an Aggie went to battle against a Horned Frog, who would win?" Well, I guess the first question you need to be able to answer is, "What is an Aggie?" and then, of course, "What is a Horned Frog?" I'm not sure, but I assume Aggie comes from Agricultural something-or-other, so I picture a farmer woman. And then a horned frog... well, if any kind of horned frog was taking over the crops, I'd assume that the farmer woman could handle it, right? A little research reveals that "No poison exists in the mouth of this frog, and it has probably earned this bad reputation by its extreme aggressiveness and its willingness to attack an animal many times its own size and bulk." So, maybe the horned frog could take out all of the farm animals, that would definitely be a problem for the Aggie. Ultimately, though, I feel like a farmer woman well trained in agriculture would find a remedy such as introducing the horned frogs' natural predators to the mix. But don't worry, you definitely don't have to put this much thought into it...

Meditation and Relaxation with Alvin (of the Chipmunks)

I go to this amazing yoga class. The short title (if there was one) would be "Yoga for Relaxation." You can take the class as an intro to beginner yoga, or if you have any sort of sports injury, or just as a relaxation and intro to meditation class. There are also pregnant women who take it because it's a pretty gentle class.

Basically, the point is just stretching and relaxing. No difficult or strenuous poses involved. It's mostly just awesome creative stretches and then just hanging out there for a little while so your body can get totally adjusted. We use a lot of props. So, for example, using a strap to help you get into a stretch you might not otherwise be able to get into. The teacher comes around and maybe gives you a little scalp massage or dabs a little lavendar oil on your wrists. We finish off the class with chanting.

It's the greatest thing ever. It's like a mind-clearing nap and a massage put together. It leaves my body like putty and relaxes and centers me. I go every week, and I feel like it is so important for getting me in the right mindset for the week to come.

Tonight, I got to the yoga studio a few minutes before class. It was still dark and the door was locked, but I figured the yoga teacher was probably on her way. I hung out on the sidewalk and looked at the homes for sale in a nearby realtor's window.

It was about time for class to start, but I knew the yoga teacher would be along soon. A few other people eventually gathered and were standing around the door to the yoga studio. I was pondering the homes, and how far they were out of my price range, when I heard this voice.

"Blonde!" she screeched from across the street. (I hate it when people shout out my name.) "You're late for class!" It's too bad someone's house wasn't on fire, because her voice is more irritating than a firetruck's siren.

She was headed to yoga too. And rather than take a second to think, "Hmmm... there are 10 women standing in front of the yoga studio in stretchy pants, maybe it would be dumb to shout to one of them that she's late to class," she had to make her annoying voice heard. Don't people with annoying voices realize how bad they sound? Has no one ever said to her, "Shhh... your voice is really grating?"

Ugh. She came over to talk to me, but I pretended to be so engrossed in the homes for sale that I couldn't engage in conversation. I tried not to be rude (and, really, I think she's so obtuse she didn't notice), but really, this is my tiny little bit of me time to completely relax. And, I didn't want to spend it listening to her smoke detector voice.

Finally, the yoga teacher got there, and we all went in. Wouldn't you know that she of the screechy voice had to lay her mat right next to mine? Imagine having to hear that voice "Om"-ing next to you. How am I supposed to relax to that noise?

No big deal, right? How much talking is she really going to do during yoga? It's not exactly something that calls for a lot of conversation. Especially this kind of relaxation yoga. But, no, she talked through the whole thing. Mostly just complaining. "Oh, I can't do this." "This is too hard." "How long are we going to hold this pose?" "Oh, my knees!" Then, most of the time, she didn't even do the poses! Like, she was there, but just doing her own thing, not yoga!

Seriously, it was like maybe she didn't even come there for yoga, she just came there to take my chance at relaxation away from me.

I swear, the whole thing just put me more on edge. Now I'm going into the week crabby. Oh well, I'll probably have to take it out on some little prosecutor.

