Stop Asking Where I'm From

Rest in Peace, friend.

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 30•14

kankakee county courthouse

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

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

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

There really isn’t a lot to say.

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

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

Words fail me.

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

Thank you.

Creating a “Thin Book Day” at the library

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 27•14

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

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

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

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

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

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

library books

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

It’s my 10-year high school reunion!

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 25•14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenbard South High School Football Game

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

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

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

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

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

High School Reunion at Reserve 22

 

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

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

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

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

So this Judge just made my week, basically.

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 16•14

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

ANYWAY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge: Wait, who said that?

Bailiff: [Attorney redacted]!

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

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

WEEK MADE.

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

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

 

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

Written By: humarashid - Jun• 28•14

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

And I did all that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 1

This was the view at O’Hare.

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

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

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

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

photo 2 (1)

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

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

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

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

photo 2 (5)

Gorgeous.

I just think trees are so magical.

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

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

photo 3

Lord, do I look tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 4

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 1 (6)

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

photo 2 (6)

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

photo 3 (4)

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, I had to snap some pictures.

photo 1 (2) photo 4 (1)

 

Aren’t they great? I loved this place.

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

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

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

It was Rocky Patel’s “Decade.”

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

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

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

photo 2 (2)

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

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

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

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

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Make your own decisions, folks; this is America.

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

This was my view:

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

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

:|

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

Unfortunately, that didn’t really materialize.

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

Unfortunately, no.

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

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

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

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

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

So that was very disappointing.

But no matter. I am nothing if not resilient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then stopped.

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

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

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

Seriously, check this sucker out.

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Isn’t that great?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And MAN WERE THEY DRUNK.

Lord.

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

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

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

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

Progress?

Nah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ridiculous.

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

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

And with that … the conference was OVER!

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

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

Apparently not.

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

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Foreboding, no?

I was so glad I thought to pack an umbrella.

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

Dali, you guys.

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

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 What a difference fifteen minutes makes.

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

As was this building.

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 Gorgeous, gorgeous!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looked nice, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge! I’m totally doing this. Because of reasons.

Written By: humarashid - Apr• 07•14

As many of you know, I’m a total bookworm. If I have free time, I’m either reading, or watching “Bob’s Burgers.” Sometimes I’m reading WHILE watching “Bob’s Burgers.” Every year, I embark on a Goodreads challenge of reading 100 books for the calendar year. Every year, I manage to overshoot. When I was still in law school and then later prepping for the Bar/being unemployed, I read 218 books, and then 252 books, respectively, per year. Then in 2013, the first year I had a full time job of being a harried little associate criminal defense attorney, I managed to read, like, 125 books? Somewhere in there?

And, as many of you also know, I’m part of a book club. We started it in late 2013, and it’s me and a couple friends from high school and a couple of our high school teachers. I know that sounds weird, because who hangs out on a Friday night with their AP teachers from back in high school, but the answer to that is, I DO. ME. RIGHT HERE. And it’s great.

(It’s a closed group, though, because it’s held in a private home and we’re at capacity, so, yeah, terribly sorry.)

But I was thinking about something on the drive to work and I decided that, since I don’t already have enough to do, obviously (ugh), I wanted to try to read all the books that Rory Gilmore referenced reading on “Gilmore Girls,” which was a great show until the last 2-3 reasons when Amy Sherman-Palladino totally fucked it up basically beyond repair, and I was just watching for the trainwreck value, to be honest. It was almost as bad as what Craig Thomas and Carter Bays did to “How I Met Your Mother” in the last episode of the series (FUCK THEM), but I’m not ready to discuss that and probably never will because I hate them and FUCK EVERYTHING TO HELL.

So I might keep you guys posted on my progress. There’s a total of 341 books. Most book lists for the Rory Gilmore Challenge have it at 339, but I noticed that they all seemed to somehow miss Oliver Twist and Thucydides’ On Justice, Power, and Human Nature. I read that back in college but I can’t remember much of it, so I figured I’d pretend I hadn’t read it and just go find it again.

Here are the books I’ve already read. There are additional ones that I’ve also read, but, like Thucydides’s treatise, I kind of forgot them so I’m just going to reread. But these are all the books on this list that I have read and have an excellent memory of reading.

