Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Children in Handcuffs...and Shackles

This story bothers me. It shouldn't be true. But it is.

But I think what bothers me more is the amount of people on the web that think this is a joke, an April Fool's Day prank. It just couldn't be true. People, we couldn't make this stuff up!!

I guess none of those people read this story in the Orlando Sentinel. If we shackle them in court, I don't understand why handcuffing them when they are arrested it such a shock to people.

Or maybe I've just become jaded.

I hate reading the paper...

Aside from the fact that I get genuinely depressed by reading about all the war, death, destruction, and turmoil in the world, I really hate reading the local paper. Why is it that small town newspapers always have a "Police Blotter" section?

After working here for a while as a PD, reading the Police Blotter is like old home week. Seeing the police have arrested the client that failed to appear after paying off a bad check. When if the client had only shown up, the case would have been dismissed. Now they not only have to deal with the bad check case, but they had crack in their pocket when they were arrested.

There is a really crappy ruling from the Supremes. I think it should be required reading for anyone that is arrested before they are allowed to be released from jail. Basically goes on for several pages to say this: If you get arrested for a new charge while you are out on bond, you get held in jail with no bond.

Makes sense that if you are in trouble once, it's only going to get worse if you get in trouble again. But you should see the saucer-sized eyes I get when I explain to the client that they are now sitting in jail until their case is done, simply because they wanted that one last hit of crack before they go on drug offender probation.

They act like I can't possibly be telling the truth. I really need to start trying to take myself back to before I went to law school, before I was "taught to think like a lawyer." But I seem to recall the LSAT was made up of a lot of logic questions. And I did ok on that. So maybe it is something that I've always had.

It just doesn't seem to me that it should be that foreign of a concept. I've read the bond paperwork. Even the bondsman won't keep you out if you get in trouble again while you are on his bond. But I go through that same concept several times a week, always to the same reaction.

And before anybody reads this, and jumps on my case about my light-hearted, or heartless, comment about someone with a cocaine addiction, don't. I know perfectly well that an addiction is not something that you just walk away from. I spend my days trying to get every one of my drug clients into rehab, not only for them, but so I don't have to have them as a client again. Not that they are bad people that I never want to see again, but under different circumstances would be preferable.

But I got off track. I hate reading the paper.

It brings me back to the reality of the job I've chosen. It is hard to not notice all the crap in the world. But sometimes, reading the rest of the paper, I am able to step back from the feeling that I hold peoples' futures in my hands. When you deal daily with one of the "realities" nobody else wants to deal with, being reminded that there is one more, or ten more, futures added to the mix is occassionally gut-wrenching. But it also reaffirms why I do what I do, and to all those citizens who bad-mouth the Public Defender, as this post does, why our jobs are necessary.

Monday was a good day...and Tuesday wasn't bad.

I had an old friend come into town Monday. He's a former public defender, now working for a prosecutor's office in a small county. So small there are only three prosecutors for the whole county. Well, there are supposed to be three. But one is out on maternity leave. So that leaves two.

Anyway, he moved about three months ago, and had to come back to testify at a trial. We sat all day and talked, about his new job, and about some of the clients he left behind when he left. He's my best friend and I really miss him. But it was great to see him. Later he and I and our respective spouses all went out for dinner and spent a couple of more hours talking. During dinner, you could see the eyes of our spouses glazing over. We fell right back into our earlier discussion about clients and jobs, law school and bar exams.

I love my husband dearly. The greatest thing that ever happened to me. And it's really a good thing that he's not involved in the law. It does allow me a little break from constantly thinking about what clients I need to see, what tasks I have to complete at the office, etc. And I believe he does understand, to a certain extent, what my job is like. He has spent many a night listening to me bitch and complain about clients, prosecutors and judges. He couldn't help but learn something about every aspect of my job. But unless you have done this, you can never really comprehend everything. I love having a lively discussion over great food with another attorney who has been exactly where you are and can acutely identify with every little feeling you have. Which is what my friend and I did. As I've said, I really miss him. There are other attorneys in my office, sure. But he and I just hit it off instantly. And it sucks that he's not around anymore.

Tuesday, back to the same grind. Sort of.

My friend had to head back home, and came by the office to say good-bye. That put kind of a downer on the day. Then I had to head to court. Thank goodness...a light day.

I took care of my clients, argued with the state, and got the judge to see things my way once or twice.

Then...the topper of my day. I was leaving court, and was stopped by a tall, well-dressed gentleman that asked if I had a moment to speak to him. I assumed he was the father or husband of one of my clients, so I put on my nice face and said sure.

Turns out, he was the victim of a client of one of my office partners. He said he had been to court four times because of the case, and he had an opportunity to observe what goes on in court. And he just wanted to let me know that he was impressed with everything that we, public defenders, had to deal with on a daily basis, and admired us for doing it.

I politely thanked him and walked back to my office. It's nice to hear that every once in a while. Not as nice as to hear it from my clients. But to have my job acknowledge by anyone makes me realize how important my job is. And why I do it.

Then, back at the office, I get a message from a client that she wants to appeal a case she entered a plea to. Said she entered the plea just to get out of jail, and that she really isn't guilty of the charge. I will have to explain to her that we can only appeal the judgment and/or sentence of the court, not her guilt, since she entered a plea to an offer by the state.

I think I'll do that tomorrow. Don't want to lose that feeling of appreciation just yet.