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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There, but for the grace of God, go I....

This Friday at 5:00 p.m., I will shut down my computer, I will clear my desk, turn off my heater, shut off the lights in my office and head to the elevator that will shuttle me to the first floor of the County Courthouse.

When I leave the courthouse I will climb in my car and head to my home so that I can see my beautiful, healthy, happy, safe children.  I will enter with an exhausted smile on my face to my youngest laying on the couch playing Angry Birds or Temple Run on the iPod.  I will drop my things, slowly begin to strip in order to feel more comfortable within the confines of my own "four" walls as I give both of my children big hugs. 

Once I have greeted my children we will migrate to the kitchen where they will tell me about their day and their wishes for potential weekend adventures and I will begin cooking dinner.  Once dinner is finished we will eat and talk and then settle in front of the television to watch a movie or curl up on the couches to read books.  After a few hours we will each retire to our own bedrooms, climb into our comfortable beds and proceed to engage in whatever our respective pre-bedtime activities are until we each fall asleep. 

Throughout the night there may be the occasional half-asleep trip to the bathroom or trip for a glass of water from the fridge, but with the exception of the hum from the air conditioning unit and the fans our home will be silent.

**************************************

This Friday at 5:00 p.m., Ms. R will walk into the County jail.  She will be there to turn herself in after having a week to make arrangements for the care of her children as she serves time for a crime she committed under the direction of the man that has been beating her for the last five years of her life.

When Mr. S is released from jail this weekend he will walk home and find that there is an eviction notice on the door.  Although he has not purposefully failed to make his rental payments on time, once his landlord found out Mr. S was in jail she was in no mood to "work with him" and figured the four walls that were currently housing him MUST be where he belonged.  The police wouldn't pick him up for no reason, right?

As Ms. T walks into her home she will do so with a forced smile, although she works as hard as she can her children are hungry, their utilities are overdue and her home is about to be taken away.  She will do her best to place dinner on the table, and in order for her children to have as much as possible, she will go to bed hungry tonight.

Throughout the night, Ms. R will jump each time she hears a yell, a cry the bang of door or the stomp of a foot.  She has lived the last five years in fear and she will spend the next 6 months in escalated anxiety.

Throughout the night, Mr. S will scratch scars into his legs as the mosquitoes eat him up because he is sleeping in the woods underneath a billboard off the side of the interstate.

Throughout the night, Ms. T will try to get rest, while failing to get sleep.  Her hungry body will keep her awake, her mind will race with ideas, both legal and illegal, on how to provide more for her children.

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I know that I am not where I am today because of anything I have done or failed to do.  I know that as John Bradford once stated, there, but for the grace of God, go I.  One wrong choice in boyfriends and an unknown number of years from my life could have been colored with beatings, sexual assault and forced engagement in criminal activities.  Being caught one time for any of the number of stupid things I chalked up to "just being a kid", "just being a teenager" or "just being a college student" could have landlords throwing me out at the first sign of trouble.  Or worse, refusing to rent to me at all.  ONE mistake, ONE person not caring, ONE missing children's program in my neighborhood, ONE less teacher that didn't care and I could be inmate #35687R24.  I don't pretend to be a big and glamorous lawyer, there really is nothing big or glamorous about anything that I do.  But I have always believed that the best singers make the ugliest faces when they are giving all they have to give in that moment.  The most creative artists rise from their creation covered in paint and chalk and dirt.  The most focused writers finally shake themselves out of their 3-day writing binge with their hair all over their head and stubble on their chin.  When you give all you have, to all that you do, it is not pretty.  I would like to believe that's what I do; I give all I have to what I am doing right now because...well...there but for the Grace of God go I....and you.


Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.

~LT


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It is not my job...(part 3)

As you descend the stairs you can't help but roll your eyes and throw your head back in frustration.  The client you are going to see in the holding cell has a very bad temper and it seems he does his best to draw out your bad temper.  He has been arrested for domestic violence assault and, though he is determined the young lady is lying and will not show up to court, she is here-again.

"THAT BITCH IS LYING, I AIN'T HIT HER!!!"

"OK, help me prove she is lying.  Tell me what YOU think is going on."

"We were messing around, we used to go out and spend a lot of time together.  Then I found out she was married, her husband is a cop and he found out she was messing around on him.  He beat her ass and he's the one making her go through with these bullshit charges to 'prove' to him that she is done with me."

Sigh....

You go over the barely-there file you have been provided by the municipality that has brought charges against your client, convinced there is nothing you can do to help him.  Although he does not want to look at the "lies" the police heard from her and wrote down, you convince him that everything is important--EVERYTHING.  And that's when it happens......he takes a look at the date.

"I was in the hospital that day! The day she is saying she called the police because I beat her up, I was in the hospital and had been in the hospital!"

Well now you're cooking with grease!  Because the victim states she called the police the same day your client beat her up.  If he was in the hospital the day she called the police, then it stands to reason that he was in the hospital the day he "beat her up."

You request a continuance to obtain the documents necessary for your clients trial, obtain his signature on a medical release form, send it over to the hospital and you wait...

...and wait...

                   ...and wait...

It takes so long that you're convinced you've just been had by your client.  You should have just tried harder to convince him to take the plea.  You didn't believe him anyway, he is a feisty little angry man that you don't doubt can, and will, hit anyone.  Including a woman.  Not only do you not believe him, you don't even like him, not a little bit.  But here you are, convinced to do your futile best to "fight the system" and now you're about to get embarrassed because you went against your gut, went out on a limb and tried to verify the story of a client that makes you want to stab yourself in the eye with a long, dull, rusty nail.

Then you receive the medical records.  Before you catch yourself you find your clients words escaping your mouth: "That bitch IS lying!"  He WAS in the hospital.  That swarmy, angry, frustrating client of yours was telling you the truth.

I do not like all of my clients.  Truth be told, I don't care for the majority of them.  Most of them are inconsiderate of my time, demanding, entitled and just downright unpleasant.  But in the short 7 months I have been doing this job I have found that most of them react that way because they know the odds are stacked against them.  I don't doubt that they can tell their Public Defender (this second-class, "unpaid", "fake" lawyer that works for the state) was rolling their eyes and regretting the encounter they were about to have with their them. 

My experience with Mr. X just 3 short months ago has helped to alter the way I engage with my clients every since. 

I can like, love or despise my client.  It is not my job to do any of the aforementioned things.  But if I have resolved to remain a part of this machine for a little while longer, I must work to transform it.  Not be transformed by it.  It is not my job to like my clients.  It is not my job to believe them or judge them or bully them into taking a plea because they are too unpleasant to deal with.  It is my job to do everything I can to ensure that justice has been done.  Justice is not just for the "nice" and "considerate" people.  Justice is not reserved for those who are predisposed to having a sunny disposition and an optimistic take on life (and thank God for that because I would never be afforded justice if that was the criteria).  Justice is for the person.  Justice is for the nice person, the mean person, the person that smiles at everyone and the person that smiles at no one.  The Fifth Amendment states that No PERSON shall "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."  It is my job to ensure that No PERSON is deprived of their life, or their freedom without the state (or city) first providing proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime of which they have been accused.  Plain and simple as that. 

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.

~LT,

"Take thought in how other people perceive you, you never know when twelve of them may be deciding your fate." ~LT