A Mere $50 To Sell-Out?

I don't hear it often, but every once in a while, I hear that age old accusation... public defenders get paid by the plea.

Sometimes I worry about the economy since that fee seems so stagnant. It's been $50 for a while now. What, we don't deserve a raise?

Sometimes I like to think about how much I could really make if I was paid $50 per plea. I think $50K sounds like a fair salary for a young public defender... so I would have to have a goal of 1,000 pleas a year. I think that I might have about 1,000 cases a year. So, I would have to take pleas on every single case. Maybe I'd even have to go out and make some business if I needed a little extra money? Would I have to set people up to get arrested? Steal my colleagues' clients and plea them out?

Is 1,000 pleas a year even feasible? Let's see, 365 days per year... minus about 52 weekends (2 days per weekend is 104 days) brings us to 261. Figure about 10 holidays per year is 251. Figure about 10 sick days per year is 241. And then lets say 2 weeks vacation, I like to take at least that much, leaves us at 227. That's about 4 pleas per day. Not to mention that I usually spend a few weeks on trial per year (and can't take any pleas during that time.)

Sometimes I wonder about other perks of the job and how they fit into this $50 per plea salary scale. Would that be $50 per plea PLUS health insurance or pension. Would taxes be taken out of that $50 per plea? I don't even know if I'd get paid holidays, vacation and sick days. Maybe that's due to the fact that so many of my clients have jobs where they are strictly paid per hour or per job with no other perks (prostitutes and drug dealers don't have a great HMO), so they probably don't know much about the perks of the professional world.

But what really got me thinking about the pay-per-plea scheme today is the fact that I just realized yesterday that I haven't taken a plea in just over one month. Nothing intentional, it has just worked that way. I took a few days off, I was on trial for a week, and things were slow around the courthouse the week of Thanksgiving. So I haven't taken any pleas.

And I started thinking, "Thank God I don't get paid per plea... I wouldn't have any money for Christmas shopping!"


For a day off.

(And a few more to go with it.)

For pizza with vodka sauce.

(And pumpkin ale.)

For Detective Barbie: Mystery Cruise.

(And beating it! In just a few hours!)

Life is good.

Title 17

Chesperito writes:


How do you keep from socking DAs in the face on a daily basis?

Oooh, that's a tough question.

I guess it depends on the day, and the particular DA.

Some days I'm able to tell myself, "Hey, he's a lawyer, I'm a lawyer, it's nothing personal."

Some days I fantasize about doing mean things, but ultimately restrain myself.

In the past month or two, there's been a new crop of know-it-all snot nose little DAs.

Another PD in my office had a brilliant idea, which I've been utilizing now and then. Basically, the goal is to make them feel dumb, and it involves citing imaginary law.

The prosecutor says something crazy like, "For this serious crime, we recommend the maximum term of imprisonment."

Then I say something like, "What?! Judge! Imprisonment? That doesn't even comply with Title 17 of the Sentencing Regulations..." (You may have to change this slightly to fit your jurisdiction - what is important, though, is that there be no such thing.)

The Prosecutor starts furiously flipping through the criminal code (there isn't a book called "the sentencing regulations.")

"Judge! Now the prosecutor is going to try to respond by citing the criminal code?!? Your honor knows that this is not in Title 17 of the Sentencing Regulations."

And, without a doubt, the right judge will say, "Miss Justice, you're correct that this is not in 'Title 17' of the 'Sentencing Regulations.'" (Because even the judges don't like the little know-it-all new prosecutors.)

All the while, that little know-it-all new prosecutor is helplessly flipping through any available book and looking around, scared, a deer caught in the headlights.

"Well, judge, I guess if the prosecutor wants to wrap this up today, we'd accept community service. Otherwise we'll have to ask for the remedies spelled out by the legislature..."

Believe me, it's fun. If you have a judge you can play this with, you should definitely give it a try.

And, perhaps most impressively, that prosecutor will continue to defer to you for a long time to come. Or, at least a few weeks.

The Bad Co-Counsel Update

I didn't want to go into too much detail with my bad co-counsel story, mostly because I'm worried she might someday read my blog (doesn't every lawyer?).

But I did say something to her - before I wrote the post. I said something like, "I guess everyone has different styles, but I think it might have been better to..." She kind of just ignored me and kept doing things her way.

The trial continued in the way you'd imagine it would. A total SNAFU.

And I kept trying. In the courtroom, and with my co-counsel. I became more and more brazen in the way I told her, "Well, what did you expect the cop to say to that question? Were you trying to get the impossible Matlock moment, or did you just want the jury to hear the DA's case again?"

"Hmmm... I guess we do have different styles," she responded.

In the meantime, I had to focus on trying my case.

Then, Friday afternoon, she said to me, "You did a really great job. You're really smart. I liked some of your ideas. I guess it's because you went to a good school or something."

Um, maybe that, or maybe it's because I take my job seriously and try to learn new techniques every chance I get - I go to trial advocacy classes, I watch lawyers I admire on trial, I ask experienced lawyers for advice and I actually LISTEN to their advice.

I think the trial is probably beyond winning at this point. (Not sure that winning was ever a possibility, but sometimes it's hard to tell.) I made a record of the problems where it was possible. Now I just have to hope the jury can tell us (and, therefore, our clients) apart.

I think my office might take a collection to send her to one of the trial training courses. I know I would never try another case with her unless she went to one.

Had A Bad Day

I'm having a bad day. Bad week, actually.

Maybe you'll have some advice that can help me.

I'm trying a case where my client has a co-defendant. The co-defendant is represented by a lawyer not from my office (the lawyer is known as my co-counsel).

That lawyer has had criminal trials before (but very few), and has been a lawyer for much longer than me.

