Stop Asking Where I'm From

Drug Rip #3: “You know he shot himself, right?”

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 20•14

I didn’t like this new prosecutor one bit. He reminded me of Beeker from the Muppets. Tall. Blonde hair that stood on end. Thin, long face. Sharp, quick dark brown eyes that didn’t seem to miss much. Dark blue suits. Always dark blue suits and a gold watch.

He was the first chair in the room. We’ll call him Matt. A first chair is the boss-prosecutor in the courtroom. The second and third chair are his underlings. The first chair takes all the big cases; he’s the lead counsel on them. The second chair helps him out, as well as working on his own cases. The third chair assists the second chair in his cases, and handles the little grunt cases that no one gives a shit about, like drug possession or felony traffic or felony battery, that sort of thing.

But Matt was a first chair, the big boss in the room, the one who handled all the cases that had some heat on them, so we had that going for us.

I wasn’t enthused. I didn’t like interacting with Matt much. (Which was good because I never had to say a word around him, and I preferred it that way.)

Like most prosecutors, especially back in my neophyte days (not that I’m some scholar now, but you know what I mean), Matt behaved very dismissively toward me.

I don’t fault most of them for that. When you’re a veteran in the office, or even a mid-level prosecutor like Matt, you’re going to look at a fresh-faced opposing counsel and be like, “Ugh, this kid? I’m not dealing with her. I’ll talk to the old guy with the mustache instead.”

Like, okay, fine, I get that. That’s totally valid.

But you don’t have to be a dick about it.

Matt was the new guy on the job, and even though he was familiar with the file, it wasn’t ready to go to trial. He wanted us to take 37 years, or set it for trial.

There were plenty of prosecutors who thought the same thing. (Hell, plenty of them still do!) But when they saw me approach with Raymond, they smiled at me, they offered a handshake, they occasionally glanced at me as they discussed the case with Ray, to make me feel like I was part of the conversation, and they said goodbye to me as I walked out. Some of the nicer ones asked for my card, even though they already had Raymond’s, and even though they probably threw mine in the trash after I left.

Who gives a shit? What I appreciated about those men was that even though they took one look at me and knew I wasn’t worth talking to, they were polite enough. I know that’s stupid, but it mattered to me on a human level.

Plus, I’m not going to lie, there have been many times when prosecutors dismissing me off-hand worked in my favor, and more importantly, my client’s favor. I rather enjoy being underestimated, especially when it helps my people.

But anyway, I wasn’t happy about Matt. Part of that had nothing to do with him personally – I’m sure he was a decent guy. But he was a little too adamant that Morgan was the devil and belonged in jail for the rest of his life. I get real prickly real fast when prosecutors take that attitude with my guy. I mean, at least listen to our pitch, at least try to be a bit reasonable.

This take-my-deal-or-go-fuck-yourself attitude is bullshit.

Matt wanted us to take the 37. We stalled by ordering a Pre-Trial Investigative Report. But the Judge threw us a curveball that I forgot to mention last time: she let us do a PTI report, but only if we set it for trial at the same time.

Her reasoning was pretty good. Usually the PTI is ordered in anticipation of a 402 conference, which is done in anticipation of a plea deal. Oftentimes, when you 402 something, it pleads out and there’s no trial. She wanted us to pick a trial date just in case things went sour, which was actually a wise move on her part. She was just covering all her bases, which made a lot of sense.

But having that trial date there, set for October 29, 2013, or whatever it was, didn’t sit well with me. I had no shortage of confidence in Raymond; he’s been a trial attorney for 40 years and is excellent at it. But again, I was a pretty new attorney. I’d been practicing for 5-6 months by the time we ordered the PTI. I was nervous about my first trial being a big attempt murder with a 40 count indictment or whatever it was. (I know what it was. I’m just playing real fast and loose with the details here.)

PTIs take some time, and we knew we’d get more than 6 weeks out of it. We knew (rather, Raymond knew, and told me) that we’d come back in 6 weeks, Probation would not be ready with the report, and we’d get another 4 weeks out of it. Then we’d come back, and Probation would have the report done, but it wouldn’t be copied yet or whatever. Then we’d get another 4 weeks out of it, maybe, or at least 2.

So the trial date wasn’t firm, because if the PTI wasn’t ready by then it would obviously be kicked.

And that was what happened, basically. The PTI wasn’t ready  in time, so the trial couldn’t go forward on October 29, even if we had intended to go to trial on it. So that date was stricken. The judge didn’t give us too much of a hard time on that, but she did yell at Probation for not having it done, and told me I’d have to wait around until the afternoon to pick up the report if they had it done by then.

(I didn’t end up doing that.)

So the October 29 trial was re-set by the judge until December 12 or something. Some Monday in December. Whatever. She was holding our feet to the fire and said we would be going to trial.

Well, okay.

Judges like to say that. But just like there’s always a way to get more time during the course of a case, there’s almost always a way to kick a trial date, especially if it’s the first or second time it’s been set. After that, you have to have a good reason, but whatever, shit happens. And whatever happens, we deal with it.

That’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned as a criminal defense attorney: Whatever happens, you deal with it. There’s no point in getting stressed and worked up and panicked about it. Who gives a shit? You just deal with it.

So anyway, we were “going to trial” on December 12. That meant that I had to be really really familiar with the file by that point, and it meant that we had to bring Morgan in for trial prep.

At this point, I was halfway familiar with the file, and still working through it. When I prep for trial, I like to have all the details in my head. I make lists and diagrams and flow charts and I can tell you at the drop of a hat which of the 17 officers involved in the investigation interviewed which witness.

And, of course, I had to have outlines prepared for the direct examination of our client, and cross-examinations of the ten cops or whatever, and the five complaining witnesses that were in the apartment at the time that Morgan and his friend allegedly burst in with their guns blazing.

So I kept plugging away at the file, guided by our senior paralegal, Nicole. Nicole has been with Raymond for many years and is so, so good at her job. She had no problem taking a trial-newbie like me in hand and showing me how to prepare a case for trial. So I worked with her on it, and I worked by myself, and I had a good handle on the forensics and the various statements and all that other stuff.

Except … there were barely any police reports. In the entire file.

This was worrying.

We mentioned it to Ray, and he nodded and then moved on to something else, so that made me feel better, because at least he knew that the file was suspiciously thin on random police reports about things like the chain of custody of Morgan’s clothes, that sort of thing. And I knew that he had probably 8 different strategies cooking regarding that. In the 1.5 years since, I’ve worked with him on things like that, so you know, there’s always a way to play it.

This lack of police reports, and how we resolved the issue, would become very important by the time we set it for trial for the FOURTH time. No, I’m not joking: the fourth trial setting.

Anyway, Morgan began making appointments to come in for trial prep. We worked with him very generally, focusing mostly on developing our theory of defense in a cohesive narrative. Like, we knew what our theory was, but we wanted it blocked out in a good story format.

Raymond has taught me never to script direct examinations. I mean, I still do: my direct exam outlines are easily 6 pages long at the bottom for a good felony case, single spaced, and I cover every possible question we could possibly want to ask. It’s all scripted perfectly. But that’s never how we do it at trial. It’s kind of along the lines of bringing along everything but the kitchen sink, and then using what you need. I script the shit out of direct exams … and at trial we play it pretty loose. Half the outline won’t get used, basically.

But the idea is to do it all, just in case something seems like it’s really going to develop, or if we think we’ll catch an edge by pursuing that line of questioning. And some of it is that we do these practice long-form direct examinations over and over in the office because it gets our client comfortable with the process. We tell them how to sit, how to answer, how to listen, and then we go through it. It’s tiring, because it’s long, but the benefit for the client is that by the time they’ve had 2-3 preps in the office with us, they’re comfortable with the process.

Of course, they know that things will be different at trial, and even when we do dozens of mock-cross-exams they still get nervous about what the State may throw at them, but the preps make a big difference.

Just because we were prepping for trial, though, didn’t mean that we dropped the ball on the negotiations.

Raymond and I had other cases in that same courtroom, before that same judge, so we had plenty of chances to get some face-time with Prosecutor Matt. One such meeting I recall vividly.

It was November. We had a little less than a month left before our trial. Ray winked at me and jerked his head toward the little Prosecutor room in the back corner of the courtroom where the cops hide out as they wait for trials to start that are scheduled that day.

“Let’s have some fun with this boy,” was all he said before he hopped to his feet and led the way. I followed, already uncapping my pen so I could take notes in case Matt blinked and gave something away.

Raymond was excited; this was going to be good.

I’ve told you guys a little about the theory of defense so far. I’ve titled this series of posts on it. I’ll do a retelling of it from the State’s point of view real quick so you’re up to speed.

The way Matt saw this case was pretty straight-forward, and he explained that. Five friends were at an apartment, hanging out. Some were watching TV, some were hanging out in the bedroom, one was in the bathroom.

Out of nowhere, two men burst in, bandanas over their faces, guns drawn. The friends scatter, trying to find safety. The two people in the bedroom lock the door and put their weight against it. One intruder goes to the bedroom door and tries to kick it in. The other intruder grabs one of the girls, holds a gun to her head, and threatens to kill her if the others don’t come out with their money. The girl is released and the intruder that had her now tries to kick in the bathroom door.

One of the men bursts out of the bathroom and scuffles with this intruder. Meanwhile the other intruder has broken into the bedroom and demands money from the two people in there. They give him their money, but it’s barely $20. Frustrated, he makes them strip so he can be sure they’re not hiding any more money. They are not.

Two shots are fired. The man in the living room, struggling with the first intruder, screams. A bullet comes through the wall into the bedroom and hits the man that was in the bedroom, who is now stripped down to his boxers.

This intruder in the bedroom leaves to go help the other one. The woman in the bedroom breaks through a window, in her underwear, to make a break to safety. The intruder that was in the bedroom before hears this noise and looks out the window in the other room. That’s all the time it takes for the man that was in the bedroom to bum-rush him.

Shots are fired. The intruder that was in the bedroom has a bullet wound in his side. He starts to collapse, then makes a break for it and flees. The man that was in the bedroom, who has a gun recovered from the second intruder, sees the first one trying to get at the gun he’s dropped. The man shoots the first intruder, who, due to his injuries, cannot move and stays in the apartment.

The second intruder has made it to the getaway car. He’s losing consciousness and instructs the driver to get him to a hospital. Police arrive on the scene. Both intruders are rushed to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. Two of the residents – both men – have gunshot wounds. One in the arm, one in the butt. They’re flesh wounds, and not serious. The woman who ran through the snow in her underwear to get away has frostbite on her toes. The first intruder is alive but probably won’t walk ever again. The second intruder, who’s gotten shot clear through the torso, almost dies but in about 6 weeks makes a full recovery which is nothing short of miraculous. He’s indicted while he’s in post-op recovery; armed police officers stand guard at his bedside, he’s handcuffed to the bed, and the defense attorney (Raymond) has to get a court order just to be able to deliver his glasses to him.

So that’s how it is from the State’s perspective; that’s what they would and did present in a factual basis to the Court. We disagreed with a lot of that, because the evidence (the discovery, really) just didn’t bear it out. They couldn’t prove half of that, based on the crime scene investigation and the forensic analysis on the guns and the bullets and bullet fragments. So it boiled down to he-said-she-said, and neither the State nor the Defense was willing to blink at the 37.

But we sure were willing to “have a little fun with that boy,” like I said.

We walked into the prosecutor room and shut the door behind us. Matt was there, with two cops that he was prepping for a trial later that day. We didn’t care if they were there or not, so they stayed and fiddled with their papers while they listened (and giggled).

Raymond explained that we had conveyed the offer, while we all waited for the PTI to come back, but we certainly couldn’t recommend it, and our guy wasn’t likely to take it. It was too high, and Matt needed to do something for us. Would he come off the Attempt First Degree Murder to something else? An Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm, perhaps? He had to admit that the Kidnapping charges were absolute bullshit – he had to concede that. So would he be willing to give us a reducer to the AggDischarge? A Home Invasion, maybe? Even with the firearm enhancement, we might be able to work with that.

