Stop Asking Where I'm From

The Budget Game: I went to law school, now I have to pay for it.

Written By: humarashid - Feb• 09•15

And I mean that literally: I have massive student loans. I was very lucky and paid about $2,000 total for my undergrad tuition (not including books, which I tried to buy cheaply online, and other incidentals, so the total was probably around $3500 with all those things considered), so I had no loans from that period in my life. Law school was another story.

I went into it like many law students: without the best understanding of how student loans would impact my future. All I knew was that I wanted to go to law school, and this was a necessary evil.

I am occasionally asked if I regret taking out as much money as I took out for law school. I always answer no. I wanted to go to law school and be an attorney, and in my first year, I realized that I really wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. And I got to to do that. I love what I do (minus the criminal appeals, which make me want to kill myself and have sucked literally all the joy out of my life), so how could I regret the loans that got me here?

So I don’t.

I hate them, and yearn for the day when they’re off my back, and I think it’s criminal that banks get to borrow at like 1% interest from the government but students borrow at like 7% (which is my rate, which sucks but whatever), but I still don’t regret them. They have changed my life, and will continue to do so, but I can’t regret them.

Like many law grads, I have a student loan debt in the six figures. And I have to deal with it, so I am.

How? Here’s how.

After law school, I used the deferrment because I was unemployed. I was unemployed for a while, so I used another deferrment that was offered under the 2008 (I think?) Obama student loan legislation. Thank goodness for that. I had some savings, so I just chipped away at the interest, but those payments were few and far between.

Then I had kind of a mini breakdown and broke with reality. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.

I stuck my head in the sand about my loans. I decided that I just wasn’t going to think about them … and maybe they’d go away. That’s not how it works, obviously, but the anxiety about the six figures hanging over my head became too much. And I just ignored it.

I didn’t make any payments. When I got letters in the mail, I threw them away sight unseen. When I started getting calls from my loan provider, I let them go to voicemail while I internally panicked. This happened for about 3 months. The anxiety about my loans was crippling, and I just couldn’t face those calls, or face the fact that I had these huge loans.

I know, a total weenie reaction. But that’s where I was with it.

Finally, one day, I was walking out of a cute Naperville boutique having just bought a birthday gift for my best friend. I was feeling pretty good. And right as I stepped outside, I got a call from my loan provider.

And for whatever reason, I picked it up. I decided to nut up and accept the call. It was a good thing I did, because the automated recording was a new one: it was warning me about the prospect of default.

Now let me tell you, even though I was only at the 120 day mark, and not yet halfway to the 270 day mark that triggers default and fucks up your credit rating and all that, that word caused me even greater panic and anxiety than the loans themselves.

So I went home, pulled out my checkbook so I had my account number handy, and called the loan provider back. I spoke to a very nice representative, who informed me that I owed like $4,000 or something – just in interest. I don’t know if that number is right. It might have been lower. Let’s say it’s right.

Now, I had more than triple that in my savings account alone at that point, so it didn’t trouble me. The idea of getting that number to 0 was very attractive. I still remember how surprised the representative was when I asked, “Can I pay that entire balance off right now?”

I gave her my account number and it was taken care of. And I decided that I was going to face my loans head on and make every effort I could to pay them down.

I logged onto my loan provider’s site and created an account. I looked at my balance and looked at my next due date a month out.

Now, I’m luckier than most, even with these huge loans. I live at home (which is basically cultural – I can move out, and I want to, but at this point since my parents are so resistant to it, I’m just not willing to hurt them by leaving although I will be leaving in the not too distant future), so I have fewer bills than most. I basically just have my car bill (which is hefty, because I have a wonderful car, basically my dream car, and that’s fine, because I drive so much and I love it and it’s comfortable and it’s an expense I’m willing to bear and it’ll be paid off in less than a year, anyway), and my loans, and slightly more discretionary things like food and clothing and all that normal stuff.

So a huge chunk of my paycheck isn’t going toward rent. At that point, I was basically socking away most of my pay and putting some in my Roth IRA.

Two weeks later I got another paycheck, and dropped another two thousand on my loans. I felt fantastic.

According to the website, I was paid off for about three months. It was a great feeling, and I chased it. I decided I’d make regular payments toward my loans, and I did that.

Whenever I could, I made payments toward my loans. In about two months, that due date for the next payment was six months off, which meant I was applying more money toward my principle.

When I started, I think my total was $117,000, but that included the interest that had built up. Today, it is $110,000. In another year, if I keep this up, it’ll be in the five figures. Which will be a huge accomplishment.

At that time, though, I was still very disorganized with my payments. I knew how much I had to pay off, I knew how much I was paying, I knew how much I had coming in, I kenw how much I had in savings, but somehow it wasn’t all connected.

I did not want to be paying more toward my loans and my discretionary bills than I had coming in. I had a very comfortable savings cushion, but I didn’t want to deplete it too fast without realizing it. So I started looking for help.

I started with Mint. Everyone raves about it, so I thought I should look into it. I linked all my accounts, even my little PayPal that collects a small amount each month from the pay-by-month advertisers on my blog. (If you want to advertise with a text link, contact me!) And then I looked at the interface. It gave me lots of great ways to track stuff, and an app, but …

This is embarrassing, so I’m just going to say it: it was too complicated for me. I didn’t want to spend that much time tracking my expenses. I wanted to be parked/stopped in the drive-thru, waiting for them to hand me my card back, and be able to enter the $1.89 I spent on coffee into my phone while I did so. Mint was just too much for me.

