Monday, August 25, 2008

Addendum to the Elevator People

In the past couple of weeks, I've come across two addendums to my Elevator People article that I did awhile back.

Addendum # 1 - The "Chain of Consciousness Elevator Rider" - this is the guy who seems to consider himself to be the liason to all non-elevator riders across the world who have frequented a CJC elevator. He speaks his mind within the Nanosecond that the thought crosses it. Some examples:

"Boy, this elevator is crowded."
"Looks like we're going to be stopping on every floor."
"There's no personal space around here!"
"Huh. This elevator doesn't go all the way up to twelve."
"Guess we'll be crossing over at 10!"

Thanks man, but if we wanted commentary in our morning routine, we'd be TIVOing John Madden.

Addendum # 2 - The "Play It Off" Guy - this is the guy that accidentally stepped onto the elevator that's going down when he needed to be going up. He plays it cool and doesn't show that he's committed a tactical elevator error. He just smoothly hits the floor he wants (knowing that he'll have to go down to one and then ride back up) as if it was his plan all along. Yeah, this guy is an elevator veteran, and he isn't going to let you know that he's committed a faux pas. I saw an example of this today.
I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I'll just give him the pseudonym of Greg Couldhart.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coming Soon

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to start doing a profile on each of the contested criminal court races that are going to be on the November ballot.

My idea is to start with the 174th District Court race and then work all my way up through the 351st race, and finish off with the race for District Attorney (maybe by then, my constantly-changing opinion on that race will have stabilized). I will probably do a preliminary article about what I know about the candidates and then toss it to you guys for your comments.

If you have something that you think ought to be included in the article itself, e-mail me off-blog and I'll take a look at it.

In the meantime, have a good Sunday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Trial Insomnia

I've never been a lawyer that suffered from much trial anxiety.

I really enjoy being in trial, actually. I love voir dire. I like the feeling of getting stuff done with every witness I get on and off the stand -- every exhibit that makes it out of my trial notebook and into evidence. I live to do closing arguments.

Trial isn't a traumatic experience for me.

Except if something wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about not being able to go to sleep, or even waking up in the middle of the night due to trial stress.

I'm just talking about something waking me up in the middle of the night -- the dog, the cell phone, the kiddo. Anything.

Because, if I wake up, there's something about my brain that says "Oh! You're up! Time to start thinking about trial!" And once that happens, there's no going back to sleep.

It's amazing how many small problems seem magnified in the middle of the night:

"Did I tell that Officer to be here at 9 or 9:30?"
"Have I scheduled enough witnesses for tomorrow to take up the whole day?"
"When was the last time I listened to that witness statement?"

This morning (when I woke up at 3:30), I was glad that I had brought a lot of my trial file home with me, because I was able to actually get some productive work done for trial.

If I hadn't, I'm sure I would still be staring at my ceiling in the dark.

On the positive side, it gave me the opportunity to eat breakfast for a change. Pop Tarts and Diet Coke.

It's the breakfast of Champions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jolanda Jones to the Rescue

I was driving along the Westpark Tollroad this afternoon, when I noticed that there were numerous pylons along the raised exit that merges it into Highway 59. I figured there had probably been an accident over the weekend, but didn't give it much thought otherwise.

Imagine my surprise this evening when I was watching Fox 26 and saw this story explaining what had happened there.

A few days ago, I wrote that my friend, Jolanda was a conflict addict. At the time, I didn't realize that the Conflict Addiction included running into a burning car!

A lot of us wonder what we would do if faced with a situation like the one Jolanda and her son were faced with over the weekend. I know we would all like to think we would have done the same thing. But, I guess until we have a burning car with someone trapped in it sitting right in front of us, we will never know how we would perform.

I know that Jolanda gets a lot of flack for the things she says and the things she does, but on this day, her actions spoke a lot louder than her words.

Way to go, Jolanda!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Stupid Elevator People

The following ten people are the ones that elevator riders at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center deal with everyday -- much to their chagrin:

10. The "Going Up?" Guy-this is the person who clearly never learned how to read the basic signs of up and down. There are two bulbs on the side of every elevator, dude. If the top one is lit up, that means the elevator is going up. If the bottom one is lit, it's going down. Please don't step on the elevator, hold the door open, and then poll the other occupants as to whether the elevator is going up or down. If you were dumb enough to get on the elevator without looking, just enjoy the ride (up or down).