Matt leaned against the lateral file cabinet and listened patiently during the whole presentation. I have to give him credit, he had a good poker face going on. When Raymond was done (in those days, I didn’t speak at all on this case when we were negotiating, although that would definitely change later on) he blinked a few times and pushed himself away from the file cabinet with his shoulder.

“I can’t do better than the 37.”

We didn’t blink, either. He waited for some sort of reaction, and, not receiving one, pulled out a cut file of loose papers and the 40-something count indictment.

“The 37 is the best I can do,” he repeated, pulling out his calculations. “Even if we did 402 it, I’m not getting off the Attempt Murder. I won’t get approval for that. And our office believes that the 37 is actually a good offer, based on what he’s looking at if we try this.”

I didn’t have it in my head how much Morgan was looking at, at the top end. I had done the calculations, so I had a rough idea – it was a fuckton – but I didn’t have the number in my head. For this discussion, it didn’t particularly matter. It was just the State and the Defense posturing a bit, feeling each other out. We weren’t seriously talking about numbers – yet.

(I mean, it’s not like it had been set for trial or anything. Oops, yes, it had.)

“He’s got the two attempt murders,” Matt was saying, running his finger down a column of charges. “That’s with the gun enhancements. And the kidnappings, and home invasions, all with gun enhancement. Agg unlawful restraint, agg unlawful discharge… No matter what count off the top we proceed on, even if we 402’d it, once she hears the factual basis, she’s not going to give him less than 42 in any case. She’s going to give him much higher, actually. And if we go to trial, they’re mandatory consecutives and she cannot give him less than 42, based on the statute.”

When he said ‘a count off the top,’ Matt was referring to the six or so most serious charges – all of the class X felonies, for which probation is not available and the minimum is 6 years in prison.

When he said “402,” Matt was referring to a conference between the State and the Defense and the Judge where each side presents its case (aggravation, in the form of a factual basis read from police reports, and mitigation, in the form of all the good things about the defendant that the Defense believes should factor into a sentencing decision). The Judge then says what sentence he or she would give if the Defendant pleaded guilty.  Both the State and the Defense had to agree to a 402; here, Matt wasn’t willing to, so we couldn’t do it in any case.

When he referred to the ‘mandatory consecutives,’ what Matt meant was referring to Illinois law that states that certain crimes, in certain conditions, have sentences that must be served consecutively. So a defendant could catch a 3 year sentence and a 4 year sentence, to be served CONCURRENTLY, and would serve a total of 4 years, because the 3 and 4 would run together. But if a defendant catches a 3 and 4 spot that run CONSECUTIVELY, he’s spending 7 years in prison.

So Matt was saying that the State would likely proceed on the Class X’s at trial, all of which were mandatory consecutives, and all of which carried a minimum of 6 years, so if the State won on all of them, Morgan would catch 6×7=42. And that’s not including if the State added any of the other 35 counts in the Indictment and won on them.

He was saying this to scare us. It didn’t work. At that point, I was (and probably still am, a little) too stupid to be easily scared. Raymond, on the other side of the coin, was too smart to be scared.

Thank God I’m not lead counsel, basically, is what I’m saying.

He’d also said something about what the Judge “would” do. We generally take that with a grain of salt. Matt had been with this Judge for two months, tops. He didn’t know what she did or didn’t do yet. Everyone was still playing catch up, so his ‘advice’ really wasn’t worth much. Now, if this was a prosecutor we had a long-standing relationship with, one who had been with the Judge for a long time, then we’d take him more seriously. That would occur the following year, but it sure wasn’t the case right now.

Matt then began talking about what Morgan would be looking at if the State proceeded on and won the lesser charges at trial. Spoiler alert: the outlook was not good.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that,” Raymond interrupted him. “He’s going away for a long time, gotcha. You’ve really impressed me with all of that.”

I love when he gets gruff and sarcastic with younger prosecutors. At this point, the cops are obviously eavesdropping, not even trying to hide the fact that they’re following along.

“But all of that is if you win at trial. On anything.”

Defense attorney euphoria is a beautiful thing, guys. Honestly, I sometimes think it’s our best weapon: we psych ourselves up about a case, and good luck getting us down off that high.

Ray was far from finished. “That’s if your witnesses show up, you know, if they still give a shit.”

Our investigators had already uncovered that the two men who were injured in the gunfight, the complaining witnesses, were, um, involved in certain aspects of street life and were not interested in pursuing this matter, cooperating with law enforcement, and/or testifying. Two of the three ladies had indicated they weren’t interested, either, because one just wanted to move on with her life and the other had found Jesus, who told her to forgive and forget.

“That’s if I don’t fuck ‘em up on cross. That’s if the jury doesn’t see through the fact that you wayyy overcharged this case. That’s if the jury doesn’t see through the fact that the way your cops investigated this matter was sloppy. Those are all big Ifs, my friend.”

Matt didn’t blink. The cops looked kind of bored as they played with their phones.

Raymond waited a few beats, until just before it looked like Matt was about to open his mouth. Then he shifted his weight on his feet, leaning almost imperceptibly closer to me in a watch-watch-this-is-going-to-be-great sign.

“You know my guy shot himself, right?”

Matt’s jaw slackened. He stared. The cops looked up at their phone and stared, first at Raymond and then at me. I smiled back pleasantly.

This was something that we had discovered in our office, the three of us, a while ago. Once we’d gotten the medical records in, our senior paralegal had pored over them. She would then give me packets to read, to bring me up on the important parts, and then she did the same with Raymond.

There were bankers boxes full of medical records from the various hospitals that Morgan went to (and was even air-lifted to) during the intake, ER, surgery, post-op, and treatment stages. And the reports showed that, based on the location of the entry wound, the location of the exit wound, and the size of the wounds, there was no way that he had been shot from a distance. He had been shot from very close, a matter of an inch or two.

Which didn’t match the complaining witness’s story that he had been the one to shoot Morgan.

“What?”

This was one of the cops, unable to help himself. The other cop was barely holding in his laughter. It made me grit my teeth that they were laughing at something that almost cost Morgan his life, and I know Ray hated it, but that’s the environment that you adapt to when you have to.

“Yeah,” Raymond replied. “He shot himself.”

That moment was a pretty great one. It’s not rare that we get to surprise everyone in the room, and this was a nice little win. Plus, it clued us in to the fact that Matt hadn’t read the medical reports much, if at all. Little tidbits of information like that are important, and are filed away until we can find a way to use them to our advantage. The following year, as I prepared the file for trial, I would assemble a packet of medical reports that I wanted the prosecutor to stipulate to, so they’d be read to the jury, and could go back to the jury room with them. Those medical reports became very, very important.

Raymond illustrated the theory of defense, which we believe was borne out by the discovery. Morgan had been invited in, and hadn’t barged in, but that was beside the point for the immediate discussion. He had been wearing his gun on his hip, like a total newb.

Raymond had his fingers in a gun shape, poised at his left hip bone. (Morgan is left-handed.) “Everyone knows you don’t tuck the gun into your waistband right here,” he was saying as the cops shook their heads and basically giggled. “You snag it on your hip bones when you pull it out!”

I have no clue about guns, and only saw one once at trial when the State left it out on a cart in the middle of the room before trial, but you can bet we shut that shit down REAL quick and made them put it in the back room, out of sight until they intended to introduce it.

But Raymond’s a military man (Navy), so he certainly knows more than enough for the both of us about it. The cops seemed to enjoy his gun talk as it developed further.

Matt wasn’t looking all that pleased, and hadn’t said much since Raymond had explained that Morgan shot himself, where the gun was, and what the surgical notes and various medical reports said.

Raymond smiled almost gently. It was a smile he reserved for State’s Attorneys when he was making a point.

“Think about your offer again a little more,” he said softly, wrinkling his nose. “Talk to your boss. Maybe we can continue this conversation.”

He stepped back and held open the door that led out to the courtroom. I beamed at Matt – it always seems to annoy and/or bewilder the ASAs when I did that – and stepped out, with Raymond right behind me.

He elbowed me as we walked down the hallway. I grinned and said what had been written on his face since we left Matt alone in the back room.

“Fuck them.”

 

 

Drug Rip #2: We get a new judge, and must tread lightly.

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 19•14

Most people don’t realize that, once they’ve been arrested, they’re going to see several different judges before they get to their actual judge. After the arrest, they have 48 hours to be brought before a bond judge. This judge hears aggravation from the State (as in, what the cops say you did), and mitigation from the Defense (good things about you, why you should be released on bond), and decides whether or not you’ll be released on your own recognizance, or how much you’re going to have to pony up as a bond if you want to get out.

Then you get sent to a prelim judge for the preliminary hearing. Sometimes this is the same judge as the bond judge. At prelim, the defense attorney either cross-examines the cop or the complaining witness that says you did something bad, or the State goes to the grand jury and comes back with an indictment.

Then you get sent to the assignment judge, who will tell you who your trial judge is. Then, you go to your actual trial judge, who will be your judge until the case is resolved. Unless, of course, your attorney decides to take your case away from that judge, in which case you go back in the lottery and another (in this case, felony) judge is picked randomly. That’s called doing an SOJ – a motion for substitution of judge. You go back to the assignment judge, who tells you who your trial judge is.

In most cases, you only get 1 chance to do an SOJ. If it’s a class X felony that you’re charged with, however, or a murder, you get 2 SOJs.

So anyway, at some point you end up in front of your actual trial judge. And that’s what we thought we had at the time with Morgan’s case: we had our judge, she was a good judge but not as organized as some of the other judges in the building, who kept their calls tight and didn’t let cases linger too long, she was pro-defendant which was fabulous, and she generally let the attorneys do whatever they wanted as long as the two sides agreed.

For these reasons, cases took a long time to go through her call: if the attorneys on either or both sides wanted to drag their feet a little, they weren’t going to get much resistance.

For a while, there had been rumors that her bosses weren’t all that happy with this judge’s habit of allowing attorneys greater latitude. That they wanted to bring someone else down to replace her. But those rumors had been around for a while, and frankly they pop up about just about every judge every so often, and so I guess everyone had been lulled back into a false sense of security.

One morning, I showed up to court a little earlier than Raymond (my boss). Morgan and Mr. Doe  (let’s just call him Dad from now on, actually, since he’s Morgan’s dad and it’s just easier to me) were waiting outside the courtroom for me.

“Huma, there’s something going on,” Dad said to me as I walked up. He didn’t speak to me much, since there was really no point, but he probably figured he had to because Raymond hadn’t walked up yet.

“What do you mean?” I never liked being in a position where the client knew more than me or Raymond.

“The judge – she’s not our usual one.”

I looked inside but the judge wasn’t on the bench. The little name plaque by the door had changed. The name was a different one.

“Okay, that’s not a big deal,” I replied, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about. “It could mean a couple different things. And it is what it is, and we’ll deal with it.”

If the name on the door had changed, that meant that this wasn’t a floater judge, someone that was just filling in while a judge was sick or on vacation.

This was a new judge. The question was for how long.

I grabbed Raymond as soon as he arrived and pointed out the new name on the door. I didn’t want him walking in and being surprised, and revealing that surprise to our clients or anyone else in the room. He had taught me early on that the courthouse was not the place to display your emotions at all. Any show of surprise, any show of sadness, that sort of thing, could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He never wanted either of us in that position.

I remember that he stared at the new name plaque for about ten seconds before nodding slowly.

“Okay,” he shrugged, his mouth slightly tight at the corners. Later, I would learn to read his expressions better. He was concerned as to what this change meant for the case, but wasn’t about to make a big deal out of it. “We’ll deal with it.”

The new judge was quite different from our previous one. She had to be – that was why she was brought in to replace our previous judge. Along with the new judge was a new ASA (assistant state’s attorney).

It’s rarely a good thing to get a new prosecutor. (Later on in this case, though, it would be.)