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  4. Beowulf by Seamus Heaney
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  6. Charlotte’s Web by EB White
  7. A Christmas Carol by Dickens
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
  9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  10. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
  11. The Divine Comedy by Dante
  12. Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  13. The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck
  14. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  15. Hamlet
  16. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Buliosi (I HIGHLY recommend the audio book read by Simon Brick – it sounds like an old timey mystery radio show!)
  17. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  18. The Iliad
  19. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  20. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  21. Macbeth
  22. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  23. The Metamorphosis by Kafka
  24. The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
  25. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  26. Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck
  27. Othello
  28. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  29. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  30. Rapunzel by Grimm Brothers
  31. The Raven by Poe
  32. Romeo and Juliet
  33. The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne
  34. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
  35. Stuart Little by EB White
  36. The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
  37. A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
  38. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  39. Walden by Thoreau
  40. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brone

 

These are the ones that I’ve read, remember reading, probably reread, and don’t particularly feel like going back to read again just to prove myself. These are done – stick a fork in ‘em.

There are others that I have read, but I think I could benefit from rereading them, or I just plain forgot like everything about them. So I’m looking forward to going back to those, and to finding some new great books that I’ve never touched before.

Yay! I can’t wait to make some headway in this list. My goal is probably to start with the smaller titles first so that when I can knock out five in a week or so, I feel like I’ve made some actual progress.

And no, I won’t be blogging about each one on here. That’s not the point of this blog. But I’m adding this to my List – that is, my giant list of things I want to do. Reading all or almost all of the books on the Rory Gilmore Reading List (let’s say, 300+ at the least?) is now one of the items on my huge list.

Woot!

This is what happened when I told GoodReads I wanted to read “Are Prisons Obsolete” by Angela Davis

Written By: humarashid - Feb• 24•14

goodreads

Oops.

#sorrynotsorry

This is really naive of me, I know.

Written By: humarashid - Jan• 29•14

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that a large part of my caseload involves child pornography. I think 70% of our practice right now is child porn, to be honest. And even though the Adam Walsh Act restricts a defense attorney’s access to child porn, we still have prosecutors that turn it over subject to a protective order, so we’ve got quite a bit of it stored in a secure evidence locker.

And an attorney has to look at whatever gets turned over in discovery.

Our paralegal, Nicole, and I love discovery. It’s great. She says it’s like Christmas. But, admittedly, we’re not all that enthusiastic about it when I return from court with a couple DVDs of child porn in my purse. Still, it has to be examined, and we do it. We go through all of it, and at the absolute bare minimum, we go through enough of it so that we can tie either images or videos or a combination of those to the Indictment. And with our child porn cases, it’s not unusual at all for the Indictment to be, like, 10 counts.

And when we’re watching the stuff – and especially if we’re matching it to the Indictment – we watch every second of it and we take good notes. The notes are just so that we don’t have to go back and look at the video again because we can’t remember something. Once is just fine, thank you.

This is going to be really naive of me, but despite all of the child porn I’ve seen … I’m still kind of surprised when it’s being produced by a women. That is, when I hear or see an adult female giving direction to the children that are being exploited.

Here’s the sexist part: I always do a little blink because when it comes to women, I guess I’m surprised at that kind of involvement because I associate women with maternal instincts. With the biological incapability of doing that to a child. Of being nurturing and selfless when it comes to raising and protecting children.

And that’s not always true. Plenty of women have raging maternal instincts and would never be able to bring themselves to do anything to harm a child. But plenty of women do not have or want kids, and do not have those instincts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, inherently. We’re not some monolith that loves babies always and forever.

And it’s sexist of me to not be surprised when it’s men that direct or participate in this kind of abuse. Certainly there are plenty of men with tremendous paternal instincts, who are very nurturing and protective of children.

I don’t know.

I don’t really know what the point of this post is.

I just don’t want to be looking at what I’m looking at.

Ah, well.

This is exactly why interpreters are so vital to what we do.

Written By: humarashid - Jan• 07•14

I recently read this story on Slate and the Chicago Sun-Times. The title is evocative enough: “Without a translator to help rape victim testify, alleged rapist walks free and and finds another victim.” That’s basically exactly what you need to know.

