Stop Asking Where I'm From

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 20 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 a couple 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.

 

 

A Year (as a CDL) in Review!

Written By: humarashid - Dec• 02•13

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.”

Absolutely.

So, this happened.

Written By: humarashid - Oct• 13•13

My boss and I were handling a status date for a child pornography case we’ve got pending. It wasn’t that big of an event; it was a return of our independent psycho-sexual evaluation, which we were going to tender to the State, and then we’d order the county-specific sex offender evaluation, the main purpose of which is to determine if the defendant lives within 500 feet of a school or park, etc. Armed with those, we’d go into a 402 conference next time.

While at the courthouse, we ran into my boss’s former associate, a very tall man (probably like 6’4″; holy hell, he was an absolute skyscraper of a man) who I’d met before and have heard lovely things about. Raymond and he talked for a minute, and then Ray introduced me and I made my usual pretty small talk, and then we parted ways. This attorney also had a matter up before our judge, and Raymond and I hung out in the corner and watched him when he was called up.

 

Attorney: Good morning, your Honor. For the record, I’m That Guy of That Guy Law Firm, counsel for Mr. The Other Guy, who is present in court on bond.

Raymond: [elbows me] Sound familiar?

Me: Yep.

(It’s the same intro that Raymond taught me, almost a year ago, which is what I say every time I step up before a judge.)

[watch Attorney That Guy do his thing]

Raymond: He was, hands down, the very best associate I’ve ever had in my thirty-eight years of doing this.

Me: Ah.

Raymond: …You are ten times better than he was.

Me: …

Raymond: …

Me: …

Raymond: Don’t get too excited; I’m going to make fun of you later.

Me: Deal.

Raymond: …You eat more than he does, too.

HAHAHAHA.

The sad thing is, it’s true. Raymond and Nicole have seen me demolish foot-long super hot dogs, and cheeseburgers as big as my face, and polish a massive lunch off with a big thing of ice cream and then go hunting around the office for more food two hours later.

But, still. The main, substantive compliment. Which meant so much to me precisely because I’m so young and green. I mean, I just …

And there was a little of this:

And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also a little bit of this going on:

Yep, the results are in. It turns out, I’m awesome. Woop, woop!

Texts From My Boss: about feelings

Written By: humarashid - Sep• 24•13

 

feeling expungement

He’s such a Dad. Even my typos become little Dad Lessons.

:P

<3

Motion practice, or something like it

Written By: humarashid - Sep• 10•13

Today is a solid office day. For me, at least. I was supposed to be at 26th and California, with Raymond, but I figured that because I have two huge motions that need to be done by this Friday, my time would be better spent at the office, while he worked our sex cases that are up today.

So I’m alone in the office today, because our awesome paralegal Nicole is coming in late, which means I have free run of the place.

I kind of love office days when I have a bunch of motions to write, and I’m either alone or it’s just me and Nicole. What usually happens is what I consider the perfect work day:

  1. I wear perfectly slouchy clothes. Yoga pants, maxi dresses, long skirts, pajamas, sweatpants, whatever. We very very very rarely have walk-ins, and on days when I’m alone or it’s just me and Nicole, we don’t have appointments with clients scheduled. And it’s so nice to be able to forgo my normal everyday armor of pantyhose, a nice top or camisole, a skirt, a blazer, and high heels. It’s just so nice sometimes to not have to suit up.

  2. I bring in my little 3lb laptop. I have my own computer at work, obviously, but I adore my itty bitty little laptop. I’m so comfortable working on it, and I’m so comfortable working on it for long periods of time. It’s fast, it’s got programs that I like and find useful, the keyboard just feels right, and it’s little and portable. I’m very comfortable with it. It’s kind of like a security blanket: I just like having it around, touching it, working on it, being comforted by its familiarity as I work on very serious things where the stakes are very, very high.
  3. I grab a blanket and my sweater. Our offices are very cold when the air is on during the warmer months. Very cold. It’s just a thing with the building, and it’s obnoxious sometimes when it gets too cold, but generally it’s perfect sweater weather. We always have blankets in the office – for both human and dog use. Our building is dog friendly, so Nicole sometimes brings in her dog, Cocoa, who I’ve posted pictures of before. And before, our office administrator’s dog, Gwen, would come in. So we have a stash of dog blankets and dog beds, and we keep little throw blankets for ourselves, because it’s just a little way to make ourselves even more comfortable.
  4. I drag everything into the large conference room. My laptop, my blankets, my notes, my research, my rough drafts and previous motions, everything. The table is huge, and the chairs are super cushy.
  5. And then I watch documentary after documentary after documentary on the big TV as I write my motions. THIS. IS. THE. BEST. We have a large flat-screen on the wall, which we usually use to watch whatever media we get in discovery, that sort of thing. It’s connected to a CPU as well, so I can put on Netflix or Documentary Heaven. Documentary Heaven is AMAZING. It’s just chock full of documentaries on every subject you could imagine. I just pick one I like and watch/listen to it as I work. I’m the kind of person that really likes having background noise as I work, and documentaries are perfect.

Right now, as I write this, and as I prepare to write two big motions in two of our big sex cases (one a motion in limine to exclude certain evidence; the other a sentencing memorandum for a federal case involving illegal pornography), I’m watching Louis Thereux’s “A Place for Pedophiles,” a documentary about a hospital that houses and attempts to treat basically people who commit sex crimes against children. (Although some of the prisoners refuse treatment and are basically just going to be housed there until they complete their sentences or die.)

We have a bunch of cases like that, so I like to watch documentaries about sexual deviancy and sex crimes because it’s something that, up until a year ago, I knew so little about.

Now, by reading more and watching more and just learning everything I can about it, I feel so much more qualified and, I guess, well-rounded when it comes to dealing with these cases.

Human sexuality is really confusing. (And please don’t think I’m affirming pedophilia as a viable aspect of human sexuality. It’s not. It exists, yes, but it is abhorrent and illegal for very good reason.)

So yes. That’s what my day is going to be like. Documentaries and motions and sexually deviant behavior.

YAY!

(That is not a sarcastic YAY! I genuinely love what I do. Even when it involves things that I find morally icky.)

And as much as I love my boss, I do love the days when I’m just here all by my lonesome.

“The Worst They Can Say Is No:” What I’ve learned about bravery

Written By: humarashid - Sep• 03•13

My career, fledgling though it is, has been transformative. There is no doubt about that. It has changed me in many ways I see clearly, and many ways that I’m sure I don’t – yet. I thrill to each new discovery about myself, and my character, and my outlook, and I’m sure I’ll keep growing from this wonderful experience.

Devastating as it is at times.

After all, it’s never fun to look someone in the eyes and say that they’re going to prison for several years for something they didn’t do.

(And even when they did it, it’s still hard to say that. But maybe I’m just a bleeding heart. I JUST WANT TO HUG EVERYONE, YOU GUYS.)

One of the biggest changes, and certainly the most positive change I see in myself, is that I’m growing far braver, and far more confident.

It’s an interesting kind of bravery, though. It’s probably not the selfless, grand sort of bravery that inspires people to run into burning buildings to save toddlers; it’s probably not even the sort of hard and hard-won bravery that moves others to speak truth to power and fight for the little guy. (Although there’s some of that as well.)

No, this is more of a “fuck it” kind of bravery.

And, having never possessed such bravery before, I’m totally okay with being a “fuck it” kind of brave person. Although, maybe I can’t liken this nuance of bravery to confidence? Maybe I should liken it to good old fashioned recklessness, or incorrigibility. Hah. Seems fair.

Had you asked me even a couple months ago, when I was a super-baby-associate, if it were better to try and fail, or not to try at all, I would have replied, with only slight hesitation, that it was better not to try at all.

Because that’s just how I’ve lived most of my life.

And isn’t that kind of pathetic? Somewhere along the line, I have developed a pathological fear of failure and rejection. It’s caused me to be stilted in some ways, suffering from arrested development in the sense that when it comes to chances that most people took early on in life, I’m still kind of dipping my toe in the water and analyzing the positives and negatives.

