Friday, June 15, 2007

Local Victim Advocate Investigated

This story from the Star Tribune came out yesterday and there is a follow-up in today's paper. It is about a Hennepin County victim-witness advocate who is under investigation for allegedly giving defense attorneys information about witness and alleged victim contact information.

This seems bizarre to me. While I have heard of some circumstances where witness contact information is only available on a limited basis, isn't this stuff that the defense has to have in order to investigate and have some semblance of a fair process?

Quotes from the article that, to me, are particularly problematic:

"The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office received a tip recently from an informant that Kesha Green, 33, was willing to sell information such as names and addresses of victims and witnesses."

I have never had to buy information about where a witness lives. The state has to give that to me. If it's old information, I have a great investigator who can track down the new information.

"When told of the allegations, Minneapolis police Capt. Mike Martin said it would be 'a total breach of public trust.'"

Not exactly. The alleged victim and witness advocate is supposed to explain the court process and to present victim impact statements. They are not supposed to impede defense investigation of the case, although I have long suspected that certain av/w advocates do exactly that by telling people specifically to not speak to defense counsel, rather than simply leaving it up to the person.


"If the allegations against her prove true, longtime community activist Ron Edwards said, it would be devastating. He is co-chairman of Minneapolis' Police Community Relations Council, which often works with police to find and persuade witnesses to come forward.

'It's hard to make people believe there is a shield of safety and confidentiality when you talk to police,' he said. 'Families of a victim deserve to have the most unimpeded justice system a person can have.'"

Can someone help me out here? Where is the part about confrontation/investigation? I am very confused.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

New PD TV pilot filmed

According to, Janeane Garafalo is starring in a newly created TV series pilot called "Law Dogs" which is about public defenders. More details here.

Who knows if it will ever air? Or if it will be any good....

Monday, May 14, 2007

You're Fired!

Today was a jury trial calendar. I had seven set. One of them involved a client accused of punching a guard at the local jail. The case was charged about six months ago when my client was facing a more serious charge of terroristic threats and a prison commitment if convicted. The prosecutor and I decided to track the jail assault case with the terroristic threats case figuring that the terroristic threats case had bigger stakes.

The allegations in the terroristic threats case involved client allegedly writing a letter while he was in prison to an inmate in a separate prison. The letter was long. The letter also had the most beautiful handwriting I've ever seen. Wonderful, flowing - the kind of style that deserves its own font.

Buried in the letter was an apparent threat to kill a correctional officer with some details on how it would be carried out. Somehow prison staff randomly checked this letter, read the beautiful handwriting in its entirety and managed to zero in on a threat.

The case was charged just as, of course, client was released from prison to the local jail due to being held on bail on the new terroristic threats case. That's when client picked up his felony fourth degree assault case. Shortly thereafter, he was able to post bail.

Client fired his first public defender, an excellent lawyer. He proceeded on his own for a few weeks. When he got to trial, the court, on its own motion, re-appointed my office. Normally, the client would get the same lawyer due to familiarity. The first lawyer was unavailable and I took the case.

Client said he was suing his first lawyer and everyone in the local court system including probably, he said, me.

Our case was continued numerous times before being set for trial. I moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the state could not produce the original letter. The judge dismissed the case, not necessarily on those grounds, but primarily, she just thought it was a bad use of resources given how far afield the threat was, but I will take credit for the dismissal anyway.

So now we are left with the assault case. Client and I watch the DVD of the alleged act. Unfortunately, it could not be more clear that client ran up to the guard and hit the guard. Then he made a taped statement which established he was getting the guard back for an earlier perceived slight. That statement hurt any type of mental illness defense in that client said, essentially, "I did this because...."

Client told me at the last hearing a month ago that he would accept a settlement involving a non-felony with no additional jail time. The prosecutor did not offer that; however, the judge may have considered it and the prosecutor likely would not have appealed due to wishing to be done with the case.

But like most clients with an untreated mental illness, how he is one day ain't the same as how he is another day.

Client showed up today and informed me that he has retained a civil attorney who will be suing me and "everyone in the court system" and that she will also handle the pending criminal case. While I am skeptical of whether this is true, when we went before court, I explained my client's position. My client then made his motion to discharge me and I was taken off the case.

It is frustrating because, while he didn't say anything bad about me on the record (not that there was anything really bad he could say, other than maybe I didn't get his terroristic threats case dismissed soon enough), there were still other clients of mine in the courtroom watching another client fire me. It's also frustrating because I don't think it is ethical for me to respond to anything my client says about my performance. I think we have to take it - at least at that stage. It sucks, but it happens sometime - and something tells me we will be reappointed down the line. Judges do not want to try a case with a pro se defendant.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Shows You What I Know

Good thing I haven't had any "lane away" issues recently or I'd have been embarassed. Mike tells me I was wrong about my previous post. I was. Geez! Serves me right for not posting in a few months....

