Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Can't Get I To Do It

The lawyer across the hall from me, "Old School," let's call him, has been a public defender forever. How do I know this? Because he still has this ashtray in his office that he had in, like, 1900, when he first started as a PD in This Here County. The ashtray both frightens and entices me:

Like, what is up with that round, knobby thing? And if, as I suspect, it is used to open the ash chamber, what might one find therein?  Yikes!

Old School had a client lo these many years ago, who was charged with several bank robberies. The client was respectful although not that bright, but wanted his lawyer to see him as serious and educated.  This desire caused the client to employ some odd speech patterns, because even though he was serious, his education was, um ... unfinished.  For example, when Old School asked the guy to describe the physical scuffle in the case, the guy said, "I was on the ground, and the man came and put his hands on me, and so I powered him off of I."

Old School was having a hard time with the guy, because the guy kept turning down a deal for 2 years, and wanted to risk about 20 years on a loser trial.  Old School would explain and explain all the risks and consequences, but the guy would just shake his head, "No."

"Why," Old School implored the guy, "Why won't you take this deal?" 

The guy would just look down at his cuffed wrists, shake his head, and say, "I just can't get I to do it."  Over and over again, "I can't get I to do it," all the way to prison.

Thus emerged what we say in our office when there is something we should do, need to do, even must do, but can't. "I should go to the jail now,” you say. “I don't have anything else going on, and I have three new clients I need to see." And then you shake your head and say, "I just can't get I to do it."

I've been meaning to post the next installment in "How to be a Public Defender Revolutionary," because I believe we have the tools to stop a lot of this excessive caseload nonsense, but I've been buried in bureaucratic bullshit this week, and I can't get I to do it.

For one example of said bureaucratic bullshit, after 17 years of not giving a hoot about whether I live or die, the jail (or Detention Services, as it recently renamed itself) has suddenly (and purely coincidental to the fact that the sheriff wants a new jail that the budget threatens), become so concerned about my safety that I can't possibly have a contact visit with my murder client to review a video of his "interview" because the jail's facilities are suddenly not safe.

"But I have a court order," I say.

"We will not honor the order," the jail person says.

"You know, a court order is not like a reservation or a suggestion," I say.

"We can't compromise your safety," jail person says.

After I decline the jail person's offer to arrange a meeting in one of the courtrooms, with just a couple of guards "way across the room," I make a counter-offer, "I guess I wouldn't mind jail guards being present during my meeting with my client if I you allow me to use my pencil to perforate their eyes and ear drums first."

As much as I like a righteous fight, this one is stupid:  the jail wants me to set a hearing to force a contact visit in order to obtain press coverage about the inadequacy of their facility. I say, "How about instead of me being a pawn in you guys's pissing contest, you let me see my client on the down-low, and  then you jail guys and the judges can sort this out, and stop wasting my time. " Grrrrrrr.

Anyway, tomorrow is public-defender valentine day, and I'm not going to miss that PD paraphernalia opportunity!  So, revolution next week, PD Valentines tomorrow Sunday. And no valentine for you, Detention Services.

Yep, I can get I to do it!

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