(Just jump in, damn it!)

From what I’ve read, this near-pathological fear of failure and/or rejection is part and parcel of the damage that is created thanks to the idea of the Model Minority, and Asians are the model minority. I won’t quibble about who’s more of a Model Minority – East Asians or us South Asians – because that’s not beneficial to the discussion.

But the Model Minority myth, which includes stereotypes like Asians are smart, Asians are really good at math, Asians study all the time, harms our communities very directly and pervasively. Tied to the Model Minority myth, which is imposed on our cultures by largely white hegemonic discourses, is the idea of what we do to ourselves, within our own cultures.

And by that I mean, specifically, the emphasis in Asian cultures on obeying parents and meeting (exceeding) their expectations, which are very often education and career-related.

You couple that very serious desire to please your parents by working hard, with the idea that any failure, no matter how small, brings with it dishonor to the family, and it’s easy to see how we can develop pretty pathological fears of rejection, inferiority, failure, whatever you want to call it.

Again, this isn’t exclusive to Asians, and I’m not claiming that kind of exclusivity as I’m sure there are a lot of people who can relate. But the way this relates to and is part of the Model Minority idea is very real, and very damaging.

Also, let this inspire you to perhaps think twice before you turn to your Asian friend and say, “But you’re supposed to be good at math!” or something like that. It’s a racist microaggression and it advances the Model Minority myth in harmful ways, regardless of the fact that it’s considered a ‘positive’ stereotype.

So my fear of failure and rejection, which I still deal with and which still colors my life and my actions, has kept me from doing a lot of things. (Which is obviously no one’s fault but my own. This isn’t a pity party.)

And, as I said, it’s why I generally believed, for a long time, that it was better to not try than it was to try and fail. If you didn’t try, you were safe. You were safe from the crushing sadness of defeat. You were just safe.

It took a while, but I finally had an epiphany and realized why that was bullshit. I can’t even say that it was any specific moment that inspired me to that particular understanding. I just woke up one day, overheard someone at a coffee shop ask that of someone else, and realized that I no longer believed what I once did.

It’s totally better to try and fail than to not try anything, at all, ever.

Sure, it might be safe not to do anything to begin with, but safe at what cost?

It’s pretty pathetic, too, how long it took me to snap out of it and realize that trying and failing was its own blessing. It helps you grow as a person. It’s a little primer in how to deal with defeat and inadequacy. It helps push you to try harder. And it helps you figure out what doesn’t work, so that you can cross it off and try something else.

And I realized that it was my professional development that brought along this general understanding. Were I not doing what I do, I doubt that I would have had this revelation as I did.

One of the first things that my boss told me when I was hired, when the two of us would head to court, when he did all the hearings on my motions before gradually turning more of those hearings over to me as I started to get my sea legs, when we first lost on motions that had poured my sweat and tears into … One of the first things he told me when we got to that stage was, “We are going to lose most of the time.”

It struck me as kind of odd, the way he said it. With such certainty. “Don’t take it personally. Because we are going to lose most of the time. Most of what we ask for? It will be denied.”

If anyone else said it, I’d have expected an air of futility. After all, if you’re going to be denied most of the time, why bother? Why keep doing it?

But at that stage in my fledgling career, I was already starting to see why we kept at it. First of all, each case is unique. Each client is unique. Each prosecutor is unique. Each judge is unique. Each county is unique. Each working file of discovery is unique.

Just because something didn’t work in one case doesn’t mean it won’t work in another case, with slightly different facts. Just because one option for alternative sentencing wasn’t a good fit for one client doesn’t mean it won’t work for another client, who is a different person. Just because one prosecutor wouldn’t hear of something, doesn’t meant that the other won’t listen, at least, when you make the pitch. Just because one judge never grants some certain kind of request doesn’t mean another won’t, or at the very least, won’t listen to you and give you a fair chance to be heard.

There is this one motion that Raymond and I always file in every single felony case. We’re always preparing for trial, in every single case, so we file it as a motion in limine, asking that at trial, the State not be allowed to refer to our client as the Defendant, and not be allowed to refer to the complaining witness as the Victim. We argue that it’s prejudicial.

There are reasons we file it in every case (although the other motions in limine that we file are obviously unique to the case, and we spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing and plotting what motions in limine we will actually write and move forward with). The most simple-minded reason to file that motion is that sometimes, in a blue moon, it’s granted. Raymond has had cases where the judge agreed and barred the State from using those terms at trial before the jury. But the other reason is that, during the hearing on the motion, you can tell a lot about how the State will try the case. If they argue it real simple, you get the sense that they’re going to try the case real simple. It’s a strategy move that can sometimes tell you a lot about how a particular trial will go.

So that’s part of it – you can learn a lot from the failure. Failure can be strategic in its own way.

Another reason that we keep at it, even though we know we’re going to be denied most of the time, aside from the “uniqueness” argument, is that the stakes are high. The stakes are high in every case. Sure, there’s a difference between having your license suspended and serving thirty to life in a federal prison … but for each person that comes to us, this is the only case they have (sometimes) and the stakes are high to them. Losing your license is a big deal, if that’s what could happen to you. Thirty to life is a big deal, if that’s what could happen to you.

The stakes are high in all of our cases. Real people are affected. Families are affected. We have to keep hustling in every single one. We have to try everything we can – everything that we think might make a difference. And we have to take those losses we sustain and turn them around and adapt and use them to our benefit. And I’ve seen Raymond do that again and again – sometimes, I’m amazed at the sweetness of the lemonade he makes when we get lemons. And the best part is that he’s teaching me to think the same way.

We were in his SUV one day, heading down a country highway to Kankakee to visit a prisoner in order to prepare for an upcoming federal trial. Raymond wore his shades and drove with one hand, as I sat tense and stressed in the passenger seat, trying not to fidget and wishing I’d popped a painkiller before the trip down. This was a case where we’d been beaten up from the start, and we knew we’d get beaten up at trial.

“When you get hit,” he said, “you don’t just fall down and take it. When you get punched in the mouth, you fall back, you taste the blood … and then you get fucking angry.”

He looked over at me and grinned. “And you use that anger. Because anger on its own doesn’t help anybody. You gotta use that anger. That’s what we do.”

And we do. Anger, when channeled properly, can be a sustaining force. I’ve seen that, and I’ve utilized that.

Another reason that we keep at it is very simple and tied to what I’ve already talked about: that’s advocacy, plain and simple. Doesn’t matter how tired you are, doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed before, doesn’t matter if your client “did it” or not: that’s advocacy.

And it reminds me of what my boss texted me right before a big trial: “Advocates extraordinaire, we are!” I screencapped that and I look at it whenever I’m feeling down and tired. It helps.

Very closely tied to this is another reason why we keep at it: a lot of the times, we’re the only support system our client has. A lot of the time, we have people who don’t get support from their family members. Who can’t talk to them. Who don’t have good relationships with them. Who are alone.

And we’re the only ones that they can come to for support – the only ones that are in their corner. And that’s humbling.

That is well and truly humbling, to occupy that role in someone’s life. And it makes failures worth it.

So for all of these reasons, I’ve learned why failure is worth it, and why we keep at it. Every situation is unique, so one failure doesn’t set the bar. Just because you failed once doesn’t mean you won’t win it. Failure also teaches you things – even if it takes a while, or even if it’s a lesson you weren’t even aware of. Failure can be worth it in connection to the human aspect: it unites people in the struggle and can deepen bonds.

This has been a great way for me to learn that it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

Not trying at all kept me safe, sure. But it kept me small.

Trying and failing makes me grow bigger and larger than I was before. Every single time, I feel bigger and larger after I fail. Sure, I feel small for a little while. And then I put it in perspective, and I feel big. I almost look forward to the next time I fail, because I’ll have learned even more.

(I’m not knocking wins – I learn a shit-ton when I win, too!)

