Hoarders Nightmare

I had a dream, a nightmare really, last night.  In the dream, I was going to sleeping in a dorm room.  As I fell asleep, I realized that the next morning I was supposed to move out and I hadn't packed yet.  So I got up to pack and I realized my dorm room was filled with garbage, like the episode of Hoarders.  I was trying to throw out all of the garbage and pack up the things that were most important to me, in a rush.  But I just kept coming across more garbage.

I can't remember the last time I had a nightmare from a TV show.  Thus proving, Hoarders is the scariest TV show.


Scariest show on TV:  Hoarders on A&E.   It's like Intervention for Hoarders.

It is like a nightmare for me.  I just can't imagine anything so terrible.   On this one episode, they found two dead cat skeletons under piles of garbage.  She had her kid taken from her.  She had no plumbing, no running water.  It is so disturbing.

I consider my mother a pack-rat.  Not a hoarder, not as bad as the people on the show, but someone who keeps things for no real reason, buys things for no real reason.  I can relate to the adult children of the hoarders on the show.

I guess I have a bit of a backlash.  I struggle with what to keep and what to toss.  Sometimes I have an urge to keep something ridiculous and then worry "Is this the first step to turning into a pack-rat?" and throw it out.  I figure it's better to throw something out and either have to buy another or live without than to find myself buried in trash. 

And yet, I can still relate, just a tiny bit.  I live in a tiny apartment.  Sometimes I have a pile of clothes that doesn't fit into my dresser or my closet.  Books that don't fit on the book shelf.  I guess I can imagine a scenario where, over the years, it just grows worse and worse over the years and you just don't know where to start.  Especially if you add in some kind of mental illness. 

Clearly, the Hoarders are a whole different category.  It kills me to watch it, and yet I need to watch until the end to see the house clean. 

It makes me want to go clean something, to throw something away.  But if you haven't watched it, you probably need to see at least one episode.

Midterm Madness

When I got to my office this morning (early, I might add), I already had two messages from one client who was scheduled for court today.  I already had her file on my desk, so I was pretty familiar with it, and I was prepared to see her in court.

I've only met this client once before, right after she was arrested.  At the time, she was quite angry.  But sometimes clients are, understandably, most angry right after they're arrested, but then they calm down a little over time.

If I understood her right (and she's a little hard to understand, she's an angry mumbler, with a lot of "you knows" to things that I, in fact, don't know), her anger was based on, basically, a false defense.  This happens from time to time.  A client believes that they have a defense based on some urban legend or falsehood.  Kind of like the they-didn't-read-me-my-right-so-the-case-will-be-dismissed defense, which is based on a legal urban legend, but these are directed toward the facts of the case.  It's hard for me to explain, without just coming out and spilling her "defense," but I'll give an example.  It's like if a client was arrested for having an open container, and his defense was "But it was in a brown paper bag."  I guess there's some common misconception that having the bottle in a brown paper bag makes it legal.  It doesn't.  It just makes it easier for an easy-going cop to ignore but it wouldn't make a judge dismiss the case or make a jury find you not guilty (you don't get a jury for an open container case, but you see my point).

So, this client has one of these false defenses.  I explained to her that it was false but, at arraignments at least, she was very resistant to hearing it from me.  Like I said, she was very angry, and she really believed (falsely) that she was arrested without cause and that she had not done anything wrong.  Seeing as how she and I were on shaky ground already (basically, she was screaming at me) I decided it wasn't so important to disabuse her of that notion immediately, as I figured I could always bring it up again in a later conversation.  In fact, she had been offered a pretty good plea bargain at arraignments, which she probably should have taken considering she doesn't really have a defense, but she was really too angry and too convinced of her false defense to even consider it.  I was hoping that I'd have a chance to talk to her again, maybe today, before the offer was off the table. 

But I digress.  I came in, and I had two messages from her. 

So, I called her, and she told me, "I can't come to court today, I have a funeral to go to."  I said, "I'm very sorry to hear that.  I'll ask the judge to give you a new court date.  The judge might want proof that you were at a funeral, so you might as well see if you can get something while you're there today."  She said, "Ok."  I told her that I'd call her back later with the new court date.  As we were getting off the phone, I thought that it might be more persuasive to tell the judge whose funeral it was, so I asked, "Oh, by the way, who is the funeral for?"  She said "My sister."   I said again, "I'm very sorry to hear that.  I'll tell the judge and I'll call you back with your new court date."  And we got off the phone.

About five minutes later, my phone rang, and it was her again.  She doesn't introduce herself or anything, I just recognize her voice (and no one else was calling me this early.)  She just said "I have a midterm today."  I was confused, perhaps she had a midterm and a funeral to go to... maybe it wasn't the same client and I was just confused... maybe she wanted me to get her excused not only from court but also from her midterm?  So I asked, "Do you have a funeral to go to?"  And she said "No, I have a midterm," kind of argumentatively or defensively.  Again, I didn't really want to argue with her, so I said, "Ok, then, I'll tell the judge you have a midterm. I'll call you back to let you know what happens."  She said, "Ok," and hung up.

After that I got up to go to the copy machine and to fax something.  I ran into a colleague in the hallway and chatted for a minute.  As I walked back to my desk, I was thinking to myself that it was a little weird that this client would make up a fake sister's funeral just so that she could go take a midterm, but, hey, I guess I've been lied to about weirder things.

When I got back to my desk, I had a voice mail.  It was her again, again no introduction, and all the message said was, "You know what?   This is fucking bull shit.  I'm so fucking tired of this shit. [Mind you, she hasn't even come back to court once yet.] You know that I got locked up for no reason, you know that I didn't do anything wrong, you know that I [insert lame and useless defense here.]  You need to meet me half way!"  And that was it.  That was the entire message.