Watch Out Boy, She'll Chew You Up

I found myself listening to a very good 80s show on the radio tonight. And they weren't just playing the 80s song you remember, but the ones you hadn't thought about in 15-20 years.

Like "Puttin on the Ritz" by Taco. (Definitely didn't know the name was "Taco" before tonight.) That's one I had totally forgotten about.

And the original "It's My Life" by ABC. (I sat through the whole song thinking "I know this from somewhere. Is this a cover of something? Oh! Gwen Stefani!")

And "Human" by Human League. I had forgotten all about the part where they have some dialogue in the middle of the song. "I forgive you, and I ask the same of you..." What is that crap?

Oh, and "Sara" by Starship. I was definitely jealous of my friend Sara when this song was big.

And lots of Hall & Oates. Including "Maneater." What a song.

Fair Warning

One of my favorite quotes, on a geek t-shirt.

(I never get to say it aloud. But halfway through a crazy client story, my thought is, "I'm blogging that!")

All Charges Dropped

Great developments in the "Alaska teen blogger" trial. Excellent work.

Head on over to Alaskablawg and give him a pat on the back. He deserves it.

(And thanks to Not Guilty for the heads up.)

Give Yourself a Clean Slate

If you pay enough attention to criminal cases in the news, or watch some of those crime shows on cable, you'll know that sometimes the wrong guy gets arrested simply because he 's the closest person to the case to have a criminal record. Eventually, it seems, they'll figure out that it wasn't the guy with the criminal record, but, instead, the guy with the motive. Unfortunately, the guy with a criminal record ends up losing a few precious hours or days being interrogated and held in a jail pen.

Having a criminal record can put you in a bad situation in a lot of ways. Obviously, it can prevent you from getting or keeping certain jobs (including the military). But one thing that I think people don't often think of is that having a criminal record is that it makes you more likely to get arrested again (and, therefore, more likely to get a longer criminal record.)

Once in a while, I'll have kid clients who tell me, "I don't want to come back to court, I don't care if you're going to try to work out a deal, I just want to cop out today." Obviously, they're not thinking long term. I tell these kids, "If you cop out today, and get a criminal record because you're just too lazy to come back to court, then every single time, for the rest of your life, that you and your friends are out smoking a joint, a cop is going to come up on you, and let all of your friends go with a ticket or a warning, and put you through the system because you're the one with a record. Same with drinking in public, same with ticket scalping, same with just about any little crime you can imagine."

But, here's another problem. I have some clients who truly should have a clear record, but who don't because of a mistake on their rap sheet. I look through their rap sheet and say, "Ok, it looks like you had an armed robbery case last year, what happened with that?" My client says, "Oh, it got dismissed." I don't know whether or not to believe them because a lot of my clients think "pled guilty but didn't go to jail" is the same as "dismissed." But, occasionally, I'll run a check in the computers or speak to their lawyer and find out that their case was, indeed, dismissed.

A mistake on a rap sheet can make your record look much, much worse than it should. I remember hearing about a guy who had one previous arrest for a misdemeanor. Some court clerk must have put the wrong number in a computer or on a form, and the man ended up with a murder conviction on his rap sheet. It was obvious that it was a mistake if you took the time to look at it - the sentence was community service - but he might not be lucky enough to have someone who is going to look at his rap sheet carefully before questions him or detaining him on a murder, or setting bail on a petty case.

What can you do about it? If you have ever, and I mean EVER been arrested anywhere, at least do a google search for the name of the state and "rap sheet," "criminal record" or "expunge." Every state has some mechanism to get a copy of your rap sheet (you may have to pay a few dollars in administrative fees). The process will vary from state to state (in some states you may need to mail in a request, in others you may need to go somewhere in person), but it's always worth it to see what is on it. Get it and check that it really says what you think it says. If your case was dismissed, it should say dismissed. If a case was supposed to be sealed, it shouldn't show up at all.

If you can't figure out the process, try giving a call to a local public defender's office in the area where you were arrested, or the law schools in the area. They may have a "How to Clean Your Rap Sheet" pamphlet they can send you, or a paralegal, law student or intern who can walk you through the process. (I know we did a few of these in my law school's criminal defense clinic.)