And it’s that knowledge – that I don’t have to be afraid of trying and failing – that pushes me and drives me on.

It’s what enables me to strut up to a prosecutor and negotiate without thought of anything but how it can help my client, and how I can continue to manipulate the case for my client’s best benefit.

Because the worst the State can say is no, right?

It’s what enables me to write a motion that I know is doomed to be denied, and pack it full of case law and examples and persuasive rhetoric and, yes, infuse it with my own feelings while writing it.

Because the worst the Judge can say is no, right?

It’s what enables me to stand up for a hearing and argue based on my motions even if the evidence or circumstances or whatever are stacked against me.

Because the worst the Judge can say is no, right?

It’s almost liberating, in a way. Failing that many times is almost liberating, because it teaches you not to be afraid of failure, and it teaches you that even if you lose, you win in other ways (the ways I discussed briefly above). In that way, it’s like you have nothing to lose, really, because if you win, you win, and if you lose, you still learned something helpful that you can move forward with.

Another important thing is that the nature of the criminal justice system, and the way that the defense is usually at a disadvantage, forces you to find wins where others would find only a loss. The simplest way I can explain it is that if the Government is asking for 10 years for your client, and you get that down to 4 and a half years, that’s a win.

It’s 4.5 years in a federal prison, but it’s a win. It’s one of our wins.

One of my wins was when I was before a judge that “normally” gave 40 days in Cook County jail for the kind of offense my guy committed. And to have him taken into custody IMMEDIATELY. The rubber-stamping aspect of it bothered me, but what can you do?

I’ll tell you what I did: I argued and argued before the judge (the State wasn’t putting up a fight at all to what I wanted – it was the judge that rejected the agreement we’d reached). I got him to come off the 40, and I got him down to 20. Not 20 straight, which meant 20 days, but 20 days served day for day, so 10 days. And I somehow managed to get my client a self-surrender date for a week out.

So not only did I buy us some time for my client to take care of something he REALLY needed to take care of, but I got the jail sentence cut to 1/4 of the original sentence that the judge apparently “normally” gives in these cases.

My client had to go to jail. But it was a win. It was a big win.

Another one of my wins was when I had a client up for a bond hearing, who lied to me about his criminal background. Significantly. I found out about his rather extensive background when the State read aloud his rap sheet at the hearing, before the judge. Which left me with like 20 seconds to restructure my entire argument.

Oh, and this was a gun case, earlier this year, in Chicago, and the bond hearing was at 26th & Cali. And my client had several violence-related crimes in his background.

So. Yeah.

At that point I was thinking that if I got a bond of $100,000, or $10,000 to walk, it would be a GIFT.

And in the end, the judge listened very patiently to my 2-3 minute spiel, cocked his head, and calmly announced that the bond was set at $75,000. That is, $7,500 to walk.

Even though my client still couldn’t pay it, that was a HUGE FUCKING WIN. $7,500 on a gun case? With a background? Get out of here, that was huge.

And the way the prosecutors in that room looked at me as I walked out? Also a win. (The interpreter in the room told me that I was the only defense attorney that spoke for more than thirty seconds. So that’s presumably why they looked at me like that – I was an oddity.)

Where other people see only losses, Raymond and I (and other CDLs, to be sure) see small wins.

And that in itself is a blessing. The failure teaches you to be humble, and it teaches you to look for the positives, and it teaches you to relish them, to strive for them, and to be grateful.

When I can knock a misdemeanor out with nothing more than court supervision for a year, I’m grateful. When I can get a bond forfeiture vacated, with the original bond to stand, I’m grateful. When I can argue my way out of a dirty drop (that is, a drug test in which urine tests positive for some controlled substance) and avoid an increase in bond, I’m grateful.

These are small wins. To most people, these are barely wins at all. But they’re wins to me, because I appreciate them and I’m grateful for them. They’re not the big win, because those are rare. But they’re something.

They’re something we can feel good about.

So on a professional level, I’ve learned how not to fear failure, because we often deal with it, due in part to the nature of the criminal justice system where the odds are against us. Failure is an education in itself. Failure can come with blessings. And I’m beginning to see that more and more in my practice, not least of all because I have a boss who is a teacher, and a mentor, and helps me navigate this confusing world of criminal defense.

On a personal level, however, especially when dealing with men, I’m still working on it.

:P

I’ll let you know how that goes.

The List: Because I’m so tired of being a timid, passive, boring little thing.

Written By: humarashid - Aug• 26•13

This is basically the plot of a lame romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl or some other non-descript White Woman, but that’s okay, because I won’t let that stop me. And while I muddle my way through this, you guys are, sadly, along for the ride and will just have to bear with me, and possibly giggle at my various misadventures, which I will obviously be chronicling for your amusement.

I recently made a list. It has 259 items, and counting. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but one of the items in the list is to participate in a 365 photo-a-day-challenge. I’ve been doing the #FMSPhotoADay challenge on instagram, and the other day, the prompt was “in the background.” So I posted this picture with this caption:

#fmsphotoaday In The Background. As in, I'm sick of being the timid, passive, boring little thing in the background. So I put together a list of 258 items (and counting!) of adventures big and small that I intend to have. And I've already gotten started on having them.

#fmsphotoaday In The Background. As in, I’m sick of being the timid, passive, boring little thing in the background. So I put together a list of 258 items (and counting!) of adventures big and small that I intend to have. And I’ve already gotten started on having them.

And really, that’s basically the gist of it.

This is obviously just a little snapshot of a long list that I have written down in my journal. I started journaling in 2011, when I was out of law school, unemployed, and miserable. The exercise not only helped me get out of my head and keep a handle on my emotions, but it was a very useful problem-solving tool. I used it to outline different strategies I could make use of to find a job or at least not languish in the meantime, and then I tracked my results and used that as a jumping point for more employment brainstorming.

And I still use journals to this day as problem-solving tools. In fact, I have planned more than one theory of defense and more than one heavy-duty motion in the pages of my journal, with great results. Also, I admit to using it as a place to curse and vent after devastating, disillusioning losses (at work, in terms of cases).

I never would have thought it, but apparently I’m a journaler. What always seemed like a tedious hobby that obstructed my creative flow more than enhanced it has proven to be an invaluable tool, not only personally but professionally.

And so, while sitting on a white, sandy beach in St. Joseph, MI, overlooking our gorgeous Lake Michigan, I turned to my journal once more, to address a different kind of problem.

I’m a boring person.

Don’t get me wrong: I know my strengths. I’m a great conversationalist, once I get over my initial shyness and awkwardness. I make a beautiful first impression (despite said shyness). I’m witty and good at banter. I’m encouraging and supportive. I’m intelligent. I’m harmless, but can be quite tough. I always rise to the challenge – always.

But I’m boring.

I don’t do anything.

My hobbies include reading, writing, drinking tea, and being introspective.

That’s pretty much it.

And there’s a reason for that – a reason that’s manifested itself in various ways since my childhood. I was a very extroverted child, until I got my eyeglasses at age 7. After that, I became painfully shy and less extroverted (although I am surely not a pure introvert, rather more of a mix with good days and bad days as far as social engagement).

To this day, I hide behind my glasses. They’re my security blanket, and I perceive them as a means of keeping people from getting too close to me, looking too closely at me, or even seeing me, really. It’s so bad that often times, when I wear my contacts, I keep a pair of fake glasses perched on my nose – again, as a security blanket. And that’s kind of messed up.

There is another reason that I’ve kind of fallen into the passive mold, and it has a lot to do with our culture. I went to a small, private Islamic school and as I look back on it now, I see how much conformity was emphasized. I didn’t realize it then, but I see it now. Being on anyone’s radar was just an invitation for gossip – and less so among the students than the administration, teachers, and general community.

So I conformed. I was just a kid; I saw that conformity made it easier to get by without any trouble or any raised brows, so I conformed. No big deal. But conforming meant not stepping outside proscribed gender, religious, and cultural norms, which I realize in hindsight were incredibly misognynistic and limiting, and sometimes just plain fucking backwards.

