Stop Asking Where I'm From

I need to get over my Wounded Bird tendencies.

Written By: humarashid - Apr• 04•13

Gah. You guys. I really do. I need to get over my Wounded Bird tendencies, because they’ll probably definitely hinder my performance as an attorney. And, you know, they’ll cause me to stress out way more than I should in an already supremely stressful career.

I really do have Wounded Bird tendencies. Anytime I see anyone in trouble, or anyone that’s hurt, or anyone that’s just down, I want to wrap my arms around them and protect them from the world and fix everything.

And yes, part of that is why being a criminal defense attorney appeals to me as much as it does. (Which is a shit-ton. If we’re being specific and quantitatively measuring this, that would be “a metric shit-ton.” That’s how much being a CDL appeals to me on a daily, hourly, minute-ly basis.)

As a CDL, I get to protect people. I get to be their advocate. I get to listen to their problems and stick by them regardless of how serious and heinous those problems are. (You have to remember, a lot of the time, these folks’ family members aren’t even willing to do that.)

And I get to do my best to pull their fat from the fire, so to speak.

I get to be ragingly awesome, is what I’m basically saying.

You know, I feel like a lot of CDLs start out this way. A lot of us probably have bleeding hearts. A lot of us probably have Wounded Bird tendencies. A lot of us are probably Lost Kitten Chasers. (More on this in another blog post. Spoiler alert: I’m an even bigger trainwreck than any of you ever imagined.)

A lot of us – not all of us – probably started out this way: ready to save the world and protect the people because fuck the police and stick it to the man and viva la revolucion and we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget, expect us. All of that rolled up in one complicated ball, located in the hearts and minds of a group of very complicated people who do what we do for a living.

That’s probably pretty naive. I don’t know. I don’t care.

I want to save the world, obviously, but that means different things to different people, and I have a very specific idea as to what it means for me. And yeah, being a CDL does fit into my vision of saving the world. It’s a part of it. I’m not sure how big a part, but it’s a part of it. And it’s definitely a part of my daily struggle – my jihad, and this is literally what true jihad is – to be a better person.

Being a CDL helps me keep my own problems in perspective. It helps me learn compassion, and teaches me patience and understanding. It helps me learn tolerance, and how to force myself not to judge people as harshly as I might if I didn’t do this sort of work. It helps drive me and give me purpose.

I know this sounds incredibly starry-eyed to some of you reading it. That’s fine. I can understand that. But it’s my truth right now. It’s the reality of how I am experiencing my job at this point in my life. I have plenty of time to become jaded; I’ll be bushy-tailed for as long as I possibly can.

CATCH MY ENTHUSIASM YOU GUYS.

But all of this good stuff aside, I feel like I really need to get a grip when it comes to my Wounded Bird tendencies.

If you’re not familiar with Wounded Bird tendencies, well, I’m not exactly sure that they’re a thing. That’s just what I call my very immediate, very visceral, and very strong urge to protect and shelter people that I think of as “wounded birds.” These tend to be people in trouble. People who have been abused or victimized, as some of our clients have. People that are scared. People that have no one left to turn to (aside from people they pay, like me).

And I get very protective.

Which would be fine, if I only got protective when it came to their substantive case. Like, if I was so protective of my client that I motioned up every damn thing I could think of and worked every damn angle possible and assisted my boss in negotiations in any way I possibly could. And I absolutely do that.

But I get protective beyond that, too.

:/

Like, I care about their personal lives. I care about their self-esteem and self-worth. I care about their job hunts. I care about their health and physical well-being. I care about all sorts of shit that is really important, but doesn’t have a blessed thing to do with the actual case. I want to play lawyer, doctor, social worker, therapist, priest, mother, guidance counselor, and best friend.

I want to wear ALL the hats.

And that’s not … realistic.

Hell, it’s not even SANE, you guys.

It’s a completely unrealistic expectation, and it’s a completely unrealistic standard to which to hold myself.

I mean, there are some situations in which caring about things going on with your client that aren’t about the substance of the case is important, and actually does serve some purpose as to the case, even if it’s, eh, not that great.

For example, that client I blogged about before? Who I worked really hard to get those Kosher for Passover meals for? Who called me from the jail and told me that he’s hungry? Well, I got the details from him about his food situation, and I’m motion-ing it up right now as a violation of his First Amendment rights. No, it has nothing to do with the charged offenses of possession of child pornography or transporting a minor across state lines for the purposes of sexual contact.

Not so much, no.

But it’s still important given the situation that he’s in. He’s a federal prisoner, and he has rights. And unless we win at trial on both counts (we have a good shot at one, I feel, but the other one, eh, I’m not nearly so optimistic), he’s going to be spending many more years in prison. And during that time, he absolutely has a right to Kosher meals, and meals that are Kosher for Passover during that week. So the motion isn’t about the charges, no, but it does project forward and attempt to protect his rights.

For another client, I’m really worried about the fact that he’s addicted to a certain category of controlled substances. And I’ve been talking to him about seeking treatment. Not just meetings and other fly-by-night talking sessions, but actual, intensive, in-patient treatment. But in this case, my Wounded Bird tendencies, exhibited in my desire to get him the help he needs and help him come to a place where he affirmatively wants to seek that help FOR HIMSELF, would help the case. It always looks better when a criminal defendant in a drug case acknowledges his problem and seeks treatment.

In another case, I care very much about the way the case is affecting a client’s academic and career prospects, especially because of the client’s age. But in that case, the concern has a good purpose. Pushing this client to continue to pursue a longtime career dream – a dream that he had long before this happened to him – helps the case as well. Which would be a win-win-lose. Win for us, win for the client, lose for the State. But who cares about the State?

:P

Hah.

(CRY MOAR.)

:|

Anyway, normally, I can generally keep it all under control. Kind of. I focus on doing productive shit, and if I’m not doing something productive for the actual case, then I’ll do something productive that’s peripheral/incidental to the case, along the lines of what I outlined above. And if I find myself getting bogged down in the stupid stuff, I try to wrap it up as quickly as I can and move on to more important things.

So generally, I’m pretty good about it. I mean, I feel like I waste more mental energy thinking about things that don’t matter for the case than I should, but I’m working on it.

But seriously, you guys, sometimes I find myself doing or thinking something that is totally out of left field as far as the actual substance of the case, and it’s just like … wat.

Wat am I doing.

Wat is life.

So then I just kind of have to slap myself and move along.

Because I know that I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep working my ass off on the actual case, and then spending my other time thinking about things that are very important in the client’s life … but don’t help move the case forward.

I can’t.

It’s a great way to drive myself crazy and totally burn out on work that I absolutely burn to do.

It’s a great way to stress myself out to the point that I become increasingly ineffective when it comes to actual lawyering.

It’s a great way to wear myself down using coping mechanisms to deal with shit that isn’t even the important shit.

I don’t want to be that burnt out CDL who turns to random vices and tics just to deal with the weight of shit that DOES NOT EVEN AFFECT HER ACTUAL WORK THAT MATTERS MOST TO HER CLIENTS.

 

Yeah. I don’t want to be that person.

So basically, I just need to get a fricking grip.

I’ve always had Wounded Bird tendencies. Always. Since I was a kid. I have always empathized deeply, I’ve always sympathized deeply, I’ve always had a very strong urge to fix other people’s problems, and if I can’t do that, I consider it my obligation to make their day just a little brighter.

And these are all good qualities. These are all strengths.

But the goal here is not to let these strengths become a weakness when it comes to actual lawyering. I gotta get over this Wounded Bird thing.

When I was in high school, I was leaving one morning for school, just like any other day. I stepped outside the house and was locking our front door when there was a huge BANG! and something hit the living room windows – hard.

Naturally, I screamed and ducked. It was ridiculous. It came out of nowhere and was LOUD – in a very quiet neighborhood at about 7:30 in the morning. When I got over my fear ten seconds later, I went over to the hedges in front of our window to investigate. I found a robin sitting, quite dazed and stunned, in the hedges, chirping its little head off and unable to move, despite how close I got to it.

I didn’t know how to fix a broken wing (it clearly had one, no question), but I figured the little animal rescue center/sanctuary near my house could handle it. My friend Paul took a rabbit there once in our junior year, I think, when he accidentally ran over it with his riding lawn mower.