But generally, it’s rarely a good thing to change horses in the middle of the race. Because you’ve built up a relationship with the previous prosecutor – you know their personality, their temperament, what will work with them and what will really turn them off. Plus, they know the case, and they know you, and they’ve got their own thoughts on it and how they’re going to approach it and where it is in their pecking order.

When you get a new one, you have to reinvent the wheel.

The old State might have looked at a certain crime and been like, eh, that’s not nearly as serious as my other ones, I’ll put it toward the bottom of my mental ranking of files. And then a new one might come in and be like WHOA HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I WANT THIS FUCKER TO FRY CLEAR THE DECK BOYS NO ONE GOES HOME UNTIL THIS ONE GETS LAUNCHED.

You just never know what will stick in someone’s craw.

Since those days when I was a painfully new attorney, I’ve had a chance to sit down with different prosecutors that I have a good relationship with and pick their brains about this.

Some of them don’t really care about sex cases like (mere) possession of child porn (always to be distinguished from production), and won’t fight you on probation for the guy. But they might really care about gun cases, and will work hard to get jail time whenever there’s a shoot-em-up.

Others might not give a shit about guns if no one was hurt seriously, but will get their panties in a twist if a single picture of an underage child is found on someone’s computer. It just kind of depends on the person, which is why the human aspect of defending (and prosecuting) a criminal case is so important, and bears so heavily on the outcome sometimes.

The new State was a younger guy than the previous one, and had the look of a man gunning for a promotion despite having just been handed one. It was bad news from the start.

We got him alone into one of the rooms in the back and Raymond introduced us and began his schpiel on the case. To our surprise, the State had already familiarized himself with the file. Normally, they take a date or two to kind of find their feet, at least with the big cases in the room. But this one was ready to go, and he said it was because Morgan was one of the oldest cases in the room.

He said that the final offer was 37 years. We could take it, or jump in a lake. Or rather, the common phrase, “Plea or set.”

Setting the case for trial was definitely not on our agenda. Under normal circumstances, and certainly under the previous judge, we would just get some more time from the judge in order to regroup.

But the new judge wasn’t on board. She was a junior judge, with something to prove as well. Like our prosecutor friend, she had just received a promotion … and was hungry for another one. What does that mean? She wanted to do a good job in this courtroom. That meant cleaning up the previous judge’s work, getting the old cases off the call, and not letting cases sit for too long.

Fortunately, there is pretty much always a way to stall for time if you really need it, and that was what we did, getting 6 weeks to take a breath and regroup. We did this by ordering a Pre-Trial Investigative Report, where Adult Probation interviews a defendant and compiles a report for the Court, which is often used when the parties intend to do a 402 conference and plead out. I can explain 402s in a later post, as pertinent, but it doesn’t have much to do with this case because we never did a 402.

Anyway, we needed to regroup after talking to the new prosecutor and getting a feel for how he approached the file. After all, 37 years was bullshit. We had a duty to convey the offer, of course, but we sure as hell weren’t about to recommend it. It wasn’t that we had any expectation of getting Morgan off without any prison time, because we all knew from the start, including Morgan, that he would have to go. The question was for how long, and 37 years sure as hell wasn’t acceptable.

“Well, here’s the good thing: we all get to walk out of the courtroom today.”

That’s one of Raymond’s favorite jokes, although it’s not really a joke. We all walked out of the courtroom that day – me, Raymond, Morgan, and Dad. We all left, wondering how we were going to keep this case under control.

Morgan was 27 years old at the time.

Just like me.

37 years is basically a life sentence for a young man (and certainly an old one). The quality of life in prison is terrible, but I’m sure most of you have figured that out. The food isn’t nutritious, they don’t get enough exercise (especially since our elected officials love to gut prisons of whatever extra programs they have when they’re looking in the state couch for loose change), it’s very stressful and dirty, diseases go around like crazy because it’s basically a petri dish in there, hygiene isn’t always maintained due to access to those sorts of products and so on, and the medical care is sub-par.

Prisoners age prematurely.

Morgan was a young man. Young, fresh-faced, big blue eyes, broad shoulders, and a tall frame. (He was still looking gaunt, though. I wanted to take him out to a diner and just stuff him full of pot roast.) If he went away for 37 years, he would either die in prison, or not have much of a life left when he got out.

Can you imagine getting out of prison at 64 years old?

The 37 just wasn’t acceptable.

The problem now was how to get the number below that, given the State’s jump in a lake attitude, the age of the case, and the new judge ready to get it off her call.

As I said in the last post, it seemed trial was imminent. But that didn’t mean we were throwing in the towel when it came to trying to get the State off the 37-spot. As it turned out, we still had a few maneuvers left, and luck would throw us a bone here and there.

I was a very, very young attorney when I joined on for this case, and there were so many times that I felt like it was pretty much over, that we were between a rock and a hard place with no viable way out, that Morgan would be going away for the rest of his life. And it was partly because of this case that I learned that there was always a way to do just a little bit better.

It sounds so callous to think of it that way. I’m talking about shaving down a number to something acceptable. But that number is years of someone’s life, that they’ll never get back. Years of their children’s lives that they’ll miss. Years of their parents’ lives that they’ll miss.

That was something I’d learn, too: how to become just a little more callous, a little more hardened, so I could face this work and help save someone the rest of their life behind bars.

Drug Rip #1: I didn’t think much of him when I first saw him.

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 17•14

As promised, I’m going to start talking about a big attempt murder case that we closed in October. The case is over, my guy has been sentenced, and is currently in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Our representation is over. So I can blog about certain aspects of the case, which is one I’m sure will stay with me through the rest of my practice.

Let’s call him Morgan. Any posts I write about Morgan’s case will be under the heading “Drug Rip,” followed by a number indicating the chronology of the related posts.

I was a very new attorney the first time I met Morgan. At that time, I didn’t appear on any of my own cases. Rather, I shadowed my boss in court, stood next to him at the bench when we got our case called up, and took copious notes. All I was doing was watching and learning, preparing for when – in about two months – I’d be handling court dates by myself and soon handling my own little cases.

I walked into the courtroom and sat in the jury box as I waited for my boss. I didn’t even know what Morgan looked like, and I didn’t know much about the case yet, as I hadn’t had much time to read the file along with all the other work I’d been doing at the office, so there was little point in making a connection with them without Raymond there.

He arrived soon enough and pulled our clients out into the hallway to speak to them, which we always do so our clients know what to expect when they’re called up. I followed.

He was taller than me, which isn’t saying much, because everyone is. I’d say he was 5’10,” but as I was writing this, I thought, hey, he’s in IDOC right now, so I can just pull up his prison fact sheet. He’s apparently 6 feet even, which tells you how good I am at judging height.

In my defense, when you’re 5’1″, anything over 5’10” is just classified as “really fucking tall.”

Morgan wore a black wool pea coat that seemed to kind of swaddle him. His hands were always shoved deep in his pockets. This was not a man of many words, and though he listened to my boss with great attention, he never did more than nod. His face, when I actually looked up at him, was rather gaunt. The boy could really have stood to put on a few pounds.

He showed up to court with his dad, who we can call Mr. Doe. Mr. Doe was a consummate gentleman: well-mannered, even-keeled despite the extremely stressful situation of his youngest son facing attempt murder charges (and about 30 other violent felony counts), soft-spoken, and very respectful.

Initially, Morgan and his dad didn’t really think much of me, which was fine, because why would they? I was just Raymond’s shadow, and they knew I had nothing to do with working the case. And I really didn’t at that point – I was just starting to read the file and figure out what had happened. (A drug rip gone bad, resulting in a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, basically.)

Raymond got along very well with Mr. Doe and with Morgan, although he gets along with most of our clients, but I could tell that he had a particular soft spot for Morgan, and a good relationship with Mr. Doe.

Morgan was rather standoff-ish in the first few months after I met him. He would acknowledge me perfectly politely, and would shake my hand firmly, which I appreciated. One of my biggest turn-offs is when men clasp my hand and give it a gentle squeeze when I offer it for a shake. No. Fucking shake my hand like I’m a person instead of giving me that limp fish nonsense.

Mr. Doe was also very polite to me, but would sometimes forget to shake my hand when he and his son departed. I tried not to think anything of it – after all, I still felt like I wasn’t involved enough in the case to be worth a handshake every time, if that makes sense.

To me, when I shake hands with a client just before they leave court for the day, it’s like a promise. A promise that I did my best for them this day in court, a promise that I explained everything to them to the best of my ability, a promise that I will continue to work on their case until the next court date instead of just forgetting about them until the night before.

A promise that their problems are my problems now. A promise that whatever troubles and burdens and fears and darkness they bring to me, I can bear it all and still be strong enough to fight the good fight for them.

That’s what it means to me when I shake a client’s hand.

And at that point, being so new and so young, and so woefully inexperienced to even TOUCH an attempt murder case, I didn’t think I was worthy of anything but the briefest handshake, basically just a touching of hands. I hadn’t proven myself yet, remotely, at all. And I know it’s a really weird complex to have, but I didn’t feel like I was worthy of a genuine, firm handshake yet.

(Still, I liked the acknowledgment of a brief, touch-and-go handshake.)

I didn’t know it at the time, but the judge we had then was on her way out. She was a former public defender, and was not the best organized judge in the building. She had cases on her call that were six years old; ours was a baby at just two, so she wasn’t even concerned with it.

One of Morgan’s co-defendants, who allegedly did the same thing that Morgan had done, pled in front of this judge shortly before she peaced out. The co-D, despite pleading guilty to a Home Invasion and a factual basis that stated that he burst into an apartment and shot up everyone in it and held a girl at gunpoint and robbed two people, got 6 years in IDOC.

He had a felony background, so he got 12 years (double the 6), to be served at 85%, meaning that he had to serve 10 years and 2 months, basically. Because he’d already been in pre-trial detention since the arrest, by the time he pled, he only had to serve 8.5 years. As of right now, he’ll be eligible for parole in 2 years, or otherwise out of prison in 5 years.

Meanwhile, as it concerned Morgan, the State wanted him to go away for 37 years.

Why the disparity? Well, the co-defendant had sustained serious injuries during the drug rip and could barely walk anymore. Morgan, even though he had accidentally shot himself clean through the torso during the commission of these offenses and literally almost died, was still young, healthy, strong, and fully mobile.

(I mean, again, he could have stood to put on a few pounds, but he was otherwise in good health, which was nothing short of a miracle. And I know – I read through those bankers boxes of hospital records. It was a miracle that he lived at all, much less made a full recovery, based on the location of the gunshot wound and how close the revolver was to his body when it was discharged.)

So our case wasn’t nearly ready to plea – not at the 37 that the State kept offering. Plus, we had some outstanding medical records we were still trying to get by way of subpoena, but the hospital wasn’t cooperating. So it was taking us some time to iron that out.

Basically, with the 37 that the State was stuck on, Raymond was ready to try it. Once we had all the discovery in, of course. We spoke often enough to the attorney for the other co-defendant, who was the driver of the getaway car. They hadn’t made him an offer yet, and his guy was still in county because he didn’t have the money to bond out. He was in the same boat we were, waiting on records. That’s the hassle of cases with multiple defendants, but whatever.

Both the other attorney and Raymond agreed about how sloppy the police investigation was. The problem was, when I would have office days to just sit around and read files, I couldn’t find any police reports in the whole damn thing, other than some reports about the different statements the defendants gave (or didn’t give) on the different occasions that the cops interviewed them, and stuff about the complaining witnesses using a photo array to try to ID the suspects.

It seemed a trial was imminent.

Book Club: “The Son” by Phillip Meyer

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 15•14

Most of you know that I’m a part of a great book club composed of a bunch of people I’ve known for like 12-13 years, and that it’s one of the highlights of my social life. There’s always awesome food (and plenty of it!), and our discussions are wonderful. We’ve been doing book club meetings once every 6 weeks for about a year now, and it’s been so great.