Here’s the gist of it. This all took place in Cook County, right here in Illinois. A Spanish-speaking woman was allegedly raped by one Luis Pantoja. At the preliminary hearing, complaining witnesses have the chance to testify. All of the prelims I’ve done have involved cops, so they’re the ones I’ve cross-examined, but in sex cases it’s very often the complaining witness (that is, the victim) who testifies and is then cross-examined by the evil defense attorney.

Then the judge decides if there is a finding of probable cause. If so, the State returns an Information, which is a charging instrument. If not, the case is dismissed, but even if you win at prelim, there is often a good chance that the State will then come at you again and charge you for the same crime via Indictment, another charging instrument that requires that they convene a secret grand jury.

So in this case, a Spanish-speaking woman was testifying about her alleged rape at the hands of Luis Pantoja. English wasn’t her first language and it seemed clear to many that she would have benefited from the services of an interpreter. A Cook County judge decided that the interpreter wasn’t needed, proceeded with the hearing, and ultimately found that there was no probable cause.

Pantoja walked, and then allegedly raped another young woman, this time a fifteen-year old. That case is currently pending in Cook County. In fact, I think he was just arrested over the Polar Vortex weekend.

The Sun-Times has run a piece on it and has a lengthy transcript from the prelim, if you want to check it out.

I’m just saying, generally, when things like this happen – when a judge lets someone out on bond and they commit another crime, when a judge sentences someone to probation and they commit another crime, when a judge finds no probable cause and the person commits another crime – that judge tends to get called into his or her boss’s office and gets reamed. I’ve seen it happen (well, not literally, obviously) with some of the judges I appear before regularly.

So the judge in question is definitely catching some heat for her decision, trust. Just in case anyone was curious.

But that’s not what I want to discuss here. I wrote this post to discuss the tremendous importance of interpreters.

Not just to the Defense, but as we see here, to the State.

But who am I kidding? Forget the Defense and the State. Interpreters are important – vital – to the commission of justice in general. No matter how many flaws there are in our current justice system (more like INjustice system, hurr hurr hurr, we’ve all heard that a million times and it’s totally true).

This isn’t the time to be cynical about it. If we’re talking about justice, we’re talking about equal access to that justice (HAHAHAHAHA). Okay, fine. We’re actually talking about equal access to the process that is supposed to carry out justice (HAHAHAHA oh god now this is just getting depressing). We’re talking about people having equal access to that court system, and interpreters are vital to that. How can you have your day in court if your English isn’t good enough to express your thoughts, to ask your questions, or to even understand what is going on and what your rights are and what the judge is saying?

As a defense attorney, I enlist the services of skilled interpreters quite often. Most of our clients that need interpreters are Spanish-speaking, but we’ve also had to hire a Russian interpreter during my 1 year and 1 month with the firm.

We had a client that was in state custody, and he barely spoke a handful of words in English. His wife and sister spoke a little more than he did, but not very much, either. We definitely couldn’t sit around a table and have a meaningful conversation about his case. His brother-in-law, however, had a thorough command of the English language and, when we had to have emergency meetings, he would serve as the informal translator. It was a cumbersome process and I got the feeling that no one really got as much out of the meeting as we could have.

So I remember, when I was at 26th&California for a bond hearing one day, I made contact with an interpreter from the Cook County Interpreter’s Office or whatever they’re called. Lucky for me, she freelanced/moonlighted, too, so I was able to secure her for all of our meetings with the client’s family when they came to the office.

And when we went to see the client, having an interpreter handy was excellent because you could actually have a meaningful discussion. The Cook County interpreters are incredibly skilled not just in the languages they know, but the legal terminology in the languages they know. They don’t need to use synonyms for extradition or consecutive versus concurrent. They know those words in Spanish (or any other language). It’s highly likely that the client knows those words – in Spanish.

There was a case I was aware of (I wasn’t on the case), in Cook County, where a defendant’s mother testified. She was a material witness to the crime alleged. SHE WAS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENED. She was the only person other than the defendant and the victim who was there when it happened. And the victim was dead.

English was clearly not her first language. It was Greek. When the State asked her questions at trial, she didn’t know what they were asking half the time. She said, I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re asking, what does that mean, I’m not sure what you’re saying. There was never an interpreter provided.

In this case, a lot of the blame rests with the defense attorney. I’d argue that was ineffective assistance.