So I grabbed a shoe box and a dish towel and basically picked the bird up with my bare hands (ew, they’re probably disease-ridden) and put it on the floor in front of my passenger seat and, overcome with worry and sick to my stomach over the well-being of this unremarkable robin with its red, red breast, decided to risk being a little late to school in order to drop it at that wildlife sanctuary thing so they could fix its wing.

So I drive to the sanctuary place, which is maybe 7-10 minutes from my house, and I put the car in Park and undo my seat belt and open my door, preparing to grab the box and head into the little building, and I look over to reach for the bird …

And find it sitting on the shoulder of the passenger seat.

:|

SCREAM.

Holy cow, do I scream. I scream and jump out of the car and hop around a bit because, OMG, scary. And this bird, meanwhile, has hopped onto the dash and is repeatedly banging its head against the windshield, trying to get out. So my next plan of attack was to open all the doors so the dumb thing would be able to get out.

But it kept bashing its head against the windshield and freaking out, so obviously it needed help. So I grabbed a magazine I miraculously had lying on the backseat (in high school, I always kept my car immaculate), rolled it up, and tried to nudge the bird toward the open door. This yielded mixed and terrifying results, and necessitated me getting within arms’ length of this scary bird.

But I finally got the bird out, after many unsuccessful attempts. And the fat little robin that had bashed into my living room windows and CLEARLY exhibited a broken wing (like, it was busted, you guys, seriously bent out of shape) just took off and flew right up into the tall trees until it disappeared from my sight.

And I’m standing there as a little sixteen year old thinking, …WTF.

YOU WERE BROKEN, YOU STUPID BIRD. YOU WERE CLEARLY BROKEN.

But that’s the point I’ve been slowly winding my way to. Sure, I’m trying to get from A to D and I’m stopping at B, C, X and 12 along the way, but you guys know by now to expect this sort of thing from me.

Sometimes, wounded birds manage to hop out of shoe boxes and sit on the shoulder of passenger seats and strike terror in the hearts of sixteen year old girls named Huma before they fly up into the trees as if nothing was ever wrong with them.

Sometimes, wounded birds just get their shit together.

So, I really have to just kind of … stahp. I really have to stahp letting myself get sucked into wanting to wear all these different hats and set up some clear boundaries.

I’m an attorney. Not a best friend or a therapist or a teacher, much less someone trying to save the whole world. My focus has to be on the case, and some of the peripherals I mentioned above, but those are limited.

I can do it. That’s not a problem. I can absolutely do it. I just need to frequently check myself and make sure I’m not falling back into these habits.

But at the same time, I won’t let myself lose these qualities, either, because they’re good qualities, they’re beneficial to a lot of people in my life, and they make me a better person. More importantly, they really do make me who I am, and I like who I am. I’m a trainwreck and I’m a spazz, but I like who I am. I’d like to keep being who I am.

But this is getting too Carrie-in-the-last-scene-of-Sex-&-The-City, so Imma stop now.

The one where Brian Tannebaum comes to Chicago and feeds me.

Written By: humarashid - Apr• 03•13

Did I ever mention this? I’m pretty sure I tweeted about it. If you follow me on Twitter, which I don’t recommend, you probably know that @BTannebaum and I are super best friends. Brian is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, and he occasionally finds his way up to Chicago for random things like football games and fancy conferences, and whenever he’s here, he feeds me.

I really like being fed, you guys. I’ve kind of gotten used to it over the years.

So anyway, Brian comes to Chicago sometimes and whenever he does, he feeds me. And @BobBlahBlawg is somehow always there, too, which is kind of awkward, because, um, it’s like he doesn’t get how Third Wheel-y he’s being, which, frankly, is just embarrassing. How is it possible for a person to have such little self-awareness?

:|

IDK, you guys.

(Let’s pretend for a moment that we all don’t know that if anyone on this planet lacks self-awareness, it’s BIG FAT ME RIGHT HERE OOH OOH OVER HERE.)

So Brian asked us to meet him at Bin 36, because he’s some sort of big wine guy. Personally, though, I just like to watch Brian drink his wine – he does all sorts of weird things to it before he tastes it, and then he says weird shit like, “It needs to open up a bit more.” WHO IN THE WORLD EVEN KNOWS WHAT THAT MEANS.

But it’s always fun to see Brian. I can’t say too many lovely things about him, because he has a reputation to maintain on Twitter as That One Super Asshole Lawyer (one?), so I’ll try to abstain from saying tons of goopy, shmoopy things about how he’s a sweetheart who, when I passed the Barzam, sent me the talking Yoda toy that sits on my desk at work.

<3

Suffice it to say, I adore Brian. And I’m always so excited when I get a message from him saying he has plans to be in Chicago sometime soon. And then when he’s finally here, I’m basically like,

<3

And then he spends the rest of the night terrorizing me about my life decisions, so.

:|

The first time Brian came to visit, I think I’d just graduated from law school. It was a whole group of us at this great restaurant somewhere on Lake street downtown, and he pulled me over next to him and spent basically a half hour counseling me about my future. It was the first time someone had sat me down and said those exact things to me. And I’m hideously awkward when someone tries to compliment me, so that was kind of uncomfortable.

(You should see me now when my boss compliments me. I literally stare at him blankly until he narrows his eyes and walks away from me.)

Anyway, that was the first time someone had said those things to me. And I filed those words away in the back of my mind and pulled them out when I felt like I was losing my sense of direction. And for the longest time, I didn’t really believe that what Brian said would actually happen. I was convinced that he saw something in me that was never there – that had never been there. I definitely thought that during the time that I was unemployed and job-hunting, lemme tell you.

But I thought about those words anyway, because even though I didn’t exactly believe them about myself, it was comforting to know that someone out there thought highly of me.

However, this time when Brian came to visit, I was employed. Very happily. Doing the same sort of thing he was doing. (Well, in addition to his criminal practice, he also represents attorneys who have run afoul of the ARDC, which I don’t.)

And I still remembered what he had said a year and a half ago, and I was (am) working to make it happen. More than anything, Brian impressed upon me the importance of thinking big and just going for it. Because, as he said, “Why the fuck not? Why the fuck can’t you be that person?”

So yes.

Here’s a cute picture of me and Brian and our friend Amy from his first visit.

brian and amy

It’s kind of dark. It was a dimly lit restaurant. So you know.

And here’s a picture from, what, the first week of March, I think?

741830696

 

This one is also kind of weirdly lit, but that’s just because BobBlahBlawg can’t operate gadgets and is basically the worst man on the planet.

Anyway, look at those two fancy people.

Dinner was great. We were joined by BobBlahBlawg and his girlfriend Mallory, who is basically 100x more awesome than old Bob could ever hope to be. We were also joined by Joshua King, lead counsel for Avvo.

Brian had come prepared for the evening, and the theme was two-fold: (1) Interrogate Huma about her (non-existent) love life and (2) mock her endlessly for it.

And of course, BobBlahBlawg didn’t even need to be asked TWICE to join in, so he was all over this, and I’m looking at him like, YOU SIT DOWN.

The worst part was, they got Josh, a perfectly nice, respectable man that I’d met just twenty minutes earlier, to join in on the nonsense, too!

:O

WHAT.

Now, as you guys can no doubt guess, my love life is dangerously non-existent. Basically, my love life consists of me trying to dodge my entire extended family’s attempts to marry me off to men that are all wrong for me.

:|

Seriously, I don’t know why I’m not thinner, what with how hard and fast I run from their attempts to set me up with various eligible young men. And I use the term “eligible” in the loosest sense of the word.

So anyway, both Brian and BobBlahBlawg find this predicament endlessly hilarious, and never pass up an opportunity to mock me for it. So obviously, Brian’s first question was whether or not I was banging anybody.

:|

When it came out that I’m decidedly not banging anybody, Brian demanded that I get my shit together and stop being single.

Now, obviously, being the wildly repressed Muslim girl I am, I’m basically losing my shit during the course of this invasive conversation and the intensity with which both of these jags are going after me.

 

And THEN, that colossal ass BobBlahBlawg let slip that I’m majorly crushing on this one prosecutor (two, actually, but I didn’t tell BobBlahBlawg about the other one – gotta keep a sense of mystery about myself, you know?) and HOLY CRAP I COULD HAVE WRUNG HIS NECK.

