Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rookie Observations

Well, I've been a Defense Attoney for a few weeks now, and I've come to realize that there was some merit to what Mark Bennett (who is for some reason claiming this blog is humorless) said when he pointed out that former prosecutors becoming members of the Defense Bar are starting out as rookies. Here are just a couple of things that I've noticed over the past couple of weeks:

1. Prosecutors just think that they hate the CJC Elevators-yes, that morning commute from the 4th or 5th floor up to your court in the morning can often last longer than your commute into work from, oh, say, Katy, but if a prosecutor remembers all their materials, they only have to make one trip up and one trip down. Defense Attorneys have to hop on and off of elevators all freaking morning long. That brings us up close and personal with Stupid Elevator People much more often than the State.
For those of you who would encourage my cigarette smoking butt to try the stairs every once in awhile, I do try when we aren't talking about climbing from the 9th floor to the 18th floor. However, damn Murphy's Law has been in play lately. Every time I've taken the stairs, it seems that the particular door on the particular floor I need is locked.

2. It is Amazing that a former Prosecutor who has tried Capital Murder cases can't figure out how to fill out a voucher- honestly, trying to fill out vouchers in the District Courts has made me feel like the slow kid in a 3rd grade art class. Seriously, it's just one sheet of paper with not all that much to fill out, but for some reason that's incredibly confusing when you are starting out. Special thanks go out to 177th coordinator Vickie Long, as well as defense attorney Lori Gooch for taking the time to explain the vouchers to me without breaking into tears of frustration once.

3. Speaking of Court Coordinators-I don't think I ever realized as a prosecutor how over-worked these poor folks are. When you are the prosecutor in a court, you just sign a reset and go back to work dealing with other defense attorneys. You never really pay attention to what happens after that. If you paid more attention, you would notice the herd of defense attorneys who have piled up in front of the coordinator's desk and are chirping for their resets.
The court coordinator is like a "den mother" to a group of spoiled children who all want his or her attention at once. After standing in line for a reset a couple of time, its a wonder that more attorneys haven't been shot to death in open court by a coordinator who has taken all he or she can take.
They really deserve to be commended for the jobs they do every day without killing any of us.

4. The HCCLA is a Very Impressive Organization-the first check I wrote from The Law Offices of Murray Newman went to my membership dues with the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Assocation (headed by the humorless President, Mark Bennett). All day long, you see defense attorneys helping other defense attorneys with complex legal and logistical issues (and there are alot of them). They also show the same sense of camaraderie that I enjoyed so much with the D.A.'s Office. It is beyond me why any criminal defense attorney in Harris County wouldn't want to join HCCLA.

5. Going through the Metal Detectors Sucks-I will say that I sincerely miss having the ability to bypass those damn metal detectors. I can just feel the Wackenhut people undressing me with their eyes when I am taking off my belt and boots every morning (just kidding). Actually going through the metal detectors isn't so bad if you get a formula down, and learn the secret ways to avoiding the lines. (HINT: entry through any building other than the CJC is helpful).

6. The Job of Prosecutor and Defense Attorney is much more similar than one would think- the thing I loved the most about being a prosecutor was helping victims of crime. There was a profound feeling of doing something important when meeting with the victim's family on a murder case, or the surviving members of an aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or assault and telling them you would do everything in your power on their cases.
By analogy, the same thing happens when you meet with your client for the first time. As a prosecutor, I had become very used to the "tough guy" posturing of so many Defendants in the holdover cells whenever I was asked to come back to talk to them. It's different as a Defense Attorney. The Defendants back there are more scared and desperate for help than anything else.
And they are looking to their Defense Attorney to help them. The felling of saying that you will do everything in your power to help them is also a profound feeling of doing something important. I think the thing that prosecutors and defense attorneys have in common (regardless of what side of counsel table they are sitting on) is the desire to help others.

And finally . . .