Last night, we met to discuss The Son by Phillip Meyer, which is a work of historical fiction. I don’t really read much historical fiction (unless you count all the Regency romance novels I read while I was supposed to be studying for the Bar way back when), and the “wild wild west” really isn’t my scene, but I’m so glad I read this book. I wouldn’t have even touched it had it not been for book club, but it was so rich and compelling, and even though it was emotionally heavy such that I had to sit with it a while to properly process it, I just tore right through it.

Minus the last 20 pages, which I literally read just as we were all starting to gather around to begin our discussion. Oops!

the son by phillip meyers

(I’m careful with spoilers, but this post does kind of spoil certain parts of the book, I guess. Read with caution. I don’t give away any twists or turns, but I do talk about the plot.)

It’s kind of long – about 600 pages – but well worth the read. The story is broken up into three separate but intertwined narratives: that of Colonel Eli McCullough, his son Peter McCullough, and Eli’s great-granddaughter Jeannie McCullough. The book takes place over 150 years, and focuses on this Texas family-run oil dynasty.

(I swear, the inspiration better not have been the Bush family, because fuck them all.)

The book focuses heavily on Comanche culture as well, which was easily the most riveting and compelling part of the whole work. Meyers’s descriptions are so vivid, just absolutely unreal, and so beautifully done. He meticulously researched everything that went into this book, particularly Apache and Comanche and Lipan culture, to mention the names of a few tribes that pop up in this book, and even went so far as to drink buffalo blood.

(There’s a passage where one of the characters, Eli, drinks buffalo blood, and there is a great description of how it tastes, and how warm it is, and then how it coagulates the longer it’s exposed to the open air, etc.)

Our book club host asked a question toward the end of the night that elicited some excellent, provocative responses. She asked, “If you had to distill this book down to one idea, what would it be, how would you articulate it?”

It sounds like a pretty standard “book club question,” really, but we’ve never asked that about any of our books. To be fair, we also haven’t really read much fiction – just The Son and Camus’s The Plague, which I loved.

I loved the discussion that came out of that question.

For me, personally, the message (or distilling, I guess) of the book was plain. Due to the jumping around of the narratives, and the fact that one character was the great-granddaughter of the other so there was a huge time gap, it took me longer than I want to admit to realize that Eli was Jeannie’s great-grandfather, and Peter’s dad. So I’d be reading the book, before I realized this, and thinking, “Man, Peter’s dad is such a fucking dick. Ooh, here’s Eli! I love Eli!”

So, yeah, that was embarrassing. Hah!

But anyway, once I realized that, this entire book just became so shiningly, blindingly beautiful to me. Holy shit. It was the story of the rise and fall of a family. Of trying to form genuine connections with people, and failing miserably for a variety of reasons. Of how the people who lived for something other than themselves were the ones who were killed off, one by one, throughout the course of the book. Of a man’s search for something that would pull him out of his own head.

So for me, the message of The Son was that damaged, flawed people create damaged, flawed people, and that we’re all struggling with the ghosts of the pasts that we often then allow to poison our future.

That was what happened to Eli, who was kidnapped by the Comanches as a 12 year old boy and watched his mother and sister be raped, and killed along with his brother. Who lived with the Comanches and became one of them. Who left the tribe when everyone was killed off by smallpox. Who found himself a “proper” wife (it was more like a shotgun situation, but, hey, you can’t be too picky, I guess) and had a few babies. Who built an incredible empire from the ground up: first cattle, and then oil. Who killed white men and Indians, as Meyers writes. Who was a terrible fucking father and basically a despicable human.

That was what happened to Peter, who was the only voice of reason during the gruesome murders of his neighbors, who watched his mother and oldest brother get murdered during a Comanche raid on their home but managed to escape without a scratch alongside his brother Phinneas, whose “proper” wife was the physical manifestation of all of his self-loathing and negative self-talk, who fell in love with a woman that Eli did everything he could to get rid of until succeeding at long last. Peter, who spent almost his entire life since boyhood knowing that he would never be good enough for anyone in his family.

That was what happened to Jeannie, who spent her whole life proving her mettle in a boys’ club Texas oil dynasty, so strong and yet so deeply insecure, so desperate to live up to the standards she has set for herself – modeled in the image of Colonel Eli McCullough – and utterly unable to do so despite all of her success and power. Who looks at future generations – her children, her daughter’s children – and knows that they are soft, that they are not interested in the family business, that the legacy will likely die with her because no one that comes after her knows what it takes to keep the empire strong.

All of this is what is perfectly summed up in one of Peter’s journal entries, in which he writes, “This family must not be allowed to continue.”

And in an earlier entry about his family, particularly his father, “They have buried me alive.”

That problem in family dynamics – screwing up your kids as a reaction to how you believe your parents screwed you up – is what I saw emerge as the strongest theme in this story. Eli screwed up his kids – who screwed up their own – mostly, in my opinion, because he lived for himself and after his entire tribe died off was unable to form meaningful bonds and connections with others.

Closely tied to that was the idea that you must live for others first, and yourself second, which is an idea that is very common in Native American culture no matter if you’re talking about the Comanches or their parent-tribe the Shoshone or the Ojibwe, etc. It is also an idea that is very common in Eastern belief systems.

Until you love yourself, the love you enact for others (the things you do for them) is meaningless. It’s a bunch of empty people performing empty actions, and it adds up to nothing. Whereas the Eastern understanding in love, which is very similar to the Native American understanding of love, is that it’s like a cup. You have to fill that cup for yourself, so that it can overflow and touch others. That’s when the ego is removed from it, so you’re no longer in a position where you feel like saying, look what I have done for you out of the goodness of my heart, but where you’re doing all of those loving things because that is just your essence, your only way of being.

(Eli definitely did not embody at that. Peter did, as much of a coward as he was in certain ways.)

So those ideas of family and love formed the real message of the book for me, and made it an excellent read. I want to end with something that Jeannie McCullough said when reflecting on her late husband Hank, who she loved very much. It’s a passage that I underlined twice and blocked out in brackets because it was so poignant and hard-hitting. It was hard for me to read, actually, because I saw a lot of myself in it.

But it’s worth sharing.

Of course she could not help but be drawn to people like Hank,
people with their own fire, but no matter how much they thought
they loved you or their family or their country, no matter how
they pledged their allegiance, that fire always burned for them alone. 

 

Sometimes, I’m not that cheerful.

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 04•14

There’s this public defender at one of the Cook County Courthouses that I’m at almost every week. He’s a veteran with the office, if I recall correctly, and he’s a really nice guy. He often comments that whenever he sees me in the various felony courtrooms, I’m always smiling. He’s an excellent resource for if I ever need help, and is also a pretty good source of courthouse gossip (which we use to our benefit whenever we can). I saw him the other day when I was there on a surrender, when our guy was turning himself in to begin serving his 8.5 year stint in state prison.

He saw me walking down the hall, grim-faced and preoccupied.

PD: Hey! Where’s that smile? How am I supposed to be cheerful if you’re not?

Me: There’s really nothing much for me to be cheerful about today.

PD: Aw, jeez. What have you got up?

Me: We’re turning in one of my boys. He starts an 8-spot today.

PD: Ahh. Yeah, that’s rough. That’s always rough. I’m not all that thrilled to be here today myself.

Me: Why? What happened?

PD: I’m here on a drug case. The cops pulled a crackpipe out of my client’s butt.

Me: Ah.

PD: Yeah. She bled out from her injuries and died before she could even be arraigned.

Damn.

I walked away from him – after expressing my condolences – and continued down the hallway to the felony rooms. And even though few things shock me anymore, few things upset me anymore, few things make me clutch my head and duck into a quiet corner until it stops hurting – and to be fair, his story hadn’t affected me in that way, as shocking as it was – still, in that moment, I felt like Alice having fallen down the rabbit hole.

Where the fuck am I?

Where the fuck am I that this is what we talk about casually as we snatch a few minutes of friendly conversation while walking in opposite directions down the hall?

Where the fuck am I?

Where am I that this is my new normal?

That these are the stories I trade? That these are the stories that, as jarring as they are, barely do more than put a slight crimp in my even-keeled demeanor?

I don’t know.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. Truly, I wouldn’t. But still, sometimes, I wonder where the fuck I am and how I got here.

I have a lot more to say about the case I mentioned here – the one about my client who has just started his 8.5 year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It was a very long case – four years – and I came in on the last two. I learned so much from working this case, and it left its mark on me. So in the next week, you’ll see more from me about this, as I finish processing my thoughts and feelings and insights enough to comb them together into some sort of slightly coherent post or two or five.

I was saying on Twitter that I’m glad I’m blogging again, because I have a lot to say about this case. You guys told me you wanted the honest perspective of a young attorney; you’ll be getting it.

Rest in Peace, friend.

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 30•14

kankakee county courthouse

This morning, I drove to the Kankakee County Courthouse on an Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon case, and I made the mistake of checking my phone one last time before I went into the Presiding Judge’s courtroom. I learned that a childhood friend of mine, Junaid Alam, the son of Dr. Shahid and Farzana Alam, passed away late last night. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that had already metastasized by the time they discovered it. The prognosis wasn’t good. They didn’t give him long to live.

So we knew that it was coming. This wasn’t a shock. But it was, because one minute a person is here and the next they suddenly aren’t. Plus, he was in his very very early thirties. He has a brother that is the same age as my little brother, and a student at Cornell University. Junaid was a couple years older than me but our families were very close. I saw him often as a child, and we had the same circle of friends. It’s incomprehensible to me that he’s suddenly just not here anymore.

I cannot imagine what it must be like, as a parent, to bury your own child. If I ever have a kid, I hope I never learn that pain.

There really isn’t a lot to say.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. From God we come, and to Him we return.

I have such fond memories of Junaid Alam. I have nothing but love for his family. I hope they find peace and strength in the face of this loss, and I hope the same for anyone else that has to deal with this life event.

Words fail me.

If you can, please recite Al-Fatiha, and Ayaat-al-Kursi in Junaid’s memory. Surah Yasin, too. If you just want to read the translation of any of those, that works too.

Thank you.

Creating a “Thin Book Day” at the library

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 27•14

Yesterday, I did something that I have never done before, but that I felt inspired to do, in a weird way. I love going to the Naperville library. I’ve been going there since college, since I went to college a few blocks away. It’s a great library, huge, with floor-to-ceiling windows. I go there all the time. I spend some time looking through the catalog, writing down the numbers, and then tracking the books down. Sometimes I head straight home with them and sometimes I sit there awhile and read some of them.

But I never leave the library without checking out a book.

Yesterday was Sunday, and our library has extended hours from 1-9pm on Sundays until next summer. So I went to the library and created what I’m going to call “Thin Book Day.”

I wandered the bookshelves, not even remotely sure which section of the Dewey Decimal System I was in. If I spotted a book that looked thin – under 150 pages – I pulled it out, regardless of topic. Before long I had a stack of about twelve of them. I took them to one of the Quiet Study tables, where I had already dumped my purse and my Surface (which is to blame for these frequent blog updates after months of silence), and just went through and read them all one by one.

The result was, of course, that I got a lot of reading done in a couple hours. I was able to read through a variety of different subjects, from slave narratives to books about Wicca to a collection of essays on White privilege. I didn’t find myself tiring of any of the subjects because I was already done with the book before I had time to register that I was bored!

Here’s a stack of some of the titles I went through:

library books

Mostly because of work (and my love of sleep) I rarely have time to read for fun anymore. I mean, sure, I manage to read for my book club gatherings, but I don’t read for fun nearly as much as I used to, or as much as I would like to.

It’s October and I’m only 59 books into my 100 book reading challenge! I used to be able to finish 200 books a year without breaking a sweat! (When I started working I would make it to like 120-150 or whatever, but still, that was alright, but this year has just been a crapshoot.)

Reading for fun is one of the best ways for me to relax. It’s even better than lying on the couch watching “Bob’s Burgers” or sitting out on the deck with a drink and just watching the squirrels have sex in the tree right in front of me because that is WHAT THEY DO LITERALLY ALL THE TIME WHAT THE FUCK IS IT SOMETHING IN THE WATER WHY AM I ASSAULTED WITH HORNY SQUIRRELS EVERY TIME I GO OUTSIDE.

