Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tucson NACDL. Death Penalty. Houston.

Back from Tucson NACDL meeting. Tell you what, I’ve got a whole new respect for Arizona. It has some of the most beautiful country I have seen. Some friends spent some time in the Sedona area last fall, and now Tucson this winter, and I want to come back. And I got to play some music with a good friend and great lawyer and saw a bunch of the same.

But off to political government people problems. We’ve got a variety of death penalty issues at the moment. I used to think the US would do away with the d.p. in my life time, and then we got the terrorist problems and the attack on the U.S., and the activation of federal death prosecutions. I lost a little hope with those events. But not entirely. In fact, what was looking really pretty dark is beginning to get a little light on it.

Tina Gutierrez, a wonderful lawyer from Baltimore, with roots in Texas like me, sought relief for the people in Puerto Rico, where the citizenry is totally against the death penalty, when our federal prosecutors sought death against a Puerto Rican citizen in the federal court in San Juan. Tina prevailed and the Court would not allow the prosecutors to seek death. This was a few years ago, but it was a great victory for the people. Alas, this great fighter was lost a few years ago when Cristina succumbed to a variety of health issues.

And speaking of our inside losses, Amy Seidman from Vermont, a wonderful and feisty warrior, a public defender of the best sort, died a few years ago from cancer, just two weeks shy of her 50th birthday. Amy was one who would never claim to be ready for trial; there was always more she wanted to do for her client. I miss her.

Bill Bryson died a couple years ago in his home in Anchorage. Bill was a traveler (not the travel writer), a strikingly handsome man much respected by his clients and colleagues and feared by the prosecution. And a most desirable dinner partner.

Some of our United States are looking at what happens in death cases, how many people are actually innocent of the crime for which they received the "ultimate penalty." And there is a slow down, a de facto moratorium, an informal moratoriuim, a recognition of the issues, among many states and many more people.

Thanks to Barry Scheck and NACDL and the Innocence Projects springing up around the country, the tireless humanitarian lawyers with real respect for Life.

Then there’s Chuck Rosenthal in Houston, a long standing and staunch supporter of the death penalty. Chuck, as the District Attorney of Harris County, explained that he would continue to seek death for anybody potentially eligible, and seek execution of those convicted, because this is God’s will.

You may have heard Chuck resigned last Friday, following some of his own federal court testimony and an indictment. My understanding of the big picture is this: a warrant was executed by HPD, and a fellow across the street taped the beating that accompanied the warrant. Houston’s finest didn’t want to be filmed, so they attacked the camera man, beat him, and destroyed his camera and film. The camera man got a lawyer who explored what insiders have always known or at least suspected: there is an agreement between the Houston DA’s office and HPD to tolerate these little civic lessons in proper respect for law enforcement. At any rate, the lawyer subpoenaed emails from the DA’s office, and uncovered a boatload of inappropriate emails from Chuck. (I never knew him to have a sense of humor at all, but apparently he was quite amused by racist and sexist and otherwise exploitative email, including videos of men beating women.) Then apparently one of the emails found in the mess was one from a very married Chuck Rosenthal to a secretary not his wife - something about kissing her behind her ear. Maybe that’s just a special greeting in the DA’s office there.

What adds to the mix legally, and I’m guessing prompted his resignation, is the fact that Chuck destroyed at least hundreds and probably thousands of emails AFTER they were subpoenaed to Federal Court. His testimony in court was brought to an abrupt end when, after explaining why he destroyed the emails, a sworn declaration was presented, signed under oath and penalty of perjury by Mr. Chuck Rosenthal, giving a quite different explanation of the destruction of subpoenaed evidence.
Wow. I went to a different Sunday School. Hope you did too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day Musings -

We figured out the solution to airport terrorism - hire the Israeli's to run security. They've had bigger terrorist problems than we have, for 40-50 years. Not politically correct, but safe and effective. Freedom is really what works, and to really experience freedom, you have to have discipline. That whole concept, and apparent paradox, requires a certain mental maturity.

