Your Ticket to the Freak Show

I keep seeing a recurring theme around here. Things are unfair. The government is oppressive. The government doesn’t do enough. People don’t fight for their rights. People want too many rights. The constant cries of “Where’s mine?!”

News Flash: This world is just one big freak show.

People are doing crazy things. The government is doing crazy things. You read about it every day.

According to George Carlin, we are all born with a ticket to the freak show in hand. The tickets give Americans a front row seat.

Criminal Defense Lawyers get backstage passes.

Stop wallowing in pity. Grab a legal pad, sit back, take good notes, and get ready to smack someone in the head with it in a courtroom.


Differences Between Men and Women

I like reading Mike Cernovich’s perspectives at his blog, Crime and Federalism (link to the right). He has a lot of fun with a variety of issues. Lately much has centered around men and women, rational roles, perspectives on life, motivations, and contributions. It can be infuriating for some, but it is also fun and instructive.

He has no fear of commenting on men vs. women. I always hesitate to address the male vs. female debate. I generally feel that my very limited perspective is far too inadequate to make a reasonable contribution.

Now, though, I think I have it figured out. The root of our differences is with what each sex wants. It’s really that simple.

Women want near-idealism. They want fairness and due process. They want children who grow up to be smart and conscientious. Women want to be heard, but they also enjoy spirited debate. They want others to be happy and act as positive contributors. They want cleanliness and appropriate appearances. Women want accountability with compassion. They want to share things with a partner who embraces their regard for mutual respect. They want equality with merit-driven rewards. They want a sense of community coupled with allowances for individuality.  Women want reason and reasonableness.

Men want to be able to take a leak in their backyard without getting in trouble for it.

There you go.


The vast majority of my clients come from referrals from other lawyers. When someone calls, I always ask “How did you hear about me?” They usually reply something along the lines of “Steve Karns told me to call you.” This way, I make sure that Steve remains on my Xmas card list. Some say that they found my website. Others were referred from other past clients. I just like to know in order to show appreciation to those who hold me in decent regard.

Lately, some bizarre things have happened. For instance, I got a call from a nice kid who wanted some military legal issues rectified.

He said, “A lawyer in Paducah, Kentucky said I should call you. He said he refers a lot of cases to you.”

“Paducah? Yeah, sure. What was his name again?” I inquired, searching my mind’s rolodex for acquaintances in Paducah.

“Umm, I can’t remember. I just know he’s a big Paducah attorney.”


“OK, well, no problem. So, you were saying about your punishment for…”

The conversation continued, and everything was fine. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, who from Paducah referred the case. I don’t know anyone in Paducah. To my knowledge, none of my buddies relocated to Paducah. I certainly don’t remember having cases referred repeatedly by somebody there. Sure, I’ve driven through a couple of times, but I don’t even remember stopping. The client forgot the name, so I may never know.

Believe me, I’m not upset, but it would be nice to to say thanks.

Even more bizarre is another source of a few clients. The conversations start similarly. Then, I get to the “How’d you hear about me…” question.

“Oh, I got your info from a 1-800 number referral service.”

“A referral service?” I reply.

“Yeah, they said you do a great job with these types of cases.”

“OK, well, what was the number?” I inquire.

“Oh, darn, ummmm, let’s see, gosh, I thought I had it right here. I think I lost it.”

They never have the number, and, they are not scamming me since several became clients–great clients.

I’ve never signed-up for a referral service. I don’t know anything about a 1-800 number. The extent of my advertising is the creation of my website (which I did myself). What the heck is going on here? How do they know I do a great job? How do they know I do anything? How do they know me?

Or, am I just bad and nationwide?


Memo to Civics Teachers: You’ve All Earned F’s

The longer one is a Criminal Defense Lawyer, the more one notices the failings of High School Civics/Government teachers. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Wisconsin where Wisconsin high school graduates (now members of the legislature) took a swipe at the rights of citizens to unionize. Don’t blame them, blame the folks who molded their perspective on government and individual/group rights.