Recreational reading just clears my mind and eases any tension or anxiety I’m experiencing. I leave feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to learn even more (usually about law-related shit, since that’s where most of my energy goes toward).

Today is Monday, and I’m playing hookie and taking a mental health day. But Sunday was almost like a mental health day, which was unexpected. I had no idea that simply wandering the shelves, plucking out books at random based on a completely arbitrary classification I came up with on the spot, and reading through them could be so wonderful and calming.

Thin Book Day is definitely going to become a thing for me – something I might devote a few of my Sunday evenings to while we still have the extended hours at the library. If this appeals to any of you reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it once you try it. Feel free to use the Leave a Note thing in the sidebar on the right, because the comments on this site can be a bit wonky, and people tell me sometimes that they weren’t able to leave a comment, and I have no idea to fix it, so whatever.

 

It’s my 10-year high school reunion!

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 25•14

Woohoo! I graduated high school ten years ago, in June of 2004, and our ten-year anniversary has rolled around! The official reunion is tonight, Saturday night, at this great restaurant at the base of the Tribune Tower called Howells and Hood. I’ve been a few time, mostly with colleagues that are in Chicago for various conferences, because it’s in such a great central location, right by the river.

But we got things started a little early last night, at the Friday night football game at Glenbard South in Glen Ellyn. A whole bunch of alumni came out for the game, and I ended up getting roped into going by one of my closest friends from high school, Jessica, who, coincidentally is also a lawyer – a patent attorney, based in NYC. She and her fiance, who works for Foursquare, flew in for the reunion and got in sometime Friday afternoon.

I was texting with Jess at work on Friday and she wore me down about coming to the game. I was pretty set against it. I avoided football games religiously in high school. I went to my first one when I transferred to GBS in my sophomore year. It was cold out, the bleachers were freezing and wet, it was really loud, everyone was obnoxious, football is fucking boring, you’d think only the NFL can stretch a one hour football game to four hours but it turns out high schools do that too, and the list goes on.

I basically went to my first game, sat there for a half hour, and then NOPE-d it all the way back to the parking lot and ended up at a Portillo’s eating cheese fries with the friend I’d gone with.

And I never returned to the football field after that. Ugh.

But Jess dragged me out, with several of our other friends, and it was … not as bad as I remembered? The weather was nice, a cool fall night, it was loud, only half the people were obnoxious, the bleachers were still cold and wet, it still took too long, football isn’t as boring to me now ever since @BobBlahBlawg began his mission to get me into it (barf), and I kind of enjoyed myself.

I snapped a picture of the field just for the sake of nostalgia.

Glenbard South High School Football Game

I sat there on the bleachers with Jess and John and Jenny (one of my friends who used to be a staffer for Illinois Senator Dick Durbin on the Hill and has since transitioned out of that), and I wondered if I should have gone to more high school football games back in the day. Would I have even more happy memories of high school had I joined some of my friends at the game on Friday nights?

But then it started raining and I was like HAHAHAHA NOPE.

We hightailed it out of there and went to meet the rest of our former classmates at Reserve 22, which is this restaurant at the country club golf course thing that’s like two miles from our school. My really good friend Lizzy and I made a tradition over the past summer of meeting at the fire pits at Reserve 22 at least twice a month just to hang out into the wee hours of the morning, so we were glad to be heading back again for the first time since it got cold.

Well, I take that back. Lizzy didn’t really want to go. :P She was oddly anxious about seeing our old classmates, which was very strange considering she’s the most personable one out of all of us!

At Reserve 22, we met up with tons of our old classmates (some of whom turned up because they wouldn’t be making the official reunion) and stayed for several more hours. Here’s a random picture of a bunch of us. The lighting is kind of weird, but I maintain that all of us look exactly the same as we did in high school. Except that a lot of my friends got a little bit taller. (And I bizarrely went up three cup sizes naturally since then, but hey, whatever.)

High School Reunion at Reserve 22

 

Not that you guys care, but from the left to the right, that’s Jenny the Senatorial Staffer, me, Tina the Chemistry Teacher and Volleyball Coach at our old high school, Lizzy the Chicago Public Schools Special Ed Teacher, Jessica the Fancy NYC Patent Attorney, Brittany the Retail Manager and New Mother, and Shannon the Textbook Publisher.

We all look exactly the same. It’s crazy. But maybe I’m biased.

Anyway, there was no real reason for this post other than I have some time to kill and I wanted an excuse to use my Surface Pro 3, a new toy that I got for work that I’m absolutely in love with but still figuring out as I go along.

We’ll see if I decide whether or not any pictures from the actual reunion are worth sharing. :P Hah.

So this Judge just made my week, basically.

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 16•14

I was walking from a parking garage to the Will County Courthouse a few blocks away this morning. It was cold-ish and misty and wet and just kinda gross, so I had my gray American Giant hoodie on. If you don’t know what American Giant is or why it’s special, I can tell you real quick: they make freaking AWESOME hoodies. This isn’t a plug, this is a genuine product recommendation that I’m not being compensated for in any way. Their hoodies are warm, 100% cotton, made in the USA, and they’ve got ribbed cotton panels on the shoulders and arms that give them a really slimmed down, flattering look. I mean, I love men’s hoodies, because I can pull one on and generally disappear in that giant bag of thick fabric, but I also like the silhouette-skimming, close-fitting hoodie I recently bought from AG. They’re like $90 a pop, but they’re durable and they don’t shrink in the wash and they’re basically perfect, so I’m happy to pay that price based on what I get in return.

ANYWAY.

I was wearing my black leather flats and a black skirt with a sweater and I had my hoodie on with the hood up because it was gross outside, and I’m certain I looked about 12 years old. I just had one case up that day, a second-DUI that I had tied up with a neat bow and was prepared to plead that day to no jail time (whoo!), and I was a little late to court but it didn’t really matter.

So I’m walking to the ramp that leads to the Attorney door for the courthouse when I noticed that one of the felony judges was coming my way from the opposite side of the street. I’ve appeared before this judge many times, and I really like him, and in fact he was one of the first judges I appeared before and we pled a tw0-count felony Possession of Child Pornography down to a 1 count misdemeanor Obscenity (which this judge didn’t like so he added some thorns to the deal but ultimately accepted it).

Then there was the time I was looking for the Court Reporter’s office and I went into the back hallway on the wrong side of the building and walked through a random door that I thought was the right office but it turned out to be the door that led to the chambers of a couple judges, and he was standing at that door reading a flyer on the wall and munching a donut, and I almost walked into him and he’s like 8 feet tall and he looked down at me like ‘wat’ and when I realized where I was my eyes went real wide and I literally turned on my heel and ran away, and I’m sure he was just like WTF.

Whatever. I really like him, but we have no open cases before him currently, so I don’t get to appear in front of him unless he’s taking over the call for the day from one of our judges, as had happened two weeks ago.

So I see this judge walking up with one of the male bailiffs and I smiled at him, but I didn’t think he saw me, and I didn’t think he’d recognize me, especially with my get-up, but, obviously, I wasn’t going to be impolite and ignore him. Also, I smile at everyone. It’s gotten me in trouble many times when that smile has been misinterpreted, but those are tales of romantic misadventures that I’ll save for another time.

I just filed in behind him and this bailiff, trying not to walk too close, and also quickly trying to get my ass into the building and up to the misdemeanor floor before my client came up from his drug test.

So the judge is talking to the bailiff about something that was happening in the courtroom that the bailiff was stationed in, before another judge. They were talking about some exchange that had occurred between a judge and an attorney.

Judge: Wait, who said that?

Bailiff: [Attorney redacted]!

Judge: Really? Nah, it probably wasn’t him, you must mean an AGGRESSIVE YOUNG FEMALE ATTORNEY, LIKE THE ONE RIGHT BEHIND US.

And then he turned over his shoulder and grinned down at me.

WEEK MADE.

Seriously, I was so surprised, and then I just burst out laughing. I had no idea that judge even knew who I was. Although, yeah, he probably did, considering I appeared before him at least twice a month  for about nine months while we had active cases in front of him, and had just appeared before him two weeks ago on a case that he was just filling in for as the judge.

But still, it was the sweetest thing, and just absolutely made my week.

 

My first out-of-state conference on the United States Sentencing Guidelines!

Written By: humarashid - Jun• 28•14

Remember that huge List I made almost a year ago? Where I wrote out like 300+ (now 400+) things that I wanted to do in my lifetime? One of them was to attend an out-of-state conference. That involved air travel. And carry-on luggage. And swanky hotel rooms. And learning. And meeting colleagues and making new friends. And exploring a new-to-me city. And swanky town cars taking me back to the airport to come home.

And I did all that!

Because from June 10-14, 2014, I was in gorgeous St. Petersburg, Florida, for a conference about the United States Sentencing Guidelines! It was sponsored by the NACDL (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) and the Tampa division of the Federal Defenders Bar, I think, but don’t quote me on the last one. It was a wonderful conference, and since I’ve been thinking about reviving this blog, I thought a good way to do that would be to write about it.

I put in Monday and Tuesday at the office, heading to court and then finishing up some work at the office in the afternoon, and making sure all my stuff was taken care of so my boss and our paralegal wouldn’t be stressed while I was gone.

Wednesday morning, my little brother (who is home for summer break from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) dropped me off at O’Hare at the ass-crack of dawn so I could make my 8:15am flight to Tampa.

They say get to the airport 90 minutes ahead of time to get through security, but security was a breeze (and usually is) and that left me with an hour to kill when I got to my gate. Although I’m Muslim, so I should definitely NOT be using the word “kill” when I’m near or even talking about an airport. My bad.

So I puttered around and got some Starbucks (gross), and tried to distract myself from how tired I was. It’s impossible to sleep in airports; those of you that do so are my heroes.

It was 60*F and raining in Chicago, which is balls considering it was June 10. Utter balls. I believe in dressing comfortably but prettily for traveling on airplanes (generally), and since I expected that I wouldn’t be able to check into my hotel room before the newbie session started, I wanted to wear something that would still be business-casual enough for the first session.

So I wore a lovely pink dress I have, which fits me like a dream, and since the neckline features rather racy little cutouts, I paired it with a gauzy polka dot scarf, a black cropped cardigan, and black leather flats with a pair of black heels in my carry on that I could change into on the curb while waiting for a taxi in Tampa. Fool-proof, which is good, because, hey, I’m very realistic with what I’m working with here. I need all the help I can get, generally.

With nothing to do at the airport – since I was too *ugh* to sleep and too *ugh* to read on my iPad – I took pictures with my phone. Because duh.

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This was the view at O’Hare.

Although, I shouldn’t make fun of my penchant for taking pictures with my phone. For almost my entire life, I hated taking pictures. I never took any. I had this idea that if I was too busy looking at life from behind a camera lens, I would be missing the moment and failing to actually live it.

I still feel that way, but I’ve struck a healthy balance. I still prefer to live the moment and fall back on those memories, but now and then I force myself to stop and take some pictures, whether they’re candids or posed or selfies or whatever. And now, about a year after I made that goal (since it was on my list to take more pictures) I know have a year of my life that is actually pretty well documented. I save all those pics to Instagram so that I have a neat little place I can go to if I want to see all of them, and I print out the ones I really like at CVS. It’s actually quite nice to have a stash of pictures in a box that I can flip through and which help me relive the pure joy of those moments.

Anyway, the flight to Tampa was uneventful. A little bumpy, I had to sit next to a little baby who handled the flight like a champ although her dad seemed to be a total douchebro but the mom was pretty nice, and my jaw KILLED since ten minutes before landing which was unexpected and excruciating.

I zipped through the Tampa airport because my flight had been a little late and the newbie session started at 2PM, and I wanted to make sure I got there in time. So I grabbed a sandwich and got out of there, but not before snapping this picture of some cool bird sculptures at the airport.