This obviously didn’t sit well with Brian, who’s been a CDL for years. He was all, BUT HE’S A PROSECUTOR!!1! And I’m sitting there like, kill me. And then BobBlahBlawg, who enjoys my misery far too much, the horrid man, announced that my hot prosecutor’s name was Gregg.

With two g’s at the end, he says.

:|

Guys.

There is no Gregg.

There has never been a Gregg.

I’ve never even KNOWN any man named Gregg.

Or Greg, for that matter.

But that doesn’t stop BobBlahBlawg from spreading his awful lies. He basically sits on a throne of lies, like the tyrant that he is.

THERE IS NO GREGG.

But, I made a mistake: I admitted that though there was no Gregg, there was a hot prosecutor I was doing my best to ignore forever because my people skills are THAT awesome.

And so then the rest of the evening basically devolved into Josh, Brian, and BobBlahBlawg doing this:

:|

So, you know, kill me.

Now, to the best of my recollection, Mallory did not join in. Which is why she’s still cool. I think.

So that was what my dinner with Brian Tannebaum was like.

:|

I can’t wait until he comes back to Chicago.

:D

 

Then there was the time I met Andrea Lyon.

Written By: humarashid - Apr• 02•13

So, back in law school, I really enjoyed my Criminal Law class. And then I took Criminal Procedure I, and REALLY enjoyed that. Then I took Criminal Procedure II, which was basically just adjudication, and then I took Federal Criminal Law, and then in my last semester I took a Sex Crimes seminar.

Man, I just realized that I REALLY overloaded on crim classes, without even realizing it. Huh. Without even seriously believing that I could one day actually be a defense attorney. AND NOW I AM ONE. Funny how that worked out, huh?

Anyway, at some point in there somewhere, I read this awesome book, Defending the Damned: Inside Cook County Public Defender’s Office by Kevin Davis. (Weird. The copy I have has this title on the jacket, but it’s up under a different title on Amazon. It’s the same book, though, I promise.)

That book follows the public defenders on the Murder Task Force – the small, elite group of PDs that only dealt with death penalty cases. (Devotees will remember that Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2010, thank goodness.) These attorneys worked at 26th & California, a courthouse where I appear several times a month.

(26th & Cali is basically my favorite courthouse because the main floor always smells of hot dogs. That’s basically the only requirement to get me into a building of any sort: it should smell like meat. Even questionable meat, i.e., hot dogs.)

One of the attorneys featured in the book is Andrea Lyon. She also wrote her own memoir about her time on the MTF, entitled Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense LawyerAs soon as I was done reading DtD, I looked up the different attorneys featured in it to see if any of them had written their own books. I quickly found Andrea Lyon’s memoir and absolutely devoured it. It was great! If you read DtD, I highly recommend AoDR if you wish to continue down that road.

It’s all pretty disturbing, though, in general, so it’s not for the faint of heart, and I don’t think less of anyone who can’t handle it. I’ve had friends who started reading DtD based on my recommendation who then quit and told me they thought I was nuts for not only finishing it, but seeking out similar material. Heck, when my father learned that DtD was what made me yearn to be a criminal defense attorney, he grabbed my copy and started reading it … and stopped after literally 17 pages. He has not picked it up since.

Just to tease him about it, I once commented on whether or not he’d finished the book and what he thought of it, and he was basically like,

But even as I was reading all these books and eagerly tearing through the reading for all of my different criminal law-related classes and dreaming of being a CDL  one day in the same way I occasionally dream of riding my pet unicorn through a field of sunflowers, I never actually seriously thought that I could actually be a CDL.

(For those not familiar with acronyms I commonly use, CDL = criminal defense lawyer.)

It was a dream I had. I thought that was what it would always be, you know? I went to a law school that is known regionally, not nationally. I graduated into a terrible economy and basically the worst market for lawyers. I was entering the legal work force with out-of-work attorneys who had been laid off after practicing for any number of years, and that’s stiff competition. There weren’t any jobs. I had no reason to hope for getting a job I even liked, much less one that would basically be a dream come true. I was preparing myself for years of bankruptcy shit just to put some money in my bank account.

That’s not to knock bankruptcy lawyers. Plenty of them absolutely love what they do. But I would not have been one of them. I would have wanted to fall off a cliff every single morning if I had to be a bankruptcy or foreclosure or family law attorney.

But due to several twists of excellent luck/fate/Divine Providence (pick your favorite), I landed a job as a CDL with Raymond G. Wigell, a solo practitioner who’s been practicing at the state and federal level for almost forty years. He’s fantastic and I love working for him. I love the work we do, even when it’s disgusting and complicated and devastating and makes me heart-sick. I love it all.

During my first interview with Raymond, he mentioned his “best friend Andrea Lyon,” and a case that they were working on together as part of the Innocence Project. And I swear, my face must have just LIT UP when he said he had been super close friends with her for decades. I was like,

And he caught the way I perked up and was like, Oh, do you know her? And I was like NO BUT I WANT TO WHY ARE EXCELLENT THINGS HAPPENING HERE.

So fast forward, and I’ve been working for Raymond for about a month. It’s late December, and it was that morning that some huge snowstorm was supposed to blow through the Chicagoland area. I live in the burbs about an hour out, and I had to be at 26th & Cali that morning, so I decided to skip my normal skirts/dresses and heels in favor of pants and my winter boots that, thankfully, don’t look too clunky-winter-boot-ish under pants, and I trekked out towards the city.

I got there a half hour early, as I always do, and just picked a seat in the jury box. My boss told me to meet him in that court room, but I wasn’t standing up on the case because it wasn’t mine – it was him and Andrea. And then the two of us had a couple of status dates for our state cases in other rooms in the courthouse, so he wanted to basically make his appearance in the room, see if they could get called up first so they could file their huge PC, and then bounce so we could handle the rest of the stuff we had up that day.

Now, I’ve never seen a picture of Andrea Lyon in person. I think there might have been a small black and white picture of her on the inside back jacket for her book, but I’d read that so long and barely glanced at the author picture, so what did I know?

I just sat in the jury box, listened to the clerk annoy the living fuck out of the deputy in the room (he was really sweet about it but I could hear him gnashing his teeth from across the room, which was kind of funny), and worked on some other crap I had to get done.

The glass doors opened and I looked up as a tall woman in a brown suit, with thick, wavy brown hair and a rolling briefcase. And you know those moments where you just know something, intuitively? I knew that was Andrea Lyon. I just knew it. At that moment, it could not have been anyone BUT Andrea Lyon, as far as I was concerned.

So, my boss had told me that Andrea would be there that day, and I’d have a chance to meet her. I knew he’d introduce me and say lots of favorable things, because he’s a nice man and for reasons I don’t quite understand, he likes me a lot. (I think.)

But … to hell with that! Andrea Lyon was sitting just a few yards away from me! :O WHAT.

So she’s sitting there at the defense table going through her files for the day, and I dumped my crap back in my bag, stood up, straightened my blouse, and made a beeline for her. I was kind of aggressively creepy about it, too. I was basically like,

And so I introduced myself and told her I was Raymond’s new associate and I was a big fan of hers and she inspired me to be a CDL after I read about her in DtD. And she was like, “Oh, you read that book? You should read my book!” And I was like “OH TRUST ME I DID!”

So I took a seat next to her and she was just so sweet. Seriously. She talked a bit about Raymond and how awesome she thought he was and how I was going to learn so much, and how it was good to see more women CDLs, and this work is so important, and then she told me about the case that they were filing the PC in, and all of the different aspects of it that inspired her and Raymond to take the case as part of the Innocence Project.

And I’m just sitting there, basically being supremely creepy. Like this:

It was basically a miracle that she didn’t ask for me to be removed from the room.

Anyway, I’m basically soaking up everything she says just as I do with Raymond, and all I can think is, holy shit, I’m an attorney and a CDL and I’m sitting at the defense table at 26th & Cali with ANDREA FRICKING LYON and we’re talking about the law and cases and important things!

I was having a moment, you guys.

*sniffle*

Yeah.

Awkward.

Especially since I’m not exactly the sort of person that HAS feelz, you guys.

But it was seriously just so awesome. And I know I’ll remember it for a long time. Heck, every time I’ve seen her since, I still get a little star-struck. She’s Andrea Lyon, you guys!