7. Yes, the Stress Level is Definitely Better-as I've told plenty of people the past couple of weeks, that I'm not financially prepared to buy that house in the Hamptons quite yet, but the stress level decrease is really remarkable. I don't know if it is the smaller caseload or the not having to keep a timesheet, but I'm feeling much less stress and tension than I've felt in ten years. I'm working just as hard (if not harder) running back and forth and figuring out the logistics, but for whatever reason, it just feels like less worry. I didn't really expect that as much when leaving the D.A.'s Office, but it is the truth.

I will keep you posted as more thoughts develop . . .

31 comments:

Michael said...

What the hell? Harris County ADAs don't have to go through metal detectors, but defense attorneys do? Is it possible there's some sort of attorney badges for all attorneys, and Murray just hasn't been able to get one yet?

Anonymous said...

All Harris County employees can bypass the metal detectors with their county ID card. The idea being the county employees have been screen and checked prior to being hired. There is a attorney badge system, and Murray probably hasn't been able to get one yet. There is an application process and fee, and they only get processed every month or three months.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 5:20 p.m. is correct, Michael. I can apply for a Frequent Visitor Pass that will let me bypass the metal detectors, although there is a yearly fee. I just haven't gotten around to doing it, so the morning striptease will continue until I do.

Anonymous said...

If you got, flaunt it!

Anonymous said...

You catch on fast. The most important people in the courtroom (besides your client) are not the judge and the DA. If you piss them off, they'll get over it, plus there's not really that much they can do to you. But you better be really be nice to the coordinators and the clerks. You have to deal with them on an almost daily basis and if you piss them off they can really hurt you, making you look bad to your clients. Although not as important as the clerks and coordinators, being nice to the CLO's and the bailiffs assigned to each court can also make your life a whole lot easier. I learned that a long time ago, and I learned it the hard way.

Anonymous said...

And in your desire to help people, how many of the appointed cases were pled, and how many set for trial?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 8:48 a.m.,
I think you need a little bit better understanding of the criminal justice system. Cases don't get set for trial on their first setting. So the answer to the question of "how many got set set for trial?" would be "none yet".
As for the ones that pled, you also seem to have a misunderstanding that somebody other than the person charged gets to make the decision of whether or not to plead guilty or not guilty. I will say that several of the cases that I handled worked out to situations where my clients were happy enough with the deal to work their cases out.
There were more cases where I advised them of issues I saw with their cases that should keep them from pleading guilty while we worked on the case and investigated further.

Rage Judicata said...

All attorneys can get a badge and bypass the lines. I have one, and wouldn't have it any other way.

I think that as your cases get more serious and you have larger ones, our stress level will return. I bet it even increases beyond what you have known to date. Not only are you representing someone whose life or liberty is at risk, but you are vastly outmatched in terms of resources. The state will get its way on just about everything, and while the state does have a budget, they can pull out all the stops on prosecuting a case. You cannot, and in an appointed case, will not be permitted to.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with Rage. Defense lawyers don't have near the stress DA's encounter on a weekly basis. Part of that is due to scheduling. I once talked to a DA with 8 trials, including 4 murders and 4 kiddie cases, all set the same day in a court where the judge would just pick at random which cases would actually go to trial. The defense attorney's advantage is that he can pretty much pick his trial date so that his cases actually going to trial don't get all jammed up on the same week. Preparing for 1 or 2 trials each week beats the hell out of the trial workload for any No. 2 or even No. 3 DA. Plus actually getting ready is a lot easier because defense attorneys have some extra time while the State is putting on its case. Finally, most judges will allow you to use a court-paid investigator if you really need one. Murray will be a mess before his first trial as defense counsel, but as time goes on he'll find it's a whole bunch easier than working on the dark side.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 12:41 p.m.,
I agree wholeheartedly with you that ADAs have more stress because of how many trials they have piled upon them on any given Monday.
But, I strongly that I will be a "mess" when I've got my first trial. I freaking love going to trial.

Michael said...

Well, one of the stressors for defense lawyers that's not present for prosecutors is the probability of nonpayment. The constancy of a check every 15th and 31st is something every defense lawyer yearns for every now and then, especially if their investigators and process servers send them bills.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Now, THAT, I will admit to being stressed about, Michael!

Rage Judicata said...

