Friday, December 29, 2006

Kids are Different

A few weeks ago, I was walking from the courthouse to my office with a client. He's about 14 and, like a number of my clients, he has ADHD. So, here we are, walking along, having an intelligent discussion about how he can prepare for his disposition hearing when, all of a sudden, he leaps into the air and jumps right into a huge puddle, splashing the dirty water all over me. Luckily, I was wearing black tights and houndstooth-type suit so it didn't really show up. He immediately stopped, looked at me with his big eyes, his hand over his mouth, and said, "Oops. I meant to jump over it." I just burst out laughing, called him a liar, and on we went, to the office. Can you imagine an adult client ever doing something like that? Can you imagine ever thinking that having someone jump in a puddle and splash dirty water all over your suit being one of the sweetest, most endearing moments of your job? I couldn't either, but it absolutely was. It was just one of those moments that reminded me how having kids for clients is different. Sometimes, that difference makes things worse. But more times than not, it makes things better. They have a way of crawling right into your heart and making you love them, no matter how many times they screw things up.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Leonardo DiCaprio Can Suck It!

So, I'm sure Leo thinks he's big stuff for being nominated twice in the same category at this year's Golden Globes. Clint Eastwood is almost certainly letting the same honor go to his head. Perhaps Helen Mirren is enjoying all the attention of having three individual nominations. But, none of them are nominated in multiple categories for the Public Defender Blog Awards, are they? No! But, you know who is? Me! "But, um, isn't every public defender blog that fits the category technically 'nominated' in that category?," you may ask. Why you hatin' on me? Why can't you just be happy for me for once? Is that so much to ask? Ahem. Anyway, Public Defender Stuff is running a little awards thing to recognize PD blogs, and I am up for consideration in multiple categories. If you want to vote for me in any of them, especially the "Best PD Blog by a Woman" category where that bitch Blonde Justice is kicking my ass (kidding! love her!), please do so. If you want to vote for somebody else, I guess you should feel free to do that, too.

(Why do I now feel like Kathie Lee Gifford running a campaign to be voted "TV Guide's Most Beautiful Woman on Television," and why do I feel like I am revealing something shameful about myself just by the fact that I remember that whole thing?)


Which Case is the Most Depressing?

So, I've had a recent spate of quite depressing cases lately. They are each depressing in their own way, and it's starting to overwhelm me a bit. Some of them are almost a Greek tragedy level of depressing, and some of them are just run-of-the-mill sad, but they are having a cumulative effect. And I do feel that, in this job, where I am only representing them on a particular criminal charge, I am extremely limited in what I can do to help each of them.

*The 13-year-old who allegedly raped his mother. I don't believe her story for a second, and I'm quite sure that CPS doesn't either, but that hasn't stopped the prosecutor from filing the case based on the flimsiest and most incompetent investigation I've seen of a sex crime in my life.

*The 17-year-old who allegedly assaulted her mother. By the way, the mother was convicted a year or so ago of "rendering criminal assistance," specifically of having arranged for a man to have all the sex with the girl (who was about 14 at the time) as he wanted.

*The 17-year-old who allegedly keeps selling drugs because it is the only way he feels he can provide for his family. And by family, I mean his mother, his baby, and his baby's mother.

*The 16-year-old who has been in and out of detention (mostly in) for various probation violations for my entire, albeit short, tenure here who just found out she is pregnant, and is determined to keep the baby.

*The 13-year-old charged with assaulting a staff member at his group home, where he lives because he had a "failed adoption," likely the result of his having virtually every behavioral disorder in the world from ADHD to reactive attachment disorder, and who has been previously charged with assault seven or eight times, always dismissed based on his incompetency.

Yeah, depressing. So, anyone got any feel-good, inspiring public defender stories to make me feel better?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pinochet Deserves No Thanks

Tom McKenna has a post entitled "Gracias," where he thanks the recently deceased Augusto Pinochet for all he did to save Chile. He conveniently forgets to mention the tens of thousands of people he tortured, the thousands he murdered or disappeared, or the heinous act of terrorism he committed right here in the United States--the brutal car bombing murder of a Chilean exile and his American colleague. Tom's is not the only article or blog post I've seen since Pinochet's death praising him for all the good he did. Frankly, it makes me want to vomit. Augusto Pinochet may have introduced economic reforms that put Chile on a more prosperous path, but he is no hero, and deserves no thanks. He was a dictator who had no qualms about torturing and murdering his political enemies, even if that meant bombing a car in broad daylight on the streets of America. No gracias from me, Augusto. More like good riddance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

4-Year-Old Suspended from School for "Sexually Harassing" Teacher's Aide

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Big Surprise: Feds Conclude Medical and Mental Health Care at Dallas County Jail is Grossly Inadequate

The feds have finally submitted their report to Dallas County on their investigation of the sanitary conditions, and treatment of the physically and mentally ill at the Dallas County Jail. Unsurprisingly, the report finds the care at the jail to be grossly inadequate and in violation of the constitutional rights of the inmates. I hope some sort of meaningful change results. I'm not sure if the feds are going to pursue any kind of enforcement action, but something needs to be done. And soon. The report cites numerous deaths that were directly caused by the inadequate health care at the jail. It is about time that someone was held accountable.

