Friday, September 29, 2006

Have a Good Weekend

I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my post about the detainee bill. The only thing that prevents me from literally moving to Canada (I'm just a hop, skip, and a jump away) is that I know there are so many passionate, devoted, patriotic Americans like you guys out there. Somehow, we have to find a way out of the descent into despotism.

On a completely unrelated note, I couldn't leave for the weekend without posting this unbelievable story about a US Congressman who resigned today because he was soliciting teenage Congressional pages over the internet for sex. The best part is that he is apparently the biggest mouthpiece in the Congress about child sex abuse legislation and how we need to protect these kids from all the perverts on the internet. I've always had a weird feeling about some of these folks who seem obsessed with child sex offenders. Some of them just seem unhealthily obsessed with it, and this story just confirms that feeling. I'd love to hear Sarena's thoughts on this.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

With Liberty and Justice for All*

*Not valid when the President says so.

So, it's over. The detainee bill passed the Senate today. Here is the roll count on the vote. I'm happy to see that both my Senators (Cantwell and Murray) voted against the bill. (I called Maria Cantwell's office this morning and told her that if she didn't vote against this bill, she could forget about getting my vote in November.) But, I am horribly disappointed in the Democrats for not even attempting a fillibuster. I don't care that they say they had counted the votes and there weren't enough to stop it. Put it to a vote, and get people on the record, standing up for what they believe in, goddammit! And what happened to the supposedly principled John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham? They completely caved in to all the President's demands. They are pretending like they forged some sort of compromise, but that's a crock of you know what. They got nothing. The president is free to secretly arrest, torture, and detain without charges anyone he wants to--indefinitely. And anyone so arrested, tortured, or detained has no access to the courts to challenge anything that is happening to him. I don't know how anyone who voted for this bill can even look at themselves in the mirror. They make me sick. Every last one of them.

I have never personally been so disappointed in my country. When I was in law school, I remember reading the Korematsu case wherein the Supreme Court rubber-stamped the authority of the feds to send all Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. We all talked about how wrong-headed the decision was, and how we have since learned from the travesty of that decision, and that something like that could never happen again. I remember wondering to myself what I would have thought about the decision at the time. We were at war, after all. We had been viciously attacked by the Japanese. There were believed to be Japanese supporters among us, working within our own borders. We needed to trust and support the President during wartime. Any of that sound familiar? The United States Congress has now basically given the President the authority to do essentially the same thing. And a huge majority of this country just sat around and didn't give a damn. I can only hope that some day, many years from now, when students study this period in our history, they rightfully talk about how shameful it was that so many U.S. citizens actively supported this travesty of justice, and that many more just sat around and did nothing as it happened.

I cannot adequately express in words my profound sadness, outrage, disgust, despair, and shame at what my country is doing. I hope that George W. Bush is right--that the terrorists hate us for our freedom. Because if they're watching this unfold, maybe they'll realize our freedom is meaningless, and they'll finally stop hating us. I"m not holding my breath.

Totally Random Article About Lottery Winners Pisses Me Off

Maybe I'm just in a foul mood today because we are about to legalize war crimes and horriffic human rights violations in this country, but this mostly benign article about a Powerball-winning office pool really pissed me off this morning. In answer to their questions, I would say that, "No, neither God nor Buddha intervened to make you guys win the lottery." And reading a story about how the long-suffering office pool had just about given up on playing the lottery before they hit the big one just makes me think of all the poor people out there who gamble away the money they should be using to feed, clothe, and house their families in the hopes that, if they just play one more time, all their problems will be over.

Okay, rant over.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On Torture and Terrorists and Secret Prisons and Lifelong Detention

I have been wanting to post something about the legislation on the verge of passing the Congress regarding the indefinite detention and torture of so-called "enemy combatants" for a long time. The problem has been that I am so mad and appalled and disgusted and frustrated--almost to the point of literally weeping for what my country has become--that I haven't been able to form coherent thoughts. This piece by Dahlia Lithwick posted on Slate is a good start.