9. The Klingon Solo Talker -I love technology, but I've yet to jump on the Bluetooth Device phenomenon. The Klingon Solo Talker is the guy (yes, Kevin Howard and Don Hecker, I'm talking about you) who has the futuristic device in his ear and proceeds to have a one sided conversation in the elevator that nobody else wants to hear. Yes yes. We know you have a cell phone. And yes, we realize you are very important. Seriously, finish your damn conversation before you get on the elevator.

8. The "Yes, I know 14 people are waiting, but I'm more important" Attorney-This is the attorney who prevents the door to the elevator from closing while he finishes off a conversation with a cohort, despite the fact that the other people on the elevator would gladly strangle him just to get back to the first floor.

7. The Blockader-we all hate crowded elevators, but this is (usually a female) who will defiantly stand their ground at the front of the elevator, even though there is more room to back up and allow more people on. Their hope is to create a mirage indicating a full elevator, which will, in turn, discourage more people from joining them on the ride. Save the illusions for Vegas, kiddo.

6. The Buddy System Guy-this is the guy (admittedly, usually a prosecutor), that sees his friend coming down the hallway, and, realizing that the elevators come by at a painfully slow rate, holds the door open for his friend, no matter how far away he is. While everyone else on the elevator is tapping their feet impatiently, this guy is doing his buddy a solid. NOTE: The Buddy System Guy is also known as the "Hot Girl Approaching" guy, in the event that a pretty girl needs the elevator held for her. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Mayr.) The pretty girl will appreciate your chivalry. Your fellow elevator riders will want to beat you to death with their file folders.

5. The Recon Guy-this is the guy or gal who isn't really sure what floor they are supposed to get off on to arrive at their court. Rather than get off the elevator and consult the directory posted at every elevator bank, they find it much more practical to hold the door open with one hand while they swing their body out into the hallway to scan around for an indication that they are on the correct floor. This is especially awesome when they are about six floors away from their destination, and repeat this process on every floor in between.

4. The "Say, Are you a Lawyer?" Person-on a less crowded day, any male that gets on a relatively empty car while wearing a tie will get hit up by a defendant who automatically assumes the equation that "Tie = Lawyer", and what better time to get a little free legal advice then when you are trapped on an elevator with somebody?

3. The 351st Floor Folks-these are the idiots who bypass the directory in the lobby under the mistaken assumption that each Court is placed on it's corresponding numerical floor (i.e., Court Three is on the third floor, Court Five is on the fifth, the 351st is on the . . . well, you get the point). Every day, there is a group of befuddled defendants on the fourth floor (which is where the D.A.'s Office is located), asking where Court Four is. You would think that these Real Men of Genius would take note of the fact that the building is generally only twenty stories high, and figure it out from there.

2. The "F--- the Police" Guy-nothing helps relieve a bad day in court for an angry defendant than getting on the elevator and talking about how screwed he got. He throws out terms like "punk ass prosecutor" and "my stupid ass attorney" quite freely as he talks about how the police set him up. Seriously man. We're elevator riders -- not your jury. Give it a rest.

1. The Physics Defiant-oh yeah, we all know this guy. It doesn't matter if the elevator has 73 people on it, dammit, this guy is going to squeeze on. Usually, his butt will cause the safety mechanism on the door to keep from closing, because it sticks out too far. But that doesn't mean he won't give it the Old College Try! While the rest of the elevator patrons are getting to know each other in ways they never hoped to, this guy is hoping against hope that he can defy the Laws of Physics and fit on. Usually after the door fails to close after about three tries, he will reluctantly step off the elevator -- under the hateful glares of everyone else.

I'm sure I'm missing some other categories. Y'all help me out here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Secret to Winning: AKA What the Hell is a Meme?

Mark Bennett wrote a post today about the Secret to Winning, which, according to his article is a riff off of a Gerry Spence blog that led to a Scott Greenfield blog that led to a so-on-and-so-on. At the end of his blog, Mark threw down the gauntlet or a "meme" (which I have no idea what that means) for me to list what my secret to winning is. He said he wants it from a prosecutor's perspective.

Who said I was a prosecutor? Okay, that's getting harder and harder to ask with a straight face.

For the record, I would never have been so presumptuous to list my "secret to winning" unless somebody asked. And I know, in advance of writing this, that I'm probably giving some folks more ammunition than the USS Eisenhower to fire against me.

I don't have a secret. I have things that I do that I'm comfortable with that have led to some results that I'm very proud of.

But a "secret"? I don't know about that.

These are some generalized things that I try to do in every trial and hope that I get a good result.