Then I looked into apps that were specifically geared toward people in debt. I heard of Level and signed up, but didn’t end up fully investigating it and using it. This was probably because I was burned out on all the different services I was researching and all the finance articles and books I was reading. So that’s unfortunate, but not in the long run, since I ended up finding something I really liked. I have a friend that really likes Level, and he swears by it, so if you’re looking around, you may really like Level.

I then saw a Facebook add for Ready For Zero. Isn’t that a great name? Also, those FB algorithms figure out everything. My FB ads changed based on my browser history. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trolling for crazy fetish porn? I don’t know. Anyway, I signed up for Ready for Zero and started loading my accounts and my student loan into it. The weird thing was, my loans are consolidated, but RFZ read them as unconsolidated, so it separated them out. Which was weird. And then it encouraged me to pay off the lower interest one first? But they both have the same interest rate, because they’re one loan? So, whatever.

Still, I loved the model for RFZ. It tracked how much money you put into your bank accounts, and then sent you helpful emails like, if you put $100 of that toward your loan balance right now, you’ll pay off your loan by such and such date. If you use $500, it’ll be such and such date. And I’m great with dates and numbers, so that was really attractive.

It also had a built in loan calculator, which was my main reason for going for it. The bad thing was, RFZ only lets you set like $1650 as your minimum monthly payment for the loan calculator to work, and that’s what your little “put this much toward your loan” alerts are based on.

Well, I was NOT able to have $1650 be my monthly minimum payment at that point, which rendered the app basically useless. I’m still signed up, but I delete those emails unread whenever I get them. I really should unsubscribe.

I tried a bunch of little budgeting apps that I can’t remember, too, but deleted most of them pretty quickly. They were just too complicated, or they didn’t let me do what I wanted to do. It was a frustrating journey, but ultimately, I figured out a way that worked.

I’ve divided it up into some categories so it’s easier to follow:

The Loan and Loan Repayment Calculation Aspect:

I found an online loan calculator, and also this one, that was flexible enough to not care too much about what the “official” monthly payment was, but more about how much I was putting toward my loans. When I plugged in everything – my total loan amount of like $117,000, the interest rate of 7.35%, how much I was putting toward it, which are all old figures now – the result was encouraging in terms of how many years it would take to pay off and how much would go toward interest.

If I paid only the minimum payments, I would pay out over the next 22 years, and pay more than my initial loan amount in interest alone. Even though the upside was that at the end of the loan repayment period of 25 years (I think?) I wouldn’t owe anythign and wouldn’t be hit with a tax bill. Although maybe my loan repayment at that time was at 10 years? 15 years? I don’t know. If it was either of those, I’d obviously be hit with a tax bill for the unpaid “forgiven” amount, which is such balls. But whatever. Still, that was UNACCEPTABLE.

Given how much money I was putting toward my loans, less than half of my initial loan amount would be paid in interest. So that was good, but still not good enough.

So that was the loan payback calculation stuff itself, which is different from the personal finance end of it. I researched what I could do to affect the repayment part of it. I realized that my loan provider offered a markdown of 0.25% of the interest rate if I signed up for automatic withdrawal every month. I called them up to confirm that I could do automatic withdrawal even if I was paid up for about a year, which some loan providers don’t let you do, and they confirmed I could. So I immediately entered my checking account information and took advantage of my new 7% interest rate. It’s still terrible, but better than it used to be.

Now, every 25th, $828.00 is automatically withdrawn. I plan for it in advance and haven’t even remotely had a problem with that. (My bank account is kind of dumb, in that I always have to have $1500 in it, so that’s the only problem that could ever come up, but it never once has, so that’s good.)

Another option is transferring it to another provider, which might offer a lower rate. I admit, I’m still researching this, because if I want to do it, I want it to be the right choice and the best option. I know that every day I don’t, I’m paying more in interest, so this is something I’m going to have to put closer to the top of my priority list.

I always plan for the $828, so I don’t even consider that anymore. As soon as it’s in, it’s gone. What I focus on is what extra money I’m putting toward my loans. Since I got my interest rate lower, I turned toward the personal finance aspect of it.

Increasing And/Or Supplementing Income:

The first part of this two-prong approach was obviously increasing my income. Easier said than done, as I’m sure most of you know. But not impossible. Far from it, actually.

I said before that I was disorganized about how much extra money I was putting toward my loans. That had to change if I was going to make some headway on this.

Bottom line, no pun intended: I needed more money.

I had a steady paycheck from work, which was excellent. I was reimbursed for healthcare, so that was cool. I don’t have a phone bill, since my boss pays for that as well. (See what I said about being lucky enough to have limited bills?)

I also got mileage reimbursement for all the miles I drove to court. My boss offered to reimburse me for tolls, but that’s such a pain to document with this iPass bullshit that I just never took him up on it. Once all my ducks are even more in a row, I may look into that more seriously.