Heck of Job, Brownie!

You know what helps make your client and his parents appreciate all you've done for him? When you are doing the plea and the judge repeatedly says, "This is a heck of a deal," and "You are getting a huge break here," and "I'm going to reluctantly follow it because it was the result of trial preparation and negotiation." Thanks for the shout-out, your honor!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sports Anti-Doping Regime Has No Sense of Justice

Update: Part 2 of the LA Times story on WADA's Kafkaesque drug-testing regime is online.
Original post:

This first part of an investigative series by the Los Angeles Times on anti-doping regime in the sports world confirms what I have thought for a long time. Dick Pound (pictured at left), the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and his pack of WADA sycophants are not interested in fairness or justice. They are zealots who have established a regime where they serve as cops, prosecutors, judge, jury, and executioner. In addition to these titles, Dick Pound is just an all-around jerk, who thinks he is smarter and more righteous than anyone else, and seems to suffer from a god complex wherein he believes that only he can save the integrity of sport. I hope this series by the Times helps spur a movement to reform this horribly unjust system that punishes the innocent and the guilty side by side, with little to no regard for which is which.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What's on my DVR?

I keep things pretty much law-related here, but I was running through my Tifaux (that's what I call my cable company issued DVR because it's not a real Tivo) recording list this morning, and I wondered what you might be able to learn about someone by knowing what they DVR. It's probably really stupid, but just for the heck of it, here goes:

Veronica Mars (all of this season's episodes are still saved)
Battlestar Galactica (all of this season's episodes are still saved)
60 Minutes
Cold Case
The Amazing Race
Without a Trace
How I Met Your Mother
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Friday Night Lights
Gilmore Girls
America's Next Top Model
Top Chef
Ugly Betty
Grey's Anatomy
The O.C.
The Office
The Soup
Best Week Ever
48 Hours Mystery
Saturday Night Live
The Sports Reporters
Ebert & Roeper
Inside the Actors Studio
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Everwood (syndicated episodes from ABC Family)
The Oprah Winfrey Show
The Late Show with David Letterman
Jimmy Kimmell Live
Charlie Rose
$100,000 Pyramid
American Justice
48 Hours: Hard Evidence

So, you're probably saying to yourself, "The $100,000 Pyramid? Really?" Well, you're probably actually thinking that's a lot of TV, and you're right. So, take a shot at psychoanalyzing me based on that! At some point, I may take a shot myself.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dallas DA Does a Good Thing

I haven't had many opportunities to give kudos to outgoing Dallas DA Bill Hill, but I feel the need to give credit where credit is due. Hill has initiated a request with the Governor for a commutation of the life sentence given to Tyrone Brown when he violated his aggravated robbery probation by testing positive for marijuana one time. The victim of Brown's case is also in support of this request. Hopefully, the request that Brown's sentence be commuted to the 16 1/2 years he has already served will be heeded by Governor Rick Perry. Although Hill deserves credit for taking action, special credit goes to the Dallas Morning News and 20/20 for bringing this story of unequal justice to the public's attention, creating a local and national outcry on Brown's behalf.

Thousands May Have Been Wrongfully Convicted Based on Faulty Arson Science

The AP shines a light on one of the biggest scandals in the criminal justice system over the past few decades--bad science in the field of fire/arson investigation. (The Chicago Tribune did a story on this over two years ago as part of their excellent series on problems with forensic science.) Unfortunately, almost no one knows anything about it, and wrongfully convicted people remain in prison to this day, and at least one almost certainly innocent man was executed in Texas because of it. For years and years, so-called fire investigation experts believed that fires inside of buildings worked a certain way. This led them to believe that certain signs at a fire scene were clear cut signs of an intentionally set fire. Now that these assumptions and conclusions have been rigorously subjected to scientific scrutiny, it is clear that they were just plain wrong. Many of these believed clear cut signs of arson are actually signs of an accidental fire. A couple years ago, Ernest Willis, on death row in Texas for capital murder by arson, was set free when a new district attorney was presented with the new scientific evidence that convinced him of Willis's innocence. Cameron Willingham (pictured above), however, wasn't so lucky. He was executed for using arson to murder his three children. The only evidence supporting a conclusion of arson was the now thoroughly discredited fire investigation science. This is a scandal that deserves much greater attention and a concerted effort should be undertaken to bring justice to the many wrongfully convicted, many of whom no doubt still linger in prison for crimes that never happened.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Read This Book!

I just finished reading Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, Nate Blakeslee's fantastic account of the railroading of a large segment of the black community in Tulia, Texas on trumped-up drug charges. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the criminal justice system, the war on drugs, police misconduct, prosecutorial negligence, race relations, and crusading journalists and criminal defense and civil rights lawyers. Even those who have followed the Tulia case closely, as I did, will find it fascinating. It is utterly engrossing, and a shocking lesson about how much damage one corrupt police officer can do, when abetted by negligent prosecutors and jurors. But, it is also a great story about how injustice can be fought by private citizens, lawyers, and journalists who won't give up.