#1 - Be Yourself - there are plenty of great lines to steal from other lawyers, but when you are in front of a jury, you've got to be your own person when it comes to style and demeanor. Kelly Siegler once got irritated with me when I tried a case with her and I made the mistake of saying I hadn't learned anything from her during it. I didn't mean to be insulting. I just meant that the way that she tried cases was something I could never do. I believe that if you aren't yourself, the jury is going to see right through you.

#2 - Get Off the High Horse - when I'm in front of a jury the last thing I ever want a jury to think is that I somehow believe that I'm smarter than they are because I'm a lawyer. When I screw something up, I call attention to it and make fun of myself. I play (what some have called) the "dumb Aggie" card.

#3 - Know the Facts of the Case like you were there when it happened-I'm a big visual person. When I crack open a case, I'll look at the Crime Scene photos and videos before I read the offense report. I want a frame of reference for everything I'm about to read. I want to understand where everybody was standing and what they could have seen. I want to know everything. Go to your crime scene early, and more than once if you don't understand something. It's amazing how often crime scene photos don't give you a good idea of what the scene is really laid out like.

#4 - Issue Spot. Issue Spot. Issue Spot. - I freaking HATED law school, but Issue Spotting is the key to everything when it comes to trying a tough case. Mark has previous blogged on the "Dirty Little Secrets" he likes to drop on a prosecutor during a trial. If you've Issue Spotted correctly, hopefully you can offset a lot of them. Maybe not all of them. But a lot of them.

#5 - Meet with Every Last Witness You are Going to Put on the Stand - Don't even think of putting on even the most minor of witnesses on the stand without having had a sit-down with them. As Vic Wisner taught me in Baby Prosecutor's school many moons ago, avoid the "No sh*t" answer. That would be the one where you ask the witness a question, and when they answer, you look at them and go "No sh*t?!"

#6 - Get Yourself Some Theme Music - When you're going to trial, get yourself pumped up. I've got a whole selection on my IPod called "Pre-Trial". It ranges from Eminem to Ace Freley to the theme song of the Magnificent Seven. Cheesy? Incredibly so. But it gets me pumped up. Go figure.

#7 - Don't Be Afraid to Show a Sense of Humor During Lighter Moments - I'm not saying get silly during trial, but a little levity at appropriate moments can be an effective tool. It will also let a jury damn well know when you are being serious about something, too.

#8 - Always Be the "Good Guy" - I'm always respectful of the Court and my opponent, and I want the jury to think of me as the "Good Guy" through the whole thing. If opposing counsel is being crappy to me, I don't think that works for them. I think it gives me more credibility with the jury. Politeness to a Defendant can also go a long way, too. You don't want to look like a bully to the jury. Now, if a Defendant breaks bad with you or you've gone into questions that clearly show that the Defendant is Satan's spawn, then go after them like the Wrath of God. If you've shown politeness and dignity through the other parts of the trial, the jury will know your anger has a reason behind it.

#9 - Be Passionate - Believe in your case and the jury will believe in your case because you do. Care about your victims. Feel the weight of what the case means to them on your own shoulder. Don't be scared to add the pressure of shouldering that burden. Try the case like the victim was your own family member.

#10 - Be Right - Make sure that you believe what you are allegeding in your case -- not just Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, but Beyond ALL Doubt. There are things you will know about the case that a jury will never hear, but make sure that you know you are doing the right thing by trying the case, with no doubt in your mind. Even if it is an uphill battle, knowing you are doing the right thing will give you the passion that you need to carry the day.

Other than that, and never cross-examine the Defendant's momma, that's all I got. For what it's worth.

You guys please feel free to chime in with your secrets, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Jolanda Jones' Run In with HPD

All the local news outlets are reporting on Houston City Councilwoman and Defense Attorney Jolanda Jones being under investigation for Interference with the Duties of a Public Servant.

Now, Jolanda is a friend of mine, and I genuinely admire her strength and perseverance with all she's gone through to achieve what she has in life. She has an impressive background. An athlete. An Olympian. A person who put herself through law school. A single mother to a truly impressive son.

But Jolanda is someone who, ever since I've known her, thrived on conflict.

There's something to be said for never backing away from a fight. However, going and creating a fight where there isn't one, just for the sake of getting attention is another matter. Jolanda goes beyond being brave.

She's more of a Conflict-Addict.

I understand that to be in politics, there's usually no such thing as "bad publicity", and perhaps jumping in the middle of a standard arrest will play well with her constituents. However, it does absolutely nothing for her reputation as a disagreeable publicity hound. What it does is stir up further conflict between the community and the Houston Police Department, when there was no indication that the HPD officers were doing anything improper.

It's drumming up a conflict for the sake of the conflict, in other words. It's what politicians do. Not what leaders do.