For now, I try to offset that amount. I used to pay between $120-$160 for tolls each month, which is RIDICULOUS. That’s because the route I take to work – really, the best way to actually get there without going on a tour of the Midwest) is the pits. The tolls are so fucking high, it’s LITERAL HIGHWAY ROBBERY.

My first epiphany was that if I used a non-toll route to get to a certain courthouse, I actually got there 10 minutes earlier, and paid nothing. So that led me to use (abuse?) the Avoid Tolls option in Google. By doing that to get to court, and occasionally taking the long way home from work (which is roughly the same mileage, so I’m not driving up my already insane amount on the odometer), I got the amount down to $4o-60 a month, which is pretty great.

Another thing I love: cash back awards. I had a Chase Sapphire account already, which gave me decent cash back that I had linked to my Amazon account. I had always kept only one credit card, but soon looked into getting another one with different cashback schedules. I settled on a Discover, and linked that to Amazon as well. I buy a ton of stuff on Amazon instead of going to the store, so it works well for me to have that cashback sent there. So getting another credit card was a good decision, especially since I have never carried a balance on any card ever, and always pay in full each month.

Swagbucks was another good deal, because every two months or so I get a $5 Amazon gift card. That’s not much, true, but it’s an extra $30 a month that I didn’t have before. It all kind of depends on what your shopping habits are.

I’m sure I’m a member of other rewards programs, but I can’t remember them at this point. So much of it depends on what kind of consumer you are, so the programs I use may not be applicable for you.

Another interesting thing I ended up taking advantage of were part-time, contract-based writing gigs on Craigslist. They’re few and far between, but once a week I spend a little bit of time checking the listings. The pay isn’t anything to write home about, but I love writing, and I do it really fast. So it works out, and it’s extra cash that can go toward my income without taking much away from the quality of my life.

I also take advantage of discount offers that come my way. I never used to care, but if I get a $20 gift certificate in the mail to one of my favorite restaurants, I’m an idiot for not using it. This also included signing up for the email lists of some of my favorite places. For example, RA Sushi sends out a $20 gift card during the month of your half-birthday, which is awesome. Little stuff like that.

If I had more free time, I might consider a part-time job. I know many young lawyers that do that. However, I have too much going on at work, and that’s just not something that I want to fit into my life. If I were more desperate, I might. I won’t lie, I’ve thought about it sometime. But I don’t want anything like that taking away from the quality of my lawyerly work, so it’s not going to happen. No disrespect to the folks, lawyers or otherwise, who have part time jobs to pay off their loans or other bills. (In fact, props.)

I also make some money from ad sales on my blog. I used to make way more from it, but extra money is extra money. It goes to my PayPal account, and is a nice little reserve for me when I’m buying random little things that I need for my sanity and happiness, and can pay with PayPal.

But you know what’s really made the biggest difference in my life, both good and bad?

Personal Budgeting:

Yup. I play the Budget Game. My friends mock me for it – and other friends are actually concerned about me because of it – but it’s working for me. And I’m always fine-tuning it, too.

The discussion above focused on apps and services I tried that just weren’t for me. I wanted a simple to use app that still gave me the flexibility to categorize my purchases the way I wanted, not in pre-determined categories, and without having to hunt for all the niche categories. I wanted a no-frills app that just kind of let me do my own thing.

And I found it with iSpending, and I want to show you why I think it’s so great. It’s an iPhone app, and I recommend the paid version, which is just a couple dollars and so worth it.

student loan personal finance 1

This is the home screen of the app, basically. I blurred out my money totals because that’s no one’s business. Basically, you put in all the income you have, without linking to any accounts, and then you track your expenses. It uses that colorful pie graph to show you the balance between your income and expenses, and in my case, the $338.74 is what I have left until my next paycheck. (I tend to do factor in my set amount bills early, and then sock away more toward my loans, and spend whatever is left very carefully so I can put some more toward my loans right before I deposit my next check. So that’s why the amount is always artificially low, because I plan ahead.)

So from this home screen, at a glance, I can tell that I have $338.74 to spend during the next 8 days, which is not even remotely a hardship. In fact, I can easily afford to put another $150 toward my loans right now, and still have more than enough to carry me through the next 8 days without breaking a sweat.

(In fact, I might just do that right now. That would be the Smart Adult thing to do.)

While this app calculates all your spending habits and your income in, expenses out, the home screen only shows that current calendar month, which I LOOOOOVE. I don’t want to see the last thirty days; I want to plan out the month. And this works great. It gives me the exact information I need without giving me too much.

If you want to add an expense or add money coming in, you press one of those two buttons and this comes up:


It’s so so so simple, and it fulfills my desire: to be able to add an expense while waiting for my coffee in a drive through. (Also I avoid buying coffee now, because it adds up. Instead, I invested in a great Contigo travel mug and now I just make tea in the morning, or wait until I get to the office to have some coffee.)

The category option isn’t a drop down menu. So I get to pick what I put in. To resist the temptation of getting too specific, I sat down with a piece of paper and tracked all my expenses on my Chase credit card, and decided which categories they fit into. I think I had 7-9 categories total. Specific enough to accurately describe my purchasing habits, but general enough to keep it all sensical. Only then did I start using this app to track stuff, according to those categories.

