Friday, March 16, 2007

Et ceteras.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is one of those rare, perfect books: perfect descriptions, perfect resonance, characters fleshed out just enough so that your mind fills in all the details to - of course - perfection. I always love reading about different cultures, how different people handle their day-to-day lives, and this book was a very satisfying glimpse into that aspect of Botswanan existence.

While the novel was bound by one over-arching plot purpose, each chapter contained a separate, little story, that actually could have stood on its own in a short story collection. During my reading, I suddenly started having a lot to do, and the compact little chapters really helped me continue reading - if they'd all been complicated, requiring memory of previous ones, I don't think I'd have ever finished the book.

Which is why I just gave up on The Omnivore's Dilemma, frankly. One can only read about corn for so long. I know that at some point I will absolutely devour this book, but right now is not at all that time. Plus, the book reminds me a bit of Fast Food Nation - a jolting, life-changing read that pretty much exposes you to all of that subject you can stand. Reading it rehashed in Dilemma just doesn't interest me at the mo.

I've been looking more through my reference books lately - specifically, my triathlon ones - to gauge my training. I hit a really great landmark for me yesterday, so yay! I credit a lot of my excitement about it to my Polar 625x - I can measure both my running and cycling distance/cadence/speed, then see it graphically on a PC (with Polar ProTrainer software) and on my Mac (with iSmartTrain). Consequently, for the past three weeks I"ve been in absolute biofeedback bliss:

I highly recommend it. But then, I'm the kind of person who gets copies of my x-rays so I can stare at my bones (recently I went to a podiatrist and got a good look at the bones in my feet - which to me is just beyond fascinating, that all those teeny things bear all our weight over the years . . . ).

My Trial Practice competition is coming up in a couple of weeks. If one more prosecutor comes to "sit in" on our class and disparages PDs again - ooooh I think I am going to wrench off my shoe and pop him in the head with it (they're usually men). Last week it was "Professor, if you don't mind me interrupting for a - for just a second you know" - with that horrible, supercilious, know-it-all kind of shrug and laugh - "So class, you all know what you're not supposed to do during Opening Statement, right? Right?" A few students mumble, "Argue?" "Yeah, that's right - argue. So, uh, would somebody mind - you know, would somebody just explain to me why public defenders do it all the time? I mean, I was just in trial, and I had to make about five objections during the PDs opening statement - I mean, it's not Opening Argument, is it?" Professor Prosecutor: "So, did the judge let it slide?" Dumbass: "Of course not, he sustained every one of my objections! Every single one! Shoulda seen their faces. So let that be a lesson to you, students - you try to slide by, and it aint. gonna. happen. But you'll all be good - you're being taught by Professor Prosecutor here, he won't steer you wrong."

And then, the week before that: Mock Trial Professor (former Prosecutor) "comes to visit" our class and chats with Prof Prosecutor. MT Prof: "You know, I one time accompanied students up to Buffalo for a competition, and the judge was really harsh on our students, reminding us that, 'Up here it's called Oral Argument. Not Statement - Argument.'" Prof Prosector: "Did he use to be a PD?" "You know what, he did! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha." Prof Prosecutor: "Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"


oh p.s. Man of the Year really reallly really sucked. I was beyond disappointed. The trailers made it out to be something completely different. Plus it attempted to incorporate some hard drama, but it failed absolutely and completely at that too. Bleh.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Long Time No Write

I've tried to keep this portion of the blog about defense stuff - but, alas, my life at the moment has little to do with defense stuff. In my trial class, sure, but that's such a pony show it hardly qualifies (in fact, I now hate that class - and the egomaniac prosecutor professor - so much that all I can focus on, gleefully, is the teeny tiny size of the professor's hands. They're like a child's. Ordinarily this would not amuse me, but with him, it does. Totally. I hate him.)

Anyways, I haven't had anything defense-esque to post, so I'm changing this aspect of the blog, and making it a bit more personal. I'm also updating the sidebar to include my reading stuff, which, along with training for the Disney World Triathlon in September (aaaiiiieeeee), is about the most exciting stuff going on in my life at the mo.

Speaking of, I am currently very, very interested in reading African-American novels - I just haven't received any good recommendations, besides, of course, The Known World by Edward Jones, and anything by Toni Morrison. While I'm very excited to read those, I admit I'm more curious about works set in more current times. Does anyone have any recommendations??