:D

And there really is something so powerful about having a dream, one that you never thought would be fulfilled, and then to get to live it out every single day, and then one day be sitting at the defense table, discussing finer points of law with one small but integral part of that dream, like it’s no big deal. It seriously just blew my mind when it happened.

I just love when the people I secretly look up to turn out to be really nice. I mean, I do my best not to admire people or look up to them, because everyone’s human and everyone’s flawed, and it’s not fair to force unrealistic expectations onto a single, fallible person. So instead, I admire qualities that I see in people, rather than the person him or herself. But still, it’s really nice when a person that has a lot of qualities I find inspirational and admirable also turns out to be a truly sweet person who has no problem sitting around with me and just chatting.

My boss showed up while we were talking, and seemed pleased that I possessed the nerve to just walk up to Andrea and introduce myself. (Probably because he’d seen how star-struck and fluttery I got when her name was so much as mentioned around me.) And then their case was called and they filed their PC and set a date, and we were out of there. Ray made some plans with Andrea and said a few things about me by way of belated introduction, and it was just really pleasant. Then we all said our goodbyes and I’m basically gushing at this point as I shake Andrea’s hand. I should be embarrassed about it, but fuck it. She’s Andrea fricking Lyon, and I get to talk to her. So when we’re leaving, I’m basically like,

So yes.

I hugged you in my mind, Andrea Lyon, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

>:)

 

…Ugh. One of these days, I will stop being so gallopingly creepy.

BUT NOT TODAY!

:O

 

Occasionally we order books for inmates. There’s a lesson in this, I swear.

Written By: humarashid - Apr• 01•13

We don’t do this for all of our clients that are currently in custody. Obviously. That would be far too big a project, and it would cost us far too much. It’s not that we’re cheap, because my boss is quite generous with a lot of our inmate-clients, and I’ve seen that repeatedly since I started working with him, but still, we can’t buy books regularly for all of our clients that are in custody.

But we have this special client. I talked about him on this blog before. I’m going to call all of our client by the names of Disney characters, so let’s call this client … Sergeant Tibbs.

Sgt. Tibbs is great. He’s very personable and charming, and it was impossible for me not to warm to him instantly. I first met Sgt. Tibbs during a PSIR (pre-sentence investigative report, called a PSI on the state level) interview conducted between him and a federal probation officer. My boss and I were both present, and it was done over an iPad.

Sgt. Tibbs answered the questions honestly, was forthcoming on the details of his life, even the uncomfortable ones, and he cooperated fully with the federal probation officer, who ended up writing an excellent mitigation section about him in the PSIR. That worked out really well, and it’s these little things – like helping your client truly connect with the government official in charge of writing this kind of an evaluation – that really matter. Sentencing is in late April, and I’m looking forward to it.

Anyway, Sgt. Tibbs’s case was originally a (federal) death penalty case. I probably mentioned this before, but Sgt. Tibbs is supposedly the former second commander of the Black Disciples, one of the most vicious Chicago gangs, and this case involves a violent crime.

My boss, Raymond Wigell, and his co-counsel, Andrea Lyon (one of the rockstar Cook County PDs who made me yearn to be a criminal defense attorney), took the case and successfully “de-deathed” it. Now we’re gearing up for sentencing. (Although my boss has been prepared for it forever, telling me that he “could do that shit in [his] sleep at this point.”)

The last time I saw Sgt. Tibbs was probably a month ago. Maybe. No, according to the write up I did about it, it was two weeks ago. Phew, time flies when you’re having fun, right?

Anyway, I saw him a month ago when he was moved to another prison a bit closer to Chicago. Before, he was quite a ways away. Perhaps the U.S. Marshals moved him closer to the city in anticipation of sentencing? I have no idea. I will never claim to have any insight as to what the Marshals do or why. :P (No, but they’re always so sweet and helpful when I am making an ass-ton of calls frantically trying to locate our clients.)

So Sgt. Tibbs sang us a song, and it was great, and it made me yearn for another College Dropout-esque album from the Great Yeezy, Lord and Sustainer of Awesome Music. Even though that will never happen, now that he’s an international superstar instead of a struggling young artist in Chicago.

Back on track. The last time we were all together, Sgt. Tibbs asked if we could send him some books. He likes urban fiction, and mentioned James Patterson specifically, and added that he wanted some new releases, from late 2012 or 2013 so far, since presumably he’d read all the other relatively newer releases at his previous facility.

Now, my boss adores Sgt. Tibbs. He loves him. And it’s easy to understand why. So when Sgt. Tibbs asked for books, I made a specific note to my file because I knew that my boss would later ask me to take care of that for him. And sure enough, the other day, he gave me the firm’s card and told me to handle it.

It can be kind of a process to get books to prisoners. Detention facilities often have differing rules about what they’ll accept and from where. Some will let attorneys stick paperbacks in an envelope and mail it in, the same way they’d send any confidential legal mail. Other facilities will allow newspapers, magazines, and even hardcovers in as long as they come from “publishers,” meaning retailers like Barnes or Amazon or whatever.

Sadly, Sgt. Tibbs’s prison doesn’t allow in any hardcovers, at all, so I was restricted to paperbacks. But I found a couple good Patterson novels on BarnesandNoble.com, and I use the term “good” very loosely, because frankly it’s a crime against the English language to put “good” and “Patterson novel” in the same sentence.

I ended up picking “Tick Tock” and one of the Alex Cross novels, I think. I put in Sgt. Tibb’s inmate number and the prison address, and they should arrive early this week. I hope they make him happy and he gets a few hours of joy and escape through them. And they’re his, so hopefully they get to travel with him when he inevitably changes facilities after sentencing and goes to a federal pen rather than a county/state/federal mishmosh detention center.

I’m more than happy to take some time to mull over the myriad of Patterson books available (far too many, really, so as to be basically unconscionable) and figure out which ones he’d want, and which ones I can send (ie, no paperbacks). And I’m glad that my boss will occasionally do these sorts of things for his clients.

On a human level, I love it. I think it’s appropriate, and I think it’s worthwhile. On a selfish note, it just makes me feel good, plainly put, to know that I put some time and care into selecting a book or two for an incarcerated man who has very few pleasures left in his life.

And on a professional level, I think it’s appropriate and worthwhile, too. I think doing little things like this is a good way to practice. Sure, it’s not actually practicing law, but it’s an incidental aspect of practice. It’s about client relationships.

It hurts when I hear clients say they hate their attorneys. I usually hear this about PDs, and I think part of that is clients not understanding, much less appreciating, all that their PDs do for them. But sometimes, unfortunately, it is a case of attorneys who have a very heavy case load and maybe don’t devote as much time or attention to individual cases or clients as perhaps they should. (And that’s true of plenty of private attorneys, too, lest anyone think I’m ragging on my beloved public defenders.)

But I think it’s very important that clients in general, and especially our clients since, frankly, they’re the only ones I care about, understand that we care for them beyond the particulars of a case. And the way we practice, I think they get that message.

It reminds me of what my boss was explaining to me when I was very new and trotting along after him as he handled a few status dates for some of our felony sex cases out of 26th & Cali. He likes to lecture me at any given moment about the finer points of practicing, and I am always up for it. It’s great. He’s such a great attorney and I have so much respect for him and I love when he shares his methods and insights with me.

But that day, we were hurrying to yet another courtroom at 26th after wrapping up a status date for his Innocence Project case, and he was telling me a little about the family in the case we were about to handle, and what he was going to do on this date.

His court date procedure (and mine) is very simple but very structured. When he gets there, he takes a few minutes to talk to the client and the client’s family about what he’s going to do that day. This conversation is admittedly brief and not … too specific. He stays away from saying certain buzz words in front of the client or his family before everything is nailed down, and sticks to more general ideas.

Then he goes and talks to the State, or gets right into the call. And then he says his goodbyes and has the client and/or his family follow him out of the courtroom, where he finds a quiet corner and talks to them. He’s very careful not to say anything too sensitive, because courtrooms are public places, and anyone could be listening. When there are sensitive conversations to be had, we tell them to call in and set up an appointment for an office visit.

But after the call he always explains in detail what happened, even if it was as simple as the State asking for a continuance to file their response. Shit like that takes 20 seconds to handle, especially if you’ve set up a date in advance with the prosecutor, but to the average person, it looks like absolutely nothing happened. So he takes some time to explain to them the details of what was said, what it means, and how it affects the positioning of the case. And then he draws them back to the positive, and lets them go with that thought.