So here, you just enter the amount, a broad category, the date if it’s not contemporaneous, and in the Notes section you can put something as specific as you want. So I might put “Shopping” as the category and put “NARS Dragon Girl Lipstick” in the notes so I can see that I was actually splurging on makeup.

That leads me to the fact that no-frills apps are great, but I obviously need more information in order to budget and plan effectively. If you click Details on the home screen, you go to this page:

student loan personal finance 2

The green is the money coming in, which I blocked out. The black is money going out. Depending on how it all works, some purchases are repeated in both black and green. You can see that I counted the $35.38 as both an expense and income; that’s because that gas purchase will be reimbursed since it’s due to traveling to court. (I keep separate records on that so I’m not being reimbursed for more than the proper legal amount.) Also, if I’m paying for something using a cashback reward, or my PayPal money (which is automatic, and not my own money, but money from ads, etc), then I count the amount as an expense AND income, because it’s not going out of my paycheck but is money I already have sitting around.

If I wanted to click on Entertainment, it would tell me that I spent the $6.92 on books from Thriftbooks, because that was the information I put in the Notes section. This way, I have as much and as little information as I want at the time.

I have recommended this app to several friends who asked me about budgeting, so I figured I’d share it with you readers as well, in case you’re looking for something similar. iSpending is hands down the best app I’ve come across, and it really has helped me track my spending down to the cent.

And when it’s the 16th, and I’m depositing my next check, I can look at this app and see that I have $200 left over from the previous check that I haven’t spent. Then I can decide how much of that to put into my IRA or savings account or my loans. To be honest, since I have a comfortable savings account and small IRA going, I put most of my extra money toward my loans. So on the 16th, I could deposit my next check and also put $200 toward my loans. Yay?

Because I put every dollar I can toward my loans, and I have the automatic payment that I’ve already budgeted for in advance, I pay a nice, hefty amount toward my principle each month. And that’s all I care about. Because a lower principle means less interest being paid daily, and that is so important to me. I want to pay this off as quickly as possible and with as little interest out as possible.

There are still other things I can do – like investigate private lenders to see if I should make the switch, and other ways of increasing income, and obviously my tax refund will go to my loans – but for now, this is my strategy. And it’s working so far.

The goal of my budget game is to have broken even at the end of the month. I don’t want to spend more than I earn, and I want to be able to put almost every spare dollar toward my loans. I know I should be paying myself first, but I’m balancing that priority of saving with my loans. It’s a work in progress, figuring all that out.

I hope this very personal look into what I’m doing to attack a huge problem in my life (one that I don’t regret) has helped at least one of you. Do you think there’s anything else I should be doing? What has worked for you? What resources do you use? Do you want to join up with me and overthrow this capitalist system and force a total wiping out of all debt and massive financial restructuring in this country? Wait ignore that last one, I’m totally not serious about it.


Drop me an email, if the comment forms are still hinky. You can do so in the sidebar – just submit a note and I’ll put the suggestions and resources together and post them, crediting you with the idea. Let me know!

Oh, and fuck the fuck off already, any member of a previous generation who only knows how to bitch about how Millenials are “so entitled” and so lazy and all that bullshit. Millenials are a highly skilled, very adaptable and versatile, well-informed, hardworking as fuck generation making the best of a crumbling economic and financial infrastructure put in place by fucking Baby Boomers who worked during the summer to afford an entire year of college because tuition was that low back then and money went so much farther and also didn’t have many of the bills we have today including data and cell phone bills because those things were literally nonexistent and still like to tear down Millenials. FUCK THE FUCK OFF, NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR WORTHLESS OPINIONS.

Drug Rip #4: The one where we were accused of bribing witnesses.

Written By: humarashid - Dec• 24•14

So the PTI came back in mid-December, and it was set for trial.

Matt was still married to the 37 years at this point, so there was really nothing left to do but try it. Or at least, that was the party line. Although we wanted to try the case, we weren’t going to do it until everything had fallen into place. And Raymond didn’t feel the case was positioned correctly at that point, so he had no intention of trying it on the next date.

We prepared the file for trial. “Prepared,” because we all had a strong feeling it wouldn’t be going. Meaning, we were going to do whatever we could to get it kicked. The first time, it was kicked on a technicality that, if you really looked at it, didn’t have anything to do with us or our scheduling. This time, it would have to be our side that took the blame.

Matt had subpoenaed the five complaining witnesses. Several of them showed up. We had some of their pictures in the criminal background reports, but those were mostly old mugshots, and as several years had passed, we weren’t entirely sure who was who. Plus, there were lots of other spectators in the gallery that were there for the other cases on the judge’s call.

With us was our investigator, Angelina, a statuesque blonde wearing an immaculate skirt-suit outfit who carried herself through the halls of the Cook County courthouse with the presence of a trial attorney. She was a sweetheart, and we connected instantly.

She was around to scope out our witnesses, and try to connect with them, because when you’re in that situation, it’s best to have a prover.

Four of the five witnesses showed up. Both of the men that were in the apartment at the time that Morgan and his buddy allegedly burst in were there, and two of the three girls were there. None of the other witnesses – neighbors – had responded to the subpoenas.

There were a couple cops in the back room who had been subpoenaed for trial, but other than noting how many, I didn’t pay too much attention to that. I was more focused on the complaining witnesses – the CWs.