I tried to call her back.  It rang and rang, and then her outgoing message said something like "You know I don't want to talk to you.  Leave a message, maybe I'll call you back, maybe I won't.  The whole world is out to get me anyway." 

So, um, do you think she really had a midterm today?  

TV, my great escape

1.  I was thinking of quitting Greek at the end of the season like I quit The Secret Life.  I was disappointed when Jordan moved away.  What happened there?  Rusty & Jordan were so cute together and then she just moves away?  But, after last week's episode...

(it's not a spoiler if it aired more than a week ago)...

with the Casey & Cappy kiss at the end, Greek, I know I can't quit you.  I haven't even watched the finale yet because I'm looking forward to savoring it.

2.  Best show ever?  Man Shops Globe.  I can't think of anything that better combines my loves of travel shows and explorative shopping.  Keith Johnson has my dream job.  Being flown to Turkey to shop the bazaar for inspirational pieces?  I can only imagine. 

3.  Has anyone watched Pawn Stars on the History channel yet?  I just saw a commercial and it looked interesting, so I'm going to be setting up the Tivo for this one. 

Any other good TV shows I'm missing?

Can You Hear Me Now?

Ok, people who couldn't get Blonde Justice working before...  Can you see it now? 

If so, much thanks for my friend windypundit.  If not, well, we're going to have more work to do.


Ok, so, Blogger has this whole "new template" thing.   I've tried switching to the new template thing, but I think it looks so crowded and ugly, that it makes me not want to use it.  So, stick with the old template then, right?  But when I do, it can't be viewed in Internet Explorer, apparently.  I've tried it, it does this whole weird blinking re-loading thing.  And lots of people use IE.  So, I'm frustrated and avoiding doing anything with it, and that's why I haven't posted anything.  So, there's the explanation, without any sort of solution.

The Penalty for Blogging

Sometimes people ask me if it would really be that bad if I got outed as Blonde Justice. I don't know, I try to be pretty careful, I don't name names, I change details of stories to protect others' privacy and confidentiality but still convey my experiences.

This story in the NY Times last week, though, reminded me just how important staying anonymous is, A Legal Battle for Lawyers - Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar:

But Mr. Conway is a lawyer. And unlike millions of other online hotheads, he found himself hauled up before the Florida bar, which in April issued a reprimand and a fine for his intemperate blog post...

That penalty is light compared with the price paid by Kristine A. Peshek, a lawyer in Illinois who lost her job as an assistant public defender after 19 years of service over blog postings and who now faces disciplinary hearings as well.
Sign-in may be required. Try bugmenot.com if you need an id.

Alright, It's Over

I've finally made my decision. I'm deleting my Tivo season pass of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

I just can't take it anymore.

It almost got saved with that little cameo of the guy from My Boys. But, honestly, it's not even one of my favorite guys from My Boys (Brendo).

Anyway, that scene, with Ricky slapping Adrian and saying "I just want sex! Give me sex now!" Like, once you have sex you just turn into some kind of sex-crazed maniac rapist or something? And then Adrian says "Let me come to your therapist with you!" WTF? Seriously.

And now Grace's mom starts dating (the guy from My Boys) and he is the brother of the pilot that killed her husband? Does it get more ridiculous? And he happens to also be a doctor, like her father? A doctor-pilot?

The only reason why I kind of wanted to keep watching was to find out about Ben's girlfriend in Italy.

Ok, the season finale is next week. I'll watch that, and then I'm out. For good.

Besides, Greek is back.

Blonde Justice would like to remind you...

No matter how hot it may be outside, proper courtroom attire requires that you wear a shirt over your bra. Even if it is a really cute pink push-up bra with a big bow on it. And, no, that bow does not count as a "shirt."

That's The Power of...

Here's a new one. I don't know how to break this to you, but... having a signed Power of Attorney does not make you an attorney.

For example...
"You've done an ok job and all, but you're fired."
"Alright. Did you hire a new lawyer? The judge isn't going to let me off the case unless there's another lawyer to take over."
"I'm gong to be his lawyer. He signed a Power of Attorney."


If that worked, don't you think there would be a lot of "lawyers" in business who just skip law school, charge a cheaper rate, and have their client sign a power of attorney? Why even take the bar exam? Here, sign the retainer agreement, and this power of attorney form, alright good, now this high school kid can represent you.

"I want to stand up and say something to the Judge."
"He's really not going to just let family or friends stand up and say anything."
"Yeah, but tell him that I'm his attorney now."
"I can't... because you're not an attorney. "
"Yes I am! I have a signed power of attorney."

But the best part was when she started talking about her "client's constitutional right to be represented by an attorney of his choice." Umm, yeah.

Locked Up Abroad

Yes, I watch a lot of criminal justice themed TV in my "vegging out" downtime on the couch.

One of the ones I;m loving right now is Locked Up Abroad on Nat Geo.

Here's the premise: Regular Joes (and Josies) , whether American, Canadian, British, whatever, get locked up in other countries. Hence, the name.

Most of them agreed to smuggle something. One time it was diamonds, but most of the time it's drugs.

Then they get caught. And go to jail. (Like I said, hence, the name.)

I was really hooked on the show when I started wondering what about it I found so compelling. I mean, I don't watch Cops, what makes this so different?

There are a few reasons.

First, most of the time, these aren't desperately poor people. That would be sad. Instead, they're middle class and at least somewhat educated. One woman I saw recently might have been "mildly desperate" because she had gotten caught up in owing money to a loan shark, but they never really gave any explanation about why she was using the loan shark to begin with. In other words, no one has had a really compelling "I couldn't afford my daughter's surgery and this was my only option" story. Mostly it's "Hey, I figured a free trip to Thailand/Peru/Colombia would be good, I'd make some money and get a tan, and what's the worst that could happen?"