I got a little better in high school. I went to parties. I went to post-Prom. I stayed out late. I had mini-adventures, like any normal high school kid, although I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was considerably more tame than your average high school kid. Even at the time, while appreciating my newfound freedom and newly discovered personality, I was conscious and regretful of the fact that I was so tame and, yes, boring. But I was happy nonetheless with my lot, because I had good friends, I got good grades, I had plenty of extra-curriculars, and I was well liked.

There’s another aspect of our culture that plays into this heavily. All my life, before I did anything, I considered how it would affect my parents. And my brother. And how it would look to the Desi community here in general. Even if something was totally above deck – legal, fun, educational, edifying in any manner – I would still avoid it if I felt it would reflect on my parents in anything but a totally positive way.

It’s the South Asian way, you guys.

(It’s also the way of many other cultures and groups; I’m certainly not claiming exclusivity. Many people can relate to this to some extent, I’m sure, regardless of ethnicity.)

It would reflect badly on my parents, for example, if I moved out after college. Because in our culture, except in more progressive circles, girls do not do that. So I didn’t. Because moving out wasn’t worth dishonoring my parents or having them upset with me – my independence and freedom and sanity just wasn’t worth that, at that point in my life.

Going on a road trip with my girlfriends was not only something that my parents would forbid for cultural reasons (girls don’t go anywhere too far alone!), but it would reflect poorly on them if it got out in the community. And doing them a dishonor like that, and having them upset with me, just wasn’t worth it.

I’ve always wanted to go sky-diving. My parents always gave the impression that they thought that was dangerous and foolhardy – prohibitively so. Upsetting them just wasn’t worth it at that point in my life.

I can give so many examples. I won’t. I’ll spare y’all.

But suffice it to say, all of those things played a big part in why I am a boring, timid little thing.

And I’m just so sick of it.

I am so sick of being boring. I am so sick of being passive. I’m so sick of being timid. I’m so sick of considering everyone else before I consider myself. Before I consider my happiness, my edification, my life experiences. If I’m not hurting anyone or hurting myself, if the experience is feasible, then there is literally no reason NOT to go forward with it.

It took me 27 years to come up with that, you guys. And isn’t that just a little bit pathetic?

I remember sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan, considering being there a hard-won freedom on its own (my parents didn’t hassle me at all about taking a day trip to Michigan – although I don’t think they knew at that time that I was planning to go to Michigan; they may’ve thought I was staying in Illinois). And I remember looking out at that gorgeous blue water, and thinking that it looked like an ocean. You couldn’t see any land (Wisconsin) on the other side. It was just blue water as far as the eye could see.

(This was actually in Muskegon, Michigan; I didn't have a good pic of just the lake in St. Joseph, MI.)

(This was actually in Muskegon, Michigan; I didn’t have a good pic of just the lake in St. Joseph, MI.)

We used to go to Cape Cod a lot when I lived in Boston, and I remember just staring out across the Atlantic. There’s nothing like being by a great expanse of water to make you feel like you’re standing on the edge of the world.

And it got me thinking about my life, and the things I’ve seen and the things I want to see. It got me thinking of the things I want to do, the adventures I want to have, the things I want to learn – all of them in furtherance of being an interesting, well-rounded, person who knows things. That’s all I want to do/be.

That was how my list was born. I grabbed my journal and started writing. I just kept writing and writing and writing until I had more than 200 things scribbled down, looking back up at me, daring me to cross them off so I could add even more.

I refuse to be boring, timid, or passive anymore. This isn’t a grand, dramatic gesture; rather, it’s just quiet determination that has been simmering for some time and finally found an outlet and means of articulation.

I do love my lists, after all.

And now I have more than 250 things on it, so that’s kind of an accomplishment in itself. After all, they say that articulating what you want is  a big step toward actually getting it or doing it. And for some people, figuring out what they want is actually the hardest step.

It was that way with me for a while. I knew I wanted … more. I just didn’t know what ‘more’ was.

Now I do.

Some of the things are big. Some of them are small. Some are more immediate than others. Some are probably rather boring – to some people. Some are things that aren’t all that exciting or interesting, but they’re things I haven’t done yet, that I want to do, and for that reason they’re important and worthy. Some of these things are things I have a pretty good idea that I’ll dislike, but I want the experience anyway.

Plus, there’s always the off-chance that I’ll like those things that I think I might very well dislike. I’m someone who very rarely writes anyone or anything off. I just don’t believe in that kind of permanence. There are so many things that I hated as a kid and love today, and vice versa. Besides, it reminds me of one of my favorite verses of the Quran: Perhaps you hate a thing, and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing, but it is bad for you. Your Lord knows, while you do not. [2:216]

That verse is actually about fighting, since the early Muslims, in the very early stages of Islam as the Quran was still being revealed, believed that their religion demanded pacifism. They were refugees at that point, and their goods and lands were being seized by non-Muslim tribes, and the early Muslims were very reluctant to fight, because they hated the thought, as Islam had from its inception been marketed as a religion of peace and submission, and they felt that resistance, battle, war, etc, was discordant with that theme. So this verse was revealed to assure them that it was perfectly reasonable and acceptable to fight to defend yourself and your rights, to resist if you were wronged.

But this isn’t a tafsir lesson, so I’ll move along.

If you’re still interested in this post, and if you’re interested in reading more, you’re basically a saint.

This list is going to govern my life for at least the next year, and will certainly color my life moving forward. It’s something I intend to add to as I whittle it down. It will serve to guide me to a big, full life well lived, inshaAllah. That’s the plan.

Tired, boring, passive little Huma will slowly be infused with adventure, spontaneity, experience, and inspiration. I’m sure that will come out in many ways – if you know me, you’ll see it, and if you are a blog reader, you’ll probably notice some changes in my writing and perspective.

I’m excited about it.

Various Items on the List

Above, you saw a quick snapshot of certain things on my list. When I posted that on Instagram, I got more Likes than any other picture I’ve posted. I think that’s because this idea of striking out, knowing what you want and going after it, really strikes a chord with people. Hell, it’s part of our American mythology, really. We’ve used it to cause some pretty considerable damage, too, because we let it be seriously influenced by things like greed and xenophobia.

But I think that the reason it was so popular is because everyone has that part of him or herself that wants more. And the idea of stepping out of your shell and just going for it, whatever it is, is just kind of irresistible. We love transformation. We love empowerment. We love growth. We love quantifiable, visible, tangible results.

I think my list really represents that. Here are some items from my list and some of my thoughts about those items.

Like I said, some items are big, some are small. Some are things that can be done today; some require years of planning and work. Obviously, there is a big difference between “leave a 100% tip” and “go to Machu Picchu and hike the Incan Trail.”

Buckle up, because I think this is perhaps the best look into who I am that I could ever offer anyone. You’ll see what’s important to me. You’ll see what I value. You’ll see what preoccupies me. You’ll see what my hopes and dreams are.

Or, rather, you’ll see the limited version of those things I want you to see, since I’m certainly not sharing everything on my list. Some items are far too personal, far too intimate, to put up here. I’m sure you understand.

  • Write an autobiography/personal manifesto

This is like the most narcissistic thing you can do unless you’re someone famous/important. I want to do it because I think it would be an amusing exercise. I’d never do anything with it; I just want to do it to have done it. But I’ve been thinking – as far as personal manifestos go, my journals kind of count…?

  • Read 10 classics I haven’t read yet

I’ve read a lot of classics. I could stand to read more. Now I want to read more “classics” that aren’t called “classics” because they weren’t written by old white guys. Whatever. They’re classics nonetheless.

  • Create a budget and follow it for a month, at least

Because this is what adults do.

  • Help a friend achieve a goal

I enjoy helping people learn things about themselves. I think this would be a lot of fun, mostly because you can learn so much about someone once you get them talking about what their goals are. And when someone talks about or does something they’re really passionate about … well, that’s really attractive, and it’s a really rewarding experience for everyone involved, I like to think.