Come on, Jolanda. You've got the credentials to be a real leader.

Don't be a politician.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Minor Sign of the CJC Apocalypse?

This morning at the CJC had the added entertainment of a stray dog hanging out in the lobby along with the backlogged defendants waiting to go through the metal detectors.

The friendly brown dog actually cut in line a few people ahead of me, and happily made his way through the lobby. The Elite Wackenhutt S.W.A.T. and Security Team didn't seem all that bothered over the fact that Fido had shown up for an unexpected court appearance, and they certainly made no attempts to corral him.

No word on what the dog was charged with.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Jose Medellin was just executed in Huntsville.

I don't really want to turn this into a Chronicle-esque message board debate, but I'm very comfortable with dealing with the possibility of being mistreated in another country in exchange for this disgusting piece of crap finally getting what he deserved.

I'm not as big of a death penalty enthusiast as many folks that I know, although I do strongly support it. However, the Ertman-Pena murders are exceptional in their brutality and sadness.

Medellin needed to be executed, and the "international outrage" can be damned, in my opinion.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about that topic.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Law School-esque Question

In honor of the aspiring lawyers who took the Bar Exam last week (bless your hearts), I have the below interesting (if not very exciting) fact scenario that has come up for your analysis. Read the fact pattern and then select the correct answer.

The names and specifics have been changed to amuse me.

Lou runs a printing company. At the end of the week, he collects all the scrap paper and sells it to a recycler for a couple of hundred dollars. Bill and Curtis both work at Lou's company and neither are all of that great of employees. Bill ultimately gets fired, but Curtis does not. Bill needs some extra money, so he decides that he will begin stealing the recycle paper and selling it to a company for his own profit.

To help him do this, he enlists Curtis (who is still an employee) to leave him a key to the printing company so that he (Bill) can sneak in during the night and steal the paper for recycling. Curtis leaves Bill a key under the back step. Bill breaks in, and promptly gets arrested by an alert security guard as he is leaving the building.

Under this scenario:

Answer A: Bill and Curtis are both guilty of burglary of a building under the Law of Parties.
Answer B: Bill is guilty of burglary of a building, but since Curtis had a right to be there, he is only guilty of misdemeanor employee theft.
Answer C: Since Curtis is an employee and gave Bill the key, Bill had a right to be there, and therefore, they are both only guilty of misdemeanor theft.
Answer D: Since Curtis is an employee and he allowed Bill's entry and theft, Curtis is guilty of misdemeanor theft, and Bill is guilty of nothing.
Answer PJ: Since that bastard Lou was selling his paper to be recycled rather than doing his environmental duty to just recycle it on his own for free, Lou should be charged with capital murder.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

Ted Wilson Retires

Bureau Chief Ted Wilson is retiring from the Harris County District Attorney's Office. The Chronicle did a nice job of writing up an article on his career in today's edition, but unless you've worked with/for Ted, I don't know that they can do him justice.

On top of being an intellectual genius, who literally wrote the book on Search Warrants (and was always willing to patiently answer the hundreds of frantic calls from intake about them), Ted is a helluva a good trial lawyer. During my career at the Office, I watched him try three separate cases and in my opinion, Ted Wilson was the best male prosecutor that we had in the Office.

Since they say that to mimic someone is the most sincere form of flattery, Ted should feel extremely flattered by me, because I stole his material at every chance I got. He was not the dynamic and bombastic prosecutor. He was the common sense lecturer who spoke in an authoritative voice that everyone could trust.

My favorite line that I stole from Ted came during the C. Tom Zaratti case that he tried along with Denise Nassar (now Bradley). Zaratti was a defense attorney who frequented the Harris County Criminal Justice Center for years and years. Hollywood probably couldn't have written a more stereotypical sleazy lawyer with zero talent and zero morals. He was a hallway hustler who gladly accepted "couch fees", never went to trial, and thought of himself as the heir to the throne of Racehorse Haynes.

It was no real shock to anyone when Old Tom picked up a couple of child pornography charges.

Ted and Denise tried Tom and he was convicted. On punishment, Ted gave the line that I always loved to use on closing ever since hearing it from him.

"Look, if you give Tom Zaratti ten years and a $10,000 fine (the Maximum), you won't stop child pornography. I know that. But you will be able to go home knowing that you did everything that you can."

It's a simple line, but I think it says a lot about the job of being a prosecutor, in general. You get up every morning and you go in. You won't stop crime, but you'll have done everything you can.

For the past 34 years, Ted Wilson has been doing everything he can.

Job well done. Enjoy your retirement, Ted. You will be missed.

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...