A week or so ago, I sat down and had drinks with my friend, Pat McCann, and a prosecutor-who-shall-remain-nameless. There was nothing unusual about the fact that I was having a beer with Pat, other than we were having the drinks over at Picazo rather than Char for some strange reason. During our conversation, as we often do, the talk turned to the overall state of affairs at the Criminal Justice System, and Pat made the comment that over the past year, he felt that there had been an increase in the "collegiality" between prosecutors and defense attorneys around the CJC.
I agreed with him, and we talked about the different factors that had contributed to that, which included Rosenthal's departure, the subsequent vulnerability of the HCDA office, Mark Bennett's and my respective blogs, and the passing of some of our friends from the Defense Bar.
Now, before some of you start yelling "how can there be collegiality since prosecutors and defense attorneys have opposite purposes?", I would argue that the common purpose is achieving Justice within the System. We may not always agree with what True Justice is, but both sides are working toward that goal. Prosecutors, contrary to popular belief, are not trying to lock up every person and throw away the key. Defense attorneys, by contrast, are not trying to help absolve the criminal population of ever accepting responsibility.
We work towards Justice -- all of us, in our own way. The collegiality exists, and I've never been more aware of it than when I was welcomed to the Defense Bar earlier this year.
Of course on both sides of the Bar, there are always going to be examples of those who have somehow abandoned the idea of collegiality and replaced it with bravado, arrogance, and often, rudeness. Some prosecutors do it. Some defense attorneys do it. Hell, even some judges do it, I suppose.
It has been my experience that those members of the legal profession often exhibit rude behavior in their younger and less-experienced years. When you've gone to trial and you've both won and lost many tough cases, you don't really have the need for bravado. You are comfortable in what you've accomplished and you don't really feel the need to go around puffing or treating your opposition like crap just to make yourself feel better.
I would like to think that by the end of my career as a prosecutor that I was known for treating everyone with respect, but I know that in my younger years as a prosecutor I could be quite a tool. I remember the day I realized what a tool I was being.
I was giving James Dyer (whom I still fondly refer to as "Chewbacca") a mean-spirited and rude speech. I don't remember what it was about or why I felt my rant was necessary, but I remember what he said to me. He looked at me, sadly, and said "I don't know what I did to make you so mad at me, but whatever it was, I'm sorry."
I felt like a bully and jerk (which I was). There wasn't any need for it, and in his understated way, Mr. Dyer pointed that out to me. If there was ever any "turning point" in my career and who I wanted to be as a prosecutor or a criminal lawyer, in general, that's the moment I can point to.
Prosecutors are normally the ones who get blasted for their rudeness and their arrogance. Nobody has been either rude nor arrogant to me since I left the Office, at least not yet, but I have heard a bit of puffing here and there. But other defense attorneys assure me that it will be coming soon.
Perhaps they are right.
But I think it is worth asking the question of whether or not both sides of the Bar are often contributing to the lack of collegiality. Although James Dyer responded diplomatically and effectively to me many years ago, I wonder if all of today's Defense Attorneys are as interested in such an approach today. Or will there still be some who would prefer to throw diplomacy by the wayside and go on the attack.
Although he is my good friend, even Mark Bennett has taken some potshots at me and my ability to "think like a criminal defense attorney". (NOTE: Don't get me started on that Rage Judicata guy who doesn't even practice criminal law but seems to think he was sent to the Blawgosphere to re-invent the the CJC. ) Even today, in his latest post, Bennett is attacking a former judge for daring to be a defense attorney. Mark notes:
A prosecutor is an advocate; a former prosecutor who spent his prosecutorial career screwing the accused has that fact to fall back on in justification. A judge is not an advocate; a former judge who spent her judicial career as another prosecutor in a black robe needs a change of heart before she is ready to defend the accused.
I guess my question is, who exactly appointed Mark to be the Yoda of the defense bar? Does being President of HCCLA really make him the Gatekeeper for those who are or are not worthy of being a true member of the Defense Bar? Or, is Mark, in his attempt to be provocative, just being a tool (like I was being to Mr. Dyer)? The things that he (and folks like Mr. Judicata) post on the web have questioned my ability to do my job based on what I write.
But isn't it a bit questionable that they've never seen me practice?
My clients (whose opinions actually matter) have registered no complaints with me thus far.
I'm going to keep on writing the way I write, and that includes saying that Harris County prosecutors are the best in the Nation. If you are being prosecuted by some of the best, you are definitely going to need some of the best to defend you, too. (See how that works?)
The vast majority of both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys I know will continue to be kind, professional, and diplomatic to me as they always have been.
Others, will continue to do something different, I suppose.
As for me, I think I may try to be a little bit more like James Dyer.