  • Get rid of 100 things

I own too much stuff and I don’t need much of it. It’s time it was sold, donated, or recycled.

  • Visit a Buddhist monastery

I love learning about other cultures and other ideologies. This would be so fascinating, I’m sure. I’d have to read up on it before I could go, but that’s part of the fun.

  • Attend out of state and out of country conferences

I’m an attorney now! I get to do things like go to conferences! And criminal defense conferences are so interesting. Such a great mixture of theory, science, rhetoric, and practical trial advocacy. Love. There is a conference about defending sex cases with child victims that’s being held in Savannah in October and I REALLY want to go because it looks amazing. I’m like 95% sure my boss will send me, too. Yay!

  • Do a 365 photo a day challenge

I started doing this last week on my Instagram (hrashid24 is the username). It’s been pretty fun. I’m looking forward to having 365 consecutive daily photos in a little less than a year. That’ll be kind of cool.

  • Go on a cruise, either solo or with a gal pal

A month after I got my job, when I was in the midst of writing this really heavy duty motion, my aunt advised me to take a cruise when I had some time because it was a great way to relax and unwind and just get away from everything. I feel like a cruise would be a great experience both solo and with a close friend. I’m excited to book one. My parents probably won’t like it but I’m at that point in my life where I’m eager to have experiences that will be beneficial and edifying without giving more thought than necessary to what other people think. So. There’s that.

  • Go skinny dipping

Yup. Not too much to say about this one. I want to do it. I will do it.

  • Go to 5 different museums in one year

The Art Institute counts. And I’m lucky – we have so many amazing museums in Chicago.

  • Hike in the Smoky Mountains (Tennessee area trails)

I love, love, love the Smoky Mountains. Few things inspire me more.

  • Make a birdhouse and hang it up in a tree

I’ve never worked with wood, and with the proper guidance (and safety precautions), I think this would be really fun.

  • Learn to juggle (3 balls only)

I am only interested in learning to juggle three balls. Not two. Not four. Not any more than that. Just three. I can’t explain the compulsion to do so, but I recognize it nonetheless, so I will accomplish this goal at some point.

  • Memorize the “to be or not to be” solliloquy from Hamlet

I love Hamlet. I’ve memorized Portia’s quality of mercy speech from The Merchant of Venice, but not Hamlet’s famous speech. So that’s on my list.

  • Read a random Wiki article 3x a week

I’ve been keeping up with this, and I’ve learned a lot. Wikipedia, for all its little hiccups, is such a great resource. It reminds me of a thing I read once to the effect of, “I have a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing all of the information ever known to mankind. I use it to get into fights with strangers and look at pictures of cats.” Amusing and rather sad.

  • Compost

I want to start composting. I need to figure out a set up that works.

  • Be a bridesmaid or groomslady

I’m looking forward to Andy making this happen. I’ve already decided I will be his co-best man. I will wear an adorable suit hemmed with heels and put my hair up in curls and secretly try to incapacitate my co-best man, Cary, so that I will be the last Best Man standing. Because fuck Cary. I’m not sure how much Andy can trust this “best friend from childhood” thing Cary’s been skating by on, anyway. Seems kinda fishy.

  • Watch the eagles in late January with the Audubon Society in south-western Illinois

Eagles are awesome. I want to grab a pair of binoculars and watch them with a bunch of bird-lovers. Even though I don’t like birds. Because birds are terrifying and awful. Even though I’m named for a bird. So. You know.

  • More beach days!

BEACH DAYS ARE WONDERFUL. Sand, water, sunshine, and a cold drink. Heaven.

  • Go to a drive-in movie theatre; probably won’t involve much movie-watching

Welp.

(Obvz it’s implied that I do not intend to do this alone. Cough.)

  • Get a FOID card and shoot a Sig Sauer or Glock at the range

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite some time. I’m not a huge fan of guns, but I want to have had this experience nonetheless.

  • Watch the PBS Chicago documentary, then walk the Lakefront Trail

I’ve owned this documentary for FOREVER, but I’ve never watched it. It comes highly recommended by my good friend from law school, Perry. Perry would take me on extensive walks around the Grant Park area and beyond, pointing out all the buildings and telling me their history. It was the best walking tour ever. He knew so, so much about Chicago architecture and history.

Fucking nerd.

  • Find a great tea house and go there often; related: attend a Japanese tea ceremony

I love tea. I love experiences that have anything to do with tea. I recently came to know of a highly ranked tea house in Frankfurt, which is the town where Jen keeps her horse, and is also about ten minutes from my office. So it’s totally feasible for me to go alone after work, or for me and Jen to do a stables-and-tea kind of outing. I’ve never been to a tea house and I’m excited to see what one is like.

  • Take an online class that has nothing to do with work

I’m leaning toward some kind of art class, even an art class related more to art history than making art. It’s just that there are so many courses available online, from small outfits all the way to Ivy League universities. There’s no reason not to take advantage of that.

  • Glam it up in a sari

I’ve never worn a sari.

This is basically a crime.

I would look so damn hot in a sari, let’s be real.

(You’ve all thought about it. Don’t even lie.)

  • Spend a day doing nothing but reading in bed

This sounds so relaxing.

  • Wear leg warmers

BECAUSE WHY NOT. The sad part is that I don’t think I could get away with wearing them to court. Bummed.

  • Do a ride-along with Cook County cops

I can’t go to a single courthouse in Cook County without being aggressively hit on by cops. It’s time I took advantage of that and arranged a ride-along for myself, which I think would be eye-opening and a great experience.

Yup, Imma make this happen.

  • Join an astronomy club and attend star parties

I don’t know what star parties are, but they sound fun. And I know nothing about astronomy, so this would be a great way to learn about it straight from people who obviously know a lot and have found their passion in this area of study.

  • Learn to waltz

Basically, I just want to learn to white-people-dance. SHOW ME THE WAYS OF YOUR PEOPLE, WHITE PEOPLE.

  • Build a house of cards

Like juggling, I’m not sure why I have this compulsion. But I do, and I want to build a house of cards, damn it.

  • Eat exotic meats

They don’t have to be endangered animals – I’d much rather they weren’t. But I want to eat meats I haven’t tried before. Like rabbit. Or turtle. Or camel. I love meat.

  • Walk through the Tunnel of Lights in Japan

It seems like it would be so beautiful.

  • Pay for a child’s cleft lip surgery

I can make that huge change for a child. I can easily do that. They don’t cost that much, and the Smile Train is an excellent charity that makes these operations possible all over the world.

  • See Holland in bloom

I don’t really like flowers (except sunflowers). And I don’t care for tulips. But I really just want to go to Holland and see the windmills and fields of flowers and the judicial buildings and yes, even the Red Light District. Holland just seems like such a great place to be a tourist and do touristy things.

  • See a fire dance

It’s done at night. The performers have this baton or whatever that’s lit at one or both ends, and they dance. And all you can see is the fire making these crazy patterns as they twirl it. It just seems like that would be a really cool thing to see. I have no interest in doing it, but I want to watch someone do it who knows what they’re doing.

  • Go on an African Safari (at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi)

I’ve always wanted to do this, and Giraffe Manor is well established and reputable and has been organizing wonderful safaris for a long time.

  • Learn to swim

I don’t know how. Sadz.

  • Learn to ride a bicycle

I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO RIDE A BIKE. :( SUPER SADZ. I need someone to teach me.

  • Kiss under mistletoe

Yeah, I realize this is one of those meaningless, over-hyped things that everyone else did in, like, middle school. But I’ve never done it and I want to do it at some point just to have done it. So there.

  • Go camping

I’m like 80% sure I’ll hate camping. But I want to do it anyway. Plus, I might surprise myself and love it. There’s always that chance, that I’ll do it and it will exceed my expectations and become one of my favorite activities.

  • Go to England, Ireland, and Scotland and tour old homes and churches and the countryside, especially the Cotswalds and Kent

God, yes.