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I hailed a cab to the hotel I was staying at, the Renaissance-Vinoy Golf Club and Resort, or whatever, which was a really really really fancy and historic Marriott.

And as soon as the cabbie pulled out onto the main road, I saw something I hadn’t seen since I was a small child: PALM TREES!

I exclaimed with delight and he was like, “What? What?!” When I told him what I was so excited about, he laughed at the idea that I was that happy to see palm trees, which he was so used to.

But seriously, how could you not be happy to see these beautiful things?

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Gorgeous.

I just think trees are so magical.

Not all of them. Some of them are boring, and some of them are assholes. But some trees are just magical, and I feel like palm trees are among that sort.

I also snapped a selfie in the cab, because why not?

photo 3

Lord, do I look tired.

Anyway, when I got to the hotel, I realized that I was actually a bit early, so that was lovely. Even lovelier? I got to check in several hours earlier than I anticipated, and was soon dumping my stuff in a lovely little room with an awesome king bed that I was looking forward to passing out on that night.

Also, I really loved that red chair in the corner. If I could have gotten away with hauling it back to Chicago with me, I totally would have.

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I unpacked my clothing and hung it up, unpacked all my lecture supplies and dumped what I needed in a tote bag that I’d take with, grabbed an extra (wool) sweater because Raymond had cautioned me that the conference rooms were always colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra (HA! Love that saying!), and washed up.

It was humid, so I quickly ceded victory to the frizz and decided there was no point in trying to combat it with the mini straightening iron I brought along. Also, I don’t really wear makeup, so I had only brought moisturizer and lipstick, which was a good idea because anything else would have melted off in two minutes flat.

In just a couple minutes, I was ready to head back down. I hightailed it to the newbie session, which goes for three hours and is for people who don’t know all that much about the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG), or who want a refresher before the bulk of the conference starts.

I was given a name tag, told how to sign up for CLE credit (19 credit hours, baby! I think. I have to run the numbers again to be sure), and was sent into the main ballroom to get my learn on.

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I always feel like such a douchebag when I see ESQ after my name – even if someone else put it there. I don’t know why – I mean, I worked damn hard for ESQ and/or JD after my name, but still! It looks so fake and pretentious, but I guess that’s my Impostor Syndrome talking.

One of these days I guess I’m just going to have to accept that I’m an actual lawyer that generally seems to have earned her place as such. ;)

Anyway.

The Basic Training session was great. They had a chief United States Probation Officer (Cathy Battistelli) as part of the panel, and two members of the United States Sentencing Commission (Pamela Montgomery and Rusty Burress).

Rusty’s accent was awesome, and all three of them taught us a lot about the basic concepts of the USSG. I knew a lot of it already, conceptually, but there was a lot I didn’t know, and I also got a good sense of the flow of it all, so that was extremely helpful.

They touched very briefly on Booker, which I was grateful for, because even though Booker is so incredibly important (it was a SCOTUS case that said that the USSG are advisory, not mandatory), it’s also the first three pages of every single goddamn sentencing brief I’ve ever read. If I ever have to read those three pages about frigging Booker when we all know the bottom line (ADVISORY NOT MANDATORY!) I’m going to blow my brains out.

In rebellion, I will admit, I once (or twice) penned a sentencing memorandum that did not include ONE MENTION of Booker. Why? Because the judges know that shit already. No one wants to talk about Booker. Not for three pages, at least.

That being said, I love Booker. I have since I learned of it, and that love only grew when I started talking to defense attorneys who were practicing in those dark days (1987-2005) when the USSG were mandatory. I’ve long since known that when I adopt my first dog (which I want more than I have ever wanted a child), I will name him Booker. After that, we’ll see.

(Maybe Gall, Kimbrough, Miranda, 3553… I’m joking about the last one. Maybe.)

Anyway.

They explained sentencing trends in the country, which was super interesting. Apparently 51% of the time, federal judges are sentencing within the USSG range, and 47% of the time, federal judges are sentencing BELOW the USSG range, with the remainder 2% being above-USSG sentences. Which is awesome.

We got an overview of the sentencing process, which was helpful but I was familiar with all of it. I’ve observed 4 federal sentencings personally and worked a ton on 3 of them, including writing the Defendant’s sentencing memorandums in each of them (a drug conspiracy that was the largest heroin import operation into Chicago in the 1990s, a child pornography case in Indiana, and a big tax fraud case in Chicago).

We have another federal sentencing coming up in early July, and since I was co-counsel at the jury trial, I will be co-counsel at the sentencing. I’ve participated in the objections to the PreSentence Investigation Report and have written the Defendant’s Sentencing Memo, and probably won’t be saying much at the hearing itself because my boss has been doing this for 40 years, so why would I presume that I have something of value to say that he wouldn’t already say? But yeah, it’s been great because I actually know what’s going on this time.

So that was helpful, but again, I was able to frame that all within my own experience anyway.

They gave us a super helpful robbery hypothetical involving two co-defendants with varying criminal history and involvement and weapons, but mercifully only a single count indictment, LOL. They taught us about overrides, departures, variances, safety valves, relevant conduct, the zones, etc.

It was so helpful. I left feeling like I actually knew some stuff about federal criminal law! I mean, I have been working on federal cases since I was hired back in 2012, so I had a lot of the practical lessons, but never had an intensive, sit-down course on the USSG. My boss is more than able to do it, because he’s intellectually ravenous when it comes to the USSG, but obviously it’s difficult to come up with several hours for us both to sit down so he can just teach and teach and teach.

After the newbie session, I went back up to my room to dump my stuff and switch my pantyhose and heels for my lovely beachy sandals that I could actually walk around in. My buddy Carlos lives near St Pete, and was planning to meet me after work, so I headed out to the porch and poked around the plaza and marina as I waited. It was so beautiful out there.

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This was the porch right outside the hotel lobby, and I just fell in love with it. A ton of couches and these lovely rocking chairs right by the railing. Lots of tables, and a little outdoor bar in the corner, too, with stools. Lots of folks chilling out.

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More palm trees! This was the view from the front steps of the hotel, and if this isn’t paradise, then I don’t know what is. These trees just made me so happy every time I saw them.

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I hopped across the street to the little plaza area with a lovely lean-to and pink flowering trees, and snapped this shot of the front of the hotel, obscured by trees. It was such a calm and peaceful spot – a calm and peaceful town, really.

Carlos found me then and showed me around a little bit, pointing out the pier (which is apparently sinking) and the sculptures that are all over St. Pete.

Seriously, check out how cute the pier is. (It’s sinking, though.)

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Then we went out to dinner at this taco restaurant, while the skies UNLEASHED this downpour of Biblical proportion. The streets flooded pretty quickly, but like most Florida storms (I’m told), the rain stopped in twenty minutes.

We had awesome tacos and sat outside, enjoying the pleasantly balmy evening. Then we headed out to explore more of St. Pete. We parked Carlos’s car on Beach Shore Drive, the main drag there, and walked around for a while. There was this awesome place we stopped at where all the servers were wearing capes, and we chatted with some cool locals. I noticed that the place had awesome artwork, and Carlos told me that local businesses were very supportive of local artists, so all those paintings were made by St. Pete’s own.

Naturally, I had to snap some pictures.

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Aren’t they great? I loved this place.

I particularly loved the picture of the girl in the top picture, to the right. She reminded me of Robin Scherbatsky, from How I Met Your Mother, who was one of my favorite characters ever until I realized the show was absolute, unrepentant shit.

We spent some time at this place, and had a great time of it. It was nighttime at this point, and there are few things more lovely than a summer night in Florida. The weather was a dream, and St. Pete’s is such a lovely city to be a tourist in.

Carlos knows I really enjoy cigars, as does he, so our last stop of the night was this cigar bar on Central. I’ve smoked a bunch of medium bodied cigars, sticking mostly to Romeo y Julieta and Rocky Patel (hey, I’m a Chicago girl – gotta support Rocky), but I let the (very cute) cigar bar guy talk me into a full-bodied one.

It was Rocky Patel’s “Decade.”

That’s right: I went to Florida to smoke a cigar I could have smoked at Iwan Rees right here at home.

But I knew this wasn’t my last chance to have a local cigar, so I wasn’t stressed by it.

The cigar bar was attached to this awesome little bar with window-doors that opened directly onto the street front, so that was where Carlos and I headed to enjoy our smokes. They had this great local band playing – they were actually really good – and it was just so nice to sit there in that dimly lit, noisy bar pulsing with music, watch the other patrons, and enjoy our cigars.

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I’m proud of this picture – that’s a 3/4″” of ash on the foot, and I really captured a good, slow, healthy burn (that yielded good drags without me having to fight with it).

Anyway, I loved this place. My version of heaven would HAVE to include this place. It was transcendental, really. So hard to describe, but I fell in love with that place, with the vibe there. It was fantastic.

There was an older man there, with white hair down to the middle of his back, wearing black pants and a white dress shirt that was halfway buttoned. I’m not kidding when I say that he looked like an old Yanni. It was fantastic. He was a sweetheart, too, and helped me out of a scrape that night. Long live old white Yanni!

It was pretty late when we finally left and walked back to the hotel. On the way, we passed the Chihuly museum/gallery/exhibit. He is this AWESOME artist that works exclusively with glass, and his stuff is … transcendent. Sublime. It’s just magical. I could have stood there all night and looked at his massive outdoor exhibit, including one rather phallic piece, but, hey, what isn’t phallic, amirite?

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Make your own decisions, folks; this is America.

We ambled down Beach Shore Drive toward the hotel, and I was delightfully exhausted. I was having such a great time, and really enjoying the gorgeous weather. Seriously, the town was quiet, and the streets were empty, because, duh, it was like midnight (maybe later?) on a Wednesday night.

This was my view:

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Carlos dropped me off at the hotel and went home, and I ran up to my room and quickly fell asleep.

Alas, I had to set my alarm an hour early because I needed to wash the smoke out of my hair.

:|

I know. Your girl’s keeping it super classy here, guys.

This is why I went to law school. So I could wake up in strange cities and wash smoke out of my inhumanly frizzy hair.

So I got up the next morning, winced when I smelled my hair, hopped in the shower, and got ready.

Breakfast was from 7:30-8:15, and I ran into the courtyard at about 8 and picked a few things off the tables. I definitely made sure to fix myself a proper cup of green tea, including two things of honey and two lemon slices, because goddamn, did my throat HURT.

I had been militantly fighting a little tickle in my throat in the two days before I left (because that Sunday, I had made the stubborn decision to sit outside on a patio by a fire pit in 60* weather because god damn it I was going to enjoy a summer night at the local golf club even though I should have been wearing pants and a heavier jacket), so I thought it was from that.

Some googling (and Carlos, later) told me that apparently full-bodied cigars sometimes give you a sore throat if you’re not used to them. LESSON LEARNED. Mediums are just fine for this girl from now on, thanks.

Seriously, that sore throat was the worst I’ve ever had, and I’ve had swine flu, to put it in perspective.

I picked at my breakfast and then the morning session started. After the welcoming remarks, we got down to business.

The “Federal Sentencing: A View From the Bench” session was good. It featured three federal judges: One from Pennsylvania, one from DC who presided over the Scooter Libby case, and one from Ohio.

It was pretty cool to hear from actual judges as to what they looked for in sentencings, although one judge really threw me by saying that psychosexual evaluations were “too soft” and self-serving and that this judge didn’t like them or put much stock in them.

I remember texting my boss in a mild fury because I thought this judge was totally wrong. Thankfully, the other two judges didn’t agree. I think the judge was totally, completely off the mark with sex evals: they’re incredibly valuable. That, and some other remarks this same judge made, were actually pretty off-putting and did not make me think favorably about this judge.

Ugh.

Once the session was over, I had a brief conversation with the Scooter Libby judge, who had made a very interesting point about something we should include in our Sentencing Memorandums. He said that certain criminal defendants were very vulnerable to prison rape, and although that’s something that we’re generally all aware of (how many times is a reference to prison followed by a ‘don’t drop the soap’ joke?), we should spell it out for the Court.

