It was 11.30 am. I was standing behind defense table, arguing to have my client’s case dismissed.
I was also really pissed off. You see, I’d been waiting in court for the DA to be ready to put on their preliminary hearing.
Around 8.30 that morning, while the Court staff statused the cases for the day, the District Attorney said “Your Honor, I have good contact with my witness, and they are on their way in”.
“Ok”, said the judge. “Witness hold”. She turned to me “Counsel, please come back at 10 for a status of witness”.
“Of Course, Your Honor” I said. The witness already hadn’t shown twice, and the case was marked “Must-be-Tried Commonwealth”—e.g., if the witness didn’t show up, the case would be dismissed. My client had been arrested five months prior and had been sitting in custody ever since on $100,000.00 bail. He was anxious to get out. I was anxious to get him out. I wanted to get this case over with. “I’ll be back around 10.00 Your Honor, thank you”, I said before I left the courtroom, off to the number of other courtrooms that commanded my attention that morning.
That was three hours ago. I’d taken care of my other cases in my other rooms, and I had been waiting since 10 for the District Attorney to come back. He’d walked in the room at 11.29.
The first words out of his mouth: “Your Honor, my witness can’t make it in today”.
A minute goes by. It’s now 11.30. I responded, “Your Honor, as this is marked ‘Must-be-Tried Commonwealth’, and the Commonwealth isn’t ready, I request that you dismiss the case”.
“DA, either you withdraw or I’ll dismiss it” said the judge without hesitation.
“BUT YOUR HONOR!” the DA said indignantly, “this SHOULDN’T have been marked Must-be-Tried! This is only the second listing, and it SHOULDN’T have been marked that way!”
This is why I got pissed off at the petulant DA.
There’s a long-established tradition in Philadelphia that a case generally won’t be dismissed until after the third time it’s listed. This is not a hard and fast rule by any stretch, and I pointed that out to the judge.
“Your Honor, regardless what the DA thinks about how this case should have been marked, the case is marked Must-be-Tried. The prior judge saw fit to mark it that way. There’s no hard and fast rule that the Commonwealth gets three chances—I’ve had cases marked Must-be-Tried defense at the second listing!”
I continued with my righteous indignation.
“Besides, Your Honor, this is the second time the Commonwealth hasn’t been ready, and my client has been in custody for months now because the Commonwealth can’t get their witness here. Three hours ago, the DA told you that he had good contact with his witness and that the witness was on the way. We’ve wasted three hours of time waiting, and now they’re all of a sudden not coming? If the witness wasn’t coming, we should have heard that three hours ago.”
The Judge looked at me for a second over her hornrimmed glasses.
“Counsel, no, I am going to reconsider my ruling. Give it a new date, Must-be-Tried, both. Thank you counsel.”
I was floored. And furious. “Judge, my client is going to be in custody another month as a result of this ruling. I ask that you consider my motion to reduce bail to ROR as a result of the Commonwealth’s failure to be ready for their case”.
“Bail reduced to $25,000.00, 10%”. Thank you, counsel. Next case, please”.
I turned around, grabbed my briefcase, and stormed out the door. I was pissed. I wanted to dropkick the DA out the 7th story window. The DA has the benefit of a bi-weekly paycheck fairy—they get paid no matter what, no matter how long they take to status a case.
Me? No, no paycheck fairy here.
The thing about DAs (and PDs too, frankly) is that they don’t respect how much work it takes to get clients.
Cases are like pies. If you’re a DA or PD, and you finish your pie, well, someone’s gonna hand you another pie. In fact, there’s probably a stack of 300 pies next to you, and someone’s gonna be angry if you don’t eat 20 pies at a time.
But private defense counsel? No free pie for us. In fact, we have to make every pie that we eat, and making pie takes a long time. And once we’re done that first pie, we have to find all the ingredients to make a new pie. So ad infinitum.
Fuck, I just wasted 3 hours of my life I could have spent on another paying client.
“Motherfucking cockersucker lying unethical piece of shit wasting my goddammed time…” I fumed to myself under my breath after I walked out of the courtroom. I was done with the courthouse for the day and ready to get back to the office to prepare for another trial scheduled for later that week.
But as I walked out into the hallway, I felt a tap on the shoulder. I spun around and saaw a familiar face. Another defense lawyer who’d I seen before but never previously met.
“Hey, Leo, my name is John James. We’ve never talked before, but I’ve ready your blog, and we’re Facebok friends. It’s a pleasure to officially meet you”.
I reached out to shake his hand.
“Listen, Leo, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey. You get me?”
I looked at him quizzically. Was he coming onto me? John continued.
“Leo, you were pure piss and vinegar in there. I know how pissed off you were that the DA wasted your time—believe me, in my time as a public defender, I wanted to set half the DA’s office on fire. But this judge? Nah, you’re never gonna get your way with her like that. Honey, that’s how you get what you want with her, honey!”
I shook my head. “Nah, she wasn’t going to give me what I wanted”.
John retorted,”Leo, I’ve been at this 15 years. Next time, trust me, just say ‘whatever you think is fair, Your Honor’. You’ll be surprised”.
I was now doubly pissed. Who the fuck was this asshole defense lawyer telling me how to feel about my case? I was angry at the DA, and the Judge, and now at John. I’d was done fighting that day, so I swallowed my pride and simply said: “Well, I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Thanks John, pleasure to meet you”.
I went back to the office in a huff.
You know what? It took me three days to come around. But John was right.
I’d been in front of that judge countless times already. I knew her style.
I knew that getting angry and annoyed at the DA wouldn’t help me. Despite all that, I let the anger overcome my logic.
I wasn’t a good lawyer that day. I was as petulant as the DA who pissed me off. And I’m ashamed that I wasn’t the best advocate I could be.
I used vinegar when I should have used honey.