Tom McKenna has a good post at his blog about a lawsuit related to that horrible "church" that protests fallen soldiers' funerals with picket signs declaring how the soldier died as God's revenge for the way the country has embraced "fags." Tom takes the law firm representing the church to task for what he believes is their insincere claim that they would die for the right of the protesters to say what they are saying, even while they may despise it. He points out that the one person in the whole story who did die for those rights is the poor kid whose funeral was being protested. And that makes me think about all the men and women who are putting their lives in danger for us. For our "freedom," as George W. Bush likes to say. And it breaks my heart that the same president that has sent those men and women into battle on our behalf is in his own country making sure that individuals can be secretly detained for the rest of their lives, tortured at will, and never charged with violating a single law, all at the whim of the executive. And Congress, including John McCain (who for a second, looked like he might actually take a principled stand on this issue, but has since completely caved) and way too many Democrats, are going right along with it. It makes me want to vomit. Literally. I don't even recognize my country anymore. Why are these brave soldiers killing and dying to protect the right of our president to behave like every other tyrant and despot in the world? Why aren't more Americans standing up and shouting out in opposition? We're fond of slogans in this country--slogans about our freedom. Live free or die. Give me liberty or give me death. Those are just a couple that spring to mind. A couple that seem to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the state of our country today.

Common Sense on Sex Offender Laws

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Sarena Straus, she of the fantastic blog Prosecutor Post-Script? Well, I do. And not just because she recently called me "ever wonderful." She is a former child abuse/domestic violence prosecutor (and not former as in she's now a defense attorney--she still writes from the prosecutor perspective) who is reasonable and I believe truly cares about justice. She doesn't just pay lip service to it, or define justice as "whatever the alleged victim wants to happen." Her latest post on the wrongheadedness of the recent proposed laws banning sex offenders from living anywhere near a school, park, church, bus stop, campground, swimming pool, mall, convenience store, zoo, pet shop, arcade, miniature golf course, grocery store, restaurant, flea market, newspaper stand, or telephone booth is right on point. Every so often, Sarena even gets invited to be on Nancy Grace's show. What I wouldn't give to see her comment on these laws on Nancy's program!

Winning Isn't Everything, But . . .

I had a case where my 16-year-old client was charged with residential burglary. The alleged victim was his mother. My client had been kicked out of his mom's house. He had been kicked out of his dad's house. So, my client went from place to place on the goodwill of others. Then, when his mother and stepfather were on a vacation, he "broke" in to their home, and lived there for two days. He didn't steal anything. He didn't damage any property. He just lived there. In his mother's house. For two days. And for this, he was charged with residential burglary, a Class B felony. At his initial detention hearing, his parents went on and on about how concerned they were for his safety, and how he had to be held in detention for his own safety. They were so concerned for his safety, apparently, that they kicked him out on the street and left him to go from house to house for his food and shelter! At the time, the judge bought it, and kept him locked up in detention even though he had no prior criminal history, and his sole crime was having broken into his own house! A few days later, I brought the case back before the same judge for a review of that decision. Even though I informed his parents about the hearing, neither one bothered to show up. This time, the judge saw things my way, and released him to his father's home.

So, it's now a few weeks later. The kid is doing great at his dad's home. He has taken and passed all his GED tests. He is working full-time with his older brother. Today, we had a hearing on my motion to dismiss his case. Washington has a provision that allows the defendant/respondent to make a motion to dismiss a case if the evidence as stated in the police reports and supplements filed in the case, viewed in the light most favorable to the state, does not make out a prima facie case. As it turns out, there is good case law in Washington on the issue of juveniles being charged with burglarizing the family home. The case law recognizes that parents have a statutory duty to provide for the basic needs of their children, and therefore allows a conviction for burglary only if the child has been unequivocally made aware that he is not permitted in the home and the parent or parents have provided for the child's needs (e.g., by arranging for them to stay with someone else or by taking them to social services for placement). In this case, all the police report said was that my client had been kicked out of both parents' homes and had, since then, "been going from friend's house to friend's house." So, I filed my motion, and my brief, and argued the motion today. I knew things were going well when, after I finished my argument, the judge asked the prosecutor if there was any other case law superseding the Supreme Court opinion I had cited. (Of course there was not.) And then, the judge said he had never granted one of these motions before (which is amazing to me considering he's been sitting as a commissioner for about 20 years!), but he was granting this one.

