Many of you know my daughter Cara as a civil litigator and patent lawyer, but similar to my path, she spent several years representing victims of police brutality. My article, recounting events several decades ago, prompted her to relate her experience decades later.
Note how little had changed in the generation following me.
Not much has changed since you were last in the courtroom. It is very difficult for the average citizenry to imagine any of this. The surreal nature of it all, the air reeking with fear, sadness, hopelessness. The picture for me is an army of mostly young lawyers swarming the table for each side, the sheriffs checking credentials or identities to determine your business with the court before you are allowed to approach, the chaos of families and witnesses all there hoping for “justice”, revenge, etc. I have yet to see any TV show or movie that captures this, therefore, no American can truly know what it feels like to be on one side or the other.
Visiting the jails are still the same, in some cases worse. Today, you enter a public area full of mostly visitors and visit a clerk to show your credentials. Once you have stowed everything but a pen and paper in your car or locker, you are allowed through an impenetrable door by a gruff well-armed guard who points to down a very narrow hall. There you are greeted by a pod of law enforcement behind glass where you receive directions on how to find your client. Every step, every breath recorded, you proceed guided only by cryptic wall signage the point to Cell Block 4A West or 4B North, etc. If you’re lucky, you might find a guard who will provide directions as you proceed alone in a wide empty hall.
When you finally get to the appointed cell block, you enter a round area that has mission control positioned so that the guards can see each cell. Little, if any privacy, for the occupant. As you enter the pod, and state your business to the guard, you are directed to a side room, with a desk and two chair sandwiched in between two close walls. You sit there alone. The stink is overwhelming, as you try to ignore the comments from the rogues gallery, the crying, the pleas for help. Now you wait. You can hear the Kerchunck of mechanical doors and locks, and your client appears, unaccompanied and enters the room. There you are, just the two of you in that tiny dank, grubby, room. For better or worse, no prying eyes, as far as you know. Still, you keep your guard up, say as little as possible, to avoid being overheard.
In my case, a young man, learning disabled, high level functioning, accused of sexual assault of a 12-year old – his fiancee’s daughter. I took the matter pro bono, my first criminal matter, because I worked with the young man’s aunt, a paralegal, well known in PB legal circles. Today, she is a paralegal working in a Palm Beach estate management practice. The fiancee was looking to exit the relationship and to take over whatever pittance he owned or earned, because that’s how she gets through life — not the first time using her daughter as a tool to that end. By this time, the daughter in on the graft as well. After my client consult, by some miracle, we were able to find a very experienced criminal attorney who was able to take the case.
I remember writing an impassioned letter, then meeting the lawyer in the courthouse to explain why he should take the case. Instead of living the rest of his life in prison, labelled a sex offender, the client was released some months later – perhaps as many as 6-9 months. By now the fiancée had wiped his bank account, took everything he owned, and moved on to the next soon-to-be victim after deciding not to return to Palm Beach County to assist with the prosecution.
About a year ago, I received an email, then a phone call from my client who called to say he had found happiness, and God, and to thank me for believing him and in him – taking enough time to care. His story had a happy ending, but this is the exception as we know.