As of December 1, 2013, it’s been one year since I officially became a(n associate) criminal defense attorney. For many, many months prior to that, I’d been unemployed and searching for work – any kind of work. I never dared to dream that I could actually manage to land my dream job – that of a criminal defense attorney – in such a terrible market, lacking connections and all that. I figured I’d just get some kind of attorney job that would help me pay the bills. I was even considering working for Peter Francis Geraci. (I HATE BANKRUPTCY.)
But as luck would have it, I found my boss’s listing for an associate. And I didn’t reply to it. I figured, I probably won’t get it, I suck, blah blah blah. And then I saw it two weeks later and figured, hey, he didn’t find anyone that he wanted, so maybe I should apply, and I’ll just get rejected by him too ALONG WITH EVERYONE ELSE FOREVER.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. After two interviews, I shadowed my boss at trial – a gun case in Cook County – and was hired the following Monday, December 1.
And now it’s been a whole year, and it’s been fantastic. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found this job and to have found my awesome boss, Raymond Wigell, and incredibly blessed to be able to do this work. I’m also very lucky to know many people who, while they may not fully understand this work or what makes me so passionate about, do fully believe that everyone deserves a defense and never give me a hard time, even when I say stupid things like, “MY CHILD PORN GUY GOT PROBATION!”
That’s how I know I’m surrounded by keepers, you guys. (Including you guys, obviously.)
Plus, I have to say, I’m rather proud of myself for being able to do this work every day. When I was first hired, I spent about twenty seconds wondering whether or not I had the mental and emotional fortitude to do this. I decided that I did, and never troubled myself about it again.
But now the yearly mark is up, and I can stop to take a breath, sip my root beer, and evaluate.
And it turns out, hell, yeah, I had the mental and emotional fortitude to do this. Hell fucking yeah, I did. And do! It turns out that I’m a lot stronger than I think. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m unaffected by terrible violent fact patterns, or videos of child p0rn0graphy. I am. But that doesn’t lessen my love of what I do, or my endless optimism, or my unflappingly upbeat nature.
I’m still as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as I ever was. And I’ve got a backbone of steel, I’ve discovered. And an iron constitution, considering how many vomit-worthy things I see.
In the one year since I joined the ranks of criminal defense attorneys, I have done the following:
- Been co-counsel in a federal criminal jury trial – a sex and guns case, four count indictment, before an Article III judge – at the age of 26
- Got an I-bond (aka, no money needed to post) in all of the bond hearings I’ve ever done except one
- And in that one, I got a GIFT of a D-bond in a felony gun case, in Cook County, at 26th & Cali, with a violent background (I still don’t know what the judge was thinking but I’m not complaining!)
- Did the opening statements at trial in a major felony sex case
- Had a client text me at quarter to one in the morning and managed not to rip him a new asshole
- Got pulled over when I was lead-foot-ing it to a detention center to deliver a new plea agreement to a federal prisoner in a child porn and child sex case – and got off with a warning, thankfully
- Directed all but one Defense witnesses in a bench trial (and got away with a hell of a lot of things I shouldn’t have gotten away with!)
- Watched more child pornography than anyone should ever have to see in their lifetimes ever
- Sobbed all the way home while gunning it on the highway after a jury returned a verdict of guilty as to all ten felony counts
- Did my first hearing on a motion in a sex case (with a thirty-four count indictment) at about four months in (I was so nervous beforehand, and afterward the Special Prosecutor on the case told me I did a great job and she never would have guessed I was nervous, which was super sweet of her)
- Did a bond forfeiture hearing in front of the Drew Peterson judge (Judge Edward Burmila) and got the bond to stand even though I had absolutely no leg to stand on SO YAY
- Pulled my hair out while writing an eventually kickass 18 U.S.C. Section 3585 memorandum – really cutting edge stuff involving the kingpin of an international heroin operation who had done time in the Netherlands on a money laundering conviction, with ALL SORTS of procedural craziness, and it was probably the most aggressive sentencing or pseudo-sentencing memorandum I’ve ever done and it droVE ME ABSOLUTELY INSANE
- On that topic, wrote numerous federal sentencing memorandums, which I’ve realized is something I really like doing because of how much freedom I have to not only puke out case law and draw analogies, but the freedom I have when it comes to really creating my client as a character in a story and trying to get the reader (the Judge) to feel something when he reads it
- Had a judge grant my Motion to Reconsider Sentencing, which meant that a client, who was sentenced to four years in IDOC, got out after two months in custody when the judge changed the sentence to probation (when she ruled on my motion, in which I wrote a numbered list of 140 listed items, she said on the record, “I’ve never had anyone give me so many reasons to reconsider!”)