You know how great it feels when you win? You know how much greater it feels when you believe so strongly that your winning was the absolutely right thing? You know how much greater it feels when, on top of that, your client beams at you, and hugs you, and thanks you for being the only person who was willing to fight for him? Well, I definitely know what that feels like today.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The General Awesomeness of My Job

So, I've had a few posts recently about how I feel about this new thing I'm doing called juvenile PD work. And I feel like I'm just repeating myself here, but it has really been consuming my thoughts lately, so I wanted to share. I really, really like what I'm doing. I can't even express all the reasons why. I just feel great about it. I truly like my clients. And by "like," I mean that I have a genuine affection for a lot of them. I love the opportunity I have to help them. I love the variety of issues that I get to deal with. I like the fact that, most of the time, they are very appreciative of what I am doing for them, and that they actually express that. Now, to be sure, there are downsides, too. When I lose something big like I did last week (I had a kid sent to adult court), it hurts even more. The parents of some of these kids can be absolutely horrendous in many different ways. Some of the kids are in such dire circumstances because of abuse, mental illness, and other issues that I don't think they'll have any kind of decent life at all, which tends to depress the hell out of me. These are the really hard parts of the job. But, the really good things about the job really do outweigh the bad parts, and lead to a general awesomeness about it all.

Today was a good example of what I get a chance to do. I started off this morning at the trial calendar, getting continuances on all my cases. I spent the rest of the morning reviewing my cases set in the coming weeks to see what investigation needs to be done, what witnesses need to be interviewed, etc. Then, in the afternoon, I successfully argued that the judge should not put my client in detention for some non-existent violation of his conditions of release. I counseled a client about what he can do to deal with his alcoholic and sometimes physically abusive parents, and he actually listened to me, and thanked me, and told me how good it was to know someone was on his side. I spoke with a client's mother about getting her counseling to help deal with the abusive dating relationship she is in. I had two office appointments with clients--one of whom we strategized on his trial and the other we talked about everything we could do to position him for a favorable sentencing decision. Nothing earth-shattering happened today, but it was just one of those really good days where I feel like I really helped a lot of people, and it was just all in a day's work. How awesome is that?

When I started here, I anticipated that I'd do my time in juvenile until a spot opened up in adult felonies. But now, I don't know. I don't think I'd want to move unless they made me. I may not feel the same way in a year or two, but for now, I would actually be really disappointed if they wanted to take me out of juvie. And that is something that I never would have predicted before I started this gig.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

People Still Getting Lost in the Black Hole of the Dallas County Jail

So, remember my old friend Walter Mann? He was the guy who was arrested for failing to pay for his son's incarceration when his son was arrested for assaulting him, and whom the courts just left sitting in jail for fifteen long months. Well, it looks like another man was lost by the county again. This time it was only for a few months, though, not fifteen.

(Thanks to Grits for Breakfast for the tip).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another New PD Blog

Via Skelly, here's a new public defender blog, Of a Public Defender's Life. On why she is a public defender, she says, in part:

Maybe that's part of why I do it, though. I am needed: To defend people who need defending, and no one else feels they "deserve" it. To ensure that people's rights are not violated, when even they don't appreciate what I do. To not allow our Constitution or the principles of freedom and justice upon which our country was built to be trampled upon for the sake of efficiency or security.

Sounds good to me!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dahlia on Nancy

I am a longtime fan of Dahlia Lithwick, Slate's senior legal editor. And her latest piece on the recent Nancy Grace controversy is a good example of why.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Too Much to Do!!!

In my life as a public defender, I don't think I've ever had a stretch of weeks where I was as busy as I've been for the past few weeks. "Swamped" would be an understatement. In addition to being under the general pressure of doing the work of three attorneys for a while (I'm down to doing the work of 1 1/2 attorneys now!), I am also in the middle of a decline hearing where the state is seeking to transfer jurisdiction of my client's case to adult court. Needless to say, I have not had much time to blog. I did want to do a few quick hits, though.