In fact, one young British woman sold her business and used the money to go on a month-long holiday to Thailand. She enjoyed it so much, she stayed beyond her return ticket and ended up staying a few years as a beach bum. One year on Christmas, she was physically sick and homesick. She called her parents, decided she missed them but couldn't admit to them that she was homesick, so instead of asking for money for the return trip she agreed to smuggle drugs. Really? Just because you were too proud to ask your family to dip into their savings which you'd repay them when you got back? I'll admit that I don't know how credit works in other countries, but why not just ask them to open a credit card in your name, buy a ticket, and then you'll pay the card off when you get home? Because she was too proud. Bet she wasn't so proud in prison.

Another thing that makes it so compelling is how indignant these people are when they get caught. I just love when they say things like, "They treated me like an animal," with such disgust in their voice. Or whine, "They can't lock me up, I'm American. When is my embassy going to come get me?" One woman literally cried when the police woman who took a shirt out of her suitcase (the suitcase that was packed with heroin or whatever drug it was), held it up to herself, and asked if it looked good on her. She cried about that ("How could she? That was my shirt! She had no right!"). I loved it.

Third, I love how shocked they are about the sentences they receive. Some of them actually say things like, "I figured the worst that could happen was that they would take the drugs from me and send me home." Really? How dumb are you? That's like robbing a bank and saying, "I figured the worst that would happen is that they wouldn't let me keep the money and send me home." Again, I don't know what British drug laws are, but if you're an American, you have no excuse. If you're ignorant of the fact that Americans receive years in prison for possessing drugs here in their own country, or somehow expect better treatment when you're an intruder from another country committing the same offense, then your own ignorance has done you in.

Seriously? Who wouldn't google "drug sentences in Peru" or whatever country you're going to before you agree to do this? I know I would.

Finally, two gems I really loved: 1. The woman who got the death penalty in Thailand for smuggling. Don't worry, she wasn't executed. In fact, it was a real learning experience for her, and now she has a great career in law and journalism. It turned out to be a great career move. 2. The woman who dragged some innocent and unknowing guy into her scheme, only to have him face years in prison too. What a sweetheart.

Still, it's hard to say why I take so much pleasure in this. I guess it goes back to the fundamental question of "Must a defense attorney always side with every defendant?" Definitely not, in this instance, I really relish watching people, for the most part, get what they deserve.

The only episodes where I have had sympathy for the subjects are the episodes that don't deal with smuggling. The first episode I happened to see was an American who got arrested in Mexico for a police shooting, I had at least some sympathy for that guy. It wasn't like he walked into the situation looking to commit any crime. I didn't get to see the episode yet that involved journalists being captured and held in prison in Iraq, but I imagine I would have sympathy for that. But the smugglers I have very little sympathy for. Like I said, for the most part they don't seem to be in any truly desperate situation that warrants that type of risk.

If you aren't watching Locked Up Abroad, you've got to start. And if you don't get Nat Geo, you should at least check out the episodes that are available online.

A Little Update

Here's what's going on:

Working hard. Lots of cases. Each more serious than the next. And even when they're not that serious, the prosecutor likes to treat them like they're serious. Which makes my life tougher.

I'm trying to take some time off over the summer, enjoy the weather a little bit, take a few days off. It's tough, because I could work 24/7 and still not get everything done that I need to do, but I guess you've got to give yourself a break sometimes.

I've made a few new friends in my office, which is fun. One weird thing is that there's some weird unfriendliness by some people in my office. I guess maybe it's competitiveness or insecurity. Anyway, it's somewhat uncomfortable. And unnecessary. We're all playing for the same team, what do we accomplish by bringing hostility into the office? Besides making our own lives a little tougher than they need to be?

I found $11 cash on my way to my pedicure this morning. I actually have a case right now where the police planted "stolen" property, waited for someone to pick it up, and then arrested him. It's pathetic that there isn't enough real crime, the police have to manufacture some. Or maybe investigating real crime would be too much work. Anyway, I picked up the $11 and made a big show of turning around on the empty sidewalk, holding up the cash, saying aloud, "Anyone drop this? Anyone lose this? I don't see any police around to whom I can turn it in. I don't see anyone around who might have dropped it." Then I stuck it in my bag and walked off. No SWAT teams stormed the pedicure place, so I think I'm in the clear.

It's cool because a few weeks ago, I lost a few things, so I feel like I got some karmic payback.

Anyway, that's what has been going on. I'm going to try to see a movie this weekend, maybe Harry Potter, try to get my relax on a little bit, not work from home at all.

Hope you're all having a good weekend too.

Life Lessons

Important lessons I've learned from The Secret Life of the American Teenager, from ABC Family...

1. If you have sex before you get married, your father will die. Immediately. And, moreover, the better the sex, the more tragic and horrible the death will die. Good sex = plane crash. That's what happened to Grace. And she was religious. Also, for the rest of your life, you will have to live not only with the knowledge that you killed your father through sex, but also that he was mad at you when he went down in the fiery crash.

2. If you have sex, even with sixty forms of protection, you will get pregnant. No matter what. That's what happened to Amy. And her mother.

3. If you have sex with enough random people, there's a good chance that one of them will end up being your step- or half-brother. That's what happened to Adrien.

Ok, that's all I've learned so far. But I'm going to have to keep watching.