Finally, even if you were actually convicted of a crime, and therefore, no surprise, you know you'll have a criminal conviction on your record, you should look into whether or not the state has an expungement process. In some states, for example, if you've only had one criminal conviction, and it was for some particular types of crimes (misdemeanors, for instance), you can have it cleared from your rap sheet if you go a certain amount of time (five or ten years, for instance) without another arrest. is one great link I found with information on how to get and clear your rap sheet in many different states. If the state you're looking for isn't listed there, play around on Google, because I think that there are a lot more out there.
Now, go give yourself a clean slate.

Whisper Romance BTQ

Apparently, searching for "whisper romance btq." will result in a link, here, to Blonde Justice, well ahead of any links to BTQ. (MSN also wants to know, if perhaps the searcher wanted "whisper romance btw.") If you're looking for BTQ, try here. But if you're looking for "whisper romance," I'm not sure you'll find it there.

Is This A Library or a Bar?

My last bad date post got me thinking about another bad date... not that it can ever top the fetal pig date story, but... still, it's worth telling...

This was also in college, although a few years later. It was the summer before my junior year, and I had just been dumped by a guy that I had dated for the whole school year. I was depressed, I was home over the summer, and one of my BFFs from high school wanted to set me up with a friend of hers. I had met him somewhere once when I was out with her and, although I couldn't even remember him afterward, she told me, "He really liked you, he keeps asking me about you." So my friend decided she'd set us up for a little rebound fun, get my mind off of things, help me move on.

Now, I should mention, because it becomes relevant later, that this BFF was dating someone. It was very top secret, because her boyfriend was married. Let's give them names, just to keep things simple. Let's call her Monica and call him Bill. Ha, yeah, that's good.

So, Monica asked me if she could give her friend my phone number. I said fine, and he called me a few hours later to set up a date for that Saturday. I was pretty excited. Monica was right, this was going to be good for helping me to move on, even if I couldn't remember what her friend looked like.

Saturday came, and Monica and I spent the afternoon together preparing for my date. What should I wear? Did she know where we were going? Tell me more about him!

I started to worry that me dating her friend might turn into a little bit of a weird thing. We were BFFs, we had known each other for years, but didn't keep in touch that much during the school year. This guy was her school friend, who she spent a lot more time with, but she had only known him for a few months. What if the date didn't go well? Would there be an awkwardness of her not wanting to tell me or something? Or, if I didn't like him, would she be insulted?

She went home, and then, just a few minutes before my date was supposed to pick me up, we were on the phone, and she said this to me: "Ugh, I know I'm going to hate this. It's weird, how sometimes, I can know someone for a while and not even be interested in them, and then, they start dating a friend of mine or my sister or something, and then I see that guy as how they can be a good boyfriend, and then I start to like them, but, of course, it's too late and it's not like I'd ever actually try to steal my friend's boyfriend."

Hmmm...really? Because that sort of sounds like not such a good friend thing to do.

I said, "Really, I really mean this. If this is going to be at all weird for our friendship, I'd rather just cancel the date now. We've been friends for a long time and I don't know this guy at all. I mean it, I seriously won't care. Just tell me now."

And I meant it. On the other hand, I thought, if the date went well and things got more serious, and she either decided to either tell me then or make her move, I might not be as understanding.

Her response? "He's going to be there in just a few minutes. How could you cancel now?"

Now, I don't know if she was really thinking about the logistics of this, or she was just saying, hypothetically, there was no way to cancel now anyway.

I said, "Sure. He'll show up at my door and I'll say, 'I'm so sorry, I was trying to call you but I guess you already left. I'm feeling really sick, there's no way I can go out.' I'll change into my pajamas or something. If he thinks I'm crazy, or rude, who cares? I'll do it."

"No, no. I swear, I'm not interested in him. I shouldn't have said anything. Nevermind. Nevermind."

"Are you sure? Positive?"



