Stop Asking Where I'm From

Life Plus Seven. (How does that even work.)

Written By: humarashid - Dec• 19•14

Today was … a day.

I’m not knocking it – it was a good day, really. But it was … A Day.

Alright, I’ll quit vaguebooking and get into it.

We had a federal sentencing hearing in the Northern District of Indiana this morning. I’m admitted there pro hac vice, which means only for this particular case. When it’s officially over in February (there’s a little matter of a restitution hearing) then I will no longer be a part of that district. Which is fine by me. I don’t particularly like that place. I mean, it’s always a trip, and Raymond and I are always doubled over with laughter in the elevator every time we leave, but that’s for entirely different reasons.

I arrived around 9 and met the attorney who will be handling our client’s appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. He’s a lovely man, and was wearing a spiffy bow tie. I love older attorneys who wear bow ties. They’re adorable.

(Young men in bow ties more often than not are fucking dead-eyed hipsters who use words like “shmucko” to address people that they disagree with and post Taylor Swift lyrics “ironically” as their Facebook statuses, and I want to punch them in the face repeatedly. If you’re a young man that wears a bow tie, you may be the exception, I don’t know. Or I may punch you in the face if we ever meet in person.)

lunge

Also, I literally just decided 0.02 seconds ago that this will now be a Taylor Swift blog, so here. My posts will now be punctuated at both appropriate and inappropriate times with pictures of Taylor Swift.

Anyway.

We had a nice little meeting in the NDIN courthouse cafeteria – cutely named “the Jury Box” – about the case we were there on (we’ll call it the Rosenbaum case) as well as some other cases we’ve kind of incestuously been mutually involved in. (As in, the appellate attorney originally had the case, but then we got it on appeal, and the trial attorney had been another friend, blah blah blah. Incestuous.)

Then it was almost half past, and time to head up. So we all went upstairs, and were let in by the Judge’s clerk, who is one of the nicest men I have ever met. He’s such a sweetheart. We chit-chatted for a while once we’d settled, and then the Government arrived with its entourage, and the Marshals brought our client up, and not too long after, the Judge came out.

Sentencing was a dog-and-pony show, as it sometimes is (but not in the Northern District of Illinois, which is totally the best federal district in the country, although I might be biased). Whatever. The Judge handed down a sentence of Life plus 7 years, followed by 15 years of mandatory supervised release, formerly called parole.

Welp, it’s a good thing Jews don’t believe in the afterlife. (Har har har. Gallows humor. Don’t mind me.)

Afterwards, we checked a few things out with the clerk and then the three of us headed down to the basement where they have the lockup facilities. The Marshals let us spend some time with Rosenbaum, and then we left.

The appellate attorney split, but I know we’re going to be in touch quite a bit over the next 2-3 years. Raymond and I split up and drove back to Chicago, paying the egregious $4 toll to get over the bridge back into our wonderful, sane state.

(Seriously, though, that goddamn toll really burns me up. I remember being a kid and tolls were like $0.50, and now it’s the price of a cup of coffee just to get to fucking Indiana of all places. Like, I feel like if things made sense, Indiana would have to pay anyone that entered its state lines willingly, you know, because it’s so terrible, basically the goiter of the Midwest, which is also the term I use for Ohio. Why do I have to PAY to go somewhere that sucks so hard. Why. Name one good thing about Indiana. That’s right, you can’t, because there are literally none. None things. Ever.)***

We drove to 26th and California, the Makkah of criminal defense, where we always have a bunch of cases going and usually a couple clients in custody at the adjacent jail. Ray took me to lunch at Il Vicinato, this lovely, cozy, time-honored Chicago spot a few blocks away from the courthouse, where all the defense attorneys have been going for decades to eat after trial as they waited for their juries to come back with a verdict.

Il Vicinato 1

The host recognized him as soon as he walked in, and we found a little table in the back and settled in for a wonderful meal. I believe Il Vicinato was mentioned several times in Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago’s Cook County Public Defender’s Office by Kevin Davis, which was the book that made 1L-Huma long to be a criminal defense attorney. I have read that book cover to cover, and it’s been the basis of so many fantasies back when I was trudging through law school and spending 8 hours a day on the Internet looking at pictures of cats while I should have been studying for the Bar, and I remember reading about how Andrea Lyon, who was and remains one of my idols, used to eat there with all the other attorneys on the Murder Task Force, and my boss, too, back in the day when she ruled the halls at 26th street.

Il Vicinato 2

It was so meaningful to be there, honestly. I felt, for the millionth time since I met Raymond, that I was yet again being inducted into a tiny little club and being shown the secret handshake. I mean, there I was, enjoying spaghetti and meatballs – followed by tiramisu – at the same place where Andrea Lyon and Raymond used to wait to learn whether or not their guy was going to be put to death by the State or not. Incredible.

We had a great lunch, and spent most of it talking about our clients, psychology, the law, which is pretty much what Raymond and I usually end up talking about when left to our own devices.

Finished with the meal – and stuffed to the gills – we headed out into the brisk afternoon and drove back to the courthouse. We ditched the car in the garage and walked across and over to Division 10, one of the two Max Security divisions of the Cook County Jail. (It’s Max, but not Super Max. I’ve been to both, and it’s always a trip.)

The jail visit went fairly smoothly and was uneventful, so I don’t have a cool story about it. Not that I would share it yet even if I did, because it’s an open case, and I don’t talk about those. I could probably talk about the Rosenbaum case, because once the restitution hearing is over with, we will no longer be the official attorneys of record, but the case is going to be appealed, and we’ll still be in contact with Rosenbaum, so I just don’t feel comfortable talking about it until it’s gone as far as it’s going to go. But that case was a story, let me tell you. Lots of craziness, a bad fact pattern, my first and only federal trial, a great cast of characters including federal prosecutors, (hi, Jill! Hi, Tom!), FBI agents, the senior district judge, and so on.

Maybe one day when I’m living in a cave in the Catskills writing my grand manifesto on deer pelts because I’ve inevitably lost my mind and completely caved to my deeply misanthropic tendencies, maybe then I’ll regale y’all with stories about the Rosenbaum case.

No, but I’m joking about the misanthropy. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a misanthrope. As butt-paralyzingly frustrating as we are, I love people, and I love how people have been people-ing for thousands upon thousands of years and none of us knows what the fuck we’re even doing. Ugh.

Life plus seven. That’s what one of us is doing, at any rate, at a currently-undetermined Bureau of Prisons facility. Happy Hanukkah, Mr. Rosenbaum, I guess.

sad thinking

*** It has come to my attention that Illinois criminal defense attorney Matt Haiduk was born in Indiana. So I amend this post to indicate that Mr. Haiduk is the only good thing that I know of that came from the Devil’s butthole, aka Indiana.

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

Written By: humarashid - Nov• 20•14

I was leery of this new prosecutor from the start. 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 some are more professional (ie, courteous) about that than others.

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.