Prioritizing Your Trial Preparation

"Listen. I don't care if you want to send me on a wild goose chase, looking for some kind of alibi that doesn't exist. If you want me to go here and there, looking for places that might have you on video, looking for proof that doesn't exist. I don't mind.

But remember, I only have so much time to spend on any one case. And if you want me to waste yours searching for your fictional alibi witnesses, that's fine. Like I said, no problem for me. Being out in the field is sometimes more fun that being in the office, prepping a case for trial.

But those hours spent are hours I'm not spending researching potential legal issues in your case, or coming up with a... what do you call that... defense. You know, things that might actually help you, unlike pointlessly sending me on a train up and down town all day.

But that's your decision. You let me know."

To which my client said...

"Uh huh. I just thought of another place I coulda been. Write this down, you can subpoena the video..."

Apparently, I Would Slap My Father

Have you heard about this? It's in every newspaper.

The articles, such as this from the New York Times (try bugmenot.com if you need a password): Op-Ed Columnist - Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal, basically describes how liberals and conservatives express the emotion of disgust at different things.

Examples are how disgusted a person would feel when stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives feel more disgusted than liberals. Perhaps the smell of urine is the real reason why conservatives can't be public defenders.

For example, the other day in court, I had an old man client. He asked me if he could go to the bathroom before his case was called. He came back into the courtroom with the entire front of his pants wet. Was I disgusted? Nah, more like amused. Did I shake his hand? No, I'm liberal, not crazy.

Anyway, I can see it now. A whole new branch of voir dire questions. "Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I just found a fly in water. I'm going to keep drinking it anyway. Raise your hand if you're disgusted. Your honor, I would like to use my peremptory challenges on the people raising their hands."

If you want to try the questions yourselves, they're at YourMorals.Org. (You have to register, I don't think bugmenot is going to help you for this one.)

Ounce of Prevention

I try to be a holistic attorney.

Generally, the younger the client, the more time I spend on the little extras - reminding them about court dates, reminding them about things they can do between court dates to help their case, helping them figure out how to avoid further legal trouble.

For one recent young client, I spent a lot of time talking to him and his family about what to do when they felt the police were harassing them in the neighborhood. I've represented him on some tickets he had outstanding. I got him signed up for a college prep program. I got him an application for a summer job. I've spent my waiting time in court helping him with his homework and reviewing his job applications and resume.

But when I met his young girlfriend today in court, all I could think was "If I don't google 'where to find free condoms' and print the list for this client, all my effort will have wasted."

A Recipe By Blonde Justice

Start by slicing a little bit of avocado for the tiny salad you're having for dinner.

As you're eating dinner, start to wonder what you should do with the rest of the avocado.

Try googling "how to store avocado" and then "how to store avocado cut."

Find out you need lemon or lime juice to make the avocado not brown. Wonder whether you might have some lemon juice. The bottled kind.

Look through fridge, realize you don't have any lemon juice. How could you? You think there's a lemon juice fairy that would have come and put that in the fridge? Because it's not something you would ever think to buy in the grocery store.

Google guacamole recipes. Realize you don't have cilantro, onions, or tomatoes.

Look through the fridge for anything that might have any kind of citric acid in it.

Find a half jar of peach salsa in the fridge.

Cube up the avocado. Throw it in a tiny bowl. Pour some peach salsa over it.

Stir. Try to use the back of your spoon to smoosh up some of the avocado, but still leave it a little chunky. Toss a pinch of lavender salt on the top, stir that in too.

Throw a piece of flatbread in the toaster oven.

Spoon the peach guacamole on the warm flatbread wedges. Yum, yum, yum.

Congratulate yourself on being a genius in the kitchen. Write about it to your blawg.

Pardon The Dust

I found out that Blonde Justice wasn't loading right in Internet Explorer, so now I'm messing with new templates. Please excuse the appearance while I tidy up.
I met with a client last Tuesday at the jail. He's an older Latino man in his late fifties, and he's been here in the U.S. for almost twenty years. Still, his English isn't great, and when we're in the courtroom we use the Spanish interpreter.

But I stopped by to see him at the jail without arranging for an interpreter. His conversational English is okay, I understand a tiny bit of Spanish, and I figured between the two of us we could meet somewhere in the middle with Spanglish.

Besides, as far as his case was concerned, I didn't have anything to tell him. It was a morale visit, I just wanted to check in and see how he was doing. I figured I could handle that in Spanish if I had to.

As we talked, I noticed that the date on his analog watch read, "MAR 7." After we chatted for a few minutes, I mentioned it to him. "I think your watch is wrong. It's April."

He looked at his watch, looked at me, and said, "No, it's okay."

I thought maybe he didn't understand. So, I tried again in my dismal Spanish, pointing to his watch. "Tu reloj. Dice marzo, pero ahora es abril."

"Oh, okay, you fix it then?" He took off his watch and slid it to me through the bars.

"Sure, I'll fix it." Sometimes I set my father's watch for him. I was confident I could figure it out.

As we continued to talk, I tried to adjust the watch. First, I changed the time by accident. I had to consult my watch, then turn his watch back to the right time.

Then I found that I could push the dial halfway in to adjust the day and date. As I turned it, the date changed to "LUN 6" then "DOM 5." What???

Then I realized that the watch was in Spanish. And "MAR" didn't stand for March or Marzo, but for Martes, or Tuesday. Why didn't they teach me about this in the many, many years of Spanish classes I took? I didn't even realize there were Spanish language watches. I mean, it makes sense now, but I had never really thought about Spanish watches before. I wonder where you buy them here in the U.S.

Anyway, I felt kind of silly, handing the watch back to my client, set exactly the same as it had been when he handed it to me.

But he looked at it, smiled kindly, and said "Yes, yes, much better, thank you," and put it back on his wrist.

