The Plea

December 3, 2013

It is Tuesday at 9.30am and I am in the booth.

The booth is a tiny box where I have the honor of talking to my client through an inch of bullet-proof glass. I say “talking”, though it’s really more like yelling, since it’s pretty hard to hear through that glass.

“Booth” is a misnomer too. “Booth” reminds me of the precursor to something fun. You buy tickets to a movie or carnival rides at a booth. No such fun was happening today.

Really, the booth is purgatory, a limbo my clients sit in after they’ve made their way from the prison and to the courthouse basement’s holding cells, but before they enter the courtroom where they await final judgment.

This particular morning, I am wearing a navy flannel Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit, a white shirt I freshly pressed at 5.30 that morning, and a somber tie that reflected my mood.

In gross juxtaposition, my client is in an orange prison jumpsuit and has a thermal on underneath to keep warm. I guess this hell follows Dante’s rules.

My client is a good man who’d recently made a series of terrible decisions, all of which led to where he is today. Despite his cock-ups, he was truthful and admitted his mistakes not only to his family, but to members of his community.

Then the police became involved.

And he got arrested.

And his mistakes became a “case.”

And that’s how we ended up on opposite sides of the same sheet of glass on Tuesday at 9.32am.

Today, he is ready to plead guilty to the charges against him. In exchange for giving up his Constitutional right to a jury trial, he is offered a sentence far less than what he would see if he were found guilty at trial.

Though we’ve already done this before back up at prison, I review with him one last time his written guilty plea colloquy, and explain to him word by word the rights he is giving up by pleading guilty. I’m reading it to him like I’d read “Hop on Pop” to a kindergartner.

But he’s not a kindergartner. He’s a grown man. And this isn’t “Hop on Pop.”

It’s 9.34am. I’ve finished reviewing the colloquy with him. He’ll sign it out in the courtroom, since now his hands are shackled behind his back and we’re separated by an inch of bullet-proof glass.

It’s 9.35am, and I can only watch as my client sobs and tears stream down his face.

You see, up until this point he’s been a man of god. An educated guy, he’s worked the same job for the last 25 years, and been married to the woman he loves for the last 30. He’s lost all of that now.

(Did I miss the day in law school they taught you how to handle this?)

According to the arrangement with the District Attorney’s office, he faces up to five years in a state correctional institution for the crimes he’s pleading to. If he’s really good (including credit for time served) he’ll get out in about two years. If he runs into problems in prison, he’s going to miss his son’s high school graduation.

I ask him if he as any more questions for me before we go into the courtroom.

“Lord Jesus, what have I done? Will God forgive me? My wife’s left me. Leo, what am I going to do?”

He spits out this sentence between sobs. A man, broken. But in an instant, he musters up all the dignity he has left. He toughens up his features and tries to wipe his eyes on his elbow—which is difficult seeing as his arms are handcuffed behind his back—and puts on an air of stoicism.

And I tell him. “Bill [not his real name], when the court officer asks you how you plead, you say ‘Guilty’”.

He nods.

According to that fancy framed piece of paper from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hanging on the wall of my office, I’m an attorney and counselor at law. But the three years of schooling and two years out in practice hadn’t prepared me for this—telling a grown man, through bullet proof glass, who until thirty seconds ago had been crying like a baby, that he was going to be spending the next five-ish years of his life outside of the city he’s lived in his whole life, shipped out to Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania (which alone would be enough of a shock) to take up residence at the taxpayer’s expense in a state correctional institution. And I can tell you that a state correctional institution is no Sandals resort. Hell, it’s not even a Howard Johnson.

“Leo, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” He asks me. While his expression is still stoic, his bloodshot, watery eyes belie his terror. That look—the feeble attempt to cover fear with toughness—it’s a look that will quickly become familiar to me.

(Remind me, what the fuck did Two Ships Peerless do to prepare me for this?)

At 9.37am, two knocks on the door interrupt us. The court crier pokes his head in. “The Judge is ready,” he says, then shuts the door behind him.

I stand up. Bill stands up, hands cuffed behind his back, and the sheriff walks in prepared to lead him out to the courtroom.

Through the glass I shout: “Bill, I’ll see you inside. It’s been my honor to represent you. Remember — everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”

I turn and walk out of the booth, prepared to meet my client in the courtroom for judgment.