  • Learn how to wear makeup

I only know how to wear lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara. I’d like to learn a little more than that. I probably still won’t wear it most of the time just because makeup is time-consuming, but I would REALLY like to know how to wear it because then at least I have the option of wearing it.

  • Go kayaking

This looks so fun.

  • Trek the rainforest

I imagine that this would be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Minus the bugs.

  • Do a coal walk

You know, where you walk on hot coals. I really want to try this. Will I die if I do this? I REALLY WANT TO DO THIS.

  • Watch a live rocket launch

Goddamn budget cuts, gutting NASA. Still, they do rocket launches for private individuals so at least there’s that. If I’m in the area I will try to catch one. It seems like it would be a cool thing to see.

  • Actually do something on the fourth of July

I haven’t even seen fireworks on Independence Day in forever. And I’ve never even attended a July 4 BBQ! I’d like to change that.

  • Vacation in the Maldives

They just look so gorgeous.

  • Give more speeches/lectures

I love being invited to do this. So fun.

Basically I just like to hear myself talk.

I’m sure all of you are SHOCKED.

:|

Shut up.

  • Do a silent retreat

Really, this could be Itikaaf, which is when you spend the last five or ten days of Ramadan in the masjid, on a retreat, basically. You just pray and read Quran and avoid your worldly commitments (within reason, obviously, and this isn’t feasible for everyone so it’s not a requirement by any means). I just want to do this once, just to see what it’s like to sit around and not say anything or say very, very little and just kind of withdraw for a little while.

  • Be a spectator at a runway show for a major fashion house

I’ve been at fashion shows before – plenty of them. But none for a major fashion house. I’d like to go to a Chanel show. Or Zuhair Murad.

  • Take a case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

If the family is willing to retain us, we might very well be appealing one of our federal cases to the 7th. As it is, we’re awaiting sentencing on it currently.

  • Then take a case all the way to SCOTUS.

Wouldn’t this be awesome? Me and Raymond before SCOTUS?

  • Get hypnotized

I have such a difficult time giving up control, particularly control of or over myself. Being hypnotized, the way I see it, is the ultimate exercise in giving up control.

I wonder if I’m brave enough to actually do this. That’s why it’s on the list.

  • Be met at the airport by someone who cares about me

Flying is a pain in the ass. I very rarely fly but I plan to do more of it in the future, what with various conferences and other commitments nationwide. And I’d love, love, love to be met at the gate by someone who cares deeply for me. I imagine it’s one of the most comforting feelings in the world.

  • Go sky-diving

I already know where; it’s just a matter of scheduling this.

  • Own a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird or the Little Prince (English first edition)

I love these books.

  • Have a gown or a few day dresses custom-made for me

I would love to stand in a shop and be draped in fabric as some seamstress/designer pondered over the perfect look for me. I just think it’s important to have someone make your clothes who knows your body and knows the best cuts for you.

  • Go golfing

I’m like 80% sure that I’ll find this boring. But I want to do it anyway.

  • Be in a serious relationship without scaring myself out of it.

This is a big one.

I’m terrified of relationships, co-dependence, intimacy, and showing vulnerability. But I’ve slowly been working through those fears to the point that they don’t seem quite as terrifying anymore.

I’d love to be able to cross this off the list. I’d love to not sabotage myself willfully, knowingly, consistently, by basically emphatically telling any man who gets too close a whole laundry list of reasons (some real, many made up) as to why he shouldn’t get too close to me.

I’d love to just stop doing that. I think I’m at a place in my life where I’ll be able to, and I’m looking forward to proving myself right.

Things I’ve Already Done

Even though this list is a relatively new creation, I’ve been very diligent about putting it into practice and not wasting time. And I’ve had some great results. Most of these things are small, but I’m managing to fit them into a pretty crazy work-and-gym-and-social schedule, so I’m still chalking it up to many little wins.

  • Leave a 100% tip

Tipping is important. Waitresses and waiters rely on the kindness of patrons to make up the difference for a $3/hr wage. I’m not the wealthiest associate on the planet, but I can occasionally afford to leave a 100% tip when I go out to dinner.

  • Swim in Lake Michigan

Done and done several times. Even though I don’t swim – I basically just get in the water and hang out and go as deep as I can without freaking out, which is usually up to my neck. Love this so much. Water is so restorative.

  • Beach days

Beach days are the best. I’m sad that most of the summer passed before I could schedule some, but we had a summer chock full of trials including a huge federal one so I was rather short on time. Next summer, this will change.

  • Go to a symphony, ballet, and opera

I’ve been to all three. I want to repeat this. Often. I went to the CSO when Boulez was celebrating his 80th birthday, and the orchestra played Happy Birthday, and I’ve been to other performances; I have seen Swan Lake, and I saw the Nutcracker when I was a kid, plenty of times, but I don’t count those because they were so long ago; also, I saw Lucia di Lammermoor, and liked it quite well.

  • Eat at a restaurant alone

I recently ate out at one of my favorite restaurants, Meson Sabika in Naperville. It was lovely. A little boring to be by myself but great for my first time eating alone. I had a wonderful time and intend to repeat this.

  • Relax in an outdoor hot tub in the middle of winter (with snow on the ground)

This.

Is.

Fantastic.

  • Get a massage

Rolly tables are the best. I actually just bought a Groupon for a massage and adjustment and stuff, so I just have to schedule that to be able to cross this off again. LOL.

  • Send flowers to friends in need of cheering up

I don’t like flowers (except sunflowers, which I LOVE), so I don’t really think to send flowers when people are sad. I usually send cookie arrangements. But I’ve made an effort recently with flowers because lots of women love them, even if I’m not that crazy about them.

These are some roses I recently bought for someone else.

These are some roses I recently bought for someone else.

  • Break out the fancy wine glasses on an ordinary day

This is nice.

  • Hot air balloon ride

These are okay. It’s pretty cool being that high and moving that slowly.

  • Drink coffee at sunrise

This is surprisingly relaxing, and it’s just so great to watch the sun slowly come up.

  • Have a run-in with a dangerous wild animal; live to tell about it

DONE. Mama Black bear and her two cubs at around 25 feet. Pretty crazy. How am I not dead?

  • Milk a cow

Their udders are so soft. :)

  • Be a bona-fide regular at a bar

I just accomplished this and I gotta be honest, it feels pretty great. There’s this great bar where I’ve been going with a good friend for about a year. The owner, Chris, is a sweetheart. He would put bacon strips on my cheeseburger, but immediately stopped when I very regretfully had to send it back and explain that I’m Muslim and can’t eat pork. He made me a new burger instead of just taking the bacon off, which was so sweet, and which I should have asked for but didn’t – he just did it on his own.

And he does lots of little things like that for me. He’ll hang out with me if I’m there early, before my friend arrives. When I walk in, he hands me a root beer and the remote. The other night, unbeknownst to us, Chris was throwing a party at 8PM for the fourth anniversary of the bar, and we got there around 6 but there wasn’t any food ready, so while he was prepping the food for the party, he fried us up a bunch of mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders and onion rings and all kinds of goodness. Other patrons who arrived early didn’t get the same treatment, but then, they didn’t seem to mind.

We also do impromptu movie nights at the bar, since we’re sometimes the only patrons there (although the bar does quite well; we just manage to be there at quite times). Chris has actually sat through a VH1 airing of “Honey” just because me, Jen, and the other waitress/bartender there (who’s such a sweet girl) wanted to watch it.

:P

Hah.

I love that I’ve found a wonderful little bar with great food and wonderful people that I can call my own. It’s quite nice to have a little hangout spot where you’re comfortable and feel like you belong.

So these are the things I’ve managed to do so far, and though they may not seem like a lot, I’m quite pleased.

Soliciting Input

I’ve left a lot of items out of this post. Some are redundant – after all, a lot have to do with travel and various experiences I want to have in foreign countries. There’s no need to list every single one of those. And many of the items are rather personal and I don’t feel the need to share those.