Which left me thinking that he was a really nice client.

Obviously, it doesn't take much to impress me when it comes to clients.

PDs Rolling With The Punches

Speaking of dealing with difficult clients (and clearly, some are more "difficult" than others)...

A reader tipped me off to this story from the Connecticut Law Tribune about defendants assaulting their public defenders.

Lawyers on the Bullseye

By Christian Nolan
The Connecticut Law Tribune

In 2006 when Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Miano refused to let Juan Vazquez, convicted of assault and robbery, withdraw his guilty pleas, Vazquez quickly turned and punched his lawyer, public defender Michael Isko, in the mouth.

Isko was taken to Hartford Hospital to be treated for minor injuries.

Last year, former Stamford Public Defender Susan Hankins was spat on by her client, Shaka Shabazz, after a judge denied his motion for a new attorney. Shabazz was later convicted of trying to rob a bank.

And just this month, Stamford Public Defender Barry Butler also was spat on by his client, Hyshon Smith, who is accused of murder. Butler, a true professional, will continue representing Smith.

Physical assaults on public defenders are “infrequent compared to the volume of clients we interact with, but not unheard of,” said Hartford Public Defender Sara L. Bernstein.

Other public defenders say it’s impossible to push personal safety completely out of their minds, especially when they have to go visit a disgruntled client in prison and perhaps deliver more bad news about the outcome of their case.

“It’s no shock [defendants] chose to lash out against the deliverer of the bad news,” said New Britain Public Defender Kenneth Simon.

“That’s what people see,” Simon said of the courtroom incidents, such as what happened to Butler recently. “You never see the stuff that goes on downstairs when you’re explaining things to a client. They start yelling and screaming at you, you haven’t done this or you haven’t done that.”

Simon said that at a prison like the maximum security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, lawyers are told before they meet with the client that there’s a button they can press if trouble arises. “Fortunately I haven’t had to use that button,” said Simon.

“You get used to it,” he said of the outbursts by clients. “If I really believed that somebody was so angry with me and that they had threatened me, maybe I’d think twice of going to a facility and getting locked in a room with them.”

Gang Initiation

Simon, a public defender of nearly 25 years, recalled his scariest moment -- being told that his client intended to break his jaw in the courtroom to fulfill a gang initiation requirement. Word was passed along to the judge who made sure the courthouse marshals took proper precautions and the client, up on murder charges, remained shackled throughout the hearing.

Simon said sometimes clients think a public defender isn’t doing enough for them and want a different lawyer. They think one way to force the judge to make a switch is to do something violent to their current lawyer. “To them, it isn’t a big deal punching someone in the courtroom,” said Simon. “The defendant might think he’s doing you a favor.”

Chief Public Defender Susan Storey said her office does not keep statistics on the number of incidents involving public defenders and their clients. However, when conducting research for a proposal in 2005 that would have made prosecutors “hazardous duty members” for the purposes of the state employees’ retirement system, then-Chief Public Defender Gerard Smyth provided a lengthy list of all the incidents involving public defenders since 1976.

One public defender was shot after a prisoner grabbed a police officer’s gun. Another was vomited on by a client with tuberculosis, resulting in months of medical treatment. Many others have been spat on or cut, requiring testing for other diseases including HIV and hepatitis. Several public defenders were struck in the face either by fists or handcuffs after giving a client bad news involving their case.

Most commonly, defendants, their family members or friends make threats against public defenders.

“Some people like to kill the messenger,” said Bernstein, the Hartford public defender, who once had a young defendant threaten to kill her. She said she didn’t take the threat too seriously. “We’re the only one the client gets to talk to about this, so they vent to us,” said Bernstein.

Disturbed Kid

Thomas Dennis, the federal defender in Connecticut, agreed with Bernstein and said the threats come with the territory. “You got to let them vent,” Dennis said. “It usually doesn’t go further than that. Let them get it off their chest and then you can get down to representing them.”

Barry Butler is doing just that – providing representation -- after his client unexpectedly spat at him in the Stamford courtroom earlier this month. He said this situation was different than most. He wasn’t delivering bad news; his client is just mentally ill.

“This is not a beef with a lawyer, this is a kid that’s disturbed…he can barely communicate with people,” said Butler who described the incident as “much to do over nothing.”

His client, Hyshon Smith, 18, is accused of murder and a hearing will be scheduled to determine if Smith is even competent enough to stand trial.

New Haven Public Defender Thomas Ullman said the spitting incident reveals an unfortunate trend. “The problem is we have so many mentally disturbed individuals that are coming into the criminal justice system because there is inadequate health care for them,” he said.

Ullman said he, too, has been spat at, but the projectile hit his suit and not his skin. “These days,” said Ullman, “you get concerned about that with the different illnesses that are out there.”

I've only personally known one or two public defenders ever who were assaulted by clients. I remember one lawyer being punched by a clearly mentally ill client, and I remember one lawyer whose client spit in her face, requiring some testing and vaccines for transmittable diseases.

I guess it reaffirms, for me, the importance of trusting my instincts to separate from a dangerous client before it's too late, and second, when possible, of finding ways to maintain and repair the attorney-client relationship in hopes of avoiding dangerous situations.


I haven't had much to write about lately, but one thing came up lately that might be worth writing about.

I got a new client at the beginning of last week. His case is very serious, he is facing a lot of time. And it's not as if he's new to the "system," he's done quite a bit of prison time in the past. Some clients who have done time "get it" - they get what their case is worth, they get how the sentencing guidelines work. Some clients, despite their past, are shocked (or act shocked) that they're going to get jail this time. Really? You got jail time or prison on your last ten arrests, but you really thought you would finally community service or something this time?