Here's the thing... she kind of sucks. And I don't think she realizes it.

And it's not like she's doing something terrible to help her client and sabotage my client. It's like she has no idea what she's doing and she's hurting both of our clients.

She's trying, it's not like she's sitting back and not doing anything (I could handle that, I could make up for that), it's like she's getting in the way and making all of the wrong arguments.

Here's an example... There was an aspect of the case, a small element, that I thought the prosecution wouldn't prove. Not because I didn't think they could prove it, but I thought there was a chance the prosecutor would just forget about it. And guess what... he did!

And that was it. Now we just had to sit there and be quiet until the case was over so that the prosecutor wouldn't figure it out.

And guess what my co-counsel did... She got up and asked the question.


Except she's done this kind of thing throughout the case.

And it's funny, because clients are kind of clueless sometimes about when things are going well, and when things aren't. Her client keeps saying to me, "Come with me to the judge and tell the judge my lawyer is incompetent." And I have to keep saying, "No, your lawyer is really trying," or "She has her own strategy." When what I really want to say is, "Yeah, and while you're at it, can you find some way to get us all a mistrial?"

Meanwhile, my client keeps telling me, "That other lawyer is really good. She asks them all of the tough questions. They weren't even going to bring up that one thing, they didn't even know what they were doing." Yes, exactly, that's the point! But I don't want to bad mouth her.

So... any suggestions? How can I tell her, "You know, why don't you just sit back and let me try the case... because YOU SUCK!" without, you know, ruining her confidence for the rest of the case?

In the meantime, pray for a time machine so we can go back in time and try harder for that severance I wasn't too worried about.

Prosecutor Who Is Dateline Target Commits Suicide

Ok, here is kind of a crazy story.

We all know those Dateline busts. (And, literally, we ALL know them - I was surprised during a recent voir dire to hear that nearly all of the panel members had seen this show.)

Well, this time, the alleged pedophile who was under investigation (he hadn't yet shown up for a meeting with a teen) had been a Kaufman County (Texas) District Attorney for over twenty years. (News stories vary on whether or not he was still a DA at the time of his death.) When police came to execute a search warrant at his home, he shot and killed himself.

It is shocking and sad and scary and just a little bizarre.

A few people had previously emailed me and asked my opinion of these Dateline episodes, and I've procrastinated on writing this post because I have so much to say about this subject.

(If you are one of the very few who are unfamiliar with these Dateline busts, here's the concept: An undercover officer poses as a young teenage girl and sets up a meeting for sexual purposes with an adult man. They instruct the man to a specific house, and usually to bring specific items such as condoms to prove his intent to actually engage in sex. When he shows up at the house, not only are the police there, so is NBC's Dateline host and crew. In the one episode I watched, they even had a girl's voice on the telephone with the man telling him to stay in the entrance lobby to the home and to take off his clothes.)

But this instance, involves a prosecutor, who (1) knows that this is a crime that is being taken very seriously across the country and (2) knows the harsh penalties that await him upon his arrest. And yet he can't stay away. What does this mean? Maybe it means that pedophile is a disease that crosses all socio-economic and education levels.

What does that mean from a criminal justice standpoint? Does it support the idea that pedophiles can't change, and support the need for sex offender registration laws and the no-sex-offender-school-zones that are gaining popularity?

Also, call me naive, but it really disturbs my personal view of men. Are all men really that into the idea of having sex with a 13-year-old? If not all, are most of them? Are there really men who weigh the options, "If I get caught, I'll kill myself, but it's worth it that I might get to have sex with a pre-pubescent teen." And, obviously, the Dateline show continues, as do the non-television busts across the country, with no end of willing participants in sight. On the Dateline show, many of the men even say, "Oh, I knew this was going to be Dateline!" But yet you were willing to risk it for the possibility of sex with a kid? It grosses me out.

(And, FYI, I think it will gross out most of the women on your jury. And none of the men will want to be the one to admit "Sounds all right to me." Which is why you don't have much of a chance with a jury on these cases. Unless you can get a jury without men or women on it.)

Finally, this story includes a very interesting quote from the mayor of Murphy, the town where the Dateline trap home was located:
Murphy Mayor Bret Bishop told the newspaper that he hopes Murphy won't be used again as a trap for child predators.

"We're going to do whatever we need to do to make sure this doesn't continue," he said. "I think it's a noble cause, but our police department is hired to serve and protect our citizens, and not to expose them to outside threats."

To me, this is incredibly interesting. These stings are being set up in nearly every state in the country. They use a substantial amount of taxpayer money to set these traps which often draw sex offenders into their towns or counties. And they take police officers off of visible street patrol and into police stations where they sit in front of computers.

Why aren't more citizens up in arms? Why aren't more citizens saying, "Quit bringing sex offenders into our town and use that money to get guns and drugs off our streets and out of our schools?"

Who do these protect? Real 13 year-old girls who have sexual conversations with grown men? Are there a lot of them? Are they really the most important group of citizens to protect?

I think that by labeling these men "pedophiles," police hope to confuse citizens into thinking these are the same men who grab little girls into their vans to kidnap and rape them. As sick as it is to want to have sex with a 13 year-old, the men on Dateline think they're showing up for consensual sex. (For what a 13 year-old's consent is worth.) My guess is that these men would very rarely, if ever, be the same men as those that would kidnap a child to sexually assault him or her. But yet, my guess is that the reason why citizens support these efforts is because they envision it making it their streets safe from the kidnapping type of pedophiles.

Instead, they should take internet safety precautions. Like telling their 13 year-olds not to set up sex dates with old men. How difficult is that?

Road Trippin'

Out on the road today,
I saw a Bush-Cheney sticker on a Hybrid.

A little voice inside my head said,
"Don't look back, you can never look back."