- Ate numerous cheeseburgers bigger than my face
- Spoke to reporters from the Associated Press about a case
- Was mentioned and discussed in a newspaper article (I printed out like three copies for my Media Archives, because you can bet your ass my name will be in plenty of papers from here on out)
- Stood next to more than one man and watched the Sheriffs cuff him and take him in the back (it never stops sucking)
- Played a role in getting a two-count felony indictment for child pornography reduced to a misdemeanor with no sex offender registration (my boss, Raymond Wigell, had worked that case for SIX YEARS, and I only came in on the last leg with my Motion to Exclude some things in discovery, which was the first substantive motion I’d ever written as a CDL)
- Had a client attempt to bribe me – twice (obviously, the attempts were rebuffed and he was totally trying to bribe the wrong side anyway so IDEK, you guys)
- Gabbed for literally an hour with a trained psychosexual evaluator and licensed clinical social worker about the psychology of porn addiction and those people who are interested in child pornography (and learned so much!)
- Had lunch at the Union League Club in the city right before a federal sentencing, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, except it was a big deal to me because I’d idly fantasized about doing just that while I was in law school
- Handled a few vertical felonies! (Which means I handled them solo all the way from bond hearing or prelim through sentencing)
- Pled a three-count felony drug case down to ONE misdemeanor with probation
- Was accused by a felony judge of taking part in an attempt to bribe a witness (WHAT?!)
- Got yelled at during trial by a state felony judge oops oops
- Got yelled at during trial by an Article III judge oops oops
- Visited the creepiest fucking prison I’ve ever been to – like something out of a Stephen King novel, legit – and made it out alive
- Noticed a rat strolling right past me during a visit with an inmate-client; promptly pulled my legs up onto the bench and didn’t move a muscle until it was time to go
- Practiced at 26th & California (repeatedly), the same courthouse that I had read about in the book Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago’s Cook County Public Defender’s Office, the book that made me yearn to be a CDL in the first place – I know this sounds silly and whatever, but it really was such an important moment for me to set foot, as an attorney, in this courthouse at 26th&Cali and step up before the judge when I got my case called
- Made an enemy in the States Attorney’s Office oops oops like I give a shit
- Had the privilege of watching the State get properly, hopping mad when I got a personal recognizance bond (an I-bond) in a violent case
- Fielded calls into the late hours of the night from a psychiatrist (and another attorney) about a client of ours who we were legit afraid would kill herself before the next court date the following morning (scary shit, man)
- Participated in a federal proffer where the AUSA looked exactly like Jamie Lee Curtis (I’m not talking about someone who resembles her slight, I’m talking about walking into a conference room at the Dirksen building and thinking WHOA WHY IS JAMIE LEE CURTIS HERE IS SHE RESEARCHING A PART IN A MOVIE AS A FEDERAL PROSECUTOR IS LINDSAY LOHAN CO-STARRING OR WHAT)
- Met and befriended one of the attorneys for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the Fort Hood shooter, and several of the Guantanamo detainees (Hi, Tim Jon!)
- Made a list of 400+ items, some big, some small, all of them things I want to accomplish or experience, and I’ve been having a blast crossing things off
- Had my blog (this one!) nominated for the American Bar Association Top 100 Law Blogs competition (you get 13 votes and can vote here! So many great blawgs to choose from)
- Was at an emergency bond hearing on Thanksgiving, and instead of thinking, “Get me the fuck out of here,” all I could think was that even though it was an inconvenience, it was also a privilege to be one of the attorneys in the room
Last year, December 1 was a Monday. This year, it was a Sunday. On December 2, a Monday, the day I’m writing this post, I was in court in Will County, in the private hallway behind Room 404, bullshitting with one of my favorite prosecutors (who, like my boss, is probably as old as my father and is a total sweetheart).
I was there on a ResBurg and an AggCSA. (That’s shorthand for Residential Burglary and Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault, which in this case is statutory rape; I know I use the shorthands all the time but I think I sometimes forget to clue you guys in as to what they mean.) The prosecutor and I were looking out over the courtyard in front of the building, where the clerks were on strike, when I got a call from my boss, Raymond Wigell, who recently celebrated his 38th anniversary as an attorney.
I ducked out of the hallway, strode across the courtroom, and found a quiet corner in the main hallway, which was teeming with defendants, the families and friends of defendants, other attorneys, and security guards. I answered the call from Raymond only to convey the offer I’d received, which I had no intention of recommending to our client, and discussed what we’d done for Thanksgiving a few days earlier.
And before we hung up, he said something that was typical of the sweet, fatherly man he is.
“Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”