During the panel, he had talked of his own work on behalf of victims of prison rape, which resonated with me because in law school, for a seminar on Criminal Law, I had written a paper about prison rape.

So I caught the judge after the panel and we discussed that – his work as well as my more academic, less practical knowledge of the epidemic of prison rape and various protocol put in place after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in various states to address the problem. My conclusion was that Minnesota had at the time the best system in place to combat the problem, and other states should emulate its methodology.

It was a very pleasant conversation about a terrible topic, and then I hustled off.

After a coffee break (more green tea for me, because holy crap, did my throat hurt), I headed into Fraud.

This was focused mostly on loss calculations. Basically, if they can calculate a really high loss amount, that kicks the Guidelines range way up. So someone who fraudulently used someone else’s credit card to buy a dozen Hermes bags, and someone who fraudulently used someone’s credit card to buy a dozen Hanes t-shirts would have a WILDLY different sentence.

Now, on the surface of it, that makes sense. The person whose credit card was used to buy a bunch of Hermes bags is more damaged than the person whose card was used to buy a dozen cheap t-shirts.

But when you look at how many years those different USSG ranges actually convert to … that’s when it stops making sense.

This session was useful because it had a lot of practical tips on how to … well, not how to downplay or diminish the USSG range, but how to put that range in context so that it wasn’t as damning. (And, of course, to hit the Court over the head with the fact that the USSG are advisory.)

But the thing is, and this is going to sound so cocky, I…knew much of this already? I had just come off a sentencing in a big tax fraud case in Chicago. The Government alleged a $3.3 million loss to the US Treasury. Which, yeah, is a big number, until you remember that the US Treasury, come tax time, deals with hundreds of billions of dollars and, yeah, in that context, and with the IRS’s rate of return on the tax gap, $3.3 million looks a bit different, don’t it?

Well, sadly, the Judge didn’t agree with us, but we caught a low end of the USSG range in that case, so that could have been worse.

But my point is, I was already well aware of how the Government could kick up that loss amount and used it to get a big range.

And I was already wpretty aware of the arguments, limited as they were, that the Defense could use to, shall we say, put the loss amount in proper context for the Court.

I was already aware of so much of that because I had written the drafts of the Defendant’s PreSentence Memorandum (which my boss edited) and done all the loss calculations and compared them with the IRS’s tax gap data that I had dug up. I had participated in the proffers in this case. I had read the plea agreements that came in, that were then massaged and manipulated by my boss until we had our final draft (he calls it, squeezing the puppy until it yelps). I had helped prepare our client for her allocution. And I was right there at the defense table at sentencing.

Most of all though, in terms of my knowledge base regarding federal fraud cases, my boss had already taught me so much of it, just by keeping me with him whenever he so much as breathed on that file, and always taking the time to explain his thoughts, and why he was doing something, and what effect he wanted it to have versus the effect it might have instead, etc.

All of the things that were said at that panel, pretty much, my boss had already taught me. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m not trying to pooh-pooh this panel; it was a great session. What I’m saying is, I’m very conscious of the fact that I was very lucky to be a young attorney at her first federal conference with her own existing experiential framework to work from.

I mean, I’d actually seen this up close and very personal, so that was pretty cool to learn the ins-and-outs of it, so to speak. A great session.

Then it was lunch time, and they unleashed us out on St. Pete’s on our own. It was funny, because the locals would see all these people walking around with badges and be like, Ohhh, you’re here for the conference, right.

I didn’t join up with anyone for lunch, and just struck out on my own. I selected the Birchwood, this great place that advertised a farm-to-table approach, and a patronage of local fishermen, that sort of thing. And because I have too many hippie friends now, that sort of thing catches my attention. I hope it was true, but it was a gorgeous restaurant regardless. I selected a seat out on the sidewalk and had a lovely, peaceful lunch.

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 Sitting on the sidewalk may have been a mistake: I was glistening like a pig by the time I was done, despite my adorable waiter’s best attempts to keep the cold beverages flowing.

Seated nearby were a judge I recognized from the conference and another attorney in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I waved hello but kept to myself and had a nice, long, lunch.

On the way back I stopped by this place I’d been to the night before, this great French-American fusion place, because I spotted someone I knew there. Turns out, they’d turned this swanky restaurant/bar into a beach bar! They’d trucked in a whole bunch of sand and everything. It was pretty cool.

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 So after that, I hightailed it back to the hotel, but not before seeing a super molesty elephant, one of the many pieces of local art on display in St. Pete.

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Just try and TELL me this elephant doesn’t look like he has some pretty sizzling night time plans involving some flunitrazepam. I mean, right?

Anyway.

I got back to the hotel for the session I’d really been waiting for: Child Porn. 

Now, most of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr know that child pornography is a big part of our practice. We do a LOT of it on the state and federal level. If I were to have a niche as a defense attorney, it would be child pornography. Even though I’m very young and inexperienced generally, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I can hold my own in a conversation about how to defend against charges of possession of child pornography. I know this shit.

The session started out well. We had a buddy from the Department of Justice on the panel:  a federal prosecutor who took us through the basics of proxies and hash values and file headers, that sort of thing. So that was a nice set up, and he had a great presentation prepared. I was excited to move into the real meat of the session.

Unfortunately, that didn’t really materialize.

I was looking forward to really in-depth discussions about how to defend these cases, that most attorneys shy away from: tell me about what tactics to use, tell me about how to stage some aggressive motion practice, tell me how totake some of the wind out of the Government’s sails when it comes to the stigma of these images, tell me how to best make my case if we have no choice but to try it. Tell me about the importance of psycho-sexual evaluations, tell me about how to attack the Government’s methodology of pulling the images from the computer, about passive uploading v. active distribution. Give me practical tips!

Unfortunately, no.

Most of the session focused on Paroline, a case that focused on the civil suits that pop up that our brethren in the civil bar (side-eye) take to try to get the victims of child pornography some money.

Now, don’t get me wrong, victims of child pornography should be made whole for the harm they’ve experienced, if that’s even possible. They should! But a session at a defense-oriented conference that should be teaching me how to defend against these cases shouldn’t be more focused instead on these civil suits and how to deal with those.

I don’t give a fuck about these civil suits. I’m not a civil attorney. I don’t give a shit if my client has to pay $250,000 in restitution to Amy or Vicky – I care about how I’m going to get that damn USSG range down so he’s not looking at spending the next 10 years of his life in the federal penitentiary! Who gives a fuck about money when we’re focused on freedom?

Yes, money is important. Yes, the victims are definitely important. But if we’re at a defense-oriented seminar, teach me about how to defend these cases.

Frankly, the conversation I had in the hallway afterward, with a couple federal defenders and a chief probation officer, about how the Government prosecuted these cases, was probably more valuable than this entire session.

So that was very disappointing.

But no matter. I am nothing if not resilient.

We had a coffee break (and I grabbed more green tea with lemon because DAMMIT I was not going to let a slow throat keep me from enjoying another cigar while away), and then I headed into “The Sentencing Process: What Works and What Doesn’t.” 

This was a decent session and featured a federal judge from earlier (who didn’t like psycho-sexual evals, ugh), a federal prosecutor from the DOJ, and a private attorney.

There was a hypothetical involving three co-defendants with varying degrees of involvement in a criminal enterprise and varying degrees of cooperation with the Government, triggering things like relevant conduct, safety valves, etc, etc.

They talked a lot about 3553 factors, which are the factors we defense attorneys use to make our clients more human to the court so that we can try to get a lower sentence.

Again, my own federal experience really helped me put all of this in context, even though it was geared to help even those who had not been in a federal courtroom before.

After that, we were released for the evening – almost. 5-7pm was a cocktail reception. I ran back to the change and dressed up my outfit a little, including putting on some new heels that I’d gotten recently. I went to the second floor balcony to discover … everyone was pretty casual and my pretty shoes hurt like a BITCH.

So I covertly ran (hobbled) back to my room, switched them out for my trusty flower sandals, and came back down. I mingled and flitted about, just aggressively inserting myself into established cliques because why the hell not. It wasn’t my fault that I was literally the only person from Illinois in attendance – with the exception fo the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois, Judge Ruben Castillo, which I’ll get into later.

Earlier during the party, I had seen this older attorney with white hair and a turquoise polo shirt talking to another older attorney. He seemed interesting, like on an intuitive level, but I obviously wasn’t going to butt into a 2-person conversation. But I saw him later, sipping his scotch alone on the fringes of the gathering, so I introduced myself.

We got to talking, and he was a CDL from the middle district of Florida, in Fort Myers. He announced a little while later that he wasn’t much of a drinker, and asked if I wanted to go for a walk instead. Since I’m not much of a drinker, either, I agreed.

We ambled down Beach Shore Drive, talking about Buddhism, and eventually ended up at this awesome tapas place, Ceviche. We enjoyed a lovely meal and he gave me lots of excellent advice, from an experienced attorney to a not-so-experienced one, and the sun was setting by the time we rose from that little table under stained glass windows.

We were walking back to the hotel, when Tony turned toward me.

“Think about becoming a judge. You’re young and whip smart and you have your whole life ahead of you. Start thinking about it now.”

That thought should have shocked me, but it didn’t. What shocked me was that, after a pause, I admitted that I had actually been thinking about taking that path, many many many many years down the line.

No one tell my boss, or the other fine Old Boy defense attorneys in Chicago that I know. (Mark Kazatsky would have my hide! I feel like even Prof. Andrea Lyon, lovely lady that she is, would look at me askance!)

So yeah. Y’all heard it here first, right?

We got back to the hotel and Tony went up to his room to watch the Rays game. I have no allegiance to any sports team whatsoever, except the Bulls in 96 when they were after the championship, so I headed up to my room to wash up and head out again.

I wanted to hit up that great cigar bar again, so I grabbed my journal and some of the pretty pens I brought along, because I had this idea that I’d order a cigar, grab a table, listen to the band play, and just write. (Which is actually a really fun evening in my mind, perhaps because I’m mildly unhinged.)

Thus armed, I left the hotel and walked a block, headed for Beach Shore Drive.

And then stopped.

I forced myself to think about it. It would probably be about 11:30pm by the time I was done with my cigar and ready to turn in for the night. Did I really want to walk a mile back from the cigar bar, at 11:30pm, in the dark, in a strange town, by myself?

I decided, much to my own disappointment, that I did not.

I turned back toward the hotel – I was only a block away – and was immediately struck by the beauty of the full moon.

Seriously, check this sucker out.

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Isn’t that great?

Honestly, I have no trouble understanding why Abraham was once inspired to worship the moon. None at all.

Anyway, I put my phone down and realized that just a few steps ahead of me, a very tall gentleman had the same idea. He was standing there, holding his phone up, trying to get just the right shot.

So like a normal person, I walked up to him, stood right behind him, and said (very loudly), “You get a good pic, or did it turn out shitty like all the pictures of the moon I take with my phone?”

He jumped a foot in the air, whirled around, and yelled, “HOLY CRAP YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.”

His name was Bobby and he was in St. Pete with his buddy from elementary school, Rich, and they asked what I was up to.

I explained that I had wanted to go out for a cigar (they laughed – why do boys always laugh when I say that?) but didn’t want to walk home by myself at night around 11. So they insisted that I come drink with them, and they’d keep me safe, and that they’d take me for a cigar that night because why not.

I demurred, saying I didn’t want to drink, but they insisted and said I didn’t have to drink, but I should come with them anyway and they’d make sure I was safe all night.

So that was how I ended up at a roof top bar with two men I didn’t know.

When Raymond (my boss) found out, he was like “JESUS HOOM THAT HAD BRILLIANT WRITTEN ALL OVER IT.”

I mean, I know it wasn’t the smartest thing, generally, but I intuitively knew that these guys were perfectly harmless. Plus, I knew where we were going, which was just two or three blocks from the hotel, and there were still plenty of people (PLENTY of people) walking around all over the place. I wouldn’t have gone with them if I had even a sliver of a doubt as to my safety.