Update: I just flipped through People and found a good review for Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Today I’m sick, so I’ve got the day off. I’ve got lots of days off, actually, but I’m trying to do schoolwork with this one. Monday and Wednesday I only have one evening class, and no class on Friday. Plus I’ve quit reading for the rest of my school life. That alone has been enormously freeing. I’ve never studied my notes for Final exams, just the BarBari, Siegel’s, etc., so I figured Why not just do that at the beginning?

And suddenly I have so much free time!!!

It’s glorious – I’m really really savoring it because I know it’s all downhill from here.

This also means I get to focus a lot on my Trial Practice class. I’m of two minds about this; the entire class (and, more importantly, the “competition” that serves as our Final) is performance-oriented, with its only basis in reality being its form and procedure. Our “crime story” kinda sucks and we can’t stray outside the lines – ie, if we want to explore alternate theories, or go deeper into the evidence, the profs look at us with raised eyebrows and give a little laugh. Now, to be fair, we’re all babies at this, so such restriction can help keep us focused. But it also reinforces the fact that our “job” is just to figure out the script the profs and judges want, do the little song and dance, et voila.

But it’s also really good experience – I say that as someone with zero courtroom experience, so I might not know what I’m talking about. At this point, I think any exposure is good exposure, and I am learning a ton. My workshop prof is demonically charismatic – the second he starts speaking I just believe everything that comes out of his mouth. I can’t help it. Now that’s a trait to model (or is it?).

Anyway, we’ve done our Direct Examinations (look at me capitalize it!), Crosses, and tomorrow we are to have “perfected our Direct” so we can integrate Exhibits and demonstrative aids. I did rather poorly on my Cross (I suppose I’d heard the objection “Calls for speculation” in movies and stuff, but I didn’t know how it was used in real life, nor did I even remember it could be used – I had no idea what I was doing, period!). That still smarts, and it doesn’t help that tomorrow I’m going to give my “perfected” (ha!) direct in the voice of a backwater frog. (And that ain’t Cajun! Hoo . . . the cold meds are kicking in). If we miss a single class, we fail the course.

I really have a problem doing canned stuff, it’s so frustrating. And I also want to win, which is doubly frustrating. I *have* to win – my partner wants to win (she is really great), the prof’s team has won for the past 5 years (and I don’t want to be the one to break that record), and plus, I know I won’t be handling any trials for probably like a billion years because of just how the system goes, so I want to do well.

Only I have no idea what I’m doing. Suppose I should get used to it, eh?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Trial Practice Workshops

One of my classes this semester is a Trial Practice Lecture + Workshop. I really lucked out on this one - I managed to snag the Workshops being held at the courthouse (as opposed to the school), as well as the professor who's coached the last five Mock Trial teams to championships. He's a prosecutor, but whatever. And then I managed to be assigned the criminal case, vs the civil! Yay!!! Seriously, the poison of civil paralegal work is part of what sent me flying to law school, determined never to draft another Operating Agreement again, ever. So yay!!!

I do have a major problem though, and I would like to ask for some advice!! How does one learn to successfully project one's voice? I mean, I know where my diaphragm is, and how to breathe deeply using it, but I don't know how to speak using it, or if there's anything else? Does anyone have any tips? I sound so quiet and I really absolutely have to overcome this!

Monday, January 15, 2007


I was pretty sure I'd failed two classes - but I actually B'd it across the board! Yay!!! Even tho I don't get any deep soul-affirming jump from this, it does make me happy that I managed to scoot by somehow! Yay!!

Until school started back up at the last of last week, I'd been practicing my rollerblading at a middle school across the street from me. The abandoned outside hallways were great for learning how to stop, spin, etc., neither of which I've come even close to mastering but oh well. I have a lot of respect for people who can rollerblade. It definitely requires discipline.

As I rolled from metal post to post, I got a little education in young kids' minds. So I took photos:

Everyone has drawn a variation of these faces at some point in their adolescence. It's like a really bland rite of passage or something.

mmhmm. I'd bett my latest NSync CD that Kyle wrote this himselff.

Just some random ass.

You know, I've never had this thought about a band or singer. What inspired it? Did he use some poor lyrics? Was some girl listening to Hey Little Momma and he was all, "Another Jazzie Fizzle, Bow Wizzle Calaborizzle my nizzle," and so she was like, "Nuh-uh, that's it. No more Bow Wow! No more! And you know what else?" and grabs a pencil.

The world may never know. And, anyway:

I found myself hoping it was a teacher rather than the horse, and then my brain just kind of exploded.

um. I'm already going to hell so I'll admit I had a little laugh at this


hell yeah cause I'm buyin

this deserves to go on a tshirt

and last but not least . . .