Anyway, I met this new client early last week. I told him he was facing time, I told him what I thought I could do to help, I told him what some of his options were, I told him what was likely to happen. I spoke to his family, I did quite a bit of research relevant to his case, I negotiated with the prosecutor again and again.

At the end of the week, I met up with the client again. I told him what I had worked on during the few days since we last saw each other, I told him that I had spoken to his wife, I told him what I had found that might help his case, and I told him what the prosecutor had said which might be bad for his case.

When I got to the bad news, the client was very upset. Which, to some extent, I'm used to. I deliver bad news sometimes, I understand that I'm the messenger.

When a client is upset, there are a few tactics that I usually take to help the situation. One is to try to agree, "Yes, you're right, it's not fair, I get that, but the best thing we can do right now is focus on our next step..." Another is to try to explain the situation and reason with the client, "Look, you did three years on your last drug sale. Now they've caught you again, the prosecutor thinks the sentence has to be more than three years this time. With every arrest, the punishment is probably going to get worse." Sometimes I just sit back and let them vent it out - some people just need to have their say, and they have no one else to say it to. If I sit and listen for five minutes or ten or twenty, they might be able to focus on their case once they get it out of their system.

But with this client, this week, I didn't really have the chance to do any of those things. He was just screaming absolute profanity at me.

And, maybe it was me. Maybe I was overtired and overworked and fighting a cold for a week. Maybe if I was feeling sharper, more on top of my game, I could have talked some sense into him, or waited it out while he vented. But I didn't.

I walked out of the pen, and at the next opportunity, asked the judge to assign a new lawyer to my client. I was upset and exhausted, and I just quit. The judge doesn't know me well yet, but he agreed to assign a new lawyer since it was early in the case.

But getting off the case didn't really make me feel any better. I felt like a quitter. I know what I did was fine ethically, but I know that personally, I could have done better. I felt disappointed in myself.

I know it's not a big deal. In the scheme of things, it's a small percentage of my cases. And I got rid of a difficult client and a serious case. I should have felt good, at least for that. But Friday night, I couldn't sleep, I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking I could have sat back down and said... well, there's probably a lot of things I could have said. I don't know if they would have made a big difference.

I feel like I'm beyond the point in my career where I get upset over things clients say, I think I'm at the point where I can turn any disagreement in a positive direction. And it's not that I couldn't with this client, it's that I didn't make the effort.

Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I will try harder, and do better. That's all I can do.

It Always Comes Back To Eyewitness IDs

I don't know about you, but I feel like I can study it for hours, and I still can never fully wrap my mind around how our minds can trick us when it comes to identifying other people.

Dahlia Lithwick on Eyewitness Identifications at Slate.com


"So, how's my case look, Miss Justice?"

"I'll be honest with you, from what you told me, it doesn't look too good. You were caught red handed robbing a bank. When you got back to the police station, you made a statement in which you confessed to the bank robbery, and then you went on to confess to three other bank robberies that they didn't even have you on. So, right now, I'm thinking it doesn't look too good."

"Oh yeah, I guess you're right. But I want to withdraw that statement."

How to Prepare for Trial: Step Four

(Links to: Steps One, Two and Three)

It's time to take care of some logistics.

If you have non-paper exhibits you'll want to use (e.g. computer programs, tapes, DVDs, etc.) it's best to contact the court as early as possible to find out what they supply and what you'll need to bring with you. Find out how far in advance of trial you'll need to get them your specific request. If they have a tech person who will set it up, find out if you can have it set up the day before you intend to use it, so that you can run through it a few times with the tech person, including turning it off and starting it over again. Don't rely on the tech person who says, "I'll just leave it set up for you." If the power goes off or it gets unplugged, you'll want to know how to get it going on your own, and not be stuck waiting for tech support in the middle of your case.

Prep your witnesses, prep your witnesses, and prep your witnesses. Prepare them on where they'll sit, who they'll face, what you'll ask, what they'll say, what your adversary will ask, what they'll say, how they'll deal with objections, what they'll wear, what time they'll need to be there, what (if anything) they should bring with them, and how long they can expect the process to take. Practice, do a dress rehearsal, and ask one of your colleagues to play the part of your adversary, asking the toughest questions. Sometimes we end up finding a witness during trial, and rushing through their preparation - this is a mistake. Take enough time to prep your witness fully. Ask him if he has any concerns, anything he is afraid will come up, and how you'll handle it.

Expert witnesses could probably warrant their own post. But, briefly, in addition to the preparation you would give any other witness, there are also a few other things you will need to prepare. If you have an expert witness, you will probably need to turn over his resume or C.V. to your adversary, so find out exactly what rules apply and ask your witness to provide you with a copy. Review your witness's qualifications as an expert. Ask what publications they rely on in their work, whether the publications would support or controvert each part of his testimony. If your adversary is going to present an expert witness, ask your expert to review the other expert's qualifications and your cross-examination of that expert, if applicable.

Go through the case with your client. If you've made a trial outline, it is helpful when going through the case with your client. As much as possible, let him know when to expect, if and when he'll be expected to talk, and how he should behave. During the trial, you'll save valuable time if you don't have to lean over to your client constantly and explain every step of the way. Prepare your client for the most difficult parts of the trial - the prying eyes of the jurors; the prosecutor who points at him shouting "It was THIS MAN who..."; the graphic photos or damning evidence. If your client will be in jail during the trial, find out if he is allowed to wear regular clothing (rather than a jumpsuit), and whether he needs you to provide it. Find out whether your client will be able to have a pen and paper, and plan ahead to bring some extra supplies to keep him occupied (and not bugging you throughout the trial).

