My lawyer informs me that, since I’m going to be HCCLA president next year (actually next week), I’m going to have to start being more “diplomatic”.

I’m not sure I can do that.

But I’ll try. . . . starting tomorrow.

Today’s Asshat of the Day Award (henceforth “ADA”) is shared by every 25-28 year old lawyer who thinks that a law degree and a job with a District Attorney’s Office somehow qualifies her to make decisions that affect other people’s freedom, their livelihood, and their futures.

Because, of course, it doesn’t. And because believing that it does is the sort of arrogance that gives lawyers a bad name.

If you’re one of those prosecutors who has the good sense to know that you don’t have the wisdom to decide what other people “deserve”, if you wield your newfound power with humility, and if you’re not afraid to listen to those who have been around a lot longer than you (even if they are defense lawyers) then I’m not talking about you. You may even be in the majority; I don’t know — there are an awful lot of young prosecutors who are under the impression that a commission from the State magically imbues a callow youth with an inerrant godlike sense of right and wrong.

This is, of course, the nature of youth: when we are young we have neither the knowledge required to know how much we don’t know, nor the wisdom required to understand how much we don’t understand.

The good news is that many of today’s award winners might someday grow from supercilious self-righteous superior attorneys who think (by virtue of their law-school mock trial victories and their assignment to misdemeanor courts whose judges cosset and defer to them) that they are God’s gift to advocacy, to decent human beings and possibly even pretty good lawyers.

0 responses to “Diplomatic?”

  1. I want to nominate Jon Bradley for AHA. He recently used the TDCAA message board to take a cheap shot at Grits Scott Henson. According to JB Scott deserved to get robbed and now “needs a prosecutor.” Disgusting.

    I remember JB at baby prosecutor school. He dressed up as a referee and toss a football around the room. He would ask random attendees to name the predicate for evidence. The whole room thought he was a pompous ass. What little has changed.

  2. One can always tell when Mark’s had a bad day in court, eh?

    Man I wish I could get a misdemeanor judge to cosset me. It sounds pretty sweet.

  3. Someone pissed in Mark’s Cheerios for sure!

    Putting aside for the moment the undisputed fact that some of our misdemeanor ADAs don’t know the true value of a case, let’s talk about a theme that has cropped up quite a bit on this blog: What do people “deserve”?

    While some days I find myself in the Clint Eastwood “Unforgiven” frame of mind (“We all have it comin’, kid.”) I do not think you need “an inerrant godlike sense of right and wrong” to decide the appropriate rec to make on some misdemeanor theft case. Or for that matter, on ANY case. Hello, Mark, it’s our JOB. Part of what the taxpayers expect us to do.

    (Although, speaking for those of us who ARE imbued with that inerrant godlike sense of right and wrong, it makes the job easier. –Just kidding, Mark. Cool down.)

    Let’s step back and get some perspective. Minor crimes, minor punishments, minor prosecutors with minor authority. Do you really need 10 years of “real world experience” and 6 graduate degrees (including at least one in social work) to decide whether someone needs 6 days in jail or 6 months of probation?

    All you can ask is that prosecutors seek justice, which means many things to many people but seems to consist mostly of enforcing the law and penalizing those who break it in a fair manner. We’re going to do that to the best of our ability, while the defense attorney advocates for their client (as they should.) No one expects us to agree all the time, but compromises are fortunately reached everyday.

    In deciding what people “deserve” for violating a particular law, ADAs do not transgress into some cosmically unknowable realm. It’s just a matter of right and wrong and individual circumstances. Just because we’re on rare occasions wrong doesn’t make us asshats!

    So for God’s sake, Mark, get off your philosophical highhorse and plea the case with a J&S date! It’s just a $500 fine anyway, right? –Sheesh.

  4. You know, when I first started blogging, I found a lot of your points to be frustrating (probably due to my ineptitude at responding to them).

    Now that I am a wise-old blogger with four months under my belt, I tend to agree that what you write is a public service. I think it has been a public service to me (as perhaps a prosecutor) about how certain actions of prosecutors are perceived. I’m sure there is some pressure for you to be more diplomatic, but oddly enough, I’m hoping you won’t be.

    A few potshots here and there keep both sides honest. If what you write makes one prosecutor realize that maybe they out to “tone down” what they do to some degree, then you’ve made a positive difference in the way that the criminal justice system, as a whole, will be perceived.

    I say keep up the good work.

    Besides, it would really be a shame to see the Asshat of the Day Award end so early in its career.

  5. Tarian, unless the person in misdemeanor court has felony priors, what happens to him there is not “minor”, and should not be treated as “minor” by his lawyer, by the judge, or by the prosecutor. I expect better from you. Unless you were being ironic and I didn’t get it, in which case I expect better from me.

    AHCL, thanks. This is actually me being diplomatic. The topic came up with my lawyer because I was about fed up enough to start naming names of cosseting judges and the cosseted prosecutors who think they’re el chingón when in fact they’re just spoiled. (A few months in most any felony court ought to disabuse them of that notion, though the misdemeanor “chief” in the particular court I have in mind doesn’t seem to have caught on that the real world is not like Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number X.)

  6. Congratulations on your new position.

    Also, I agree with your earlier post. Many people, even attorneys, don’t understand or appreciate the repercussions of a criminal conviction (they think they do, but they really don’t). To help close that gap with my students, I require that they visit and tour the local jail. This should be mandatory for any new criminal law attorney–prosecution or defense.

  7. AHCL: Way to kiss his ass!

    Mark: All I’m saying is I think you might be taking aspects of this a bit too seriously. Liberty IS serious, but you have to maintain a sense of humor about what we do, especially since we’re not really in control of anything. And even you would have to admit that most of the sanctions in misdemeanor court amount to nothing more than punitive inconveniences. And from what I’ve seen, overheard, and been told, most DEFENDANTS share this view that what happens in misdemeanor court is “no big deal.”

    So before you get worked up in a frothy lather about it — stop. No one’s denigrating the sacrosanct duties of the criminal defense lawyer or the gravity of the ultimate defining struggle of humanity. But kick back, ease off, have a beer, and take time to chuckle about the silliness of it all or you’re going to have an ulcer before you know it!

    You’re not even president yet! Relax!

  8. Keep at it, Mark. Don’t trust anyone who says “Trust me!”…or…”Relax!”

    Because, as I just mentioned to Greenfield, this says it all: “Just because we’re on rare occasions wrong doesn’t make us asshats!”

    Regards, Kathleen

  9. Okay, I’m back from three days of looking for fossils and looking at dino tracks on the ranch of a guy who doesn’t believe that nonsense about the world being millions and millions of years old. (I didn’t ask him how to account for the Acrocanthasaurus tracks down by the river on his land — a setup, no doubt for him to bring The Word to the unbelievers.)

    Tarian, no, no, no. For God’s sake, no! Maybe pro se defendants or those represented by low-bid letter lawyers are saying that misdemeanor punishment is “no big deal”; those facing prison time would certainly say so. But I can assure you that the possible outcome in misdemeanor court — a criminal record, probation, jail time, collateral consequences, and so forth — is often a very big deal to the accused. And to potential employers and landlords.

    Being wrong doesn’t make a prosecutor an asshat. Thinking, when you have someone’s future in your hands, that being wrong is not a big deal does. And thinking that one is “rarely” wrong when making these “no big deal” decisions, as Kathleen points out, clinches it.

  10. Mark:
    The older we get, the more and more we become who we really are. So, if you are getting less diplomatic as time goes on, it appears you’ve always been a contrarian disguised as some reasonable guy. Good luck with your duties as HCCLA pres and don’t worry to much about stirring the pot.


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