A busy schedule is nothing compared to the fate of someones' life or freedom. I hope you come to see that.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Rage,
Seriously, if you don't snap out of this funk, they are going to kick you out of the Glee Club.

Anonymous said...

Rage -

How many criminal cases above a Class C have you tried? Judging by your meandering rants, my guess is less than five. Although I would not be surprised if the answer were zero.

outrigger said...

Rage Judicata,
You are the man!
The State always tries to level strong arm consequences on the downtrodden instead of providing social support and forgiveness for those less fortunate. These under served folks must resort to non conventional means of survival. The State ruthlessly deploys law enforcement to round up these victims of society and has no qualms in routinely and unfairly punishing them. The State has lost site as to whom the true victims are. Sure, sometimes a seemingly good person is raped, robbed or killed. But what about what the accused? He/she has experienced much more hardship in his/her life leading up to the so called crime. Isn't that punishment enough? Instead the fate of their life or freedom hangs in the hands of the corrupt HCDA office and their henchmen, lest we zealously intervene.
How dare society be so cruel. Thank you Rage Judicata for standing up and righting the horrific injustices the State perpetuates on those so unfairly persecuted.

Rage Judicata said...

Joke all you want. You are now doing one of the most important jobs in our country, against odds that you will have never faced, and at the end if you screw up (and even if you don't) your client will go to jail for decades or be put to death.

If that isn't more stress than a hectic schedule, you need to reconsider being a defense lawyer.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Rage seriously, relax some,
You are making silly judgment calls on people that you have no basis to. You do beer reviews on your blog, yet you don't see me calling for an intervention for you, now do you?
You don't know me, nor do you know the job I do. The fact that I can laugh about things that happen around the CJC or the fact that I can remark on my daily routine being less stressful have absolutely nothing to do with the job I do for my clients, does it?
I have worked on numerous cases over the past couple of weeks, and I have tackled them with the seriousness of if I were defending my own child.
But I ENJOY the work I do, and because of that simple fact, I don't freak out. Call me crazy, but if I were someone accused, I would rather have a Defense Attorney who is relaxed and comfortable in the job that they do because they know how to do it. Having a person who is a wound up bundle of angry nerves would lead me to believe that either a) they don't enjoy their job; or b) they aren't comfortable in how they do it.
So, yes, I believe I will joke when I want to, because at the end of the day, I'm happy in the knowledge that I'm doing a good job.

Anonymous said...

ms. rage judicata:
you need to get out of your cave more often. untie the knot in your panties, pop a cold one, get laid and then get back with us. you're gonna need murray's legal services very soon if you don't loosen up.

Rage Judicata said...

I'm not trying to keep you from joking, joke all you want.

All I've said is that your past "stress" has been (in this particular post, anyway) related as being due to having such a hectic schedule. Jesus, if a lawyer doesn't have a busy schedule he's not working hard enough. People in lots of professions have a busy schedule.

Now you will probably have the same busy schedule except your clients' future is in your hands. If you're going to do your job well, that's far more stressful than how busy you are. In fact, you will have to reduce your workload just to make sure you can do the quality of work your clients deserve. I cannot believe that you can't see it.

You seem to respect Bennett. Ask him whether he's more stressed about his schedule or the substance of his work. About what it's like to lose a case he thought he shouldn't.

With your current attitude, it seems to me like you view your current job as no different than being a prosecutor, just on the other side. Maybe you're just keeping the seat warm until you can get hired on in another county, or even back in the CJC...

My "laugh all you want" comment was not directed about particular jokes or situations, it was about the overall tenor of your claims that your biggest stress in the past was your schedule, and in the future your money. It should also alarm you that all of the ADA's on here have the same thoughts. You have yet to make the mental shift your new job requires. That, or you'll be just like most other criminal defense lawyers, with misplaced priorities, and never make the shift at all.

(I stopped doing beer reviews a while back, by the way. It just didn't fit, not that anything really does.)