But, I’m not here to talk about Wisconsin. That topic is now officially worn-out. I’m here to talk about two gripes I have with civics teachers in secondary education. I’ll assign grades.

4th and 5th Amendments (F). I trust that the Bill of Rights is posted in every American Government classroom, but I suspect it is written in cyrillic. That’s fine and good for the kids in Brighton Beach, but it’s not of much use to the other 99.9% of the population. How do we know? We see the results. Despite the admonition, “You have the right to remain silent…,” folks feel the need to talk and talk and talk and talk. Afterward, when reminded of the simplicity of the phrase, they look up with both bewilderment and shame. If only they truly understood…

The Role of Congressmen and Senators (F—). I get a lot of calls from former servicemembers who have something in their records that is bad/wrong. Often, they are veterans who received a discharge that is characterized as something less than Honorable. They all want their situations fixed or upgraded. Most want the change to occur for free. To accomplish this, they call their Congressman or Senator. The aide at the office tells them that the elected official is deeply concerned for their fellow citizen (they are always “deeply concerned”), and they agree to “do what they can.” What they do, often, is submit some matters to the Department of Defense that result in absolutely no relief whatsoever. In doing so, they fail the client by wasting an appeal opportunity (they are very limited) with a half-assed letter. Then, I get a call, and my arsenal of possible weapons in the case has been fleeced because some aide to Senator X decided to pull an appeal out of their ass in about an hour (when a merely acceptable one takes more than 10).

The problem here is that they believe that a call to an aide at the legislator’s office will solve their problems, for free. Where do they get this? How do droves of high school graduates move into the world thinking that government officials are there to generously dispense success, wealth, and vindication? They believe that their Senator will interrupt a 3-martini lunch in order to throw-open the doors of the Pentagon and gain justice. In truth, the matter is left to a clerk who writes a mealy-mouthed appeal and prints it on high-class vellum. It’s all a bunch of lip service for no other purpose than to spread goodwill and demonstrate a commitment to fighting for the rights of citizens.

Those who believe the government will be there to help them in an hour of need are destined for disappointment. Thousands of citizens in need constitute a significant populace. One citizen in need is statistically insignificant–even when you add family and friends. Just ask any economist.

When the appeal fails, and they always do, I get a call. Sometimes it’s folks who say “You told me this wouldn’t work, but…” Some are still amazed that the Department of Defense failed to kowtow to an elected official from outside the Executive Branch. When questioned about the documents included in the appeal, they are always wanting, and now the client is left with one less appeal and a lot less leverage.

That’s OK, though. It was free.

I don’t totally blame the kid on the phone, though. The blame is equally shared with the jerk who, upon receiving tenure at East Pigcrap High School, stopped giving a damn.

And You Wonder Why Our Laws Are Screwed Up?

When you look at the criminal law blogosphere, you’ll see a lot of folks bemoaning the state of our criminal justice system. Frankly, everyone has complaints about how unfair it is (and this comes from both sides of the fence–prosecutors and defense). I, too, complain about the things that, from my narrow perspective, are unfair or unconscionable. It’s what we do as 21st Century humans.

When you wonder about how people can interpret our Constitution and, more specifically, the Bill of Rights so wrong, consider two very important facts.

  • The Constitution was made-up by a bunch of hung-over guys in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. Oh, we love to idolize them and talk about how the process was so wonderful and saintly. It wasn’t. It was highly political, messy, sweaty, and reeked of beer farts. But, that’s beside the point. The real point here is that it was made-up by a bunch of guys, and by guys I mean rich (yet debt-ridden) (many even slave-holding) humans with penises. Sure, laud them for some wonderful ideas, but at the root, they were slobs akin to you and I. Mostly, I thank them for being ambiguous.
  • 38% of Americans believe that the recent earthquake in Japan was a sign from god.

The first point will likely be addressed in more detail in a future post. I intend to have oodles of fun with it. The second one, however, is my focus today.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I don’t blindly follow statistics, but I temper my skepticism with years of listening to people I meet along with crazy, evangelical family members. They attribute the hand of god to successful surgeries, a good job, succeeding at trial, high test scores, a $20-winning lottery ticket, touchdowns, and the 1985 Royals World Championship. So, I can easily see over 1/3 of population (many of whom attend megachurch cash cows).