On another note, no pun intended, The Boy and his band, Pacific Ocean Bluegrass, is performing in Nashville at the International Bluegrass Music Association annual event in a couple weeks. Catch him at NCC Level 2 Room 203 on Friday, September 29 at the Convention Center in Nashville. Heck, say hi to me too! This is the big event of the year. Great musicians, great shows, and "The Best" - including Claire Lynch as best female vocalist, Missy Raines as best bass player, Jim Hurst as best guitar player, and many many more. Find out more at

See you there!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Outraged, again

A few weeks ago a man was arrested, posted $200,000 bail, and appeared in court as required. He came to my office, and we made arrangements to work together on his rather serious case. Last night I got a frantic call from his sister, who told me that he had just been arrested, again. Our local sheriff's deputies traveled through two counties to go to my client's home and bring him back to jail in our town. New case? Virtually the same case, same set of facts (different day), same "victim." The big NEW thing: different date, or simply additional charges on same case. Now, it's not necessarily a bad thing that charges can be amended, and new charges filed. It's my opinion that the DA's office has a moral duty to call the lawyer for the client, me, since they knew he was represented, by me, and they know me, and they should give me a chance to bring my client in for processing.

Then, insult to injury, new bail is now set at $750,000. No basis for this, no judge with any sense of decency would allow this bail to stay at this level. But, waiting to get to court, my client sits in jail, hopeless before a system that presumes guilt.

Tomorrow, we'll go to court, and prevail upon the judge to set a "reasonable" bail amount. Hopefully he willl; hopefully the bail bondsman will be right at hand to set the bail. All the while, I fully expect the DA to be jumping up and down about why we need a million dollar bail.

We'll see. Right now the State has the People running scared. The tactic seems to be to deprive the accused of his family, his home, his attorney, and his money. This is an attempt to weaken the Defendant, to cause him to crater.

This morning, I couldn't take care of a case where I had an agreement with the DA regarding an issue, because the judge had to confirm the agreement with the DA's office. We, the defense bar, are assumed to be liars and cheats; the DA's office is presumed to be honest and forthright. What a crock.

The system is badly broken.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

9 - Count 'Em - Days of Blissful Bluegrass

First TroutGrass, a unique event, for many reasons, including the fact that I don't eat fish. The jamming was wonderful, the scenery spectacular, and I discovered the American River. The fishing wasn't particularly successful this trip.

CBA Music Camp followed, with a great bass workshop with Dean Knight, and an equally great banjo workshop for The Boy (my son) with Bill Evans. Both these guys were wonderful, kind, generous, intelligent, and dadgum good pickers.

Then, some of the best music I have heard, IBMA Male Vocalist of the year, Larry Sparks gave great shows; Audie Blaylock and Redline was as tight and sweet a band as I have heard. Little wonder they are the "Emerging Band" of IBMA. We got to have dinner with them, a little impromptu concert and jam. Lots of other very talented musicians on the stage and off.

And my boy got his new banjo. Check out his band: They sold all 100 copies of their pre-release CD, and picked up a two set (paid) gig for Sunday morning. Not bad for a five-member band whose combined age is less than 70.

Meanwhile, in the law, a lawyer was shot here last week by a disgruntled client. I don't have details, but it was a workers' comp lawyer. Go figure. I've had friends assaulted and even raped, offices burglarized. And I have heard of a probation officer shooting his soon to be or perhaps already ex-wife. (They don't have to go through security at the courthouse, because they all carry guns.)

Years ago, several of us made a stink at the Harris County Courthouse about the new security system: Assistant DA's and judges and probation officers all bypassed the things, while the defense bar went through them with their clients, witnesses and jurors. A lot can be said about that. But not here, not by me, anyhow.

Life remains interesting, even confounding. There is that old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." We're there.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bill Bryson (the lawyer, not the travel writer) was a special guy - we celebrated his life at an "official" NACDL memorial Friday afternoon, shared photos and stories and a couple of songs. Saturday night it was the bawdier event: great food, plenty of drinks, dancing, and lots of people out to celebrate Bill’s life. It’s entirely too poignant to me that some of us can be so tortured that we end our lives, with even our closest friends not knowing how desperate we are. Bill’s death was a complete surprise to everyone. Wandering the halls at the hotel, checking the bar, I half expected to see him. Bill didn’t miss many NACDL meetings. And frankly, dinner wasn’t the same without him. I miss you, Bill.

We’re losing a lot of people: Two judges in the last few months in my little burg with a total of twelve benches. Bill in Anchorage (and wherever Stanford was playing anything), one of the lawyers in a huge conspiracy case died after surgery last week. Bob Richie, former NACDL president and a wonderful lawyer and friend, died last week in Knoxville. Look around and I’m betting if you haven’t lost somebody yourself recently, the person next to you has. It’s a short time we’re here friends, and then we’re gone.

Makes me proud of these kids (Did I mention my son’s band has a new CD?) creating something, a quality product, something that many people will enjoy for years to come. Beats stealing cars and drugs.