So, then, just a few minutes later, I went on this date. Which I will forever think of "my date with the reader."

Why do I call it my date with the reader? Because he reads. Quite well. Which I know because HE READ EVERYTHING. THROUGHOUT THE DATE.

Picture it. We're riding down the highway.
"One way."
"Pools and Spas."
"Party Supply Headquarters."
"Diner. Open 24 Hours."
"Right lane exit only."
"Construction ahead."
"Left lane closed."

I thought maybe he was a little nervous, that he didn't know how to fill an awkward silence. So I tried to make small talk.

"So, what are you going to school for?"
"Business. Speed limit 55."
(He was driving. So, it's not as though he was warning me to slow down or anything.)

"Interesting. Any idea what kind of business you'd like to go into?"
"I don't really know. Luigi's Italian Restaurant. Yield."

At dinner, he read the menu to me. Now, let me just say, there's nothing inherently wrong about reading the menu aloud. If you've got a nice voice, a nice presentation, maybe even a nice accent, there might actually be something kind of sexy about a guy who can say, "Mmmm... this sounds good... Garlic and rosemary crusted..." and reads off one or two delicious-sounding descriptions.

But that wasn't quite the situation with the reader. In fact, I wondered if perhaps I was the most literate date he ever had, and, therefore, he felt he needed to read the menu to me so that I was informed. It was more like a second-grader who is learning how to read. "Ro... Ro... Ro - sem - arie?" Here's a hint: if your date has to say "Sound it out" to you, you're probably not the kind of guy who should be reading the menu aloud.

After we ordered, we talked about Monica quite a bit. I guess this makes sense, it was one of the few things we knew we had in common.

"How did you and Monica meet?"
"How long have you known each other?"
"Do you have a lot of classes with her?"
"She's great, isn't she?"
"Do you know Monica's family?"

Then he asked me, "Do you know she's dating Bill?"
I wasn't sure if he was "in on" the secret, so I said, "Oh, no, I don't know. I met Bill... but I didn't think..." (Yes, I was blatantly completely lying. Although I did meet Bill. That part was true. )

Then he said, "Did you know Bill is married?"
"Oh, ugh, no. I didn't... no, I didn't know that. He's so young."
(Yup. Another complete lie. Except, that he is young. But, the more important part was a lie. See, cheaters, how you drag your friends into your lying?)

He said, "I met his wife too. She seems so nice. She has no idea."
I said, "Oh. Hmmm. Weird." (Not a lie.)

I had been thinking all night that maybe I should say something to stop us from talking about Monica so much. What better time than now?

So I said, "You know, I'm just thinking... maybe it would be better if we tried not to talk about Monica. Just because, you know, it's like she's the only thing we have in common right now, and it'd be better to find other things we have in common, right?" (Yes, I realize there could have been a less awkward way to change the subject. But, I also wanted to make the point that we shouldn't base the getting-to-know-each-other phase of our relationship around Monica. That makes sense, doesn't it? It'd be like if you dated someone from work and immediately laid down a no-talking-about-work rule. Otherwise all of your dates might be about work. One very long work meeting at dinner every weekend. That's how I thought of it, anyway.)

He agreed, and changed the subject. To his ability to read things.

I don't really remember much about the rest of the date (nothing very exciting, I guess) but just before he dropped me off he said,
"Gas station."
"24 hours."
"Milk, Bread, News."
"Bridge height, fourteen feet."
(Yes, windypundit, I realize you could totally figure out where I used to live from this. But I moved, so it's ok.)
"No left turns."
"I think someone should tell Bill's wife."

"Um, tell Bill's wife what?"
(Sort of a lie. I knew what he was talking about.)

"Well, I know, as a guy, I should just be on Bill's side, but I don't think anyone deserves to be cheated on."

"I guess. But, do you know for sure that he's cheating on her? It'd be wrong to say something, and ruin their marriage, if you weren't positive it was true."
(Kind of lying, I know. Since I knew it was true. But, not blatantly lying.)