Decisions in this country are largely made by individuals who are popularly elected. One way to become popular is to appear of solid moral character. The easiest way to feign solid moral character is to declare allegiance to some supernatural belief in the form of religion. These religions can be very persuasive and persistent–even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Essentially, they make up stuff and charge you to follow it based on faith. This faith is sold using a variety of tactics to include fear (you don’t want to go to hell, right?), promises of eternal existence (you want to go to heaven, right?), or peer pressure (everybody talking about how wonderful Mr. X is because he does what is necessary to go to heaven).

It was found recently that the earthquake is attributed to god by 38% of Americans. Never mind everything we’ve learned about the molten core of the Earth, the ever-flowing mantle, the unstable crust, the Pacific ring of fire, and eons of evidence to support scientific findings that geologic happenings are firmly attributable to the laws of physics–not some all-knowing presence up in the sky.

Think about it. Earthquakes are explained using solid, scientifically tested, peer reviewed evidence. It is evidence-based and not the result of political compromise or conjecture. Yet, people still attribute their cause to unscientific, untested, faith-based reasons.

Now, consider the Constitution and all of its provisions. It was made up by men in Philadelphia. It is not scientific. It is political. It was based on perspectives and theories of liberty. It was not based on physical evidence or peer reviewed data. It was the result of a compromise between several competing proposals. Now, people debate wildly its meaning, intent, and interpretation.

Knowing this, why do we still look at certain interpretations of the Constitution with amazement? The fact that there are wildly competing views of its provisions is really the only thing that does make sense.

If you have doubts, don’t question my perspective. You just need faith.

Fashion for the Unwashed Advocate

I’m not good with fashion. Just ask any of my female colleagues. So, now and then I need a little help. I admit my status as an unwashed advocate.

Today, it is easy to seek help by using online polls. How generous of the cybersphere to give me such a wonderful tool. Now, you’ll be able to help me make wardrobe choices and perhaps even vote for strategy in future cases. The possibilities are endless with online polls, and they are accurate 87% of the time. Of course, 67% of all statistics are made-up by the person touting them.

My first dilemma:

Some of you may not be familiar with each option. So, I’ve included examples below. After all, I want you to make an informed and educated decision for me.

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Do You Offer Free Consultations? Know Your Definitions

Our society is not unified in the definition of a “Free Consultation.” You can look in dictionaries, but the definitions allow for a high degree of ambiguity. My experiences tell me that there are two distinct perspectives on the free consultation. Mine, and that of some potential clients.

My Definition: Tell me the basic facts about your case. Generally, I’ll get these from you by asking very pointed questions. Having done this before, I know what is important. Based on this information, I’ll have an understanding as to the best general course of action and my anticipated workload. From this information, I’ll explain (generally) the process and my fee to lead you through it.

Time required: 5-15 minutes.

The Definition Per Some Potential Clients: Find a lawyer. Pick one who is either really young or really old. The young ones are go-getters and idealists who really want to help, and the old ones are grandfatherly, sappy, and paternal. Both of these populations are particularly vulnerable due to these qualities. Avoid middle-aged looking lawyers whenever possible, they put-up with the least amount of crap. Get the lawyer on the phone. Ask him as many questions as possible. Lure him into giving gritty details about the process and possible outcomes. “What-if” the hell out of all possible contingencies. When he tries to back away and exit the conversation, use telemarketing skills to lure him back. When necessary, pass the phone to a family member or friend. This is especially helpful for bathroom breaks and preparing meals. If the lawyer attempts to quote a fee or retainer, steer him back to answering questions by making him feel guilty. Useful phrases include:

  • I only have a few more questions.
  • I know you’re busy, but I’m almost done.
  • Hang on a sec, one of my kids is going potty (particularly useful if you need to go potty).
  • Oh, that fee sounds good. I’ll just need until Monday to call the bank. But, I really need to understand this now, can we please start until I get the money. I’ll call the bank as soon as we are done.
  • My wife/husband has a few questions for you.
  • Can you please let my mom know what is going on?