I so know what you mean.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A particularly lovely post from Scoplaw:

". . . [P]lease remember, there’s an arbitrary element to grades, and all they’re really telling you is what you know anyway – that you’re in the same ballpark as your peers; better on some things, worse on others. They don’t measure your worth as a person. (So don’t act, positively or negatively, as though they do.) They also don’t measure your knowledge of the law against an objective standard. They also don't measure your future ability to be a lawyer or even begin to assess the myriad of skills that you can bring to bear on lawyering. Grades are just points on a curve relative to your peers.

If you find yourself freaking out, have a beer (or two), sit down, and think about all the worthwhile things you accomplished on your way to this point in time; you're going to accomplish just as many, if not more, great things after you leave here. And whatever psychological impact grades have, it's already come too late - it can't undo who you are, what you've done, or what you can do in the future."

Ah-men! Lordy lord, amen.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Public vs Private, and the Simple Effect of Providing Clear Information

I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and Wretched of the Earth's Courtroom Etiquette post reminded me of it. (excellent post, by the way, I'd love to see an actual draft. I think Imapd mentioned something similar, but I can't find it. Where is she, anyway?)

Have many of you PDs worked in the private sector before going to work for the State? I would be interested to hear of your experiences. I worked in the Corporate world - attorney offices and CPA firms - for 7 years before going to law school. Already I can see tremendous differences between that world and the PD's office here in town. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that billable hours don't drive the paycheck, but there is something else, as well.

One thing I was told by fellow interviewers (well, two, and they were good friends from school) was to stop freaking out. Like, if I was one minute late, I'd be feeling guilty, and I'd certainly note it on my pro bono time sheet. How much of a dork am I. But seriously, I have this crazy, someone's-over-my-shoulder-with-a-whip thing about working. I daydream like the rest of us, but lord knows I'm always worried I'll get caught and be considered a disappointment. It's not because I want to look the best or something. It's because if I get caught, I will feel ashamed. Like I have let the business down. My conduct - hell, all of our conduct - affects the business' bottom line, whether it's a Big Corp or a small one. See, my parents own their own business, as does my sister, and I had a small graphic design one for a while myself. So I feel a very close, immediate relation between my work (its presence and its quality), the success of a business, and all the business' employees ability to buy a house, car, and groceries. This has served me very in the Corporate World - I was never conscious of it, but I always did my best, because, frankly, I couldn't live with myself otherwise.

So - the PD's office. A real shock. Everyone was able to operate on their own. No one looked over their shoulders - maybe formally, in that people had performance objectives and stuff, but it didn't feel like a realistic threat. People just did what they needed to do, and got on with it. I have to admit, it felt pretty wonderful. I thought I was dreaming it, like there must be a catch somewhere. And there may be yet. But not one that I could see.

To be fair, that's the extent of my experience with the PD's office; I was up at the jail most of the time. Like I said, I'd be very interested to hear of your experiences, and if you have any advice for a smooth transition.

Now for a different observation. People in the corporate world are constantly beseiged by management's efforts to be "more efficient." Efficiency equals more time, and time is money. It's good logic, if only because efficiency is nicely helped along by information, usually a deluge of it. We all remember the memo about the TPC Reports. But these things can be so helpful: to inform new employees, to keep everyone abreast of changes, etc. Now, I am not a memo-happy bureaucratic paper pusher! But in areas that are suffering from a decided lack of information-giving, a little explanatory memo or two can go a long way.

I'm speaking specifically of the criminal legal process. In my time at the courthouse, I've seen so much confusion, just a general wtf-is-going-on, people milling about aimlessly because they haven't got a clue where to go, people who don't even think to ask for assistance in figuring it out because it doesn't occur to them or because it's beaten out of them, or whatever. When I was to interview Juveniles right out of their first appearance, the kids were instructed by a Bailiff to walk down the hallway and "go into the door on the left, far down, across from that other courtroom." Okay, there are like a billion people milling around, about seven doors, all on the left, that qualify as "far down" and "across from that other courtroom". Few signs. So people don't question the Bailiff further, they just go wandering down the hall; some make it, some never do. My little interview room is on the far left, the courtroom is on the far right, with bench seating outside that people sit at before they go in to their hearing. Me, I've got a little clipboard that I'm supposed to perch on the little half-wall separating the open hallway from the benches, across from my room. A lot of people - none of them juveniles or their families - are waiting in the seats outside this courtroom, coming and going. They see my clipboard. On the clipboard is a sheet printed by the PD's office: "Sign in here, then come on in." You can imagine what happens. Multiply that by 100 and that's what actually happened.