You can learn a lot of life lessons from kids, including, even when they’re little, that they like being productive: "Watch me, Mommy. Look what I made!" As adults, we’re still like that. Show me a body who sits and does nothing all day, and I’ll show you a miserable person. Everybody needs something to do. I read about a Nazi camp, where the job of the interns was to move dirt from one place to another, and then back again the next day. People broke, ran away, knowing they would be shot, rather than do this mind-numbing work. Others figure out a way to make it work, anyhow, perhaps singing or telling stories or encouraging others. As a famous philosopher and prison camp intern said, "prisoners without a defined purpose for living, quickly capitulated to the Nazi’s."

And so it is: we have to have a purpose, and we have to keep producing, if we hope to have a chance at happiness in this life.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

NACDL in Philadelphia

If you read these posts, all I do is travel to NACDL meetings, but it's not true. In between I work and play music ... these CLE events do a couple things: bring us sterling speakers with great USEFUL information, and unite us with colleagues fighting the same war in similar trenches around the country. Although these few meetings are all on the Right Coast (hint hint), I'm requesting movement back toward the Left. And we will: soon is San Diego, Cincinnati, San Francisco - well, I know Cincinnati is not on the coast, but it's closer than Miami...

There were a couple of poignant events these last couple weeks:

My 13 year old son just cut his first CD with a GREAT bunch of players in L.A. area, Pacific Ocean Bluegrass Band - expect it to be available in June, around Fathers' Day. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of really talented and good kids. (If you're like me, you are always wondering where the good kids are - 'cuz the ones we mostly see are the ones in trouble.) Congratulations, kids!

And, a local Federal magistrate judge asked me to second chair a 1999 case, where the Defendant had been treated psychiatrically, and had been incompetent, and had a really fine lawyer doing a bang-up job for him. But, the client is paranoid, not over the edge at the moment, but doesn't really trust anyone, so we all, the judge, the magistrate, the AUSA, and his lawyer, went all out to be sure he was treated more than fairly. More than fairly I say, I finally asked the AUSA to please take over negotiations and pre-trial on all my cases! The deal was a good one by any standard: the plea was at 9 a.m. yesterday morning, my flight from San Jose, California to Philadelphia was at 11 a.m., and at 10:15 I was watching the clock roll on by.

My client speaks English, very well, and also Cantonese, a little better, so we had an interpreter on "stand by" for when he didn't understand or was afraid ... which was often. He asked the judge, "How many more questions?" - and I could see his mind working over each one, carefully, and I could see him take a breath and close his eyes to try to get his mind around it. He finally did, actually numbering the questions so as to manipulate them more easily, I presume, in his mind. The plea concluded. The rest of the courtroom took a breath, and went on to the other business. Sometimes, just sometimes, we get to see kindness, from the bench, from the government even.

The story is good - if for no other reason than it compels the rest of us, who don't have to work so hard to grasp ideas - to open our hearts a little to those unfortunates who do. I mean, really, have you ever had a criminal defendant who didn't have some psych issue, even if only temporary? I had a psychiatrist opine to me once that he had never seen a homicide in which the killer did not dissociate during the actual killing: he remembered holding the gun; he remembered the gun smoking. But he didn't remember pulling the trigger.

Consciousness. Reminds me of the old Be Here Now tome, mandatory reading in Texas where I grew up...

Y'all come back now, y'heah?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

NACDL explores The Importance of Being Earnest

We are enjoying the final hours of the NACDL meeting in Charleston, S.C., where the very hospitable South Carolina lawyers treated this native Houston, Texas lawyer, transplanted to home in Santa Cruz, California to the most wonderful food, drink, music, and friendly folk. The local state bar printed "Got Rights? Thank a Criminal Defense Lawyer" bumper stickers, which I snagged to take home to my colleagues in Santa Cruz and San Jose.

The "aha" from some attendees was in response to the Criminal Defense Toolbox: Renovating the Way You Practice Law, and addressing very practical topics, from burnout to Visions for Your Practice and Getting the Practice You Want. Wonderful speakers, criminal defense lawyers, attorney panels. I came out of it all with lots of notes about how to make my practice work better for those defendants we represent in our office. There was a death penalty practice track too, focusing on winning throughg mitigation. Mitigation plays a role in many of my non-death cases: from DWI/DUI to drug offenses, murder and domestic violence.

To tell the truth, these meetings are essential to me, to meet with the experts that can assist in cases, to brainstorm difficult federal or state cases, and just relax with our colleagues.

Bye for now.