Why am I here? Part 1 (Military Criminal Defender)

I’ve been asked this a couple of times since starting this blog. Why am I doing this job?

The short answer is that it is the most rewarding professional endeavor I have ever undertaken.  But, this does not really answer your question. You want to know what caused me to find it rewarding.

Fair enough, but don’t expect the explanation to be easy or quick. I labeled this as “Part 1” because I do not anticipate finishing my thought today.

In the courtroom during my previous life

People ask me the question often because of my background. I appear to be the ultimate in modern conservative values. I was raised a Methodist in Kansas (Bob Dole country). I did well in school, excelled in sports, and earned a slot at the United States Military Academy despite growing-up in a lower-middleclass family. From college, I entered the Army Infantry where I earned the Ranger Tab and Expert Infantryman Badge. From outward appearances, I am a poster child for WASP conservatives. That’s why people are a bit perplexed.

The answer is not simple, nor can it be traced to one single event or isolated chain of events. Instead, it comes from a history of random events dating back to my adolescence.  Don’t worry, I won’t give you the full 25 year history from that point forward. Rather, I’ll take the key events one at a time, and in no particular order.

Go to the year 2005. Consider a young Army Private named Boudreaux.

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Defining a Complex Case

“Have you ever had a murder trial?”

That question arises in conversation again and again. When someone discovers my job as a trial lawyer for military criminal cases, it is inevitably one of the first questions they ask.

Finally, I started asking why.

Their answer? It must have been hard, exciting, or both.

I don’t blame them for the perspective. Murder cases make movies and episode after episode of Law and Order and CSI. They look titillating, full of twists, turns and exciting posturing on the part of the attorneys. They involve a dead human.

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Teachers Suspended for showing “Flex Your Rights” Video

I sincerely hope there is more to this story than what we see here. If not, my faith in public school administrators might fall another notch.

Evidently, two high school teachers in Virginia were suspended for showing the video “Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters” and distributing a flyer designed and distributed by an organization called “Crimethink.” The video is produced by the folks at Flex Your Rights whose primary goal is to encourage an educated population that understands its constitutional rights.

The last paragraph of the post at FlexYourRights.org summarizes their position:

Indeed, no American should ever be ashamed to assert their Bill of Rights protections, and our educators should be praised, rather than reprimanded, when they teach constitutional rights in the classroom. Withholding this important knowledge from students is gravely irresponsible and we’ll vigorously oppose any effort to silence or mischaracterize the work of our organization.

Here is the video,  posted on YouTube by Flex Your Rights.  I encourage you to form your own opinion after you watch the video and read the news article, the Crimethink flyer, and FlexYourRights response.

See the post at FlexYourRights.org here.

See the original news report here.

The flyer that was distributed is posted here.

So, what do you think? Is the school administration properly safeguarding young Americans and holding faculty accountable for missteps?  Or, are you fearful that their copy of the constitution might get burned with the other books in the library (at a cozy 451 degrees F, of course)?

Frankly, I support any effort to teach constitutional rights–especially from a practical perspective. Considering how many of my clients confess before I become their lawyer, I have little faith in the traditional methods of teaching high school civics.

A Sobering “Success” Story

Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reacti...
Image via Wikipedia

Last night, I read a post on the blog “Simple Justice” which is owned and operated by Scott H. Greenfield, an attorney in New York City. It is a disturbing post. With both sarcasm and irony, he titles it “A Success Story.” I encourage you to read it before proceeding further.

Essentially, it highlights a suicide note he received from a man who was convicted of internet solicitation (in a gay chatroom). Over 8 years ago, the man accepted a deal as recommended by his attorney (not Scott Greenfield) with the understanding that his record would be expunged following 3 years of probation. Now 8.5 years later, he continues to be registered as a sex offender. He lives in his own personal hell. No public defender exists to help him to correct his situation, and he lacks the money to retain assistance.

Many argue that sex offender registration is not a punishment. You could have fooled me. For these individuals, it is a perpetual purgatory preventing them from obtaining meaningful employment and moving forward socially. Is it necessary for some? Perhaps. Have we taken it too far? Absolutely.