*There have been a lot of hits on this blog recently for things like "nancy grace evil" and "nancy grace devil woman." Perhaps it is because of the woman who shot and killed herself after being interviewed on Nancy's show. On one hand, I think people are making unfair accusations against Nancy to say that she directly caused this woman's death. On the other hand, karma is a bitch!

*Skelly, my fellow Washington juvie PD, reports that juvenile crime in our state is down. While we are both happy about this trend, we also worry about the future of our jobs, but only sarcastically, so don't get mad about it!

*Alaskablawg has returned to the world of blogging! But, he's one of them free world lawyers now instead of a PD, so I've moved his link on my site from the PD blogs section to the criminal law blogs section. I never took him off my links, though, because I had faith he would return!

*And last, but certainly not least, if you haven't already seen the Daily Show's take on President Bush's 9/11 anniversary "address to the nation" featuring celebrity translator Little Richard, click below:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards, One in a Million

I am so sad to hear about former Texas Gov. Ann Richard's death yesterday (and of the same cancer that took my father more than 12 years ago). She came to national prominence in 1988 when, at the Democratic convention, she remarked, "Poor George [H. W. Bush] . . . He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Oh, how I loved that woman! She truly was one in a million.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Can't He Just Let Us Have Our Creed?

Prosecutor Tom and I go back and forth about the Public Defender's Creed. Well, he goes forth and I go back. Or something like that. Anyway, I think I win. ;-)

To the hypothetical mother of my hypothetical client . . .

I am sorry that I am not willing to just plead your son out to probation. I apologize that I feel it is my obligation to have his competency and capacity to stand trial evaluated in light of the fact that he did not appear to understand a word I was saying during our lengthy discussion about his case. I am sorry that, in order to undertake this evaluation, the expert will have to view medical records that "dredge up" dirt on you (perhaps including your drug and alcohol use during pregnancy) that you don't think is anyone's business, even if those medical records are essential to determining the capacity of your child to understand the complicated court proceedings in which he is involved. I am sorry that I must represent my client's interests only and not be concerned about you looking bad. Most of all, I apologize that I seem to have forgotten that this case was all about you.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later, In Memory 9/11/01

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting on an airplane at LaGuardia airport in New York City, preparing to fly back to Dallas after taking a trip to Toronto with a friend from New York. I had been scheduled to fly back the night of September 10, but my flight was cancelled due to weather. I was supposed to start my new job as a public defender on Wednesday, September 12. Instead, I found myself stranded in New York City, in the midst of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

I was a bit shocked by my reaction to the news coverage of the anniversary of the attacks this morning. I found myself crying almost uncontrollably, feeling like I was back in New York City, sitting with all the other stranded passengers outside the airport, watching as the towers burned. I did not know a single person who died that day, and yet I am a virtual emotional wreck today. I cannot even imagine how those who lost loved ones are dealing with their loss today.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is dealing with the pain of that day.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bill Maher Has a Plan to Keep Us Safe

Bill Maher's contribution to keep us safe from terrorism is to continue mocking the President. That way, people around the world will see that we Americans know Bush is a moron, too, and they won't hold what he says and does against us. Brilliant, I say! As Maher explains:

And that's why making fun of the president keeps this country safe. The proof? I've been doing it nonstop for years, and there hasn't been another attack.

I am fully on board with this strategy. It's the least I can do as a patriot. And if you don't agree, then you're for the terrorists!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Life in the Trenches

Hurrah to the Los Angeles Times and their weeklong series (currently on part three; part one can be found here) following a public defender doing real, honest public defending. Ramiro Cisneros is described as "a man with his heart in the clouds of idealism and his thoughts down in the daily rough-and-tumble." This is why I love writers--they can come up with a description like that. I can't think of a better description of myself or so many other of the public defenders I know. So far, it has been an excellent read. I'm planning to post more about it later, but this week, I'm doing the work of three lawyers, and blogging time is obviously limited.

(Thanks to Anita Witness for the heads up.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Holiday Weekend Kickoff

There is no better way to head into a three-day weekend than to go into court, feeling like all the odds are against you, but all the angels are for you, and to actually win! I can't go into specifics without violating privacy, but I'll just say that some parents make me mad as hell, and today was the first day of me not taking it anymore.