I had a good time, even though I must have seemed like a killjoy, staunchly refusing every drink that was offered to me by randoms except for water (it was muggy). The rooftop overlooked the bay, and the marina, and the moon was full, and Bobby insisted I go stand by the railing and look at it and enjoy the view, since I was never really in Florida and didn’t get to enjoy the bay the way they did.

I talked to a bunch of people, which was fun, and I didn’t see anyone from the conference. After a while, I decided I had enough and just wanted to go to bed, so I peaced out after thanking Rich and Bobby for a fun night. Sweet guys.

I strolled back to the hotel, taking my time because for once it felt like my time was my own, and no one was expecting me back at any time soon.

Coincidentally, along the way, I ran into another attorney from the conference that I’d talked to before. He asked what I was up to, and apparently had seen me with Tony at Ceviche because that was where he and a big group of them had ended up, too, which was so strange because I hadn’t noticed. I told him what had become of my evening (he also laughed when I explained my desire for a  cigar, which had been thwarted), and was invited up to where I had just been.

I declined, although we stood around and talked for a while, and then I excused myself to head back to the hotel. I could have gone up, but it was such a beautiful night, and I admit I was rather restless, so I parked my butt on a wooden rocking chair on the porch and looked out at the moon over the palm trees and glittering on the water in the marina.

I had this idea that I would get out my journal and write for a while under the moonlight. I’m an avid journaler – I use it for problem solving, and it’s never failed me. Once I discovered that journaling my thoughts about a case made my motions stronger, because I was able to really hone in on the argument I was trying to make, I made journaling an indispensible part of my personal and professional development.

But it was just too nice to do anything but enjoy the view. Which was what I was doing, until a group of male and female attorneys from the conference chose to occupy the couches directly behind me on the porch.

And MAN WERE THEY DRUNK.

Lord.

You’d think it would start off awkward and then just get worse, but you would be wrong. It started out awful. Immediately, one attorney took off his trousers. He just took them off. When the others remarked on it (including the female attorney who, every two minutes like clockword, would loudly yell, “OH MY GOD PUT YOUR FUCKING PANTS ON!”, he would just talk about how “pretty” his dick was.

I mean. There are lots of words to describe that particular organ, but I guess I never really figured that “pretty” would be one of them.

It really just devolved from there, with the conversation focusing on pizza and sex acts, and the trouser-less attorney offering a woman pizza in exchange for a sex act.

That was when I decided that my peaceful night was pretty much ruined, so I grabbed my stuff and headed upstairs. It was about 1AM by the time I got to bed, but at least I didn’t have to get up early to wash cigar smoke out of my hair.

Progress?

Nah.

(But, hey, at least I wasn’t drunk off my ass and yelling about my genitalia on a hotel porch well past midnight, right? I’ll take it.)

Friday began relatively early. I sauntered into the continental breakfast area like I ran the joint, as @BobBlahBlawg would say, and chatted with a bunch of folks before taking my seat for the “A Year In Review: Updates From the Bench” session.

It featured Judge Castillo from the Northern District of Illinois (me!), Judge Scriven from the Middle District of Florida, and everyone’s favorite renegade judge leading the charge against lengthy USSG range sentences in drug cases, Judge Bennett of the Northern Distric of Iowa.

It was an excellent session, touching on US Attorney General Eric Holder’s memo about the two level reduction in drug cases for first-time non-violent drug offenders (the takeaway being that we better be damn sure that we negotiated that reduction now even though it wouldn’t technically be in effect until later in the year), and other important changes.

What particularly stuck out to me in that session was Judge Castillo’s remarks about, first, how he disagreed with his colleague from the day before and felt that psycho-sexual evaluations were incredibly important, and second, how he held bi-monthly meetings in his courtroom with federal felons to facilitate their reentry into society.

That was what I chose to speak to Judge Castillo about afterward. I introduced myself by saying we were the only two folks from Illinois, and thanked him for assuring me that I wasn’t crazy in thinking that psych evals were so incredibly important. We chatted about how they framed the narrative of the defendant’s life, rather than excusing or justifying his behavior, and were important context.

I then brought up his meetings with his felons, and was planning on asking him if he wouldn’t mind terribly if I attended. Much to my surprise, before I could even say much on the subject, Judge Castillo invited me to sit in on those meetings, and told me when they were held.

I definitely plan on doing so, as soon as I can square it with my work schedule.

I then grabbed some more green tea and headed into “Plea Bargaining,” which was much more prosecution-friendly than I think a lot of us anticipated (there was at least one AUSA on the panel, and one CDL that was a former AUSA), and it eventually turned into a bunch of us (including me) griping about federal districts where the defense has no bargaining power because the Government doesn’t give two shits about psych evals or mitigation, and gives you a number and tells you to take it or jump in a lake, or bulldozes you with an 11(c) plea (meaning that the parties “agree” to a sentencing range, and the Judge is bound to sentence within that range).

Seriously, it was just a bitchfest, and it was hilarious to see how uncomfortable some of the panelists with pro-Government leanings got. One federal defender in particular let loose on the subject, because one of the panelists was an AUSA from his district, which sounds like it is not at all friendly to the criminal defendant.

It ended with a bunch of us in the audience giving advice to each other about how to deal with situations like that. I wasn’t one of the folks giving advice – obviously, I’m too young for that, even though I know very well what it’s like to be handed a range and told to take it or to show up for trial. But it was really nice that it turned into kind of a brainstorming thing at the end with a bunch of attorneys from all over the country saying, “Well, this is what I do when the Government has its head up its ass…”

After that came our working lunch of “Updates in Federal Sentencing,” which was probably the best session in the whole conference. It was a panel of 4 attorneys – 3 defense and 1 AUSA – and they had such a great professional chemistry and way of riffing off each other, while sharing important and useful information. I hope they’re back next year – all four of them, together – because that was the most fun I’d had in those three days.

I then headed into Narcotics, which sounds super sexy but is really about ‘how the hell do we deal with these incredibly high ranges and these damn man/mins?!’

Man/min refers to mandatory minimums. As I’m sure some of you know, one point that’s been making the news more and more over the past few years is the fact that we have these incredibly high prison sentences for drug offenders that have no background, and were caught possessing, adn were non-violent (meaning no accompanying gun charges, etc). A mandatory minimum refers to the number of years they MUST serve at the very bottom, at the very least.

It’s ridiculous.

Judge Bennett, who has basically led the charge in asking “WHAT THE HELL” when it comes to these lengthy drug sentences, was a part of this panel, and it’s always a pleasure to hear him speak.

The panel focused mostly on case law and different arguments to be used to put the crime into context, divorced from these stark ranges that we see in the USSG.

And with that … the conference was OVER!

I headed up to my room to grab my umbrella and dump some of my conference stuff that I no longer needed. When I came back down, I realized that most of the attendees were checking out already and heading home.

Fools! Didn’t they know that St. Pete was the home of the incredible Savador Dali Museum?!

Apparently not.

Armed with my umbrella, I headed out and began my 1.5 mile walk to the museum. The clouds had started to move in, and I heard rumors of rain, which were confirmed when I saw this at the marina:

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Foreboding, no?

I was so glad I thought to pack an umbrella.

The skies opened up while I was walking – it was windy and grey and just pouring. But I soldiered on, even though my sandals squished and my skirt was soaked and clinging to me, because Dali.

Dali, you guys.

And like a true Florida storm, it had passed by the time I got to the museum campus. Seriously, look at how beautiful it was:

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 What a difference fifteen minutes makes.

I was trying so hard to get a pretty picture of the beautiful blue glass structures that I didn’t realize I was about to step into a huge puddle. And when I did … it was warm?! I’ve lived in Chicago for most of my life, and before that, Boston: I have NEVER stepped in a warm puddle of water! It was unreal!

As was this building.

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 Gorgeous, gorgeous!

I went inside and spent the next two hours wandering amidst the gorgeous paintings. There is so much to appreciate with Dali: the vision, the way he plays with his mediums, the cultural pride, the exquisite detail he brings to his sister’s curly hair, his love of science and technology and intermingling that with his religious faith, the explosive emotions and colors and unabashed exultation in sex.

But more than anything, what I realized I appreciated about Dali was the way that he refused to be contained in any one artistic style.

What I appreciated most about Dali was his own transformation, set out plainly before me as I wandered from his Impressionist days to his realist days to his surrealist days to his anti-art days, to his sketches and everything else.

I valued the transformation, the transcending, more than anything else. It’s inspirational.

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This is the view from the Contemplation Room in the museum, since we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the paintings.

I bought a cool drinking glass from the gift shop and met Carlos outside. He showed me the gardens outside the museum, where for years visitors have torn off their admission wrist bands and tied them to the branches of the trees, forming a sort of wish garden.

I, too, in the spirit of “when in Rome,” tore off my wristband, made a wish, and tied it with all the others.

As we left the museum, I questioned Carlos about his plans for the evening. He informed me that we would be going to Ybor City in Tampa, to enjoy Spanish cuisine and watch authentic Flamenco dancers.

And let me tell you, that was AWESOME. I’ve never seen Flamenco dancers before, and they were fantastics. This is a picture I snapped of the lighting decor in the foyer of that gorgeous restaurant.

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 Dinner was great, as was the show, and then we headed out and walked a few blocks to, you guessed it, a cigar shop! It was this tiny little place, and I would have totally missed it, but Carlos has been there a few times and could probably find it blind-folded.

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We selected our cigars from the side room and paid for them, and then poked aroudn a little bit. That little nook you see there is where they sit and roll the cigars, so GIANT WHITE SPIDER ON MY SHOULDER HOLY SHIT WHERE DID IT GO DID I KILL IT, anyway, yes, that’s where they roll ‘em, so that’s kind of cool.

This time I got to enjoy a more local cigar, and that was great. It was a long one, so Carlos and I grabbed a magazine or two and headed over to the leather armchairs. That’s how we spent the next hour, talking and reading and smoking. Curiously, my cigar died three times, which was frustrating, because I felt like I was fighting it more than I was smoking it.

It looked nice, though.

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After we finished, we headed out into the night. The street we were on was loaded with bars and clubs, and it showed. Now that it was dark, the streets were flooded with club-goers and cops. Apparently that place gets kind of PG-13 after dark, and we left with a comfortable amount of time before the mood changed.

We hit another local favorite after that, but I’m going to be honest: I was DRAGGING. I was tired, and I had an 8AM flight. Carlos showed me Tampa as we closed out the night, and the University of Tampa is frigging gorgeous and apparently the architecture is based on that of a masjid – hard to miss those minarets, seriously.

As we crossed the bay, I booked a towncar to take me o the airport in the morning (cheaper than a taxi!). Once back in St. Pete, we ambled down Beach Shore Drive toward the hotel, and then separated. I ran upstairs and packed half of my stuff before I totally crashed, knowing I had to get up at the crack of dawn (before then, really) to get to the airport.

I got up early, looking ROUGH, I’m sure, and threw the rest of my crap in my carryon before heading out. My car was running a little late, and I was early, to boot, so I took the time to sit on the porch of the Vinoy and enjoy the last moments of the night.

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The sky was a deep indigo, the full moon was still out, and it was perfectly silent. The picture really doesn’t do it justice. I sat there for a little while, until a black SUV pulled up and a gentleman in a suit walked up the steps and introduced himself, then took my bag and loaded it into the car.

We chatted pleasantly all the way to the airport, although frankly it was a miracle that I could even rub two brain cells together enough to create some sort of coherent thought.

I got to the airport, went through security in about five minutes, had an absolutely disgusting airport breakfast, sat around zombie-like at my gate, was perfectly miserable during my flight back to O’Hare, had my brother pick me up and take me home, at which point my dad insisted I go with them to some other person’s house where I was cranky and zombie-like until I was able to get home and pass out for four hours.

It was awesome. The whole thing was awesome. I can’t wait for the USSG conference next year!