Fishtown Chili Cook-Off Smashing Success, Despite Lack Of Guatemalan Insanity Pepper

March 26, 2013

Fishtown Chili Cook-Off Smashing Success, Despite Lack Of Guatemalan Insanity Pepper

The Fishtown Neighbor’s Association 3rd Annual Chili Cookoff was a rousing success. And while our spicy three-bean & seitan vegan Occupy Chili didn’t win this year, we had a great time. Kudos to FNA for another job well done.

Plus Jordan had an excuse to wear his cheesesteak hat.

Read more at Phoodie.


Hubris

January 26, 2013

The year was 2008. I had just passed the bar after graduating Temple, a Tier 1 school. Man, I was so ready to practice law… I had just finished a two year clerkship at a major prestigious law firm. Before the clerkship, I had been a judicial intern in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. In my mind, I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the practice of law. I had been taught by some of the best. So when a small suburban Philadelphia law firm hired me as an associate, they were getting a first round draft pick. Biglaw stock, if you will. I mean, let’s tell it like it is – I had great grades from a top law school, clerked at a prestigious firm where I got a lot of experience, and I had clerked for an appellate level court. They were lucky to get someone so talented and experienced. Sucks that I had to take a job with a small firm out in the counties because the economy was down, but I’d be back at a major law firm in no time. Until then, I would have to suck up small firm county practice. Ugh.

About a week in, I got an email from my boss, James. “Jordan: I need you to cover a discovery motion hearing for me on Monday because I will be in court. Please come see me at 3:15pm to discuss. Thanks, James.”

I went into James’s office to discuss. I guess it was cool he was letting me argue a motion on my own, even though it was a stupid discovery motion, and not even in federal court… this was a podunk county state court. When I worked at BigFirm, all our work was in federal court. Real court.

“Alright, Jordan. Here is my draft of the motion. Shore it up, Shepardize the cases I cited, and check the local rules to make sure it complies. I haven’t had a chance to call opposing counsel but you should…”
“James, I got this. I don’t need you to tell me how to handle a discovery motion. When I was at Bigfirm, I drafted hundreds of them for Senior Partner, mostly in federal court. Just hand me the file and let me come back with a few heads on a pike.”
“Are you sure? I have a few minutes to go over the nuts and bolts with you, but if you know what you’re doing I have plenty of other things I could be working on.”
“I did so much stuff when I was at Bigfirm… you’d be surprised at how much I know. I’ve got this, thanks.”

Read the rest of this entry »


The Value of Going Off-Grid.

January 7, 2013
A Kensington Kristmas Window. Which I enjoyed while on vacation.

A Kensington Kristmas Window. Which I enjoyed. While on vacation.

It’s been a slow last few weeks here on Philly Law Blog — namely because we’ve been on vacation. I didn’t realize that stepping away could feel so good.

I’ve never really had the opportunity before. You see, throughout most of my life, I’ve worked retail jobs, including Starbucks, pizza shops, and clothing stores. And as those of you who’ve worked in the customer service industry know, your time is rarely your own. Vacation days don’t exist. You rarely get to call out sick. And sometimes, if there’s a no-show, you get called in to work on a day you expected to have off. Finally, those days that everyone else gets off — “holidays” — yea, well, those are usually the biggest retail days of the year.

Granted, being a lawyer is pretty damned similar. Your time is not your own. I recall that saying, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Well, the legal equivalent of that is “no vacation survives contact with clients, opposing counsel, or a judge.” Read the rest of this entry »


FOP President John McNesby Can’t Stop Saying Stupid Things.

December 7, 2012

FOP President John McNesby Can’t Stop Saying Stupid Things.

Yesterday, I posted about the officers whose testimony was so incredible that the DA didn’t want to call them as witnesses anymore. Veteran attorney Brad Bridge of the Defender Association remarked that the officers were “among the most troubled in the department.”

The officers,

  • Perry Betts;
  • Brian Reynolds;
  • Michael Spicer;
  • Thomas Liciardello;
  • Brian Speiser; and
  • Lt. Robert Otto

were named in several Internal Affairs investigations and civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force, false arrests, and filing false reports.

Unsurprisingly, the shit has now hit the fan. Yesterday, the District Attorney withdrew charges against two men who’d been charged with drug dealing — all because of the lying liars of the Narcotics Unit.

From today’s Inquirer:

Two men accused of drug dealing had charges against them dropped Thursday after their attorney told a judge that five Philadelphia antinarcotics officers involved in their case had “partnered with drug dealers” in crime.