"No, I know for sure."

Stopping in front of my house, "Oh. Well, I had a good time tonight. Thanks. Have a good night! Bye!" (The "good time" part was a lie. Definitely.)

Getting out of the car, "My father cheated on my mother."

"Um, I'm sorry to hear that. Thanks again. Good night!"

As I walked up the driveway, the reader opened the window and shouted, "SHE WAS DEVASTATED!"

From my front door, "BYE!"

I came home to a message from Monica, insisting I call no matter how late it was (it wasn't late at all anyway, I kind of cut the date short) and tell her how everything went.

I was sort of thinking that maybe I shouldn't call her, that maybe I should try to distance this date from her friendship or something. You know, like the inverse of the-date-shouldn't-be-about-Monica rule. But, I figured, (1) the date didn't go too well, so I wasn't worried about future dates; and (2) she should probably be warned if the reader was going to out her affair.

I called her and told her that the date, basically, sucked. And that her friend, while somewhat attractive, had a weird habit of reading everything aloud.

"Oh yeah, I know he does that, but I didn't think he'd do it on a date."
"Well, he did. It was weird."

"But other than that, it was good?"
"Hmmm... not really. A lot of awkward silences and things. I guess we just didn't click."

"But, other than that, it was good?"
"Ummm..." (How weird of a question is that? Other than the fact that you didn't click, was it good? Maybe I'm supposed to look for the good in it?) "I guess maybe it was good in the respect that it got me out of the house, it got me thinking about dating other people? So... anyway... I don't know how to say this, so I'll just say it... he wants to tell Bill's wife about you."

"YOU TOLD HIM???!!!???"
"No, I didn't say a word. I played dumb about the whole thing. He knew."

"I didn't! I swear, I wouldn't. He knew..." And, before I could finish my thought, she hung up on me.

Over the next few days and weeks, I left her a few messages that said things like, "I swear I didn't say anything. Call me."

I never heard from her again. I told myself that it was for the best. Who needs a friend who can't trust you? But, I can admit that I miss her sometimes. We were best friends for a long time.

A month or two later another mutual friend told me that Monica had a new boyfriend and things were getting pretty serious. Who was her new man? Why, my date, the reader, of course.

Hmmmph. I should have called the wife myself.

A Rewardless Job

Another reason why, financially at least, it sucks to be a public defender. All completely hypothetical, of course.

I guess it was around Christmas, I was watching America's Most Wanted with my parents, and, it made me think...

What if you saw one of your clients on AMW? Now, I guess this can happen one of three ways. The first, is that you represent someone on murder or some other serious charges, and they go missing, and then they put your case on AMW? (Although, it seems to me that most of the people wanted on AMW were pre-arrest and arraignment.)

Second, any person you see on AMW who is not your client yet, probably eventually could be. Picture it, you see someone on AMW and you call in and say, "Hey, I know that guy, he works at the deli I go to." Fine, no conflict, it has nothing to do with your job.

But then, they go out and arrest this guy, and he can't afford a lawyer, and he ends up represented by your office. I guess that we would refer that to conflict counsel, the same way we would if a public defender was the victim of a crime. But, still, it's weird to think about... if you called to help them catch someone, it's almost like you're drumming up business for yourself or your colleagues who handle conflicts.

But, third (and what is more likely to happen to me) is that someone is on AMW because he's wanted for murder somewhere else... and you represent him on some small local case. (For example, he committed the murder, fled to your state, and got arrested for... I don't know, shoplifting, but your state didn't recognize him or know about the warrant). I guess you can probably safely assume that, if he's out, he won't be showing up for his next court date.

But what kind of sucks is that there's no way to call and get a reward, even if you have an address written down on your file clear as day.

I'm not saying that I'm just dying to turn my clients over to the authorities... I'm just saying that it's weird to watch the show and think, "Hmmm... I have a job that precludes me from getting any of these rewards." It makes it sort of pointless to watch that show.

Unless that reward was so much money that it made it worth it to give up your law license. And it never is.