Seriously, it was so crazy that I don't know why other interviewers weren't so absolutely disgusted with all the superfluous crap they had to deal with, just because of a confusing little sheet of paper - I don't know why they didn't just change it. Why? It seriously makes no sense. So you know what I did? I wrote on the sheet "Juvenile Court only" "Parents and guardians, please stay with your children" "Please knock" instead of come right in for pete's sake, it's a little room and I'm interviewing someone and 80 times throughout the day I'm interrupted by people just waltzing in - sometimes juvenile, mostly people who were supposed to be going to the courtroom opposite. What a mess.

Anyway, once I changed up the Sign-In sheet (took me 5 seconds tops), and asked the bailiff if he wouldn't mind telling the kids "exactly 5th door on the left", life changed, too. It was great. Things suddenly went so smoothly - for me and, more importantly, for the kid and family - that I wondered if all the headache had actually been a dream. And so this got me thinking, What else is going on here in this system that could be helped by just a few instructional words? It blows my mind that there's not already some Courtroom Etiquette hand-out to give to Defendants. I truly mean no offense, but, seriously, why isn't there? (Or is there and I just don't know about it? distinct possibility) Criminal defendants are the most likely to be unfamiliar with the formal mannerisms of judicial proceedings, to be unfamiliar with the (usually white) Judge's concept of respect and manners, of the (usually white) Jury's. I've been reading a lot of blogs and this seems to be a recurrent complaint, that the defendant just botches his whole case before the formal trial has even started. Additionally, it seems to me that many criminal defendants will refuse most verbal suggestions, warnings, and admonishments to sit up straight, dress nice, etc, because it is demeaning to be told to do that. I think a memo on proper dress and activity would really work, especially if it was presented as routine. I could be totally wrong. Disasterously wrong. What has been your experience?

The fact is, because of my type of schooling and formal jobs, I'm used to having a lot of information guide me to where I need to be, what I need to do, throughout my day. I like to think that, as a result, I'm very focused. I'm always looking for things to help focus me, to help me get things done; even just moving down the street, I pay attention to the lights, cars around me, speed, whether there's a cop, whether there's an opening up ahead, etc, always evaluating my circumstances and actively making decisions. Always computing, always thinking. I'm constantly taking in data and so it only seems logical to put it to some use. I hated the corporate world, but I think I was very well suited for it.

So if I was a kid that just came out of juvenile court, being me, I would ask for very specific directions to the interviewing room. If someone wasn't very clear, I'd ask someone else, or just start exploring. And I wouldn't be distracted from finding it. And if I saw a general sign-in sheet, I'd ask if it was for the courtroom or the PD. Because I want to make sure that I get done what I need to get done.

How must it be, then, for someone who lives an almost opposite existence? Who doesn't expect - and certainly doesn't get - much helpful information from others? That row of courtrooms is the most disorganized walk in all of history, to me. So are Social Security offices, and lord knows what else. Probably the kid's whole life, and his family's, too. Oh, and the jail. The jail. Nobody explains anything, just waits for an enterprising soul to come forward to ask. And it's only rarely that a clear answer is given, so the person who dared ask is now flummoxed yet again, and usually just goes and sits down or leaves. How many times have I been waiting for my Special Pass at the Jail's visitor entrance, only to listen to the COs tell some wife or son that the inmate's not here, they're at such-and-such, or at the courthouse, or in transit. With these last two issues, wouldn't you ask, "Well when might they be back?" but no, the visitors just wander off. And, if the inmate's been transferred, and the visitor asks for directions, my GOD the COs practically send the visitors to Abudabi and then back. The visitor asks for clarification (and a good many of them don't speak much English), and the CO compeletly confuses them again before waving them off, "Next please!" The visitor blinks, backs away, and sinks into the shadows.

I mean really. So much stress, so many headaches, could be saved with just a clearer bit of communication. I don't understand why people don't do this automatically.

I am making it my goal to provide the absolute best, clearest, most instructive information to my clients once I am a PD. I think about this a lot, actually, and all the experiences I read about on these blogs are so helpful. I would appreciate any advice you may have on the subject, as well; who knows, I could be beating a dead horse and not even know it. I hope not. That would be depressing.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts. :)

EDIT: From A Public Defender's Life in Alaska:

Learning after you get here that the State will not pay all of your medical dues or your bar dues or your case load will be huge does not do you any good. I'm sure it is just not Alaska. I'm sure it is the same everywhere. But going from a private employer to a public employer has it's drawbacks. In a private office there is someone you can go and directly bitch to. The State just shrugs and says "hope you don't ruin your credit or go hungry over our mistake but what can we do?"

eep. seriously