This is his procedure, and this is exactly what I do as well when I’m handling my cases or court calls.

And I remember trotting after him that morning at 26th & Cali when we were rushing to this sex case, and he was explaining why he sets up his court dates this way.

“A lot of attorneys don’t do this,” he told me as we hurried along. “But I can’t imagine practicing any other way. A lot of attorneys just say, oh, call my office, or give them a sentence or two in explanation and then rush off. You’ve seen me do this a few times – how many minutes do I normally spend with clients or their families after the case has been up?”

“Ten minutes, give or take.”

“Exactly, and there’s a reason for that. You always do that. Always. These people are paying us a lot of money. A lot of money. Sometimes, all the money they have. And you’re just going to come to court, do your thing, and walk by them after only a few words? Fuck that. You think they’re going to feel good? They’re going to feel like shit. Like they don’t matter and their attorney can’t be bothered to talk to them and tell them what’s going on with their loved one’s case. You always take the time to talk to your clients, no matter what else you have going on. And if they want to talk specifics, you say, that’s a good question and it’s important, but this is not the time to discuss it. Call the office, come in, and we’ll talk about it in detail. Because you never want them to feel like you’re brushing them off – because if you are, you’re not doing your job.”

I always do this. Always. Doesn’t matter if the call was as simple as the State saying, “Your Honor, we’re waiting on additional discovery in the form of blah blah blah.” I still always spend about ten minutes with a client in a conference room, or whispering quietly in the corner of the hallway, to explain what that means, why it was good or bad, and ending on something positive.

Because that bolsters the bond between the attorney and the client, and that’s really important. And granted, buying a few Patterson books off Barnes & Noble isn’t doing anything substantive for the case.

But it’s letting Sgt. Tibbs know that we heard him when he asked for the books, and we remembered his request and followed through because we care about him. And that we care about little things like the fact that he’s bored and likes James Patterson and urban thrillers. Even though none of that has fricking anything to do with sentencing.

It’s very similar to when I spent probably two hours total (if I were billing hours … which I’m not, since we don’t do that billable hour stuff) working on a similar incidental for another (also federal) client. This client is actually the one whose case we’re taking to trial in June of this year. (It’s a great/awful case and I know the discovery like I know the back of my hand, and I’m so excited.)

He’s Jewish, and desperately wanted Kosher meals for Passover of this year. Back in February, he asked us about it. My boss immediately handed that project over to me, knowing that I’m big on prisoners’ rights issues. For my Sex Crimes seminar back at John Marshall, I wrote this massive proposal about how Illinois could combat prison rape in its jails and prisons. I can’t even tell you how much I read in preparation of crafting that proposal – about prison rape, and about prison life in general. If there’s ever any way I can help our inmate-clients, I’m all over it. Any little, tiny thing. It means a lot to me, and I find it personally rewarding (but that’s really selfish, so whatever).

So I took over the Passover project, and it was … kind of insane. I found out a good way to get the Passover meals, but he wanted specific items that weren’t there on the prison commissary list for special items, or the meals provided by the 3rd party organization that deals with this. So I had to try to track that stuff down, which led me on a wild goose chase in which I ended up calling all of the other federal facilities he’d stayed at, the Bureau of Prisons, and even a rabbi or two who he had been in contact with in the past. But I was able to get what he needed, and he has Passover meals, so I’m pleased about that.

I’m NOT pleased because apparently they’re really small meals, and the prison he’s at won’t give him any additional food, so he called the other day to tell me that he was really hungry. And it’s horrible because there’s nothing I can possibly do to help him. And he understood that, and just asked that I document it for the file, which I did, of course. But ugh. I felt so bad. Not in a way that expended energy and diverted that energy from shit I really needed to do, but still. You guys know what I mean. I just felt bad that he was hungry. Ugh.

But I like doing these little incidental things. I love doing my actual legal work, which is fantastic, but I like doing these little things. I like spending a half hour on the B&N website, picking out the perfect books for Sgt. Tibbs. It’s a nice little way to break up the day, it’s different from my normal lawyerly work, and it’s a nice little way to de-stress after spending all morning working on actual stuff.

And again, being totally selfish for a minute, it just makes me feel good to help someone in some tiny way, to bring a little bit of happiness into their lives. But I try not to dwell on that, because it’s not at all about how anything makes me feel.

I just hope those books are enjoyed. Even if they are Patterson novels.

:/

Ew.

Why.

I love it when I’m underestimated. Which is often.

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 27•13

You guys have seen pictures of me, right? I mean, there’s a picture of me directly to the right of this post, so, obviously. Look at me. I look young, right? I always get told I look young. It’s probably because I’m petite (I’m exactly 5’1″ if I’m not slouching), and because I STILL have baby fat taking up space in my face, which is just cruel at this point.

And you know what’s weird? Like, strangers comment on it. In courthouses. I’ll be wearing my tailored blazers and little dresses, and I’ll be striding purposely through the halls of the courthouse in my heels, with my phone in hand (a sure sign you’re an attorney – no one else is allowed to bring phones into the building) and RANDOM PEOPLE appearing for the morning call will stop me and be like, “How old are you?”

No “hi.” No “hello.” No “how the hell are you?”

Just, “How old are you?”

And it’s always white people who ask me, too. Only white people.

Oh, white people.

Anyway, normally, I’d just be like, “It’s none of your damn business how old I am, stop being frigging creepy.” But sometimes (most of the time) they catch me entirely off guard, so I’m just like, “…I’m twenty-six.” And they’re ALWAYS like, “You look eighteen!”

It’s always eighteen, too.

Hm.

Anyway, so that’s kind of really weird. But it does make me think that I probably do look quite young.

And let’s be honest: I’m adorable. I’m the most adorable person to ever adorb, is basically what I’m saying to everyone reading this, forever. I’m petite and my glasses make my eyes look huge and I have pinchy cheeks and I’m always smiling or grinning or smirking and I wear cute dresses with nipped in waists and tailored blazers and I have super shiny, super flippy hair, and I am just a vision of adorableness.

(IT’S NOT BRAGGING, IT’S REPORTING.)

 

So yeah. I’m kind of horribly precious. Not necessarily in a good way, either. Because who wants to try to be a fearless, tough defense attorney and look precious?

NO ONE THAT’S WHO.

But I’m not going to start deliberately ugging it up because screw that, and I’m not going to start wearing clothes that don’t fit me because my mom made me do that all throughout junior high and some of high school, so screw that, too.

(OMG, you guys, I was a trainwreck in high school, physically. I hadn’t yet figured out that curly hair wasn’t meant to be brushed, so I’d brush it and it would get HUGE and be nothing but frizz. I also didn’t know how to use straighteners or hot air brushes. So I basically wore my hair in a huge frizzy ponytail, and it was awful. I obviously didn’t wear makeup, which has only slightly improved over the years because I have since learned how to apply mascara, and I only dressed in jeans and tees. Also, my mom insisted I wear sweaters that were like 4 sizes too big for me because boys exist and boys are bad, so I was constantly DROWNING in fabric, which explains why I gravitate toward tailored, structured looks now that emphasize how petite I am and -GASP- actually fit me. And then senior year I decided to rebel because I was an overachieving goody-two-shoes little monster, so I just abandoned wearing shoes and only wore my slippers to school. But whatever, because they were so comfortable. So yes. Trainwreck in high school. I make up for it now, and how.)

So basically, I refuse to change up my current style, because I love it. I’m just going to keep being normal and if that means I end up looking twee, so be it. I’ll deal.

But it’s kind of funny, just because of the environment. I’m ALWAYS the youngest-looking person in the room. Always. Judges have commented on it. Repeatedly. Different ones. Sometimes on the record, which is pretty funny. Courtroom personnel ALWAYS comment on it. With regularity.

Plus, my boss, who is sometimes with me in court but not always, is old enough to be my father. And my counterparts for the State are all older than me, and most of them have been practicing longer than I have.

And when I show up in court with my pencil skirts and shiny earrings, smiling and chipper (why am I always so chipper in the mornings? I DON’T EVEN CONSUME CAFFEINE), they basically see this:

Sigh.

Guys, that’s basically me.

I’ve been known to wear bling-y headbands to court.

BECAUSE WHY NOT.