We had talked to most of them on the phone before. Neither man was interested in testifying, but knew they had to comply with the State’s subpoena by at least being physically present. Word on the street was that these were known drug dealers, and so their incentive to cooperate with the cops and the State and testify at trial, on the record, was minimal. The girls were still upset about the incident, but one of them had recently found Jesus, who told her to forgive and forget, so she was very pleasant and chatty with us and indicated in previous phone conversations that she didn’t want to testify against Morgan; she just wanted him to go on and have a good, God-fearing life and all that.

But there was a problem on trial day.

Like I said, we weren’t too sure who our witnesses were when we walked into the room. There were probably about 20-30 people seated in the gallery in the courtroom, and most of them were Black like our CWs, and … the pictures we had on file were old and we had no idea who was who.

Angelina quickly pinpointed the men, and discreetly pointed them out to me and Raymond. We told the deputies she was with us, so she got to hang out in the attorney section of the courtroom, where we could all whisper discreetly.

Morgan and Dad were seated in the gallery, next to two pretty young women. I hadn’t made contact with Morgan that morning, because I had nothing to say, since Raymond was the lead and always talked to them, and he’d already done that before I arrived at the courthouse.

So when we saw Morgan and Dad sitting there, next to two young women, we didn’t think much of it. Everyone seemed pretty chill in general, except that I could tell from the line of Morgan’s shoulders that he was tense. He knew that the trial probably wasn’t going to go, but he was still obviously stressed by it.

Matt stepped out of the prosecutor’s room and we made small talk until we were ready to get the case called. We were up front with him – there’s no reason not to be in this situation – and indicated that we were not prepared to answer ready.

(In order to proceed to trial, both parties have to “answer ready” on the record before the Judge.)

Matt wasn’t surprised, and I think he may have been a little relieved. I know the way these courtrooms function, and I doubt he had taken the time to prep his CWs as fully as we would later prep Morgan for trial, as fully as we always prepped all of our witnesses for trial. The State is overworked, underpaid, and underloved. Matt was probably just pleased that people responded to the subpoena instead of fucking him over, and planned on talking to them real quick to firm up the story during the breaks before the trial actually started.

Having squared things with the prosecutor, we all stepped up in front of the judge. I was shaking in my heels, basically, and so, so grateful that I would not be expected to say a word. At that point, I was stepping up on my own court dates and even my own little cases, so I was becoming quite used to talking to the Judge and handling different prickly personalities in a courtroom … but I knew we were in for it today.

The Judge took the file from her clerk and the proceeding was underway. She asked if the State was ready to proceed, to which Matt responded that they had witnesses present under subpoena, which isn’t really responsive to the question, but they always phrase it that way. Whatever.

“And you, Mr. Wigell?” She glanced off the bench and down at Raymond. “Is the Defense ready?”

There was a pause, and then Raymond replied. “…We are not, Judge.”

I can generally handle confrontation – I’d be a shit lawyer if I couldn’t – but under some situations, when tensions are high and there’s yelling, I become a little turtle retreating into its shell. I just … it’s strange to describe it, but it’s like I’m paralyzed. Not when it’s happening to me, because I can lash back as appropriate, but when I’m observing it. I don’t like people yelling at each other in my presence. I’ve never been able to deal with it well.

taylor swift gasp

Once Raymond spoke, I just kept my head down and furiously scribbled notes on my pad, or pretended to. I was barely aware of Morgan standing behind me, his hands clasped in front of me. He always dressed handsomely for court, in slacks and crisp button downs. Today, for “trial,” he was wearing a tie. I kept myself very still so he wouldn’t think anything was amiss with me, but I don’t think I looked up for the entire proceeding. It was brief – just a couple minutes – but when you’re up there, it always feels like it’s taking eons.

Raymond was the only one speaking – Matt, having answered ready, busied himself with shuffling paperwork, presumably relieved that the Judge’s ire wasn’t directed at him. Raymond explained to the Judge that the Defense simply wasn’t ready to go to trial today, and required a continuance.

The Judge was not pleased. That’s putting it mildly. I cringed and rapid-blinked my way through the entire proceeding, and I’m pretty sure I repressed most of it (I really don’t like yelling, you guys), but Raymond got our necks out of the noose, as I knew he would.

The Judge gave us another date. It was mid-December, and we took a mid-February date to put together what Raymond called a “detailed mitigation report” to tender to the State. The Judge made her notes on the file, glaring at us all the while, and excused us.

So you know when we got the case called, and Morgan’s full name was read aloud by the clerk, and he stepped up in front of the judge with us? There had been a minor disturbance in the gallery when he did that.

As it turned out, and as I’m sure most of you have already figured out, the two young women seated next to Morgan were two of the three young women that had been in the apartment when Morgan and his friend allegedly burst in.


Morgan had been seated next to two of the CWs the whole morning. Two women who were prepared to testify against him. He didn’t recognize them, and they didn’t recognize him – until the clerk read his name aloud and they realized who he was.

They had left the courtroom when we walked away from the bench, and were standing outside, being comforted by a deputy sheriff. Angelina had seen all of this and flanked the deputy. I could see her nodding sympathetically, and reaching out to pat one of the women’s shoulders, and I knew she was in detective mode, already working them over for information.