But I’m nonetheless interested in suggestions. I’ve shown the list to Nicole and Jen, and my mom has seen a small part of it. Both Nicole and Jen have offered some suggestions, which I’ve added to the master list.

And if you have any, I’m totally open to hearing them! They might very well already be on the list, but so what? Suggest away!

Some people have reported difficulty leaving comments. I’m not sure why that is, but if you have any trouble, just tweet me – @huma_rashid. I’m always interested in knowing what people want to do, what inspires them, and like I said, I’m open to more suggestions.

Also, you want to know something weird that I literally just realized yesterday?

Back during Bar prep, I got really into romance novels. They were so easy and fun and didn’t require a lot of mental energy and they were the perfect escapist tool during that stressful time. And yesterday, I found a copy of Nine Rules to Break To Romance a Rake, which is a delightful novel by Sarah MacLean, and was the first romance novel I read during Bar prep, and THIS IS THE PLOT. The heroine makes a list of things she wants to do, experiences she wants to have, and then sets about doing them.

I realized that yesterday and just groaned. It was kind of funny, though, that little coincidence.

So … we might not be the ones Anita Alvarez is trying to reach out to.

Written By: humarashid - Aug• 19•13

On Friday, August 16, I attended the Abby Foundation’s Women Together annual luncheon in Tinley Park. The foundation is named after Abigail Adams, and the luncheon was such a nice event. The speaker this year was Anita Alvarez, the Cook County States Attorney. For those not familiar with the title, that means she’s the boss of all of the State’s attorneys (ie, prosecutors) in Cook County.

My boss, Raymond Wigell, mentioned this luncheon because his wife, Mrs. Barbara Wigell, works for the Clerk’s office and often attends this event. They were nice enough to invite me to join their table, which is why I was attending. I met up outside the convention center with our paralegal, Nicole, who is awesome and who I love and who is totally as inappropriate as I am.

So Nicole and I wandered around and did some stuff and talked to people and then it was time for lunch. After lunch, Anita Alvarez took the podium. And the thing is, I have some feelings about Ms. Anita Alvarez.

 

So while I was looking forward to her speech, I was also kind of cautious about it.

But I was glad to be there nonetheless, and glad to have the opportunity to see her live, and close up. (Kind of like when I went to a luncheon where Scalia spoke, and I sat at the table next to his and listened to him noisily eat soup and talked to him for a few minutes, after which I wanted to throw myself out the window because he’s so fucking horrible.)

But this is not about how Antonin Scalia is the literal worst, you guys. This is actually about my Women Together luncheon experience watching Anita Alvarez talk about things. It’s also about whatever other nonsense pops into my head, so, you know, business as usual.

Anyway, Anita Alvarez is petite, and wore a rich pink skirt suit with half-sleeves and little zippers halfway up to the shoulders. Seriously, her suit was adorable and she looked lovely in it, and I spent a few minutes wondering if I could pull off such a suit during my own court calls.

Nicole said I totally could, and that I overthink my choice of court clothes. I think that’s kind of funny, since I’ve been known to stroll into court wearing a bright yellow lace pencil skirt and a neon coral blazer. (Which I’ve been complimented on over and over, so I keep doing it, because I am the worst. Also, I get a perverse pleasure out of wearing bright colors in a courtroom where the female prosecutors all dress rather shabbily, and in boring greys, blacks, and browns, to boot. I kind of enjoy turning heads and being a little unusual.)

Don’t ask me how, but in my mind this GIF placement makes a lot of sense. IT MAKES A LOT OF SENSE YOU GUYS.

Anita Alvarez gave maybe a fifteen minute speech, and I can see how she was so successful on the campaign trail. Her stories are endearing, and she speaks with power and grace. It’s difficult not to be pulled in by her caring, compassionate sort of charisma (tinged with bad-assery).

She started off talking about over-achievers. Then she started talking about prostitutes and pimps. Maybe her transition between the two was more artful than I’m remembering – it’s entirely possible, because I was texting my boss pictures of Helen Lovejoy.

Like this one.

Because that’s basically what her speech was. Don’t get me wrong, it was powerful and effective and chosen well, considering that it was being delivered by a powerful woman to a roomful of mostly well educated, privileged, well-off women.

But as a defense attorney, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for rolling my eyes a bit.

I’m no fan of Anita Alvarez. I abhor many of her policies. When she spoke today about how successful her office has been in terms of prosecuting gun offenses, for example, all I heard was how her prosecutors are now ordered to ask for maximum jail time for any gun offense that gets charged – and often enough, they get it.

We’ve been lucky. We had a UUW – reckless discharge case last year. The prosecutor was asking for, I think, four years in IDOC. For firing a weapon at a Kevlar panel in a garage. My boss argued for paper, and thankfully, the judge got it. He got that our client wasn’t some dangerous street criminal that offended notions of public safety. The judge understood that, instead, our client was guilty of being a little stupid. We got probation, but it was a hard fight – and it shouldn’t have been. It wouldn’t have been, but for Anita Alvarez’s disastrous, destructive policies.

I was in another Cook County courthouse maybe a week or two ago. My client was a no-show, but the Court was kind and I was just kind of waiting to see if she’d show up, and trying not to call any attention to myself while I did that.

Whenever I have to cool my heels in court, which is often, I pay close attention to the rest of the call. I usually learn a lot – even if it’s a lesson in what NOT to do. That morning, in a misdemeanor courtroom, I watched a little old Italian man come to the podium when his case was called. He was 61 years old, with no criminal background. His crime was possession of a firearm with no FOID card.

Apparently, and I don’t know all the facts in the case but this seemed to be the gist of it that I got while the judge interrogated the little old man, there was some kind of disturbance and this man pulled out the handgun he keeps in his home and went to investigate. The cops were arriving at the scene. They saw him with the weapon, ordered him to relinquish it, and moved in. He surrendered the weapon, cooperated in the arrest, and was booked, and that was how he found himself in court. Both officers were present, and both told the Court that the man was “a gentleman” throughout the whole ordeal and cooperated fully with them.

The State was asking for 364 days in jail.

(It was a misdemeanor, so it was punishable by a fine, jail time not exceeding one year, or both. That’s why the State asked for 364 days.)

And anyone in the courtroom that didn’t know Anita Alvarez’s policy about asking for time on all gun cases looked at the prosecutors like they were fucking insane. Almost a year in prison for having a gun without the valid ID card? Yeah, it’s illegal, and for good reason, but at the same time there’s something about a little old man who dropped his gun as soon as he saw the cops and cooperated fully that is discordant with the idea of a year in jail.

And the thing is, I know the State’s attorney that was asking for jail time. He’s actually a friend from law school, and is a great guy. I’d be shocked if he really felt a serious conviction, in his heart, in his soul, that this man was deserving of jail time. In fact, before the call got started, I heard him say almost gently to another CDL, shrugging, that, “our policy is to ask for the most jail time available.” And the CDL knew that and shrugged back, and they separated, knowing that they’d each argue for their position and it was up to the judge.

Because, really, as a CDL, how do you even negotiate with that? “Sorry, but our boss says we have to ask for jail time.”

Well, okay, then as a prosecutor, you’re useless to me. Because your hands are tied. I’m not wasting my time or energy on you in negotiations – I’ll do a blind plea and argue my heart out and leave it to the judge. And that sucks, not only from a CDL’s point of view, but it has to suck for prosecutors who are basically told to rubber stamp this shit instead of using their own judgment and being effective negotiators and advocates for the state because, hey, Anita Alvarez wants to front like she’s tough on crime.

Which, fine, that’s absolutely her prerogative.

(And I have wayyyyy more complaints about Anita Alvarez, but I’m not going to waste time bitching about it right now.)

So, anyway, when she was talking about how her office was so successful in gun cases, I was rolling my eyes and texting my boss.

Then she started talking about pimps and prostitutes. Her anecdotes were the kinds you’d hear about on 20/20 – the teen prostitutes who refused to press charges against their pimp because “he bought me a Subway sandwich whenever I wanted one;” the prostitute who was forced to become hooked on drugs so she’d stay in the life, that sort of thing.