But let’s not get too focused on who’s wearing headbands and who isn’t, you guys. We’re better than that.

I’m very aware that this is what they see when I come skipping into the room.

Haha, there’s this one judge who calls me “dear” and it’s kind of really sweet. I know that offends a lot of women, and I take no issue with that. If some women are offended, they are absolutely right to feel that way. Sometimes it offends me as well when men say that, especially when they don’t know me and that’s the first term they use. Fuck you – I’m no one’s “dear.”

But I’ve had some conversations with this judge and told him a few jokes and made him laugh, and after that he started calling me “dear,” and so I can tolerate that. But I’ve definitely seen an ASA or two frown at me a bit when they notice use of that term and notice how …. almost solicitous (?) the judge is when I step up. And I do believe that at least part of it is because this judge is an older judge who’s sat on the bench for quite some time, and he knows how new I am to his courtroom, and he’s trying to be nice.

Also, let’s be real, I kind of look like I’m a total airhead.

And the caricature I play on this blog doesn’t help matters, does it. :P

But good luck getting me to stop.

Haha, there’s this one ASA on one of my child porn cases who, I swear, it’s a challenge to get this man to even LOOK at me. He’s been a hot-shot State’s Attorney for years, and he’s admittedly pretty damn handsome, so he’s got the whole prosecutor strut down, and man, I seriously think he thinks I”m just some random fan that follows my boss around and writes down whatever he says and fetches him coffee. Seriously, he WILL.NOT.EVEN.LOOK.AT.ME.

I’ll be standing right there, it will be MY MOTION that we’re discussing, and he’ll just look right over my head and talk to my boss. And what makes it really funny is … I don’t think he even really recognizes me?

Like, I think the guy must have goldfish memory, because every time I pass by him in the hall or whatever on my own, I always smile at him and nod (in recognition, you know, not to be an ass), and he just gives me this long look of perfect bewilderment, as if he can’t imagine who I am or how I was even allowed into the building.

So now I’ve just made a game of it and I tease him relentlessly and he doesn’t really know what to do with me. He’ll find out what to do with me when I absolutely slam him during the hearing on my motion. Oh, he’ll find out. Bet he’ll recognize me after that.

Then there are the prosecutors that give me pep talks, because they recognize that I’m new. And that’s really sweet, and I appreciate it. Except when they do it in a way that reveals that they think I’m a dumbass. Because, fuck that. I’m new and I’m young, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. Hell, I bet they’ve been practicing for years with other attorneys who don’t know as much about how to defend a child porn case as I do. So, whatever.

(I know, you wouldn’t know it to look at me that I know this much about that awful crime. I think that about myself sometimes, too.)

Then there are the prosecutors, like my poor, beleaguered ASA up there, who really just won’t talk to me about the case at all because I’m not the lead so I’m not worth their time and I look like a little airhead anyway, so forget it.

…And then I manage to pull something that throws a serious wrench in their case, and they can’t ignore me anymore. That is by far the most fun. Because I did that once with a special prosecutor on one of our biggest sex cases. My boss was in federal court that day for an emergency arraignment so I was handling a status dates on several of our state cases that were up that day. It was totally comical how sweet (and dismissive) this prosecutor was when I made it clear that I was the only one there … and then how stony he/she got when I very sweetly revealed what I intended to file and tender that day. It was beautiful. And now whenever I enter that courtroom, this prosecutor notices. I love it.

The same goes for our clients, too, actually. Some more than others. I don’t talk that much during initial meetings because my boss is always with me and, what, I’m going to talk over him? Repeat what he just said and look like a moron? Nah. So I sit there and concentrate on taking notes,  and I feel like they initially see me as some kind of glorified secretary, or just a newb attorney who knows nothing substantive about their case.

And that’s okay, I don’t blame them. They’re stressed out and don’t know any better. But when they call the office, I’m the one that often deals with them and answers their questions and tells them what to do. On any given day, I’m fielding phone calls from our inmate clients about where their case is positioned and what we plan to do next, I’m giving instructions on how to proceed for a federal detention hearing and how to comply with the bond, I’m explaining how sex evaluations work and how to help us put together effective mitigation. I know the details of all their cases. I know, at any given moment, all the itsy bitsy To Do items that they need to take care of and that we need to take care of. I know all about their cases, damn it, and I know all about the procedure aspect on our end, and how we have to proceed.

Some clients are jerks. No matter how much they see me do, I’m still the newb associate that can’t be trusted. But it’s always nice when we get to that moment where clients “get it.” Where they see me coming to their court date on my own, with my files tucked under my arm, and they’re not apprehensive about it because they know I got this. When they feel comfortable asking me the questions, and knowing I’ll give them the answers.

Sigh. IDK, you guys.

I’m pretty used to being underestimated, to be honest. All my life, really. And I knew I was in for a lot more of it in this environment. But I don’t let it bug me. Like with that one bewildered ASA, I usually make a game of subverting people’s image or expectations of me. It’s not something that upsets me (…for too long) or keeps me up at night.

Besides, the real joy is in seeing the looks on their faces when I show what I’m made of. That’s the best thing about being underestimated. Because I can walk in there looking like an adorable airhead, be awesome, and walk out like a bad-ass.

Yup.

Exactly like that.

God bless Public Defenders!

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 26•13

Did I ever tell you guys that I wanted to be a public defender? I did. I really did. If it would have been easier to get a job with them (they’re unionized, which makes it a little harder for newly licensed attorneys to join the ranks), I would have been. If they would have had me, that is. I would have loved to have been a public defender.

They’re not paid enough, they’re worked to death, and they’re spat upon by everyone from the judges, other lawyers, and even their clients. It’s a thankless job, and for some reason I can’t fully articulate, I wanted it. I wanted to be a public defender.

(I swear, I HATE how WordPress/Bluehost always mess up my damn gifs. How hard is it to maintain the freaking pixel structure?!)

But I wound up snagging an awesome job as a private criminal defense attorney, so I’m doing the same work, but less of it, and I get treated far better by my clients because, you know, they’re paying to retain me.

We get clients all the time who call us up and say they want to retain us because they don’t want a court-appointed lawyer. They give us some variation of “they’re not real lawyers/they’re not good at what they do/they don’t care.”

Which, frankly, is bullshit.

I just want to be like,

Sure, there are PDs who aren’t good lawyers – either due to apathy or a lack of experience. That’s true of plenty of private practice attorneys, too, but we’re not all painted with the same brush. PDs have a terrible image among the public, and it sucks. It just sucks.

Some of my good friends clerked for the local PD office during law school. Many attorneys I know and admire are former PDs, including my boss, Raymond Wigell. The attorneys that inspired me to become a criminal defense attorney were all PDs. They’re people who know the law, who are capable of handling a very heavy case load, and who care about every single client that comes before them, even when they can’t stand the motherfuckers. They are excellent attorneys and I cringe when I hear the sorts of things people say about them.

But that’s a rant for another day, I’m sure. A rant for many other days, if you stick around this blog long enough. (RUN AWAY NOW WHILE YOU HAVE THE CHANCE WHY ARE YOU EVEN READING THIS TO BEGIN WITH.)

I have a case down in Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, which is quite a ways away, so I’m really looking forward to the drive, but whatever. What can you do?

The problem, though, is that I’ve never appeared in Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, because it’s so far away that people from that county generally seek counsel that’s closer to home. So I have no idea what the courtroom culture there is.

Will I be at a disadvantage there as a female attorney? As a Chicago attorney? As a South Asian, i.e., non-white? How does the State handle these types of cases down there? What is the culture in general? How promptly do they begin court calls in the mornings? What are interactions with the State generally like?

Basically what I’m saying is, what if I walk in there and immediately accidentally mess everything up forever?!

It’s a legitimate fear, you guys.

>:/

You’ve seen what a galloping hot mess I can be sometimes.

In the counties where I normally appear, there are different alternatives to convictions for this type of crime. There’s supervision, there are diversion programs, and so on. I basically really wanted to know what sort of stuff was available down there, the kind of stuff they’d go for.

So I did what any lawyer should do when he or she isn’t familiar with how things are done in a new county.

I picked up my phone and rang up the Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County Public Defenders’ office. Who better to help me out? I spoke to the secretary, who said she’d check and see if any of the attorneys were around and had a few minutes to talk.