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Rage,
Here are some of the factors that make me less stressed:
1. I don't have to keep a timesheet.
2. I don't have to do property destruction orders every day.
3. I don't have to supervise and sit in trial with cases that I am not trying.
4. I don't have to write evaluations.
5. I don't have to receive evaluations.
6. I can plan my own schedule.
7. I don't have to field complaint phone calls on things that I don't have anything to do with.
8. I don't have to attend mandatory swearing in ceremonies.
9. I don't have to worry about getting fired by someone who has never tried a criminal case.
10. I don't have keep track of my comp and vacation time.

All of these are non-case related stressors that I don't have to deal with anymore. I make my own schedule. I am my own boss. I can actually focus on being a trial attorney.

buccee said...

Hey Rage- you are a self-righteous, whining titty baby. Take a clue from some of the things that others are saying here. I am merely summing them up.

Anonymous said...

Murray,

Maybe in a later blog you can explain the appointed process - specifically payment. I have always wondered how much an appointed attorney can make by just re-setting a case over and over.

Thanks,

Chuck

alcoholics anonymous said...

"CHUCKSTER"? Murray, you gotta be kidding?

Anonymous said...

That can't be Rosenthal. No way he is back at the keyboard? Is that you?

Anonymous said...

Hey 2:32,
Specs must have WiFi now.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of not keeping a time sheet, surely you know that you will have to keep track of appearances in appointed cases so that your vouchers won't be rejected by the auditor? Or did the coordinator in the 177th not explain that to you? That sounds a lot like a variation of a time sheet to me.

Anon 8.58,

Have you tried looking at the attorney fee schedule? It is pretty straight forward including the limit as to how much a defense atty can get paid without court approval. So resetting endlessly works only to a certain point. But I suspect you already knew that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your "rookie" assessments but the one about the coordinaters. Do you think a defense lawyer who is waiting to reset so he can move to his next court is really a spoiled baby? Do you really think coordinators are the heros you make them out to be? Some are pleasant and hard working but others try to control the docket at the expense of your client. Many are given way too much power and interfere in the plea negotiations between the State and the Defense or exparte the Judge about the case regarding things they overhear. A coordinator with a God complex can be just as dangerous as a DA suffering from the same delusions.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:54,

If coordinators have too much power it is because the judge in that court gives the coordinator the power. If you have a problem with the way a coordinator acts you need to take your concerns to the person-the Judge-who employs the coordinator.

But for some reason, why do I think part of the story is being left out? A defense attorney is being a baby if he does not want to follow court policy. If the judge tells a coordinator the State and Defense attorney must see me before you reset the case and the defense attorney insists on getting a reset without doing so, yes, you are being a baby. Or if the judge says give a two week reset and the defense attorney insists on 30 days for no good reason, yes, you are being a baby.

As far as ex parte (?) communication goes, the staff have a right to tell the judge what they hear. I can almost guarantee that most of the staff have done what you only accuse coordinators of doing. But if the judge asks a coordinator what's been said, what is coordinator to do? Lie to the boss? Or answer the question?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:23 AM,

Murray referred to the line of lawyers waiting to reset their cases as spoiled children. Most are hard working lawyers just trying to get to their next court. He described the coordinators as den mothers. Well I guess that's one way to describe them. I'm not sure about the lawyers who are trying to reset for no good reason as it has been my experience that cases are usually held up by overworked DAs who haven't had the chance to complete there to do's but what I do know is the system works better if you let the lawyers do the lawyering and the coordinators stick to their job.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the poor "overworked prosecutors" who haven't completed their "to-do's"... whaaa whaaa whaaa. Dismiss some of the dumbass cases on the docket and the overwork goes away. Stop assuming that the first to reach a cop in a case of mutual assault is always the victim. Stop assuming that whoever was closest to concealed drugs or weapons in a vehicle is the possessor. Start looking at your cases critically, instead of blindly accepting whatever bizarre accusations are leveled, and start dismissing the chaff. Suddenly not so overworked anymore, and can actually DO YOUR FRIGGIN' JOB!

If prosecutors are overworked, they have themselves to blame, and it doesn't excuse them for not being 100% prepared on every case. I've had cases reset three times because the ADA didn't bother to get the video tape yet. Or because the witness statements weren't yet "available." Who is the baby here? Perhaps it is those still suckling on the ample bosom of the State?