Please don’t get me wrong – I think forced prostitution is abominable and we need to create safe places for these women to go to.

I just don’t trust Anita Alvarez when she talks about saving these women.

Because her office has a history of asking for jail time for these prostitutes that she’s waxing poetically about on the podium. So pardon me if I’m a little skeptical about anything that comes out of her mouth, especially when she turns around and starts talking about saving these women. Yeah, she’ll say that to a room full of women at a Women Together luncheon, but get her back in her office and she advocates jail time for the same women found guilty of prostitution.

So…

Yeah.

No.

Speaking of which, that reminds me of the stories my boss tells me about his days as a public defender. As a young PD, he handled a lot of prostitution cases. He hated it after a while, he said, because it was the most depressing thing ever, and there was no escape for these women.

He’d say to me, “It was the worst. I hated coming into work when I handled that shit. Because you’d come in and every week or so, you’d see the same women. It was a vicious cycle. They’d hook to feed themselves and keep their pimps from beating them, the cops would roust them, they’d wind up in court, they’d spend a few days in jail, they’d go back out, they’d hook some more, and they’d be back. The same women. Over and over.”

He told me how he dealt with it. “I’d go to the State and they’d hand me a rap sheet. It was, like, four pages. Just conviction after conviction for the same thing – prostitution, prostitution, prostitution. I’d read through it, all of it, sigh, and go back to the State. They’d take one look at the sheet and say, ‘yeah, I want a conviction and 10 days.’ And I was so sick of it. I’d say-”

He held up his hand and furrowed his brows in that What the Fuck Is Wrong With You look I’ve seen directed at others so many times.

“‘Nah, I’m not giving you ten days.’ And they’d look at me and pause and finally say, ‘yeah, okay, fine.’ And that was a victory. Because the women didn’t have to do time. But they got another conviction on their record, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. There was no easy fix to that problem. I hated it.”

He sounded really tired when he related this story. I bug him about his PD days all the time, and he often indulges me with stories from his days in the trenches with the worst of the worst, as he says. And he gets that twinkle in his eyes or a little smirk when he tells me stories he knows I’ll get a kick out of.

But when he told me about the prostitutes, there was no twinkle, no smirk, not even any real fondness for that time in his life. He just sounded tired. Like that experience, that time spent handling cases like that, still weighed heavily on him decades later.

So I don’t doubt the sincerity of Anita Alvarez’s stories. I don’t cast any doubt on the message. Forcing people into prostitution is abominable.

But I don’t particularly trust those words when coming out of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s mouth, for reasons I’ve stated above. (Well, some of the reasons.)

Still, the room ate it up. And I don’t blame them. Like I said, she’s a great speaker and she comes off really well. The room was totally with her.

(Aaaaaand that is the jury pool. Yay.)

Anyway, when Anita was done, I texted my boss and we snarked a little. And when I slipped my phone back in my purse, our paralegal Nicole leaned toward me and whispered, “I just told Ray I have a new one for my wishlist.”

Ray is obviously Raymond G. Wigell, my boss. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned his name here before. Anyway, if you see Ray or Raymond, you know who I’m talking about.

As far as wishlists, we all have one at the office. The Wishlist refers to a very short list of criminal charges that we each realllllly want to defend against. Basically, we want to catch a case involving those charges. Nicole has always really wanted an AggCSA of a minor involving a female defendant. That is, she wants an Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault/Abuse (ie, rape) case involving a male student and a female teacher. Nicole is holding out for some Mary Kay Letourneau action.

As for me, my Wishlist is basically two items: (1) an Agg Cruelty, which means Aggravated Cruelty to an Animal, which we already had that involved neglect and physical abuse. But what I want is an Agg Cruelty that refers to sexual contact. Yep, I want a bona fide bestiality case. And (2) I want a possession/distribution of child pornography case, where the defendant is a female. Because that is almost unheard of.

And to be clear, we do not have some perverse desire that people commit these crimes just so we can represent them. We are not wishing for some young male to be assaulted by his teacher, or an animal assaulted by a person. Not at all. We’re not wishing for any of that shit – we never do. The idea of the Wishlist is that just if there are people already accused of these crimes, if they could hire us, that’d be great, because the case would be something that we haven’t done before and we’d love the opportunity to grow professionally and advocate for people who are accused of horrible things, as the Constitution demands.

Great, just so we’re clear on that. No one at the office is wishing for anyone to commit or be a victim of any crime, whatsoever.

But anyway, Nicole said that she had another one for her Wishlist. When I asked what, she said, “I think it would be great if we got hired for a human trafficking case!”

I admit it – I cackled.

It’s a really good thing Anita Alvarez wasn’t within earshot, because if she’d heard that, and if looks could kill, Nicole and I would not have walked out of that convention center.

Yeah, somehow I reallllllly don’t think psychopaths like me and Nicole are the ones that Anita Alvarez is trying to reach out to.

Oops.

We are so wildly inappropriate, it’s a miracle that we’re allowed out into the general population. With the Normals. (That’s what we call the rest of you.)

(And for those of you who are still shocked and offended and scandalized by some of the things I said above … well, you asked for the whole ‘honest portrayal of a young CDL’s misadventures’ perspective. So. You know.)

I exist, I promise.

Written By: humarashid - Jul• 19•13

I think I remember saying that I was going to make more of an effort to share some current pictures of me on this blog, just to convince you guys that I exist and am not some middle-aged white man sitting in his mother’s basement in Butte, Montana, pretending to be a tiny, awkward, little brown girl defense attorney in Chicago (or the burbs thereof).

think I remember saying that, but I can’t be too sure. I say a lot of things, you guys, and I often can’t keep track. Hell, sometimes, I don’t even pay attention to what I’m saying. I kind of tune in and out.

:|

Anyway, yes. Today is Friday, and I’m at the office until about 3PM, when I’ll head into the city for some stuff. My plan today is to spend the whole day being married to our trial boxes for our federal trial which is very likely happening on July 29th. For a while there we weren’t sure if it was real or if it would get kicked until a date set by the trial judge in August. The July 29th trial is a fifth setting, meaning there are four other cases set for trial on THAT day, before our presiding trial judge. So if it were state court, we’d be pretty sure that this wasn’t going.

But it’s federal, and as most of you know, only 3% of all federal cases actually get to trial, or something ridiculously low like that. And rumor has it that four of the cases will be resolved by way of a plea before July 29 (we should actually find out for sure on Monday, according to local custom). As for the fifth setting, it’s a corruption case with voluminous discovery, and apparently the defense attorney just filed his or her appearance a few months ago and even though it’s set for trial, he or she will likely file a motion to continue trial. Again, we’ll know for sure on Monday.

But for now it looks like it’s 98% real.

Which means next week will be hell. But that’s part of the life, and I’m looking forward to it. I know almost everything about this file, and in the next two or three days I will fill in the remaining gaps in my memory so that from Monday to Friday, I can focus solely on trial prep. We’ll have witness lists by then and I’ll start plotting out my cross examinations, that sort of thing.

ANYWAY.

What was I even talking about?

Oh, yeah, I was supposed to post a picture of myself to prove that I exist. Because some of you that read this blog are Suspicious Aloysiuses.

>:/

Fine. Here is my face.

july 19

I snapped this in the parking lot as a response to a question about my everyday makeup routine. What I look like above is what I look like every day.

And I really like the blazer I’m wearing today. It’s a really warm coral, although it looks pink in the picture here. I got it for $20 at a steep markdown, at Francesca’s Collections, if anyone is interested (as I know a lot of you were, back when I was still doing my Business Casual Superstar stuff).

And then, because I recently installed Instagram on my phone again, I applied a filter.

july 19 b

The above is also my face.

:|

Ugh, okay, now I’m just procrastinating.

I have lots more posts that I’ve been meaning to put up, but I don’t have time for that now. I’ll be back this coming week.