(In the surprising event that no one there was willing to talk to me, I probably would have crossed my fingers and called up the State and gotten super ass-kissy as I felt out my options. But that was my last resort, other than just showing up and dealing with it on the fly.)

But the secretary put me in touch with one of the PDs, and he was a sweetheart. He took about ten minutes out of his schedule and really helped me out. I explained who I was and why I was coming down to Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, and what I wanted to know.

He told me all about how things run down there, and answered all my specific and general questions. He told me that if I had any other concerns, or if on the day of my court date I found myself needing help, to grab either of the two PDs that are in that courtroom, and he gave me their names. He didn’t let me go until we were certain we had all of our bases covered.

And thanks to him, I have a really good feeling about this case. I don’t like going into anything blind, and that’s what would have happened here because I had never appeared in this county before.

Public Defenders are a great resource in general, and they know so much about their work because they have to, with the all the cases they have to handle at once. And it’s so nice to be able to reach out to others in the criminal defense community and get the help I need.

Yay for Public Defenders. Don’t any of you ever let me catch you bad-mouthing these court-appointed attorneys. That’s something I’d probably cheerfully slap the taste out of your mouth for. They’re the best among us attorneys for what they do.

Court Chronicles: Did I talk about our detention hearing yet?

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 25•13

We have a federal case out of the Northern District of Indiana that we were retained on within the last month, I want to say, and we’ve been working quite a bit on it.

It’s a plea, like most of our other federal cases (except the one child porn/transportation of a minor for purposes of sexual contact that’s going to trial in June), and we’re starting to get our ducks in a row for that. We’re signing off on a waiver of arraignment as the first step, and we’re in talks with the AUSA about what they’re going to charge our client with, precisely, and so on. At this point, we’re all still waiting on full forensics.

But before all that, we had a detention hearing at the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana. Our client has been in custody since ICE agents picked him up, and so the first-first step was to get him out.

We showed up for the detention hearing and were handed a last-minute addendum by PreTrial Services literally five minutes before the proceedings were supposed to be underway. We read through as quickly as we could, noted the changes, made our edits, discussed them quickly with our client, who sat in his orange jumpsuit and double shackles between us, and then the judge came in and the hearing was on.

It went very smoothly. We caught all the right edges. The witness was great – on direct and on cross. The government opposed our position, obviously, but relied mostly on argument and didn’t put on any witnesses. Our client handled himself very well in a very stressful situation, and the judge took note of that, even mentioning it in his ruling when listing the reasons that formed the basis of his decision.

Long story short: we won. We caught all the right edges and we won. It is very, very rare to win one of these, so it was a great moment. Obviously, there’s no cheering or high-fiving in situations like this. You just savor the win for a second and swallow it and move along because the real work is just beginning.

We were very happy to be able to secure his release on bond, and he’s supposed to be officially released early next week, because these things can take a while as all the different people involved get the paperwork together and sort everything out. It’s a process, but the important thing is that he’s out for now.

Over the next several months, we’ll be working on the plea agreement and sentencing. I’ll be up to my eyeballs in Guidelines calculations, which will be fun, even though I’m kind of being sarcastic when I say that. It will be fun because I don’t get to play with the Sentencing Guidelines that often. I’m being sarcastic only because … the Guidelines are complicated and intricate and I know, with my anal retentive tendencies, I’m just going to be meticulous when I go through it all, so it’ll take a good chunk of time. But that’s okay.

But that detention hearing was something I’ll remember for a long time. It was tense and we went in expecting to lose … and we pulled it out. It made it even sweeter because they’re so.damn.hard to win. Especially in Indiana. It really was an incredibly memorable occasion, probably not least of all because of the unexpected win. But it’s always a rush to sit a federal courthouse and take meetings with AUSAs and answer the Judge’s questions and put on that kind of show. A total rush. I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real, that I’m an attorney of record in federal proceedings. Federal criminal practice is just the best. Even when you go in absolutely certain that you’re going to lose.

So anyway, all that sunshine and light aside, our boy is out.

And now we get to work on the plea, and getting him the lowest sentence we possibly can. It’s going to be a long, stressful, exhausting ordeal, but that’s the way it goes.

It’s a good thing that I never fail to summon up a ton of energy and enthusiasm for shit like this. To say nothing, of course, of my boss, Raymond Wigell, who has been doing this for almost forty years. I’m thrilled that we’re in this together.

 

 

My clients will give me gray hairs, I swear it.

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 22•13

My hair is kind of a sensitive spot for me, you guys. I love it and am protective of it. And I dread the day it will change colors, which, due to a few numbskulls, might be sooner rather than later.

I’m very grateful that, so far, there is not a single silver strand in sight when I brush my hair. Nothing but black, baby. And sometimes more of a blue-black, and I’ve even found a purple strand once, which is super weird, because I’ve never dyed my hair.

Oh! Once, back in law school, @BobBlahBlawg gave me the scare of a lifetime. See, I always teased my dearest Bob on account of him being a soulless ginger daywalker. (Don’t listen to him – he totally has ginger notes in his beard! Ignore the fact that he has been clean-shaven for about a year. THIS DOES NOT ABSOLVE HIM OF HIS GINGERTUDE.) So I’d just randomly knock him for being a ginger, and he’d issue indignant denials.

So one day in Corporations and Partnerships, I’m sitting in my seat and typing out my notes and simultaneously reading Garfield-Minus-Garfield, and I feel BobBlahBlawg staring at me. Just.Staring.At.Me. Now, whenever he stares at me, it never bodes well. So I just ignored him.

But then he reached out, ever so slowly, while our professor was lecturing about everything that I hate. And very gently, he combed his fingers through my hair, right at my temple, and separated a lock of it, which he then twined around his fingers. And then he said it.

“You have red hair.”

And sure enough, the lock of hair that he held between his fingers was RED.

:O

I KNOW. WHAT. There hasn’t been red hair in my family for generations! We’re South Asian! Very few of us have red hair that’s derived from genes as opposed to henna!

OMG, I nearly died. Right there in Corporations. Which would be a terrible place to die, on account of it being the worst subject on the planet. Aside from Organic Chemistry. God, I hated Orgo. And chemistry in general. The ONLY good thing about chemistry was (1) stoichiometry, because that’s basically math disguised as chemistry, and (2) when I got to blow shit up. In a contained and non-terroristy environment, obviously.

Ugh, it was basically the worst day of my life. Because then that bastard got to call ME a ginger. >:/

And the most bizarre part of it was that my hair actually was red – but only that lock of it. No other red strands. Unacceptable.

Anyway, even though the red strands can’t be explained, the gray ones, when they come, will have a ready explanation: my clients.

:|

You guys. Sometimes I just can’t handle it.

Now, to be fair, what I’m about to describe is rare. Well, not rare. Rather, it’s not all that common. But it happens, and it annoys me to no end.

I always make it a point to get to court about a half hour before the court call is supposed to start. Most of mine start at 9:30, so I’m usually trotting into the courthouse around 9, or five minutes after. In Cook County, and many of the outlying counties, nothing really gets rolling until 9:45, so I usually just end up sitting around, desperately trying to convince the courtroom personnel that I am not (1) a student or (2) lost.

And let me tell you, when you’re walking into court, trying to focus and thinking of all the millions of things that can go wrong and how you’ll handle it, the single most terrifying sight is your client walking out of the courtroom where you’re both supposed to be at that morning.

Walking out.

Just as you’re walking in.

I swear, it’s only happened to me a couple times, but every single time, I see them walking out and I’m just like,

Nope.

Nope, nope, nope.

I swear, it’s like my heart stops for a second. Because as much as I like most of our clients, I don’t trust any of them to do good by their case without Raymond or me with them.

Nope.

And for the times that it’s happened to me, it’s always been a sensitive situation. Yes, it’s a status date, but sometimes status dates aren’t just status dates. Sometimes there’s a hell of a lot going on that me and Raymond can absolutely pick up on and manipulate, but the client would have no damn clue.

One time, it was a supervision status date, the last one before termination. This meant that it was entirely possible that the State could have thrown our client a big curveball and surprised him with some new shit, and he wouldn’t have known what to do. Aside from that, it was all in front of a judge that happens to be the ONLY judge that we basically do SOJs for every time we’re up in front of this person. (Substitution of Judges motion.) And we do that for a very good reason. One that actually did impact this particular case a bit.