First of all, prep your damn witness. My boss trained me in how to prep witnesses. I saw him do it in my first trial. He had all the witnesses schedule appointments at the office. He went through a very loose direct examination. Not scripted, and not even everything he’d have asked on the stand. But he wanted them to get a sense of the rhythm of direct exams. He wanted to help them get comfortable. He wanted to impress upon them the importance of listening to his question, of letting him finish his question, and of never speaking before he was done speaking.

Then he asked them what areas of their testimony they were worried about. Those areas then became pointed sample questions for cross-examination. If they worried that the State would ask them about the steps they’d taken during the real estate closing (this was for a mortgage fraud, ID theft, fraud of a financial institution in excess of $100,000 case, and was indeed criminal and not just a civil real estate case), then my boss and I would exhaust that topic, glaring at them and barking out derisive, sneering questions meant to illustrate the witness’s ineptitude. They’d learn how to handle those exaggeratedly hostile questions – they’d learn how to handle their emotions, not get scared, not buckle on the stand, and keep going.

If it’s a really big case or there are complications, we have more than one in-office prep with witnesses that are not the defendant. (The defendant gets several preps. At least two or three, and as many as the defendant feels he needs to feel comfortable.)

On the day of trial, when the witnesses are gathered, we do another mini-prep. We calm them down, we explain the procedure, we do a very very loose direct with the main themes, we see if they have any questions or fears about what they’re going to be asked on cross, we inform them that they are not obligated to talk to the State but that the State will ask, and we tell them to hang tight and hold a good thought for us all.

So for this trial, while my boss did all the initial preps, he let me handle part of the trial day prep. I wasn’t responsible for the prep, really, but I had already gotten a good lesson in how it was done, and I got to follow his lead and watch him in action.

For our third trial together, my boss was out of town the week before trial, so I was prepping more than a dozen Defense witnesses BY MYSELF. I was shitting my pants as I did all the telephone conferences (our schedule didn’t allow us to schedule office meetings with all of the witnesses), but I knew what to do because my boss had taught me. So I did it.

And on the day of trial, I gathered all my witnesses together in one of the conference rooms and, as my boss stood behind me at my shoulder, I conducted the trial day prep. And at trial, I directed and redirected all eight of the Defense witnesses that weren’t our client.

Prep your damn witness. It’s not hard.

The other reason I blame the attorney is, if any of my client’s witnesses needed an interpreter, you can bet your ass I would have made the court aware of the need for an interpreter at trial. And if there wasn’t one, you can bet your ass that on trial day, I’d be motion in limine-ing that, saying that I wanted a continuance if an interpreter wasn’t available because not having a translator for my witness interfered with my client’s sixth amendment right to a fair trial. And if that motion was denied, you can bet your ass that at trial, I’d be objecting right and left. I’d make my record that I believed that the witness needed a translator because he or she wasn’t understanding the questions and that was a violation of my client’s sixth amendment rights. And when the trial was over, you can bet your ass I’d include all of that in my Motion for a New Trial, twisting the judge’s arm with an issue that the appellate court might slap him with if my client appealed.

In that case that I’m talking about – the one I know of but wasn’t involved in – the defendant’s mother needed an interpreter that spoke Mandarin. The attorney didn’t request one, to my knowledge. During trial, he never objected. It did not appear in his Motion for a New Trial, which I pulled from the file and read. (And which was shit. I can write a better Motion for a New Trial in my sleep. That’s not bragging – it’s accurate reporting.)

In that case, an interpreter was needed, at trial, and was not provided.

And I blame the State and the Judge, too, to be sure. SOMEONE should have said, “Hey, wait a minute, this lady doesn’t seem to be understanding what we’re talking about. Maybe we need someone who speaks her language. Derp dee derp dee deedily derp.”

But no.

The federal government is a bit better on the subject, I think.

We had a federal client in custody that was provided an interpreter in court, even for an arraignment or a prelim that was ultimately superseded/circumvented/whatever by indictment, where there’s really only a few sentences being said on the record. He was always provided an interpreter because, hey, it’s the feds. They tend to be really on the ball with that sort of thing.

BUT.

There’s a but. Sadly, there’s a but.

The budget cuts – especially when Congress was playing their game of chicken and the government shut down and slashed budgets right and left – affected federal interpreters tremendously.

I have a friend who is a federal defender in Chicago, the Northern District of Illinois. She was telling me about some of the troubles their department faced because of the cuts.

