Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Um, did he escape?

One of the more interesting aspects of being a defense attorney is when you finally talk yourself into walking through the grueling Houston heat to actually walk over to the Harris County Jail to see a client, only to be told that he or she isn't there.

Now, keep in mind that going to the jail is really one of the most unpleasant experiences of being a defense attorney. The parking is bad. You have to go through security. The place smells. You have to wait for what seems like forever to have your client brought to the booth. You have to scream to be able to be heard between the partition. I'll usually tell my clients very early on that I'll come to the jail when we have something that we need to discuss about their case, but not just to hang out.

As it turns out, jail isn't much fun. Who knew?

But I digress.

When an attorney actually gets themselves motivated to hike over to either 701 N. San Jacinto or 1200 Baker Street, the one expectation that we have is that the client actually be there.

Nowadays, however, that's not a given.

Harris County has been shipping our clients off to other counties to ease overcrowding. That, in and of itself, is not particularly newsworthy. The County has to pay other counties to ease the overflow of the inmate population. I get that.

My issue is which lucky inmates they are sending on a vacation to places like Newton County.

Because where I'm running into the "missing client" scenario case the most often is on those clients who are actually set for trial.

And that makes getting ready for trial to be a rather ginormous pain in the keister. Prior to a case I had set for trial in Judge Marc Carter's court a few months ago, I had never even heard of Newton County. So, when I got up early one Saturday morning to go talk to my client at the jail, I was rather surprised to find out that he wasn't there that morning.

After learning where he was, I immediately came back to my office and wrote him a letter telling him I would try to get him back here as soon as possible, and then I went to talk to Judge Carter.

Judge Carter was great. He immediately had his bailiff's call and put in the order to have my guy sent back to Harris County. We had to put an additional setting in the court to get him brought to court, but that was okay. My guy arrived back in the 228th three weeks later (that's the fastest they said they could get him).

I talked to him in court and asked him if he had gotten the letter I had sent him. He hadn't. I told him I would come talk to him about his case later in the week.

And guess what happened when I did!

Yep, he was back in Newton County again.

Now, I am sympathetic to the fact that some inmates need to get shipped out to make room, but I'm concerned that the Sheriff's Office is basing it solely on the time between resets when selecting who gets to go out of county. Since trial settings are generally set off for several months, it would, at first glance, seem like those cases are the prime ones to ship out.

But that is causing a big problem with those of us that need to have access to our clients to get ready for trial. Quite frankly, the defendants who are set for trial are the last people that should be shipped out. As defenses get prepared, there needs to be an open line of communication between the attorney and the client.

You can't get ready for trial without talking to your client. Period. End of story.

So, my suggestion for HCSO? Ship only your folks that are actually serving county time sentences over there. Their cases are done and they don't need to meet with their attorneys. If you are doing that and you are still overcrowded, meet with the judges and find some way of flagging cases that are okay to send off for periods of a time.

I don't care what you do, but there has to be a better way of doing it than the way it is currently done.

And, if you don't mind bringing back my client set for trial in the 182nd, I'd really appreciate that too.


Anonymous said...

Not sure our current Sheriff has either the mental aptitude or the inclination to figure out the shell game you have alluded to.

Plus, he's a Democrat (which goes with what I said above) and they don't like keeping people in jail...especially since the vast majority of those inmates are fellow Democrats. :)

Anonymous said...

One has to wonder if this is happening to other defense attorneys as well. Maybe there is some sort of conspiracy out there to make life difficult for someone who blogs about the ineptness of the current captain who is steering the ship.....I just feel so bad for your clients, but praise you for pointing out the costly flaws to those not down there watching it for themselves day after day.

Anonymous said...

"One has to wonder if this is happening to other defense attorneys as well"

Answer: It is.

This is not a conspiracy against Murray. It is becoming commonplace. It is sad. It is wrong!

Anonymous said...

The court appointed attorneys must love this.

Anonymous said...

This has been an issue for years. Not to mention that with PR or reasonable bonds we could eliminate warehousing pre trial defendants altogether, saving millions of tax dollars every year.

The new sheriff has nothing to do with this. In fact, he tried to keep them in Texas but the commiussioners are now insisting he send 1,000 to Louisiana. It's an institutional problem, regardless of party affiliation.


Anonymous said...

Are all the judges willing to pay out of court hours to drive to drive out of town to see clients?