One of the male CWs was seated in the aisle. He watched as we approached and, as we passed, he grabbed Raymond’s arm.

“Yo, uh, can I get your business card?”

We had asked him earlier that morning if he wanted to talk to us and he had declined, so this was a breakthrough. It meant he was willing to connect with the Defense and whatever information we got out of him, we could use to help Morgan.

Raymond always has a card on hand. “Many years ago,” he has told me many times, “my mentor told me to always have two things on me: a card and a pen.” He grabbed his card from his jacket pocket and handed it to the CW, still walking out of the courtroom.

The entire exchange took mere seconds, and was very fluid. Raymond didn’t stop to try to talk to the guy there, and the guy didn’t try to follow him. It was a very, very brief exchange in passing.

But not brief enough to escape the Judge’s notice.


I had never heard her that angry and I wondered which attorney had pissed her off enough that she interrupted her call – with another attorney and another defendant standing at the bench already. I looked around and noticed that Raymond had turned and was staring at her.

“In chambers. NOW.”

I remember that exact moment when I realized she was talking to us. Us. Everyone had stopped to stare, even the deputies, and I was just frozen in place. Raymond shrugged, and when he rolled his shoulders, I snapped out of it. He ambled forward, following the Judge into the back hallway that led to chambers, and I quickly followed.

My thoughts were a blur as I half-trotted to keep up, staring at Raymond’s back. What was the judge so pissed about? What did we do? Did this sort of thing normally happen? What was this all about?

Morgan was standing in the back of the room, a stricken and confused look on his face, and I remember abruptly waving a hand at him to sit down, to just hang tight while we dealt with this.

One of the prosecutors, not Matt but the second chair, saw that the judge was heading back into her chambers with defense counsel but without the State, so he dropped his file and took two large steps into her office so an ex parte communication wouldn’t be a concern.

The judge spun around as soon as she got into her chambers, and I almost collided with Ray when he stopped suddenly in front of me.

Her mouth was set in a grim, tight line and her hands were on her hips, above the (surprisingly cheap-looking) black robe judges wear.

“Did I just see you hand money to a trial witness?!”

I’ve never been good at poker faces. I have very expressive eyes and a very expressive face. You can always tell from the way I narrow or widen my eyes, or arch or furrow my brows, or set my mouth or tilt my head, what I’m thinking. It’s not difficult. Even new inductees into the FBI in some dingy office in Quantico would find me too elementary an exercise in reading.

This time was no exception, because my jaw just dropped to the floor.

taylor oh no

Thankfully, I was in good company, because even the second chair prosecutor was gaping.

Raymond, however, was another story. Every line in his body was rigid, and he looked like a tightly wound coil about to spring.

“ABSOLUTELY NOT,” he fairly roared at the judge. “And I take tremendous offense that the Court would accuse me of a thing like that, which I’ve never even thought of doing in all my forty years as a defense attorney!”

I was frozen solid at this point, but inwardly cheering Raymond on wildly. I’m so used to pussy-footing around Judges and kissing the asses of the prosecutors (Ray is, too, unfortunately) because often times that is what is best for our client, and I was so glad that he was having none of it the second the Judge questioned his character and ethics.

I mean, the man was a chairman of the Illinois ARDC, our governing body of professional ethics. He had the power to disbar attorneys for misconduct. He also frequently advised attorneys accused of misconduct. He trained the folks that were currently at the helm of the ARDC. His character, as far as an ethical attorney, was unimpeachable.

And the Judge’s accusation was ridiculous.

Raymond may have had a few other choice words, but I can’t recall them. All I know is that the Judge softened in the face of his anger, until at the end she had her hands up slightly, palms exposed, and was almost trying to soothe him.

“I just had to make sure,” she said more gently. “I can’t have even the hint of that going on in my courtroom.”

Raymond said nothing for a few beats, just looking at her sternly over his glasses, and let the silence speak for itself.

“Are we excused, Judge?”

“Yes, Mr. Wigell. Have a nice day.”

I’d already backed out of chambers so that I was safely out of the way when Raymond spun on the heel of his polished Prada shoes (the man has a great shoe collection, seriously) and strode out. I always try to be mindful of placement – it would never do to spoil someone’s dramatic exit.

We walked back into the courtroom, the Judge behind us. I followed Ray’s lead: look forward, shoulders back and straight, walk tall. Folks seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when we walked out, placid-faced, and the Judge calmly took her seat once more and resumed the call in a normal, friendly tone.

A discreet tip of my head told Morgan and Dad to follow us out in the hall and into one of the private attorney-client conference rooms.

“Technically, the Judge had a point,” Raymond murmured to me. “Everyone gets real tense when it’s an attorney and the other side’s witness, especially in the courtroom. Normally – and that’s just the culture here – you might wait until you got outside the courtroom to hand a witness your card. So if you’re ever in that position, I want you to do that, just let them follow you into the hall.”

I nodded but said nothing else because Morgan and Dad had caught up to us. We ushered them into a private room. I was about to step in when I noticed that Angelina was talking to the two female witnesses. I looked at Raymond and darted my eyes at the little group, and he nodded. I left Morgan, Dad, and Raymond in the attorney room and walked over to where Angelina was talking to the ladies.

