Just read the scary press release on California’s Judicial Council decision to stop their planned new case management system. No budget means no new system – I can understand that, and look disapprovingly at what passes for a legislature in modern California. The courts are tied to the same process that funds education, and being married to a teacher I understand the stresses there too. I’ve no illusions that any aspect of state-funded government in California is in any better shape these days. It does leave open the question though of what the courts are going to do without their precious new case management system. My unfortunate experience is that San Diego County courts are already in the position where documents regularly don’t make it to the correct files,.
Besides talk of salvaging bits of a system that they can no longer afford to buy, it would be nice to hear if someone has some kind of plans to get the administrative side of the state courts actually functioning again, even if it has to be with paper files and the suction tubes running documents around the building.
My Week In The Jury Box: Train Wreck in Three Acts
Went to the downtown courthouse in San Diego last Tuesday in response to a jury summons. I never really expected to serve, but was pretty certain that even if my name came up, voir dire would save me. Who in their right mind would roll the dice on having a practicing attorney, ex-federal agent, ex-public defender, ex-whatever in their jury box?
“Right mind” proved to be the critical part of that question, but we’ll save that for the third act.
I was selected, but not as much by choice as poor planning that left me in the box just as the sides ran low on peremptory challenges. I never really got much of a sense of what the defense was looking for in a juror, but I don’t feel bad about that. I’m not certain the defense knew either. Our pro per defendant made a great first impression on the jury by attempting to dismiss the panel in its entirety for cause (we didn’t care about the facts), and his peremptory challenges were pretty much just random strikes.
Act I – Guilt Phase
Through multiple witnesses (a concept the defendant never seemed to grasp), the prosecutor quickly established a timeline and essential facts. Defendant, a white male in his mid-30s, had been running around a busy intersection “mad-dogging” or rushing at people trying to provoke a fight. He may have even gotten into some small scuffles. At one point he attacked a bus as it drove away with the momentary target of his attention. Eventually he focused on a young latina woman (mentally retarded and with cerebral palsy), shouted “you’re dead” while brandishing a knife and then jabbed at her at least two times with the knife. He ran away and the woman called 911. Three minutes later a police officer met her at the intersection while other units detained him two blocks away. Defendant resisted and was tasered. The victim and another witness identified him on the spot within minutes.
There was some cross-examination, but it generally backfired. Our pro per was very successful in damaging his own case with almost every witness. He may have had information on the eyewitness’s criminal or drug history, but he never asked the eyewitness any questions that might have competently impeached his testimony. The jury only heard about a supposed rap sheet when the defendant tried to bring it up on closing arguments.
Defendant’s actual defense was at least only pathetic – aside from missed opportunities it didn’t actively damage his case. That’s only because it was short lived. The defense was supposed to lead off on Day Three, but defendant only got two questions out (to an investigator retained for his defense at some point in time) before he rambled into a speech. The judge tried to get him back on focus, but after several warnings the judge had to conclude he had no questions for the witness, and the defense rested was put to rest.
The jury found defendant guilty of menacing, assault with a dangerous weapon, and resisting arrest that afternoon.
Act II – Whoops Phase
This was supposed to be the insanity phase, but instead we did a quick session on whether or not the defendant had a prior felony conviction, presumably for a sentencing enhancement. The prosecution produced lots of documentation that we otherwise would have never gotten to see about his prior convictions, probations, parole violations. He’s spent the majority of his adult life in California’s corrections system for an assortment of offenses, mostly centered on drug possession and assault with various weapons.
Per the judge, we had to assume all the records before us belonged to the man in court. I didn’t compare fingerprints, but the photos matched anyway. It did help the jury clarify one of the bigger issues of the trial though: the defendant’s name.
He was charged as Mike Mitchell, but occasionally though not consistently, corrected people to call him Micah Michel. It turns out Micah was only one of about 30 aliases on record. The jury did not hold his conversion to europeanism against him in the deliberations, but it did find that he did have prior felony convictions. Strike whatever.
Phase III – Insanity
This was where something I’d suspected since opening statements was confirmed. Our defendant was a whack job.
Defendant had the burden of proof on this one, and utterly failed. He introduced the reports of two court-appointed psychiatrists who both acknowledged he was ill (paranoia, delusions, etc.) but not legally insane at the time of the acts.
The prosecution then put one of those same psychiatrists on the stand and confirmed the expert opinion.
In the jury room we got to read the reports though. Everything but tin foil hats! Both doctors reported that defendant claimed to have been raised on a CIA facility at Quantico as a prodigy, that he was physically and sexually abused by his mother, and eventually used for experiments by the Army. Lots of drug use, a claim of porn stardom, and a reference to a quest for a severed penis on Fourth Avenue had us rolling on the floor of the jury room.