Sentencing on the federal level is a strange beast. It’s much different from state sentencings, which I feel are much more ‘fast and loose,’ if that makes sense. I can play around a bit more with state sentencings. They feel more … real. Somehow. I don’t know, I’m probably crazy.

But at the federal level, this is what basically happens: your client is investigated and gets contacted by the feds. Your client hires you. You negotiate with the feds and see what they’re willing to do as far as the charges. You might be able to get the client immunity if he flips on a co-defendant, if you’re lucky. You may bring the client in for a proffer in which case the government will lessen/lower/reduce the charges in whatever way it chooses.

For example, we’ve gotten AUSAs to agree not to charge a client with Distribution AND Possession of Child Pornography, and instead charge only with Possession, which lessens the Guideline range (which strongly affects the term of imprisonment). We’ve gotten AUSAs to agree to take a subsequent crime and NOT charge it as an additional count or two, but instead use it as relevant conduct, so it doesn’t affect the Guideline range as much.

The government basically tells you what it’s thinking of in terms of prison sentence. You wiggle them down as much as you can. Like, we had an AUSA that wanted 10 years, but we got him down to 4 years and 3 months. Then  your client gets officially charged. Then arraigned. Then there’s a plea agreement with the terms that you and the AUSA hammered out. Then your client signs it, withdraws the plea of Not Guilty and enters a plea of Guilty, and then the Court reviews the plea agreement, accepts it, and then you and the AUSA submit memos arguing your positions – the government argues for whatever term it said in the plea, and you argue for something less. Either less jail time or probation.

Some particularly obnoxious plea “agreements,” like those “offered” in the Northern District of Indiana, say that it is a violation of the plea “agreement” for the Defense to argue for anything less than the term of years that the government asks for. I believe that there’s a special place in hell for AUSAs who draft those “agreements,” but what do I know? I just work here.

Part of the Defense’s sentencing memorandum commonly includes letters of support from friends and family. These letters say, I am ____ to the Defendant, I’ve known him ___ long, I know what he’s been charged with, he’s such a great guy, please show him some leniency.

My federal defender friend in the Northern District of Illinois was telling me that for their non-English speaking clients, well, they have family members and friends who also don’t speak English or don’t speak it well. And when they write letters for mitigation packets, those letters are in a language other than English.

And at our sentencing hearings, either we’ve already submitted the letters with the memo, and we refer to them, or we have the witnesses available to testify, or both. Not having interpreters GREATLY impacts federal sentencings. Those letters aren’t going to translate themselves.

What is a judge who doesn’t speak Spanish going to do when a federal defender has to submit 12 letters in mitigation, in Spanish, without the benefit of a translator to submit the English translation as well?

He’s probably going to toss them.

What happens is that an entire community is shut off from participating in – accessing – the justice system that their loved one is a part of just because of a language barrier and budget cuts to translators’ offices.

And that’s just criminal.

I have a translator that I have worked with many times in the past. I love her. I met her in the bond room at 26th & Cali and I made sure I had all of her information. She is so professional and smart and talented and warm, and the clients that have met her just love her. And we do too! I fairly skipped out of that room, I was so happy to have found such a wonderful interpreter.

But we got to talking – several times, actually – about the way that Cook County handles things with the Interpreters’ Office. And that was why when I read the story of Luis Pantoja and his second alleged rape victim, that we know of, I wasn’t altogether surprised. I was horrified and dismayed … but not all that surprised.

Cook County’s Interpreters’ Office has a small number of interpreters staffed. They handle the demand of ALL SIX districts in Cook County. Keep in mind, depending on who you talk to, Cook County is either the first or second most busiest criminal system in the country.

Cook County doesn’t play.

And when you’ve got such a small number of interpreters that are running around between Skokie and Maywood and 26th street and Markham and Rolling Meadows and Bridgeview … well, you can see the problem.

That’s immediately what I thought of when I read this story in Salon. This horrifying story. I thought of my favorite interpreter telling me that the office really struggled with the County’s demand for its services. I thought of my federal defender friend receiving letters in Spanish and being unable to have them translated for the sentencing hearing because there simply wasn’t anyone who could do it. I thought about the Judge who never ordered that a defendant’s mother be provided a Mandarin interpreter, and the defendant’s attorney who didn’t seem to give two shits about it.