If your client is going to testify, the warning to prep your witnesses applies doubly, or perhaps even triply, to preparing your client to testify.

Make sure you have enough clean suits for at least the number of days the trial is expected to take, or make a trip to the dry cleaner.

Finally, the night before, you can pack up everything you need for your case. There is no excuse to forget something in the office that you might need for your trial. You need your case file, case law you might rely on in any arguments, books that you may need, blank notebooks and more pens than you'll ever need. I may go a little overboard, packing things like Advil in case of a sudden headache, cough drops, and lip balm. You're trying a case, not getting dropped off in the wilderness, after all, but I'm the type of person who can focus better knowing I'm prepared for anything (and, in most circumstances, I never use all of the things I brought anyway, but that's for the better.)

Get a good night's sleep, dress nice for the trial, wear your lucky underwear, get up early (but, let's face it, you weren't sleeping anyway), then leave for the office early to avoid any transportation snags (then, later, pace your office for a half-hour, imagining that you could have slept a half-hour later.)

Then, put on your game face and head to court.

I know I must be forgetting something... what is your last-minute trial prep?

How to Prepare for Trial: Step Three

(Step one was here, step two was here.)

Perhaps I got a little carried away at the end of step two, when I wrote that the next step would be to formulate the opening argument, the cross-examination and so forth.

Before you can do that, you need to put some serious thought into your theory of the case: What are you trying to convince the jury of? Are you conceding it happened, but it wasn't your client that did it? Are you saying it never happened? Are you convincing the jury that someone is lying or mistaken? And if so, who?

I think the biggest mess a defense attorney can get themselves into is not knowing their theory of the case.

If your goal is to prove, for example, that the victim lied and she wasn't robbed, your line of questions will be different if your goal is prove that the victim was robbed but she picked the wrong guy out of the lineup. (You can simplify this as the difference between "whodunit" and "what happened.")

Once you have a theory of the case, you want to imprint that into your mind and let it control every question you ask.

In the bank robbery case that I used as an earlier example, I probably can't deny that the bank was robbed. So my defense probably has to be that the bank was robbed, but my client didn't do. The details would probably depend on how many people witnessed it, whether my client was wearing some kind of disguise, and whether my client made any confession.

Sometimes it's hard to have a theory of the case. If your client was seen in broad daylight by ten witnesses, all of whom are credible, and he was caught on video which is clear and not grainy, and he made a full confession, and he was caught with the stolen money in a bag with dollar signs painted on it, just like in old movies... you may be walking into your trial without much of a defense, just hoping that something good will break your way. Sometimes you're going to trial on only the unlikely possibility that the prosecutor forgets to ask a key question, the witness suddenly forgets something while testifying and the video won't play. It happens, but keep in mind that your defense is pretty open ended (you're just hoping for anything good to happen) and therefore, your opening argument, for example, should be equally open to possibility (e.g. don't box yourself in by saying, "Yes, my client did it, but he was desperate..." if there's any possibility that he won't be identified, because your summation will be, "Yes, I know I said he did it, but obviously he didn't...")

The theory of your case is going to shape everything else from here on out. In the voir dire for the bank robbery case, I want to ask the potential jurors questions about identity and misidentification. Likewise, in my opening argument, I'm going to say things like "That's not my client on the video," not "The bank wasn't robbed."

With your theory of the case figured out, you can almost see your summation forming. And, in fact, some lawyers start by writing their summation. I don't literally write mine out, but it's useful to at least think about. In formulating your summation, you start to see what points you want to make with each witness, which will help you write your questions. In the bank robbery example, I might imagine saying my summation, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the teller told you that she only had one second to see the robber. She told you that he had a mask over his face and she couldn't see his face at all. She couldn't see his hair at all. She couldn't see his skin tone. She wasn't sure how tall he was. She didn't hear his voice..." You start to get a sense of the questions I'll need to ask the teller to elicit this information.

One thing that I've often been asked is whether I write out my questions, or work off notes or an outline. It depends on the witness, but generally I write everything out.

When don't I write anything? When it's going to be quick, simple and painless. Maybe the prosecutor is putting this witness on the stand to get one fact into the record, and it's a fact that I don't dispute. So, maybe I won't ask anything. Keeping my theory of the case in mind, maybe I want to get one additional fact out of this witness, I can probably get away without writing anything out.

Sometimes I just don't know what the witness is going to say, and therefore, I don't have much to write out. It's a skill to be able to think on your feet, and figure out what you want to ask on cross-examination before you start to look silly standing there, stalling.

Why do I write out my questions the rest of the time?

First, it helps me to remember to get out all of the information I need from each witness.

Second, it reminds me to use leading questions on cross-examination and to ask good open questions on direct examination.

Third, to set a witness up for impeachment, based on a prior statement, it is best to use the language from their original statement. I write out my question, using the language that the witness used in their prior statement, and then I make a note to myself where to find their prior statement (e.g. "You only saw the person demanding the money for one second. (hearing transcript, page 30, line 5)")

Going back to the binder and redweld camps, I make sure I have my questions and arguments printed and filed in each folder or divider, along with any impeachment material, exhibits I want to show the witness, or items I might use to reflect his recollection.

I hope this was helpful, I've tried to be vague without being too vague, give examples without being too elementary. If you have any questions or ideas, I'd love to hear them. Coming up in Step Four: Thinking About Logistics.

Black & Decker B1500 Manual

Please don't think Blonde Justice has been hijacked. I promise to return soon with more on how to prep a trial.

