A lot of what goes wrong in America today is the fault of the lawyers.
Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that coming. At least, not from a lawyer.
But it’s true.
I don’t know which came first, lawyer jokes, or, simply, lawyers who are, in fact, jokes. But the truth of the matter is that much of what’s wrong with law in the United States today is our fault.
Oh, I know. I know. We’ve got practices to run, families to feed, and the crush of clients-without-money is just too much.
So when the Sheriff’s Department says, “You need to fill out this form before you can be admitted to the jail to see your client,” who are we to argue? When the lowest-possible-level clerk at the window says, “It will cost $100 to put your client’s criminal case on calendar,” why should we ask “why?”
We’re busy. So we just do it.
“Legal basis?” What the fuck are you talking about? We don’t need no steenkin’ legal basis!
What? What? Wh-wh-wha-what?! “What brought this on, Rick?!,” you wonder.
Well, I just got back from the Hanford, California, jail a little while ago. (Yeah, I know. It’s late. Some questions, I don’t ask, apparently.) Before that, I spent part of my day in Madera, California, approximately an hour-or-so to the north, trying to put a case on calendar.
In Madera, my client was arrested for the bullshit charge commonly-known amongst those who have been practicing criminal law longer than a month as “contempt of cop.” In the process, he was blessed with one hell of a nice shiner. Well, okay: it’s not really a shiner, but the entire right-side of his face was a lovely shade of purple.
I suggested to the slightly-curmudgeonly, if grandfatherly, near-70-year-old man, a photographer by trade, “No doubt you’ll say, ‘You think that’s bad, you should see the other guy!'”
He replied, “I wouldn’t know. I only saw the bottom of his boot.”
You see, my client had allegedly been stopped for a traffic violation. Being from a generation past when it was normal to get out of the car to greet the officer, he was taken aback when he was brusquely ordered back inside “your vehicle.” (Police officers despise referring to cars as “cars”; they are “vehicles.” This works particularly well with the Hispanic population which comprises the near-majority in California. But as most cops in central California are white — and not a few are white supremacists — they could give a shit.)
You see, my client had difficult complying with the order, because he had inadvertently allowed the door to close behind him. Not being the most wealthy of men, the door release was busted and he therefore normally had to enter the car from the passenger side. As the officer refused to listen to his explanation, merely repeating his order, my client attempted to comply by heading for the passenger side.
The officer was on him like — well, I’d say like a fly on shit, but in this case, it was the officer who acted like a piece of shit.
He grabbed granddad, spun him in the classic “law enforcement pirouette,” and cuffed his hands behind his back before he could say, “Wh-wha-what?!” and — these are my client’s words — “slowly, almost gently, began to lower” him to the ground, holding onto the cuffed hands.
No, really. Imagine that. You’re an old 70ish man, being “gently” lowered to the ground — for the first time in your life — slowly, as your hands are stretched out behind you, held by the young uniformed goon who has attacked you for no explicable reason.
Oh, but it’s not over.
For an equally inexplicable reason, another man young goon suddenly comes running out of the darkness. (I may have neglected to mention the stop occurred at night, which adds only slightly to the terror of the incident….right.)
The man young goon yells, “I’m an off-duty CHP [California Highway Patrol] officer!”
And that’s when the boot comes down.
Because apparently the slowness — “gentleness” (?!), remember, is actually how my client described it — with which the original officer young goon was lowering him to the ground was misinterpreted by the off-duty officer young goon as “resistance.”
My client’s booking photo is beautiful. Too bad I don’t do civil law. I hope he’s able to find a good attorney for the lawsuit I’ve suggested he consider filing.
But I digress.
Because I’m disgusted.
So I came to meet this client because he received a letter in the mail telling him that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Because he failed to appear to answer for the charge of violating California’s “contempt of cop” laws. I’m hard-pressed to find the contempt of cop in the above, where my client refers to his being “gently” lowered” to the ground by his cuffed hands, but for whatever reason, my client was charged with our standard “resisting arrest.”
Nobody knows what he was being arrested for, mind you, but whatever it was, he was “resisting” it when the boot came down. Perhaps because he enjoyed the gentleness of the lowering too much.
Actually, we criminal defense lawyers know what really happened: the boot, which shouldn’t have, came down — an off-duty buttinski boot — and now the client has to pay for it.
So he was arrested, and released.
The jail paperwork shows no pending court date: the section wherein it should have been written is inexplicably blank.
Probably my client’s fault. Like the fact that he was lowered to the ground too-slowly by Cop A, forcing off-duty Cop B to put the pedal to the…well, fortunately, no plates were needed, so it’s not metal. Not yet. But the man still has a decade or two left to defy them by not falling fast enough, so let’s withhold judgment on that one.
Being as he had no court date, he naturally didn’t show up for court, compounding his current misdemeanor for resisting arrest. The perfectly legal arrest for the crime of…uh…um…oh, yeah, resisting arrest.