According to the article, defense attorney Larry Krasner argued to Judge Charles Hayden that:

“There was a group of police officers who essentially partnered with certain drug dealers, and they partnered with those drug dealers to do things that were both illegal and outright crimes.”

The Assistant District Attorney Bret Furbur remarked:

 “[T]he [District Attorney's] office, my higher-ups, have informed me the case is going to be withdrawn.”

Naturally, it logically follows that the DA realized there was a substantial credibility issue with the narcotics unit officers. Further, it makes sense that when you’re trying get convictions (as ADAs are wont to do), it helps to call witnesses who are believable. Since these officers proved wholly unreliable, why would the DA want to call them as witnesses any longer?

But instead of noting that maybe, just maybe, FOP5 should raise the bar and suggest that their officers take that oath to tell the truth seriously, McNesby points the finger at District Attorney Seth Williams:

“[District Attorney Seth Williams] has no idea how to run the office. He doesn’t know the ramifications of what he’s done. He’s not just gotten these guys transferred, he’s tarnished their careers.”

He must have a variation on Tourette syndrome, where the afflicted impulsively says stupid things all the time. He just can’t help himself! Blaming the DA for FOP5 officer’s poor conduct that renders them incredible — now that’s really incredible.

After I shook my head in disbelief for a few minutes, I decided to put fingers to keyboard and pen this open letter.

Dear John:

I think you might find that the officers’ “tarnished careers” is the result that they’re 1) lying under oath; 2) the DA’s office realizes they’re lying under oath; 3) they’re constantly being sued under §1983 for civil rights violations; and 4) they’re all the subject of several IAB investigations.

Oh, John, reputations are important. When you have a reputation for being a dirty cop who does whatever he can to get a conviction, well, that kind of taint is difficult to remove. But these reputations don’t just appear out of thin air — they’re earned and well-deserved.

And when an officer’s reputation is such that even the DA doesn’t believe them anymore — well, that’s it’s not the DA’s fault. In fact, I’m pretty certain that DA Williams knows exactly what he’s doing by refusing to use them. He should be commended by refusing to rely on officers with combustible pants.

Maybe — just maybe — this will teach other officers out there a lesson. When you swear to tell the truth and the whole truth, you do it. When you swear an oath to preserve and uphold the law and our constitution, you do it.

Sure, I understand that you’re the president of FOP5, and since it’s an elected position you have a reputation to upkeep among the members. But your reputation with the citizenry, at this point, is nil. And you’re not helping the public perception of the PPD as working to protect their own first, the public second.

When you rush to defend even the worst of the police force, you tarnish the best of FOP5 as well.

So next time you point your finger at the DA for refusing to call dirty cops to the stand, think about where blame really lies.

Or just keep saying stupid things; you seem to excel at that.

In the meantime, Mr. Williams, keep doing the right thing.

[Ed. — Defense attorney Michael Coard, in his article "The 4 Most Annoying White People in Philadelphia" has the following to say about Mr. McNesby, which made me chuckle:

He wants all criminals jailed forever. So who’s gonna wear the blue uniforms, drive the white cars and beat the black people up when the good cops’ shifts end?]


Want to be Pulled Over? Sign up for Philadelphia’s S.A.V.E Program.

December 4, 2012
You have rights. These books say so.

You have rights. These books say so.
They are precious. Don’t sign them away.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

These wise words attributed to founder Benjamin Franklin are too often lost on many today who figure “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so why shouldn’t I just agree to let police do whatever they want?”

And I thought on Franklin’s words today, after I learned about this little program here in Philadelphia called S.A.V.E. — a too-cute acronym for Stolen Auto Verification Effort. Let me explain this program to you. No, better yet, I’ll let the police explain it to you:

All Districts in the city still do the S.A.V.E. (Stolen Auto Verification Effort) program….

The SAVE program is a decal you put on your automobile that basically states that you don’t normally drive your vehicle late at night (between 12am and 6am). By putting this decal on your vehicle you are stating that you would like that vehicle to be pulled over if it is seen operating during those hours to ensure that the vehicle isn’t stolen.

Yes, you’re reading that right. It is literally a sign to the police that says “Please pull me over”. Read the rest of this entry »


ABA Blawg 100 —We’re big time! (And alphabetically right above Popehat.)

November 26, 2012

We are Popehat’s hat.