I made quick work of my introduction and – once I informed them I was Morgan’s attorney and double-confirmed that they were willing to speak to me anyway – immediately moved into the apology.

“I noticed you guys were sitting next to Morgan before the case was called up,” I might have said at the time. “I’m so, so sorry. No one meant for that to happen. I had no idea what you two looked like, otherwise I would’ve grabbed my guy’s arm and gotten him into another seat so that didn’t happen. I can’t even imagine how upsetting that must have been for you, and I’m so sorry. Frankly, I’m surprised the State didn’t think to tell you guys who you were seated next to.”

Eh. Sometimes you drop the seeds as to how the State dropped the ball. At this point, any tension between the State and its witnesses would be helpful to us.

The two women were very appreciative of my apology. It was sincere. They chattered on about how shocked and surprised they were, how much they hated that they’d been sitting next to Morgan and didn’t know it, etc.

Angelina and I stood with them for a few minutes, with Angelina doing most of the talking.

The CWs were very friendly, and not put off by the fact that I was defending Morgan. They were a few years younger than me, and very willingly told us what they remembered happening that night, and their injuries (frostbite, from running out in various shades of undress into the snowy December night). We also learned that the State had not really prepped them to testify – just called them and told them that a subpoena was in the mail and they needed to come to court.

It’s always important to try to figure out what the State is doing with its witnesses, how well prepped they are. It varies based on county, based on type of case, based on the personality of the prosecutor. But it’s all important information to know, and I was soaking it in like a sponge so I could recite it all to Raymond later so he could use it at the right time.

The ladies gave us their contact information, and said we could get in touch with them if we wanted to talk to them about the case, so we were very appreciative of that. We only speak with the witnesses if they seek us out and want to speak to us – in fact, I always ask that explicitly in the beginning, before I say a word. “I’m Huma, ____’s attorney. Would you mind speaking to me for just a few minutes?” If they say no, I walk away. If they just want a card, they get a card and I walk away.

While Angelina was working on the two women, I made sure I tracked the State’s movements. Before too long, I saw Matt step out of the courtroom with the male CW that had asked for Raymond’s card. They walked into the attorney room right next to where Raymond and Morgan and Dad were, and Matt shut the door behind himself without noticing that I was standing a few paces away.

I knew what was going on in that room – he was explaining that the subpoenas were continued until the next trial date, that he’d be in touch, and he was prepping their testimony.

It didn’t take him very long – which wasn’t that surprising – and within five minutes they all stepped out again. The CW left. Matt stepped out and noticed me standing there. He paused for a moment and then headed back into the courtroom.

The female CWs were getting antsy to leave at this point, so Angelina and I thanked them for being willing to speak with us, and they left as well. We stepped into the room where Raymond was still talking to Morgan and Dad.

Raymond interrupted the conversation when I stepped in and let me explain what we had learned from the female CWs. Morgan and Dad nodded along as I spoke, and I realized Raymond had done that partially to inspire client confidence – in me.

We stuck around for a while longer, and before we released Morgan and Dad, I told Morgan that I would be in touch, because we needed to set up a telephone conversation so I could do my mitigation interview. He shook my hand with a small smile and I held the door so he and Dad could leave.

Ray sat down at the little table in the room, looking tired. I sat down across from him, proud that I remembered to unbutton my blazer before I did so.

He told me about another judge in the building, who he blamed for one of his former clients killing himself. He died clutching one of Raymond’s business cards to his chest. That was how the paramedics found him.

“So dramatic, wasn’t it?” Raymond murmured, closing his eyes.

He always told me stories because he knew I loved them. He told me stories when he thought I was ready for them, to slowly bring me into the deeper end of the pool, to help harden me against what he thought I might be experiencing for myself in the near future regarding our cases.

I still sometimes wonder why he told me that story on that particular day.

And on Mondays, we go to the opera.

Written By: humarashid - Dec• 22•14

I live a little less than an hour from Chicago, and I work about a half hour south of Chicago. One of my favorite things about Chicago is the cultural scene: the big museums like the Art Institute and the Shedd and the Field museum, and all the little museums sprinkled around the different Chicago neighborhoods, and the live music scene and the symphony and the local art. Chicago is the best damn city in the world, and I hate that I think it a drag to drive in, because I’m really missing out on so many things I love.

But hopefully it’ll be easier now for me to get in and out of the city more regularly, since a colleague of mine gave me his extra parking space at his apartment in the Near North Side, with valet parking and a 24-hour accessible heated garage and everything. So I basically have no excuse, right?

That’s why I said yes when my friend James from high school sent me an invite to a performance of “Anna Bolena” at the Lyric Opera on a Monday night. Sure, it was a 4 hour opera and it would be past midnight by the time I got home. Sure, I had an extra early court call the next morning. But why the hell not go see “Anna Bolena” on a random Monday night in my favorite city?

anna bolena

This is James’s sinister plan, guys. And by sinister, I mean amazing. I am 100% down with this. James says he wants to help me be more cultured. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

James and I were friends back in high school. We lost touch after we graduated, but then reconnected in the last couple of months, because he’s also good friends with Lizzy, who is one of my closest friends.


