Monday, December 14, 2009

Criminal Law & Family Law

When I decided to become a criminal defense lawyer, I told myself that I would be a criminal law specialist. I wouldn't be a family lawyer or a personal injury lawyer or review contracts, et cetera. I stuck to that premise for a good bit of time, but recently things changed. A friend of mine went out on maternity leave and needed someone she trusted to watch over her files. I'd be doing her a favor and learning a new area of the law in one swoop; it sounded like a good idea so I jumped on it.

I quickly realized the inter-connection between criminal law and family law. These days family law is inter-connected to all areas of the law for one simple reason: all clients, be they accused of crimes or be they corporate big-wigs, have family legal issues. Divorce, child custody/visitation, child support, adoption... everyone either experiences or knows someone who experiences at least one of these issues at some point in their life.

I pride myself in helping my clients - not just representing them on a case, but listening to them, really hearing them out, and then helping them through whatever it is that's troubling them. During the last 5 years that's almost exclusively been criminal-related problems. But more and more those problems involved a violence spouse they needed to get away from, a fresh start needed after a marriage soured over the years, a grandchild they needed to provide for...

So I'm still not going to be a personal injury lawyer or a contract review lawyer - but I will split my practice between criminal AND family law. Both can be trying but let's face it: they can both also be very, very rewarding.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Five vs. Sixty

So I just finished a trial of a sexual assault of a child case. It was a hard case for everyone: the allegations against my client were bad enough, but also my client was facing 5-99 years or life imprisonment, the prosecutor had a delicate complaining witness, and the families on both sides had an enormous emotional investment in the outcome.

But it was a trial and a trial is a trial. The judge made rulings that cut both ways, the prosecutor argued that my guy was dangerous and needed to go away for a long time, and my guy (obviously) disagreed. What I wanted to talk about was plea bargaining.

I think most people fundamentally misunderstand plea bargains entirely. Like thinking that anyone who accepts a plea must be guilty. "If they weren't guilty they wouldn't accept a plea," they say. "I'd never plead to something I didn't do." Um...yeah. Come back and talk to me after you've walked a mile in my criminal clients' shoes. Plea bargaining is pretty adeptly named; it's a purely business decision. Sadly, getting swept up in principles like guilt and innocence sounds nice, but sadly for more than a few of my clients (and a disgusting number of exonerees), it's a luxury you can't afford.

The bottom line is this: you have decide if you're comfortable rolling the dice. If you are, then you go to trial. If you're not, then you have to take the deal if what the prosecutor offers is better than what you'd likely get from a judge or jury. Case in point: my trial last week. The final formal offer was 10 years in prison but we probably could've gotten 5 years. He took it to trial and the jury gave him 60 years. That's a spicy meatball!

Hi, My Name Is....

So this isn't the first time around the block for this blog; this is a reincarnation. Back in the first go 'round, I wrote the Wretched of the Earth as a public defender. I wrote the blog anonymously because, as a PD, it isn't safe to blog out in the open. It's not smart office politics, local politics, and can be bad for courthouse politics. I was outed by a well-meaning Dallas Observer reporter and things went down from there. Eventually I was encouraged not to blog anymore by friends who were looking out for me (and some non-friends) and that was it. I walked away from blogging and a whole bunch of wonderful regular readers (sorry guys!). Then back on September 1, 2008 I resigned from the Dallas County Public Defender's Office over the ridiculous workload foisted upon us.

But now after a long hiatus, I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. This time I don't have the constraints: I'm not a public defender and don't work in an office where I have to watch my tongue (I'm my own boss, so my boss is pretty cool).

So here are the rules for this here blog. I'll post as regularly as a busy criminal and family caseload will allow. I will do so out in the open, under my name. I won't ever break client confidentiality. I won't insult or otherwise talk trash about judges, prosecutors, other attorneys, court staff, or clients by name. I will, however, write unflinchingly about my work. Feel free to post comments but please, don't comment just to insult me or another commenter. Have something constructive or interesting to say. Other than that, it's all fair game.