Mike said...
The statute was re-written in 2005, the old statute read:

"Subd. 11. Passing parked emergency vehicle. When approaching and before passing an authorized emergency vehicle that is parked or otherwise stopped on or next to a street or highway having two or more lanes in the same direction, the driver of a vehicle shall safely move the vehicle to a lane away from the emergency vehicle."

It now reads:
"(a) When approaching and before passing an authorized emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated that is parked or otherwise stopped on or next to a street or highway having two lanes in the same direction, the driver of a vehicle shall safely move the vehicle to the lane farthest away from the emergency vehicle, if it is possible to do so.

(b) When approaching and before passing an authorized emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated that is parked or otherwise stopped on or next to a street or highway having more than two lanes in the same direction, the driver of a vehicle shall safely move the vehicle so as to leave a full lane vacant between the driver and any lane in which the emergency vehicle is completely or partially parked or otherwise stopped, if it is possible to do so."

State v. Anderson was a 2004 case interpreting the old version of the statute. The 2005 legislature (H.F. 1164) amended the statute to the new reading, it was adopted and the effective date was 5/27/2005. So it seems the stops in 2007 are 2 years after the amendment that makes State v. Anderson moot and were unfortunate but legal.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Local County Screws Up Sting

On their online site, The St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that Dakota County, Minnesota law enforcement ticketed 150 people for failing to change lanes so that they were a lane away from a stopped law enforcement vehicle.

The article starts: "Not everyone knows it's the law to switch lanes when a law enforcement officer is stopped on the side of the road with flashing emergency lights.

At least 150 motorists found out Wednesday and got tickets for not changing lanes while approaching squad cars stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 35E."

The problem?

The Minnesota Supreme Court decided in 2004 that the statute at hand does not require drivers to leave an empty lane between the stopped law enforcement vehicle and their vehicle. From the opinion: "In reversing the district court, the court of appeals concluded that Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 11, could mean “either in the next lane or a full lane away,” and, therefore, was ambiguous. Anderson, 671 N.W.2d at 904. The state notes that the word “away” has several dictionary definitions and, therefore, argues that we should affirm the court of appeals’ holding that the statute is ambiguous.
We do not agree with the court of appeals that the phrase, “a lane away” is ambiguous. The state is correct to point out that the word “away,” when standing alone, has several meanings. However, a reading of the phrase “a lane away” that parses the individual words from each other detracts from the plain meaning of the phrase as a whole. See Chiodo v. Bd. of Educ. of Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 298 Minn. 380, 382, 215 N.W.2d 806, 808 (1974) (“words of a statute are to be viewed in their setting, not isolated from their context.”) When the phrase “a lane away” is viewed as a whole, its “natural and obvious usage” is clear; it means “in the lane next to” the stopped emergency vehicle.[1] See Amaral, 598 N.W.2d at 384.

The parties agree that Anderson’s vehicle was completely within the center lane of traffic, the lane next to the lane occupied by the officer’s stopped squad car. Therefore, Anderson was not in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 11, when the officer conducted the traffic stop."

I don't expect cops to know ALL the laws, but this is three years ago that this law was interpreted by the highest court in Minnesota and they still get it wrong. Not only that but in a 150-ticket writing binge.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Shortage of public defenders? Lock 'em up

I am sure there has already been a lot of discussion about what is going on as New Orleans rebuilds its public defense system. A juvenile court judge locked up a chief defender for a few hours because there was not enough staff to handle the calendars.

The chief defender did a good job of being diplomatic after his release.

From the article: "Steve Singer was released Tuesday when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal stayed the contempt order issued by Chief Juvenile Court Judge David Bell.He said he went straight to Bell's court to tell him that the office will soon get state money to increase the number of lawyers who will represent young criminal defendants.

‘‘I think (Bell) is frustrated for the right reasons,'' Singer said. ‘‘I think, like a lot of us, for him the pace of recovery is not fast enough. I agree with him.'' "

Interestingly, the judges are apparently staffed and so are the prosecutors. Why not lay off a few judges and prosecutors until the public defender's office can hire qualified staff to do the work?

Tough Job

This job is hard. It's draining. The worst feeling I have in this job is the times - usually short so far - when I lose the capacity to care.

I go through stages where it's hard to listen to another sad story.

There are times recently when good things happen. A case gets dismissed. A colleague wins a trial. Those are supposed to be times to celebrate because sometimes they are few and far between.

But sometimes all I can think about are the twenty phone calls to return - all "emergencies."

I think I need to press a reset button to begin again. It helps to think about one case at a time or one day at a time, but that's rarely what we are able to do. Too many cases, too little time. Too much to think about.

Time to go read a book about zen.