We made the 6th Annual ABA Blawg 100! Per our official ABA Blawg 100 profile:

Simple Justice’s Scott Greenfield calls Jordan Rushie and Leo Mulvihill “two kid lawyers with moxie, a sense of humor and a serious focus on what it means to start out in the practice of law.” These relatively new lawyers joined forces* early this year to blog and practice in their own small shop. In posts, they (mostly Rushie) log the unwritten rules they are gradually learning from experience and other practitioners about trial practice and finding clients.

Words of high praise from one of the internet’s foremost curmudgeons.

Thank you for the nomination — now vote for us here. [ed. - We're under "Trial Practice." Go figure.]

*The way this is written makes us sound like the Superfriends. Jordan would be Aquaman.

Update November 27, 2012: Eric Turkewitz has some nice words for us:

But the Blawg100 list does have value in that it can point readers to new blogs that they might not have noticed before, such as the Philly Law Blog — by two young lawyers with a fearless candor, acknowledging that they are young pups that are just learning. These are the kinds of guys that mentors love, the type who ask questions, work hard and don’t try to bluff with bad answers.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. We’re honored to be in the Blawg 100 list with you.


Will You Be My Friend? — Young Lawyer Edition.

November 20, 2012

“No.”

People hate lawyers. That’s the trope at least.

The fact of the matter is, though, that at some point in your legal career, someone will hate you. And their hate will run so deep that they have to tell others just how much you’re a terrible shark/shyster/scumbag/bottomfeeder.

Now, back in the days before the series of tubes, it took a while for these whisper-down-the-lane rumors to be spread about town. But now, in the age of the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. And even internet dogs can type mean things.

There recently appeared in this blog’s comments a scathing rebuke of our firm by a person whose real name, IP address, email address, and Facebook account, I will mercifully redact. Note: I have never represented this person, nor have I ever met them, as far as I know.

Image

While looking up a local bar’s phone number, I noticed an identical negative review on the Google Places page for my firm. There was a different (::cough:: fictitious ::cough) name used, but the similarities are striking:

Image

In all fairness, his dog wanted custody over his bitch’s puppies, and I don’t do family law.

Webber Calvan? Really? That’s not even a good fake name. “Maxx Hornball,” now, that would have been funny.

But thanks to the wonders of the internet and my powerful investigative skills, I’ve determined that attempted-blog-commenter a.k.a non-client reviewer “Webber Calvan” is the friend of an opposing party in a case where I’m counsel. Swell.

Note: This is the second time I’ve had non-parties to litigation personally attack me or my firm’s online reputation. I presume that it will continue to happen from time to time.

When I first read the comment on my blog — which was never actually posted to it because we moderate all comments — I simply laughed it off. Then I saw it was posted on my former Google Places page, and I thought a bit more about whether to respond. What better platform than Twitter to take a quick poll?

Image

Popehat offered sage advice: “The negative review is self-evidently stupid. Hellfire likely to generate Streisand Effect. Prudence, not grace.”

So here’s my prudent response: That old saying “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs” — the legal equivalent of that is “you can’t do a good job as a lawyer without pissing some people off.”

Young lawyers, you will find that you make enemies as you continue in your legal careers. One day it might be a judge. Another day, it might be the prosecutor. Some days, you might irritate some person who thinks it’s a bright idea to try to write negative reviews about you on the internet.

You know what? Lawyers make friends on the weekends.

So, Mr/Ms “Weber Calvan,” to use the words of a wise French statesman:

I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!


Tell the Truth About Your Experience. — the Young Lawyer Chronicles.

October 21, 2012

This hangs right over my desk. I was admitted in 2010. I am not ashamed.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last week on the legal blawgosphere about the truth.

Josh King wrote a post about truth and ethics in attorney advertising. Scott Greenfield discussed truth and numbers on Simple Justice. And the concept led to the most active Lawyerist comment thread I’ve ever seen.

I think it all started with a simple e-mail in my inbox.

But before I begin my story, let me digress: as an attorney, you’ll find that everyone wants your money. The most egregious offenders are legal marketers. They’ll e-mail and call you relentlessly, promising “X new leads” in exchange for the low low price of several hundred dollars per month for a featured profile on their attorney directory website.

So here I was, minding my own business, when I get an e-mail solicitation: Read the rest of this entry »


Check out my PhiLAWdelphia guest post on professional menswear.

June 18, 2012


 

 

 

This is the first of a few guest posts I’ll be writing for the Philadelphia Bar Association Young Lawyers’ Division blog, PhilLAWdelphia. Feel free to leave feedback, criticism, snark, etc. in the comments here or there.


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