An injustice anywhere truly is a threat to justice everywhere.

So This is What it Feels Like to be a Prosecutor

So, yesterday, I had an interesting experience. All juvenile court matters are heard by a court commissioner, and not an elected judge. So, either side has the right to seek what is called a revision of any ruling made by the commissioner, except for a not guilty finding after a trial. It is basically like an appellate proceeding where you get to file a brief arguing your side and the elected judge reads the transcript from the earlier proceeding and rules. Yesterday, I was arguing my first revision and I'll admit that I was pretty nervous. The issue I was arguing was about an interpretation of a revised state court rule, so it was an issue of first impression here in the county. It is an issue that applies to a lot of cases and we were hoping to get a favorable ruling here, so that we would win all these cases down the road on the same issue. Anyway, there I was, barely into my argument, when the judge cuts me off and starts stating was his opinion of the matter is, and . . . wait for it . . . he was on my side! And he just kept making my argument for me, and then asking the state for a response or whether they had any argument or authority to support a contrary position. And there was the prosecutor trying to come up with something, and there I was, just sitting there, in the strange position of having the judge essentially arguing my side of the case. I thought to myself, "Is this what it feels like to be a prosecutor?" Ha! I can't even remember all the times I've been in a jury trial and felt like the judge was doing the prosecutor's job like making objections and coming up with responses to my objections on the prosecutor's behalf. Man, that would piss me off! This case was different, of course, because the judge had obviously formed some opinions on the basis of our briefing and his review of the record, but still. It was a totally new and totally awesome experience! Oh, and we won!

In another prosecutor-like move, I had a phone conversation with another prosecutor on another case yesterday where I was trying to make sure that an individual was charged with a crime. This individual was involved with a client of mine in a vandalism incident. My client, obviously, was a juvenile, but the other individual was just over 18. So, my client was charged in juvenile court, and the other person has not been charged at all. I don't know if it's because his piddly little vandalism case isn't a priority for the felony prosecutors (which I can understand) or if something else is going on. What I don't like is the idea that my client will be on the hook for the entire amount of restitution which is over $1500 while the adult who was at least as responsible for the damage as my kid walks away with no obligation whatsoever. So, there I was, demanding (well, not demanding, just doing my best persuasion) that charges be filed. My client was sitting in my office at the time I made the call, and when I got off the phone, he said, "Wow, you're good." Hee!

Not a bad day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Detention Blues

David Feige at Indefensible urges an end to the overincarceration of juveniles, pre-adjudication. I join him in this. Don't even get me started on putting kids in detention for truancy! Yeah, that's the ticket. Take the kids on the margins and put them in with the kids committing crimes. Great idea!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sometimes, I Suck

I have really sucked at keeping up here recently. Things have been unbelievably busy, then I went on a vacation for the whole week of Thanksgiving, then I came back to work, and have been trying to dig myself out from under the pile of stuff I left for myself to do when I came back from vacation. I've also been struggling recently with what I can blog about. I've actually had several cases that I have wanted to rant and rave about, but I just don't feel that I can protect the confidentiality and other interests of my clients if I do so. At least, not until the cases have been resolved. I have had a little bit of a run of good news, though, including:

*A client's domestic violence assault charge was dismissed. I think the prosecutor finally bought my argument that she was the actual victim in the case when she listened to the 911 tape I subpoenaed where the caller describes the state's "victim" as "choking her, banging her head against her car, and throwing her on the ground like a rag doll . . . he only stopped when I banged on my window at him . . . I thought he was going to kill her." It should be noted that the fine police officers who arrested my client interviewed this caller at the scene, who told them the same thing she said on the tape, but failed to include any of this information in their police report. They did, however, refer to her as "anonymous," even though she clearly gives her name and phone number on the 911 tape, and actually characterized her as corroborating the "victim's" account, which was that my client hit and scratched at his face, and he pushed her down to stop her assault. The police report literally said, "The anonymous neighbor corroborated the part where he pushed her down." So, they ommitted the exculpatory information from their report, falsely called the exculpatory witness "anonymous" forcing my investigator to track down who she was, and completely mischaracterized her account as "corroborating" the alleged victim's account, at least in part. Nice work, Dano.

*Remember when I was complaining about the prosecutor opposing my request for a competency evaluation of my client? She said that there was nothing to indicate that he couldn't assist in his defense, apparently concluding that my sworn affidavit stating that I did not believe he could assist me in his defense was equivalent to "nothing." Well, the report came back on him, and he was . . . incompetent! Incompetent and unlikely to be aided by restoration services. So, the prosecutor dismissed his cases.

*We got fourteen inches of snow last weekend! Fourteen inches! I've never lived anywhere that got snow like that before. It was very cold, and slippery and slidey, and it made getting to work a helluva mess, but it was awesome!