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The Influence of Gerry Spence

My intent is to tell the truth as I know it, realizing that what is true for me may be blasphemy for others. Gerry Spence – Give Me Liberty

I confess that I am not a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College, though several of my friends are. I also confess that I have never met Gerry Spence nor spent hours studying his various books and essays, though I occasionally peruse his blog. I know he has an amazingly dedicated and vocal following–akin to that of Apple Computer. Success speaks for itself. I cannot say that I agree with everything he says, but he and I generally inhabit the same ballpark.

I certainly appreciate his zest for raw advocacy and appealing to human, rather than legal, aspects of representation. I also appreciate his influence on several of my colleagues who improved their practice dramatically after attending one of Gerry’s seminars. I am actually a beneficiary of someone who often works with the Trial Lawyers College, Joshua Karton, and he provided me with invaluable insight into my abilities as an advocate. If the Trial Lawyer’s College mirrors the experience I had with Josh, then I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I also enjoy Gerry’s insight on Liberty. He voices his appreciation for our human rights while heaping [largely deserved] condemnation upon those who he perceives as a threat to the same. As a libertarian, I believe strongly in a broad and empowering interpretation of our Bill of Rights, and I maintain that our government’s main role should be to ensure that these ten principles are allowed to continue and flourish. The thing that gives us strength as Americans is not our form of government, but the rights it is intended to protect.

I appreciate anyone who loves advocacy as much as Gerry. He cut a successful path away from mainstream lawyering and created a brand of advocacy that is both effective and illuminating. Someone once told me that they hoped to follow in his path. I will not. I suspect he would not want me to.

Instead, perhaps I will borrow his machete for a little while as I create my own path.

Damn the torpedoes.

We need more lawyers (Part 2)

(Part 2 of 5)

Previously, we discussed one of the five major issues influencing client satisfaction and dissatisfaction: lack of responsiveness.  Before moving forward, it must be abundantly clear that I feel strongly about complaints regarding a lack of responsiveness because it is a bedrock complaint. It is a factor that causes or aggravates most other complaints. As other problems manifest themselves, the attorney becomes less motivated to confront them because they become annoying, time-consuming, and an area of frustration for all parties involved. This is an example of human nature. To illustrate this point, consider a situation once faced by many of us.

Each of us has returned to our residence to notice our answering machine blinking, and we know it is not a message we want to hear. The red, LED light pulses rhythmically, gently illuminating the room. It seems to warn us of the message contained in the little box. Perhaps it is a disgruntled significant other, a bill collector, or a family member asking for money. Either way, we do not want to face the situation because it will cause us discomfort. So, we don’t push the button on the machine.  Instead, we allow the message to languish unattended for the night, and perhaps the next day, and perhaps longer. It may reach a boiling-point where you find yourself huddled behind your couch as the offended party raps at your door incessantly. The feeling is the same. Your feeling of dread overwhelms the fact that you know you must face the problem.

When we provide services as attorneys, we must suppress this natural response to unsavory confrontation. Our motivation is our duty–the duty we earned after 3 years of postgraduate study and an insanely difficult bar examination. Here, there are no excuses. Our duty is to push the button on the machine, regardless of the pain we feel from the knots in our stomach. It’s not easy. Then again, our job is not supposed to be easy.

As you know from before, I am using these points to lobby for more attorneys to share the many clients out there.

Now, the second point generating client unhappiness deserves attention.

Cost and Billing.

Let’s start with two assumptions before I proceed to conclusions.

1. Attorneys deserve to get paid for the value of their services.

2. Clients deserve to know the value of what they are getting.

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On Vulnerability and Fraud

Being the subject of a criminal investigation, trial, or other adverse process is amazingly taxing for any human. It drains a person emotionally, physically, and sometimes spiritually.

Due to this, these people are often in an emotionally compromised position. Their suffering causes them to reach-out for anything that purports to provide comfort, understanding, and hope. This makes them especially vulnerable to a wide variety of flim flam, charlatans, and con artists.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the direct result of these con artists, and it always ends badly (even with the best case scenario, my client still has a lighter wallet). Purveyors of quackery and false (but expensive) hope congregate their shops near the gates of most military installations hoping to quickly deprive servicemembers of a portion of their government paycheck.

Several individuals are working to protect consumers against such fraud. They include James Randi and Michael Shermer, and I hope they make significant headway soon. Mr. Randi appears in the video below, where he takes a lethal dose of “homeopathic sleeping medication” in front of his audience.

My clients are at a vulnerable point in their lives, and when they fall prey to this type of con, it makes me sick.