But I need to go off-topic for just a moment. I recently inherited a Black & Decker B1500 Bread Machine. In looking through bread machine cookbooks, I found that most of them give a list of ingredients, and then tell you to add them to the machine as per your machine's manual. One problem: I didn't have the manual. I figured, "no problem," as I set off to google it. Instead of finding it, I found a whole bunch of websites of people looking for the B1500 manual.

I finally got the manual and have it scanned as a PDF. I figured I'd do my public service and make it available, and because this is my only public forum on the internet, I'm doing it here, however off-topic it may seem.

If you want me to email you PDF, please send me an email at blondejustice at gmail dot com.

Keywords (to make this more easily found on the internet): Black & Decker, Black and Decker, bread machine, bread maker, breadmaker, B1500, model B1500, B-1500, bread, manual, instructions, operating instructions, all in one automatic breadmaker.

Thanks, now back to the quirky legal goodness...

How to Prepare For Trial: Step Two

(continued from Step One, here)

Now is the time to decide whether you are going to be a trial notebook (a.k.a. binder) lawyer, or a trial file (a.k.a. redweld) lawyer. Part of this is going to depend on what you were taught or what is the predominant culture in your office - I've worked in an office that didn't stock redwelds because everyone was into binders and I've worked in an office that didn't stock binders because everyone used redwelds.

I suppose there may be a third camp, but I haven't seen it yet. Actually, I've seen the technological camp, which includes uploading all of the documents, and making a file for each witness, even using a large monitor or projector to display documents and exhibits, but the courtrooms I've worked in haven't been properly equipped - ultimately I would still needed a paper copy of each document to show to a witness or to publish to the jury.

A few of the pros and cons of binders vs. redwelds. Pros of binders: Binders look neater. During trial, you walk up to the podium with this nice, organized looking binder, labeled "State v. Client" across the outside, and the jurors say, "Wow, she's got this trial organized." If you drop it, it all stays together. At the end of the trial, you could stick the binder onto your shelf, where it still looks neat, and have it to refer to whenever you have a similar case. Cons of binders: The need to hole-punch everything, or, in the alternative, wrestle with those plastic page holders. It's hard to neatly fit odd-sized papers into the binders, including legal size paper, or photographs, business cards, or cassette tapes, or little notes you've collected.

Pros of redwelds: If you come across any paper you might want to refer to, you just stick it in the folder, it doesn't matter the size, or whether you can hole punch it. It's easier to adapt during the trial, and you're not carrying a hole punch around. I also like that you can recycle the files later for future trials. For example, you could make a folder related to jury selection - keep all of your notes on jury selection, relevant case law, and blank jury box pages. Anytime you have a trial, you grab that jury selection folder and throw it into the front of your redweld. No hole punch needed, no need to slide those little divider tab labels into those little divider tab plastic things, and then they split and you have to start all over again if you want it to be neat. Cons: It looks a little messier, the redweld can split and make a big mess (I'm interested in trying the plastic/vinyl expanding folders they have now), or it can fall over and splay your papers all over the table. If you want to save it on your shelf, you have a big ugly redweld on your shelf (or taking up space in a filing cabinet) and they're not easily labeled.

I would recommend trying each one at least once, and see what you prefer. So far, I'm a believer in the redweld method. (If you've got another method, I'd love to hear it, leave it in the comments!)

Get together your materials: A redweld and folders; or a binder and dividers and those things you have slide into the dividers as labels, and a hole punch. Then make either a binder divider or a folder for each portion of the trial or witness. Using the example from Step One, I'd probably make these sections: Pre-trial motions, Jury Selection, Opening Arguments, Teller, Bank Manager, Police Officer at scene, Detective who takes defendant's statement, Defense Case, Defendant, Alibi witness, Character witness, Closing Arguments, Jury Instructions, and Exhibits.

I like to put my trial outline first, either as the first page of my binder, or at the very front of my redweld. Then put the dividers or folders into the binder or the redweld in the order you're likely to use them, using your trial outline as a reference. Now the trial outline becomes not only the outline of your trial, but also the table of contents of your binder or redweld.

Next, make a couple of copies of your entire file. Then go through all of those papers and ask yourself, "Who does this relate to?" In the bank robbery example I used earlier, let's assume that the teller had given a statement at the scene, which was written by Police Officer Smith and signed by the teller. I'd have at least two copies of that, and put one in the teller's folder and one in P.O. Smith's folder. Perhaps I'd even need four - if I want to have one clean copy to show to the witness and a second copy that might have my own notes or highlighting. If I had a diagram of the bank, I might want a copy for each witness who has been to the bank (the teller, the manager, and each police officer.)

There are some things you aren't not going to make copies of (e.g. cassette tapes or original photos). Just make a folder for them and stick them toward the back of the redweld or in the front pocket of your binder. I also like to have a folder for exhibits which will start out empty. Each time I move something into evidence, I will stick it back into that folder when I'm done publishing it to the jury. At the end of the trial, when the judge wants to send all of the exhibits back to the jury room, you'll see the disorganized prosecutor shuffling through his stack of papers and asking, "How many exhibits did I have?" while you neatly hand over your file labeled "Exhibits."

I also like to copy the charges against my client and the definition of each of the charges. Here it would probably be the laws describing robbery and grand larceny. Sometimes the charges are complicated (although here they aren't really) and I find it helps me keep me focused if I can clearly see exactly what the prosecutor has to prove. So I might make a folder labeled "charges" and include the indictment, the relevant case law or definitions from the penal code, and the model jury instructions.

In each folder, or between each of the dividers, I also like to throw a few blank pieces of paper, so I always have paper on hand in case an idea strikes.

In Step 3 you're going to start formulating the voir dire, opening argument, cross-examinations, etc., but I think that having your binder or redweld in shape first gives you a clear idea what you have to work with for each witness.