Why battle in court when court involves so much unfairness?
Recently as we were headed to our respective courtrooms, a fellow criminal defense lawyer sarcastically remarked that we had entered the hallowed halls of justice. I replied: “More like guerrilla warfare with too many judges not being neutral referees”, that is, too many judges at the very least too ready to believe cops because they are cops, too ready to impose unfair bonds and sentences, and too ready to “move cases along” rather than giving parties a fair shot at presenting their cases.
If I feel the criminal justice system is so unjust, then why do I participate in it in the first place? It is not enough for me to answer that we need people pushing from inside and outside the system to make the system just. It is not enough for me to say that without qualified lawyers, even more criminal suspects and criminal defendants will get the shaft than already get the shaft.
Truth be told, I thrive in the battle when I know I am on the side of the angels — which I know I am — and winning is euphoric. My zeal for battling for criminal defendants goes as far back as the age of ten, when a fourth grade teacher — not even my teacher — stopped me in the hall, and interrogated: “Why were you playing last Wednesday at the apartments across the street?” I asked why she was accusing me. “Because someone reported a brown-haired boy in a blue coat doing that.” I replied: “You have just described half the boys in the school. Have a nice day.” I then walked away from this teacher possibly stunned by my firm mouth of reason. She never crossed my path again.
Of course, this encounter with — and my venom towards — this fourth grade teacher did not start in a vacuum. The previous year, this same teacher sent me to the principal’s office — preventing me from playing in one of my first school band concerts — when I skirted the teacher’s command that I patiently wait to be called by intercom to the ensemble practice rather than check for myself in the auditorium to assure I had not been forgotten.
Three years later, I talked a teacher into reversing a detention he ordered over my talking to another student while the teacher was trying to teach class. I apologized and explained that I was still acclimating from the free-for-all of summer camp to the ways of school. Of course the teacher had not done anything wrong ordering the detention, but I relished not only advocating for myself, but also winning in the process. I bragged to nobody about this win. The win by itself made me satisfied.
My clients are also my constituents, too often unfairly painted as alleged wrongdoers and ne’er do wells by cops, prosecutors, judges and the general public. From my fifth grade hallway run-in alone, I know how it feels to be accused, whether fairly or unfairly so. I feel my clients’ plights right to my bones, and deeply thank them for trusting in me and working as a team with me to fight for justice for them.