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.