I wrote recently about “Mean Girls” in the courtroom — lawyers (in my example, older female prosecutors, but Mean Girls can be any age or gender). Now we have Mean Girls in the practical blawgosphere (would it be uncharitable for me to suggest that AHCL accidentally brought the Harris County DA’s Mean Girls with him when he started blogging?). Some anonymous person — apparently a Harris County ADA — has posted nasty ad hominem attacks on me in comments on two prosecutors’ blogs: Ken Lammers’s CrimLaw and AHCL’s Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center .
Ken, who has three rules for his blog (“(1) civility; (2) no politics; and (3) civility”) deleted the comment before I could see it (a high-class gesture), but I got a taste of it from AHCL’s blog, where AHCL chided our anonymous friend gently. Then I spent a few hours self-indulgently upset and angry about it (I’m not in trial, so I had the luxury) before getting over it. I still have some thoughts about it, though, which I’d like to share to close out the chapter.
All criticism is autobiographical. The trick is in determining what the critic is saying about himself. I truly have no idea who could be behind the comments; that bothered me more than the untruth. So what do our anonymous friend’s comments say about him?
First, he thinks the job is the person. In my efforts to defend my clients and my outspoken criticism of the criminal “justice” system and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, he sees “personal animus”. The truth is that I like prosecutors just fine. Don’t tell them this, but I like Kelly Siegler, Mike Trent, “Agg” Rob Freyer, Murray Newman . . . I even (believe it or not) like Vic Wisner!!!! I call several prosecutors “friend”, I seem to get along with the vast majority of them, and I have great sympathy for the rest (there, but for the grace of God, go I).
When a prosecutor thinks that justice demands that my client be convicted and imprisoned, it’s easy for me to butt heads with him; a few times things have gotten ugly between me and my adversaries in trial (usually because they, or more likely I, have gone overboard in zeal), but I’ve always been able to get over it. When prosecutors — even those whom I thought were most unreasonable in the Office — have left to join the defense bar, I’ve welcomed them and encouraged my brethren set aside animus to do the same.
If you’re a prosecutor and I see you in the courthouse, I probably seem unfriendly because I’m doing my best to save my clients from whatever fate you think they deserve. But if you’re a defense lawyer and I see you in the courthouse, I probably seem unfriendly because I’m working intently to save my clients from whatever fate the prosecutors think they deserve. It’s not personal to me, and if it’s personal to you there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.
Second, he’s been around the courthouse for a long time. I’ve been down there for about 13 years, and he calls me a newbie. That’d make him at least a felony chief.
The prosecutors whom I’ve clashed hardest with exchange greetings with me in the hall, and they act like they’ve gotten over it too. So, third, our anonymous friend either hasn’t actually dealt with me, or he’s a hypocrite who conceals his own personal animus from me in the halls of 1201 while venting in the blawgosphere.
Fourth, he doesn’t know me personally. Our friend says that I’m no Racehorse Haynes (conspicuously), no Dan Cogdell (absolutely), and not the “be-all, know-all of the profession” (unquestionably), as though that is a putdown of some sort. What I am, instead, is an ordinarily-talented guy with a high IQ, some really good training, and a bit of experience who truly believes that people should be free, and who tries to strike a healthy balance between family and the fight for freedom.
Fifth, he’s not familiar with my record. He asks in his comment successes I’ve had; if he had asked in the Office instead, he would have learned that my last three felony jury trials in Harris County resulted in defense verdicts (probation on a murder case, not guilty on a meth lab case, and not guilty on a two-kilo cocaine case). Further afield, last year I saved a life in Victoria County. Even going back further than that — five trials, ten trials, twenty-five trials — and farther afield — other Texas counties and federal courts as far away as Manhattan — I am proud of the work I’ve done. Since I work for continuous improvement, though, I think my recent victories are most representative of my standing as a trial lawyer.
Finally, and most importantly, our anonymous critic is scared. Only a frightened person would write such things, and only a coward would do so anonymously (not all frightened people are cowards: a coward is a frightened person who does the wrong thing because of his fear). When I criticize someone publicly, I sign my name. (I will occasionally vent about someone privately to friends, but I’m trying to stop doing even that). I know it’s a scary time to be a prosecutor, especially if your job is how you define yourself. A day of reckoning may be fast approaching, and the prosecutors of our anonymous commenter’s vintage are the most likely to be first against the metaphorical wall.
Most prosecutors go from high school to college to law school to the DA’s office, with no experience in the real world. Unlike the people they prosecute and the people who defend those people, they have never experienced the insecurity of the real world. Now a lot of prosecutors who a month ago thought they had an assured job for life, with health insurance and a juicy pension, are facing the possibility that everything might not go their way. (Could this be a lesson in empathy?)
I feel great compassion for our anonymous critic, as well as for the rest of the prosecutors whose careers have suddenly become uncertain. The job is not the person. If you’re a prosecutor, and you beat me in trial, I’ll shake your hand and say “nice job”; if I beat you, I’ll do the same. I don’t agree with much of what you do, but I know that we don’t choose who we get to be in life, and I recognize that with a slightly different upbringing I might well be trying to put people in prison. If you decide to leave the Office, or if the Office decides that you should leave, I’ll welcome you to the defense bar (I’ll be president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers’ Association come May) and you can show me and the rest of the defense bar how a defense lawyer is supposed to defend his clients without his adversaries taking it personally. I look forward to the lesson.