With this job, I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many different people from so many walks of life, with so many different backgrounds, speaking so many different languages, with such varied educational and family experiences. All of them deserve equal access to this system that they’re a part of, either because of their own alleged deeds or those of someone they care about. All of them deserve that, at bare minimum.

Interpreters are a huge part of that guarantee of access. And when our system, for whatever reason, fails to provide interpreters, fails to bridge that language gap…

I don’t even have the words for it.

No, wait, I do.

Shit like this happens.

I don’t know, maybe I’m still just incredibly naive and bushy-tailed. I see things like this sometimes, and every time I feel like I just get a wee bit more desensitized to it. But maybe not, because it obviously bothered me enough for me to puke out my random thoughts in a blog post, right?

Ugh, I don’t even know.

Chiberia Chic – that’s me!

Written By: humarashid - Jan• 07•14

Today is January 7, 2014, and it’s frigging cold as balls. Not as cold as balls as it was yesterday, when wind chill made temps feel like they’d plummeted to about -45F. Today, when I set out for the Grundy County Courthouse located in Morris, Illinois, about an hour from my home, the thermometer on my dash said that it was -8F. No clue what it was with windchill, but probably at least 30 below, if not 40. Probably 40ish.

We were lucky enough to have a snow day yesterday, so our afternoon sentencing hearing in a Grooming/Indecent Solicitation case involving a teacher and baseball coach and his student was bumped.

I had a mitigation packet jam-packed with letters of support from our wonderful client’s family, his friends, his co-workers, and former students of his, as well as certificates from all his training programs as an EMT and firefighter, and I had to deliver a copy to the State and Judge.

Because of the holidays and the weather, we weren’t able to get all of it together until Friday. So I was going to go deliver it Monday morning, so the Judge had time to read it before we returned that afternoon for sentencing, but that didn’t happen because of the snow and the temps.

So I went this morning to deliver the packets, and to say that I was bundled up would be a bit of an understatement.

photo 1

Can you tell I’m smiling? :P BECAUSE I AM.

God. I was wearing like 18 layers: shearling boots and fleece lined tights and thermal leggings and my dress and blazer and my heavy faux fur coat (it’s lined on the inside and SO WARM) and God knows what else. Hats and scarves and mittens, obviously.

Ugh.

But it wasn’t that bad, actually. You’d think -30F or -40F or whatever the hell it was (balls is what it was) would be miserable, but the walk was kind of brisk and lovely. In a freeze-your-boogers sort of way.

If girls even had boogers.

Which everyone knows we DO NOT.

:|

It turns out, adorably enough, that the Judge wasn’t in because he was dropping his son off to work. That’s what I love about these smaller counties. Grundy County has, like, three judges. They’re all general jurisdiction, to my knowledge, so they handle everything, which is pretty amazing. For example, in Cook County, you’ve got at LEAST 50 or so judges who ONLY handle criminal felonies. Then you’ve probably got 30 or so that handle ONLY criminal misdemeanors. I’m fudging the numbers a bit, but it’s around 10 (probably 8) felony judges at each of the six districts.

But in Grundy County, they have three judges who handle everything. So they’ve got a criminal case going and a bankruptcy thing and some insurance stuff, I don’t even know. And I think that’s pretty cool.

And I love the small-county feel. These courthouses are, basically, just a bit more informal. The judges tend to be a lot more informal with the attorneys, who, from what I’ve seen (and done) walk freely in and out of chambers and just have more casual exchanges in general with the Judge, I guess, is kind of what I”m saying.

I don’t know. It’s more of a feeling than concrete examples I can point to. I’m not saying there’s a lapse in decorum: judges are always treated like judges. But there’s a difference between how courthouses in Cook County function in terms of formality and how smaller courthouses like Grundy or Iroquois or whatever.

But I love love love the Grundy County Courthouse. There’s a big courtroom upstairs where we usually are. It’s gorgeous. It’s so old-timey. Take a look!

photo 2

Ignore my crap on the table. But see? Isn’t that gorgeous?

photo 3

That’s the jury box. They have a wooden chair for each individual juror. Love it.

photo 4

And this is the Defense side of the aisle. Look at all those chairs. Isn’t that just gorgeous?

I love this courtroom.