Despite the entertainment though, and our sympathy for his illness(es), three more votes led to three new verdicts that he was legally sane when he committed the menacing, the assault with a deadly weapon and resisted arrest.
Despite the inconvenience and loss of time, we had a great judge who kept this thing on track and a great jury that knew how to balance the comic nature of the defense with the seriousness of the allegations and get the job done.
For me it was fascinating to be able to sit back and watch the trial from the different perspective. As I wrote on my feedback form for the judge, being able to watch the different responses to the various lines of questioning was valuable, and certainly more beneficial for me than any CLE I’ve been through in the last five years.
Yesterday was a very long but productive day. A very early court appearance and a very late client meeting anchored a day fueled by caffeine and made special by meds to try and hold Spinner’s ebolaria at bay. Nice to see that even high as a kite on cold meds I can still kick ass in court. OK, having a cool client and good facts helped, but it felt good.
Today’s outlook is much better. My ebolaria seems to have been a mild case. Today’s calendar says no appointments, a bit of writing, a bit of Business. I may even spend some time to figure out why the thumbnail links to the new gallery sped out of control and tried to wipe out this site.
But above all, must rest and stay healthy. Comic-Con cometh.
The Art Of The Law
Great post on courtoom sketch artists, their work and their outside projects over at Ironic Sans. Yes, it’s from March (my birthday, actually) but it just popped up on my RSS feed today.
The Skill of Staying Silent
In court this morning cooling my tassle-wingtipped heels in the jury box (the good seats) and waiting for my little motion to be called. Not paying much attention, but the case before mine is on a domestic violence restraining order. The She in this case had come in a few weeks back and obtained a temporary order, and this was to be the hearing on a permanent order. The judge asked her, the petitioner, if she still wanted a permenant order. No, came the reply. Are you sure? Is this really your choice? Yes, yes. Are you under duress? Are you being threatened? No, No. The judge looked skeptical but said OK, case dismissed. The He in this case never said anything beyond stating his name for the record, and I didn’t think much more of it.
So my case is called, I performed brilliantly, and that’s that.
I get downstairs, and there’s the He again. He’s walking up and down the sidewalk, ranting and yelling to some new female friend about how the judge didn’t let him talk, didn’t care what he wanted. He called it discrimination and racism to anyone that could hear. It was everything I could do to keep from bitchslapping him and telling him not to look a gift horse in the mouth. YOU WON DANGUMIT.
Somehow I think he might be back though. Hopefully he’ll open his mouth to the court then.
Lost in Court
Judicial admissions. Not an admission by the other party, but an admission by the court that they’ve lost our stipulated judgment and given up looking. According to the clerks, the parties should do whatever they have to do. Geez, thanks for the help.
Not the news I need when trying to wrap up the week. I shoulda just kept swimming and extended the lunch until 5ish.
Preemptive Stress Relief
Treating myself nice because tomorrow will be unpleasant. Somewhere around 2ish I’m going to make a woman cry. I know this because she cries everytime we go to court. She represents herself, doesn’t understand the rules or the process, and when in doubt, turns on the waterworks because 20-something years of life experience have taught her that is the effective response to adversity. Some people might have learned to stop filing foolish motions, but to each their own.
Today is sponsored by the letters D, N and A
Spending my time playing telephone tag and trying to figure out if I’m settling or defending a paternity case (not me or mine) tomorrow morning. Much rather settle, but someone seems to have a need to vent, and I’m not having any of that. Tell it to the judge. And while we’re at it, how ’bout safe sex next time kiddies? Much rather just be working on the fight over the property and debt.
2. Let go of your need to make all the choices all of the time. Other people have better ones sometimes.
9. Own a car that doesn’t own you. There may be no bigger waste of stress than worrying about the looks of a car. Let it go.
21. Whoever makes you happy most of the time, that’s “the one.”
25. Treat yourself to nice underwear. Life is too short.
28. Don’t be too afraid of “street meat.”
‘Away From The Office’
I was supposed to be working this morning, because it’s been a slow month heading into the slow season, and I’m due in court in Farm Country at 9:00 Monday morning. Then I was supposed to be surfing, so at least I’d get some exercise if I was going to blow off this morning’s yoga. Now I’m taking the camera down to the beach with the plan being to get some sand between the toes and some caffeine over the lips.
The power to shift space and time is wonderful, and would be amazing if only I had a bit more self control.
Come Thursday I’ll be giving thanks that a certain motion that’s been a real pain will either have been filed or become moot on Wednesday.