(Yay, grainy Instagram photos! I love this shot of us. He’s the only man I know that just gets more and more handsome every time I see him. How I loathe him.)

We’ve been talking a lot, and hanging out more, and since James is a dancer and singer, we talk quite a bit about his work. He’s performed at theaters and opera houses across the country (and, I believe, the world), and he’s always in the know about excellent shows and, more often than not, affiliated with them in some way because he is so terribly talented.

Recently, he took me to the opening night performance of “Mary Poppins” at the Paramount theater, which was a wonderful show, and introduced me to all his theater friends at the party afterwards.

(God, it’s killing me to spell it t-h-e-a-t-e-r  instead of t-h-e-a-t-r-e, as I always have.)

So when he told me about the (deeply discounted) tickets he had for “Anna Bolena,” I agreed without even thinking about it. After court that morning, I headed into the city and parked at the Park Tower in my colleague’s extra spot (the poor doormen are always so bewildered when I breeze in and out with a sunny, “Oh, [redacted] said I could use his spot”) and found a nearby coffee house where I spent a couple hours working on one of my many appellate briefs. (Kill me.)

Then I drove over to where the Lyric Opera is (hooray for using ParkWhiz to find an $8 spot in a well-lit garage from 7-12:15am!), and ran in to watch the show.

I had excellent seats, in my opinion. The question of what makes an excellent seat is the start of many great debates. Do you want to be close enough to see the costumes and set and facial expressions and to be able to read the translated Italian easily? Or do you want the seat where the performers’ voices will sound the best? Or, if it’s a more dance-intensive kind of show, do you want to be in a spot where you can see the performers’ movements at their best advantage so you can really get a deep sense for the choreography?

For me, what I really enjoy in opera performances – where there’s really not much dancing – is being close enough to see the performers’ facial expressions, their body languages, their costumes, and the set designs and set changes and how the performers move around to accommodate the moving of the set pieces into position.

And I had excellent seats for that purpose – main floor, one of the center aisles. It’s a seat that would have cost me close to $200, but I think I paid like 10% of that, which suits me just fine, thank you. I’ve got student loans to pay back, guys – I don’t have Opera Money to splash around every week. Maybe in ten years when I’m supremely fancy and equally crabby and have paid off my massive loans. (Which, if I can keep putting as much as I’m putting toward them right now, will be a reality! Prayer circle.)

“Anna Bolena” was excellent. EXCELLENT. I’ve always loved the story, and the performance was just fantastic. Such a great cast! Anna was a revelation, really, especially in the end when she was going mad. I particularly enjoyed the woman who played Jane Seymour. She won Singer of the World last year in Cardiff, and it was well deserved.

The performer who played Smeaton was puckish and inspired. So entertaining to watch. Hervey was tall and ominous and just a wonderful, handsomely dark presence that swept around the perimeter but boomed strong and sure.

Honestly, though, I fell in love with the guy that played Henry. AMAZING performance! He made Henry so captivating, so compelling a character, and he had the deepest voice I’ve heard in a long time.

Men with deep voices. Ugh. <3

taylor pleased

Hey, I told y’all I’d be going nuts with the Taylor Swift pics. You should’ve listened and abandoned ship while you had the chance.

This reminds me: I should start wearing winged eyeliner every day, I think? I’m good at it. Maybe it wouldn’t be too much.

Anyway, Henry was amazing. I could listen to that man sing the Federal Handbook to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, I swear. That’s a bad example because I love that book and find it endlessly interesting. Fine. I could listen to that man sing the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy, which is unmitigated steaming horseshit.

James didn’t come to the show with me, which was disappointing, but I totally understood. He’s in rehearsals now for an opera premiering at the Lyric in February, and the poor man is just exhausted. So he went home and took a nap, and then met up with me after the show.

Once the show was over, I hightailed it to the stage entrance at the other side of the building. James was there with a friend of his, a Ph.D. student from the Czech Republic who was at the University of Chicago writing his dissertation on the Czech community in Chicago. (James is Czech, too.) Such a nice guy. We chatted briefly about the show, and then James took us backstage at the Lyric to meet some of the performers.

The lady who played Jane Seymour is a friend of James’s, and she’s so nice. We waited outside her room and saw her for a little bit, and while we were waiting and talking amongst ourselves, I SAW HENRY.



His name’s John and he’s incredibly nice.

After we talked to Jamie/Jane Seymour for a bit, we headed out and split up not too long after that. I headed home and got like 5 hours of sleep before I had to get up for court, and it was totally worth it.

I’m definitely going to see James perform in February, but I’m hoping to add even more trips to the Lyric into my near-future plans. I absolutely love the opera, and I need to start doing more things that I love. I also love Chicago Symphony Orchestra and haven’t been there in way too long – not since Pierre Boulez’s 80th birthday performance, which was so long ago that I’m legit embarrassed.

I also love ballet, having grown up in Boston and seeing performances literally every year. Coincidentally, James is also a ballet dancer, so I’m hoping to work that into my cultural experiences again. Plus, the Joffrey Ballet is based in Chicago, and I’d see them fairly regularly when they toured in Boston, so it’s basically a crime that I haven’t been to the ballet in so long. Must fix that.

Taylor ballet

(And calm your tits, I’ll be back with more Drug Rip posts on Wednesday.)

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.