Wait. Where’s the beef?
I don’t know. What I do know is they won’t put him on calendar, because his bail was forfeited when he failed to appear for the court date which was never set. And according to the judge’s order, if you wish to get put back on calendar after failing to appear and having your bail forfeited — even if it’s because you never had a court date — you have to pay an extra $100. And, of course, until you appear — even if this $100 extortion fee has been paid — your warrant is still outstanding.
There’s just one problem: no one can produce a copy of the alleged order of the alleged judge (who now sits on the District Court of Appeal, so you know where complaining about this is going to get you).
There is no such order.
But, you know, the county is kinda hard up for money, so they gotta get it where they can. And they can get it by telling you that you will be arrested if you don’t show up for the court date that they don’t tell you about when they don’t provide you with the notice about the date which isn’t really set — or is it? — we just don’t know what to tell you except that you need to cough up more money.
And then I went to Hanford.
A couple of years ago, Hanford built a new jail. And according to the jailers in Hanford, they “forgot” — I swear they actually used that word — to build rooms for attorney-client interviews. At the time, I had a client who was charged with first-degree murder and was facing the death penalty. (It did not end that way. And although my client considered what happened a “win,” neither me — nor, sadly, his family — agreed. Although he ended up unstiff, as to my bill which was only partially paid-up-front, I was stiffed.)
First-degree murder, particularly a planned-for-weeks-gang-murder like this one is quite a serious crime — more so even than resisting arrest for…um…well, whatever. And — even in California where we spend millions of dollars not to carry it out (thank god; I’ve never wanted to be a party to murder, states-sponsored or otherwise) — it carries quite a serious penalty.
Because even if it turns out not to be an actual we’re-going-to-kill-you-possibly-painfully death sentence, it’s still a you’ll-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-in-prison-thinking-we-might-kill-you sentence.
And Hanford had this really nice clean new jail.
With no attorney-client interview rooms.
Because they “forgot.”
So, first, I was told that there was no way to allow an attorney-client-privileged contact meeting with my client.
I could, however, use the fancy new videoconferencing system — nothing like having a little videotaped set of admissions, eh? — which the general public sitting right next to me was permitted to use to communicate with their loved one, sitting right next to my client.
Perhaps you can understand my position.
The Kings County Sheriff’s Department did not.
Therefore, I was forced to file motions (yes, I really did; several, before they were ultimately granted — though my favorite was the “Motion for Fair Trial” which was (I kid you not) denied — you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a judge pronounce in open court “The defendant’s motion for fair trial is denied”) to obtain access to my client in as-close-as-we’re-gonna-get-to-attorney-client-privileged-meetings-as-possible as I was going to get.
But they wanted me to sign a release.
If, in any way, whether caused by my client, or by “slipping on a puddle” (i.e., I pissed off the deputy on duty), or some other unknown cause, I was to be injured, neither me, nor my “assigneds,” nor “heirs” (nothing ominous there, really), were to be rewarded one single penny.
I refused to sign.
That did not go over well.
The officer on duty the Night of the Final Resolution actually refused — seriously, he said, “that means nothing to me” — to honor a court order granting me access to my client.
The next day, the judge agreed with me, in front of the Sheriff’s attorney, that it might be necessary to order my client to be brought to McDonald’s to meet with me to ensure at least the possibility of an attorney-client-privileged visit.
I kid you not.
The bottom line is that things were ironed out and I did not sign their fucking form and my client received representation on a death penalty case which ultimately resulted in an agreement whereby my client will be younger than I am now when he is finally released.
Call that what you want: I call that a win.
But today I went back to Hanford.
A lot has changed in the last couple of years. The Kings County Jail, Hanford Edition, has two new rooms for attorney-client interviews. Complete with large glass partitions and their own phones with no family members sitting next to the attorneys and no other accused-persons-equally-deprived-of-rights seated alongside the attorneys’ clients.
They still want you to sign the form, though.
And I didn’t.
Which caused a real problem.
For a minute.
But, just as I and the judge two years ago explained, that’s what California Penal Code section 825, subsection (b), appears to be made for.
Ultimately, I was allowed a contact visit with my (handcuffed) potential client. But the problem here — just as the problem of my client in Madera County being required to pay a “fee” that has apparently never been legally authorized by any judge — would have been nipped in the bud long ago if any criminal defense attorney had simply asked, “Why?” and refused to accept “Because” as an adequate response on day one of the “policy” being implemented. And if that didn’t work, then the second criminal defense attorney to encounter the policy should have joined in.
Unfortunately, most of the attorneys never got to “because,” since they never asked “Why?”
What. The. Fuck?!?!?!
If you ask me, the path to our next Revolution is, first, we kill all the lawyers.
Unless, of course, when you’re about to pull the trigger, one of them asks, “Why?”