So, yeah, that was bad. That was really, really bad. I mean, thankfully, nothing really happened, so we were very, very lucky, but you don’t catch those breaks very often.

Another time, a situation arose in which I was coming in for a status date, and unlike a normal status, I was tense because I was fully expecting to be slammed with a petition to revoke, and possibly a bond hearing. I was really hoping that nothing would pop, but I was prepared in case something did. And when I walk in, what do I see but my client walking out of the courtroom.

I nearly died. It was the worst. Because I had no idea what he’d said to the State, if he’d let the cat out of the bag, if he’d had to post bail if the bond was increased, nothing. So that was pretty awful.

Thankfully, again, I caught a huge break because nothing had happened. Absolutely nothing. I double and triple-checked with the clerk and the file, because, frankly, I don’t trust what opposing counsel tells my client when I’m not around, and I don’t trust my client to have caught what was said and done, and the right words that clue me in as to what happened and how the case moved along. But there were no surprises that time – except for the surprise that everything worked out and I could slink on out of there as quickly as possible with no harm done.

It’s emotionally harrowing because on one hand, you’re tense because you’re anticipating trouble, so you’re preparing for it. And then you’re furious that they went in without you and you missed out on the experience and interaction and more importantly, you missed out on the opportunity to control the damn situation. And then, if the stars are in alignment, you’re just so damn happy that nothing bad happened to your client that day, despite what they pulled.

But the worst is when they just.don’t.get.it. Sometimes they do, and you can yell at them and basically put the fear of God into them about not ever setting foot in a courtroom without you, and they get it and apologize and promise not to pull that shit again.

But sometimes, it’s just in one ear and out the other. They don’t think they did anything wrong. They don’t think they were in danger for even a second. They don’t think that anything could have happened that they couldn’t have handled. I’ve had a client say to me, “But, Huma, it was just a status date! Easy peasy! I knew I could handle it without you!”

And once the rage-stroke passes, I’m just like,

Seriously. Why don’t I just lay down and die, because you obviously know how to practice law without me. I am purely superfluous. I’m just the window decoration that strolls in wearing a tailored blazer and heels, and any trained monkey could do what I do, because it’s just a status date and you can do it without me.

Granted, there are so many worse ways for clients to mess things up. When no one gets hurt at a status, it’s hard to stay mad about it for too long. But good Lord, is it terrifying to walk into a courthouse … and see your client walking out.

I can’t wait to practice long enough to have a client say something dumb like, “I didn’t think I had to show up – it was just a trial, and I’m not testifying on my behalf, so can’t you do that shit without me?”

Or, “I don’t think I’m going to show up for the court date this week – I have things to do.” (Actually, one of our clients said this. I was like HAHAHAHAHA NO.)

Oh! Or, “I know the bond says I can’t possess any child porn, or even normal porn, so, can YOU buy some for me?”

That’ll be fun.

People are fun.

 

An inmate sent us the most expensive domestic candy bar ever. Probably.

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 21•13

I was in court this morning and managed to get back to the office around 10:30, which is early for me on court days. Our awesome paralegal, Nicole, filled me in on everything that happened in the past two hours (HOLY SHIT CRAZINESS ALL OVER THE PLACE), and I filled her in on the craziness from my morning, and then we laughed uneasily and valiantly resisted the urge to hide under our desks for the rest of the day.

So, you know, the usual.

And then I saw something interesting: a new intake sheet, sitting on top of a long, handwritten letter, and a chocolate bar.

photo

So an inmate who’s been convicted of Criminal Sexual Assault and is serving time wrote us a letter about his case. He is filing some PCs (post conviction motions), and thinks there is a possible Brady violation, so who knows. We haven’t talked to him yet, so we don’t have much information. But he talks about some general stuff in his letter, which he mailed …

…with a Hershey’s bar.

I don’t know, guys, I was just so touched by the Hershey’s bar.

He has no idea who we are, but he thinks we can help him based on one conversation we had with a friend of his who looked us up, and he sent us a Hershey’s bar as a token of good will. And it’s from the prison commissary, so you know that’s like a $7 chocolate bar.

I just … I don’t know. I thought it was sweet and adorable.

At this point I have no idea if anything will come of this, but I guess I’ll see.

Oh! And it was a court day, which means a Court Day Selfie, right? You jerks should be proud of me. Remember how, all throughout law school, getting me to post even a single picture of myself was like pulling teeth? I’m trying to be better about not violently hating every single picture of me. I mean, I still do, but I just ignore it.

20

Can you tell that I’m wearing a headband? Because I am. I’m officially That Guy. Well, That Girl. The one that comes to court in a blinged-out headband. Ah, my life’s a joke. But whatever. As @BobBlahBlawg always says, when mocking my general irreverence, “Long hair, don’t care.” That might actually be the single most appropriate use of that phrase, since we’re talking about my long hair. Which I just got cut to shoulder-length a month ago, but has somehow already grown 2″ since. I don’t know why I’m surprised – it’s always grown fast.

Let me see if I can get a proper shot of my headband so y’all can see how ridiculous it is. Hang on.

20b

You can kind of see it, right? It’s sparkly. And I like it. Also my hair wasn’t behaving, and that either means messy ponytail, or a headband, in an attempt to either hide or mitigate the damage. Also, I’m lazy, so both of those options fit into the How-Little-Time-Can-I-Possibly-Spend-On-My-Laughably-Named-“Beauty”-Routine-In-The-AM thing I’ve got going on. (So little time, apparently, that I can’t even squeeze in five seconds to use some Visine. I just realized how bloodshot my eye s are.)

Man. That Hershey’s bar is still sitting on the counter, you guys.

I don’t even want to eat it. I still think it was just so sweet. It’s giving me a small case of feelings, you guys. I didn’t even think I had those.

Ugh. Now I have to go find Nicole and rant to her for like twenty minutes about how I hate everything, just so I can feel more like myself.

<3

My mom would flip if she saw this.

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 20•13

So our paralegal and I have a big shared office, and she’s super organized and her desk is always perfect and she can reach anything at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, my desk…

Photo Mar 19, 10 54 20 AM (1)

 

Yeaaaaaaah.

Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahaha crap.

I wish I could say that this was an anomaly. That today it just HAPPENED to look tragic. But no. It’s looked this way for months. Sure, the papers and other nonsense were different, because I work on a shit-ton of different cases, but it’s pretty much always looked like this.

:|

I’m actually doing better now, though. Before, I had stickies EVERYWHERE. And plenty of them attached to my monitor. It was pretty nuts. So I did manage to whittle those down to just the few you see on my monitor, on the desk shelves, and strewn about the desk itself.

Then we have my permanent fixtures – the green coffee tumbler that I always have filled to the brim with green tea. Thank goodness for those water coolers with the option for boiling water. Plus, my boss keeps honey for me at the office, so I’m basically set. I never go anywhere without that green tumbler of green tea.

And my prayer rug and hijab are up top, where they always are, so I can quickly duck into the conference room or my boss’s office to pray Zuhr or Asr. And I’ve got my different books of the criminal and traffic code, which come in handy all the time, and then of course there is my beloved talking Yoda that Brian Tannebaum gave me when I graduated from law school. He sent a super schmaltzy note along with it because he’s a sweetheart (DON’T TELL ANYONE IT’S A SUPER SEKRIT) but I can’t share that because he has a reputation to maintain, you guys.

I’ve got a couple files I’m supposed to close sitting on my desk, because we wiped those out recently, so yay for us. And that huge-ass stack is part of our paperwork from the case that we’re trying in federal court over the summer. I’m basically buried up to my eyeballs in it, hence why the file is living on my desk and possibly picking out new curtains, based on how long it’s been there.

Not that I mind. It’s an awesome (awful) case, and I could probably recite every single page of the FBI reports and indictment from memory (all 500 pages, if not more). Right now my big project is to tear apart the transcript from the first change of plea hearing, and write a huge constitutional motion in limine about that, so that’s pretty fun. It’s definitely a first, since I’ve never had to argue for the inclusion or exclusion of the contents of a change of plea hearing transcript at trial, since … well … the whole purpose of a change of plea hearing, with all its Fifth Amendment admonishments in place, is to avoid going to trial. So I have no idea where the case law stands (yet) and that’s what I’m working on.

You know what I should really be working on, though?

Cleaning my damn desk.