Thursday, May 13, 2010

For All You Bullies Out There

Now that my iphone keeps all of my random notes in one place, I will miss the pleasure of finding that loose piece of paper in the back of my drawer where I jotted a description of a siutation too funny/crazy/horrific to risk forgetting. Like this one:

Many years ago, in a County and State far, far away from most of you, an accomplished criminal defense lawyer I know got a phone call very early in the morning from an agitated lawyer in another state. The previous evening, the lawyer relayed, one of his partners and an investigator had been arrested for witness tampering and were currently in This Here County Jail.

Just a week earlier, the jailed lawyer had been appointed in his state on a decades-old "cold" case where the death penalty was being pursued. Before the arrest, the defendant had been living in This Here City. When the defendant's name became connected with the murder, Detective Burbridge, a local cop, interrogated the defendant and procured a purportedly incriminating statement. After the interrogation, the defendant was extradited to the state where the alleged murder took place.

Soon after being appointed, the attorneys met with their new client at the jail. As the lawyers left the jail's visiting room, one mentioned that he and an investigator were traveling to This Here City to interview the client's former roommate and former girlfriend. The roommate and former girlfriend were not perceived as fact witnesses--they had not even met the defendant at the time of the alleged murder. Rather, the defense hadn't yet received discovery, and thus the diligent lawyers were getting started on mitigation evidence and background.

The lawyers arranged the interviews in advance, flew to This Here City, and talked to the witnesses in their home. The witnesses had little to offer, but did mention that the defendant had left a message for them. The attorney told the witnesses that under no circumstance were they to talk to the client. The attorney gave the witnesses his business card, and asked them to get in touch if they thought of anything to add.

Meanwhile, back in the other state, when the attorneys had been at the jail, a bailiff had overheard the lawyers tell the client that they were going to interview his former roommate and girlfriend in This Here City. The bailiff called the prosecutor, and the prosecutor (who was familiar with Burbridge from the police reports and his interview of the defendant) called Burbridge and asked him to contact the witnesses.

Burbridge arrived at the witnesses' home after the lawyer and investigator had departed. According to Burbridge, the witnesses said that the lawyer and investigator "ordered" them not to talk to police (not true). Police also said that the investigator identified himself as a "Detective from Other State." (This is interesting, because Burbridge called the lawyer and investigator at their hotel. How did he know which hotel to call? He knew from the business card it was written on, which the lawyer had given the roommate and girlfriend. The card did not say "Detective.") After Burbridge left the witnesses' house, the roommate called the lawyer at his hotel and told him that he thought the police were coming to arrest them.

The lawyer and investigator agreed to meet Burbridge in the lobby of their hotel, thinking they would be able to explain any misunderstanding. Burbridge walked toward the two men; however, instead of offering an outstretched hand, he loudly and brusquely ordered, "You over in that corner, and you over there!"

Standing his ground, the lawyer replied, "Well, that ain't gonna happen."

The cuffs went on.

The accomplished local attorney agreed to represent the two men at their first appearance. The local attorney talked to a higher-up at the prosecutors office, who agreed that there was no need to hold the two. However, once they appeared at the hearing, the easy, agreed release began to slip away. The first-appearance prosecutor apologized and said that he was going to have to ask for high bond, based on a conversation he had with, you guessed it, Detective Burbridge. Additionally, the court's pre-trial service evaluation recommended against release because the men were from another state and thus a "flight risk." I remember watching the drama unfold, and feeling the tension as the judge, who appeared to be overly-cautious in weighing the issue, asked the accomplished attorney, "Can you personally vouch for these two men?" The arrested lawyer, who was sitting at the counsel table, winced and looked down, probably because he hadn't met our local attorney but 10 minutes earlier.

"Absolutely," the accomplished lawyer said.

Afterwards, a group us had drinks at a downtown bar, and the story was told and re-told from every angle, as only happy criminal defense lawyers in their element can do. The out-of-state partner had arrived, and I remember noticing how much he resembled other criminal attorneys I knew--cocky, funny, and knew how to tell a story. The arrested attorney, though, ruled the session, even as his exhaustion validated the tale: He had told his "Cellie" that he drove truck, understandably keeping quiet about being a lawyer, but then spent the night inventing trucking stories to a roommate who couldn't sleep due to the over-consumption of amphetamine.

"The whole thing was ... harrowing," he said. (One reason that we are better story-tellers than prosectors is that we allow ourselves to admit weakness.) "I was so relieved when I saw him," he said, pointing at the accomplished attorney. "I felt such happy relief knowing I had a lawyer there with me. And then I said the dumbest thing I possibly could have said, a line I've heard from inmates a thousand times over. I said to him, 'I am innocent of these charges.'"

"And do you know what that asshole said to me?  He said, totally flat, 'Yeah, that's what all my clients say.'"

"I was in such a freaked-out state--my usual perception was compromised," the lawyer told us. "I started to think I had been thrown into some secret hole of hell where lawyers came and messed with me as a punishment for all of my sins.  I kept asking myself as we walked up to the counsel table, 'Did he mean that? . . .  Was he fucking with me?'"

"But then," the lawyer said, "just as the judge was coming on to the TV screen, I couldn't help myself--I grabbed his sleeve and asked the second-dumbest question I possibly could have asked: 'When can you get me out of here?'"


I'm telling this story of a bully cop arresting a defense lawyer, because, after a week of being bullied myself (and it's only Wednesday as I write): You bullies may get away with bullying most of the time; you may even think you're immune; but the more cocky and consistent you are in bullying, the more likely you are to get busted.  Video and transcripts help.

Like, for example, Karl Thompson, a police officer indicted for criminal civil rights violations and obstruction involving the death (caused by Thompson) of an unarmed handicapped janitor. This document filed by the government in the case against Thompson, provides a fascinating look at the police cover-up and its exposure by the feds, while also providing insight the rest of us can use when attempting to expose their web of lies.

And who is also implicity incriminated in the cover-up? You guessed it--Detective Burbridge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the story! I have worked with these attorneys and known them for years. There were even "Free Richie" t-shirts printed up.

As a postscript, the attorney won the capital murder trial for which he had been arrested investigating.