Lull him into a coma, if possible. Tell him about Aunt Mabel’s bladder surgery. When desperate, consider telling him that you know he is the perfect lawyer for you and that you really, really want him to represent you. Always remember that you have no intention of paying or retaining him. This is your secret, though. Known only unto you. Never be afraid to become overly emotional, irrational, or both.

Time required: .

Perception vs. Reality of the Legal Profession

It seems that the perception of some regarding their future in the legal profession is a bit skewed. This is especially strong among a certain population of law school students, but it also exists among some law school graduates (and even a few with bar licenses).

Here’s the way many perceive their future in the legal profession:

Those of us who represent clients regularly know this perception is incorrect.

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Live as Well as You Can

I’ve represented several kids who were sent away for little stuff. You know, for a few months in jail.

I feel bad for them. After all, what they did might be annoying, but not evil. I feel bad because they lose a part of their life to confinement at a time when they are young and healthy. It’s sad, especially for someone like me who views human life as a painfully discrete event in time.

At one trial, my client confessed to me that, the night before, he had a three-way-around-the-world with a couple of strippers. I was impressed because most clients sit depressed in their room, obsessing about the next day. Not him.

He shook my hand before shuffling away in leg irons. He smiled. The trial went reasonably well, and he received a mercifully light sentence. I felt bad as he jingled out of the room, but not as bad as I feel about others.

As misguided as he might have been, he was determined to live, and live as well as possible by his own standards.

I found some comfort in that.

Then, I washed my hand.

Don’t Just Be Free, Be Hitchens Free

Christopher Hitchens has cancer, and I fully anticipate him to beat it to a bloody pulp, sit it bolt-upright in a leather chair, and force it to share a bottle of Scotch. You want tough? You want someone who lives life? He’s the real deal.

Make yourself truly free. See things in a different way, especially when others instruct you on the accepted perspective. You get one chance, and then your atoms scatter to form someone else’s beer gut.

I do what I do for a lot of reasons, but mostly it’s because I want to help folks make the most of their one chance. How they choose to spend it is up to them. I just try to get them another opportunity to make it count.

My 1 Year Anniversary

Historic courtroom still in use in Brockville,...

Oh, so that's what one of those courtroom thingies looks like. I'd forgotten. Image via Wikipedia

No, not that kind of anniversary. Men don’t own those anniversaries. Those belong to their wife.

I’m talking about my anniversary away from the courtroom.

One year ago today was the last time I was in a courtroom as counsel. It was a child pornography case (Limewire variety with about 50 videos). There was little I could do to disprove guilt. The electrons told that story. We chose a judge-alone (bench) trial. I pled him not guilty, but acknowledged guilt during opening statements. We just wanted the judge to be fair. He was charged with 7 specifications of downloading, possessing, and sharing (indirectly via Limewire). I explained that he just wanted fairness.

The judge found him guilty of a few, but not all, of the crimes. Then, he sentenced my client to 8 months of confinement, reduction to Private (E-1), and forfeiture of pay. Now, my client is out of jail and out of the Army. He received a characterization of service of General, Under Honorable Conditions.

Prior to that, I had surgery which laid me out for most of February, and before that I had two jury trials in January. Those trials worked well, with one full acquittal and the other sentenced to time served for attempted murder and aggravated assault. Overall, it was a good quarter for me, and I have no complaints. I felt like I left the Army on a high note.

Since then, my trial experience has been a barren wasteland. I’ve had maybe 3 or 4 inquiries from folks facing court-martial, but most were just looking for a reason to justify their decision to go with the free, government-appointed counsel. One was just a bad potential client. I told him to do another search on Google.

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Military Underdog Tactical Operations Center

I admire transparency, and Scott Greenfield recently took this to a new level by treating us to a sneak peek of the Simple Justice World Headquarters.

I’m sure some business self-help book somewhere says to “imitate excellence.” By golly, that’s just what I’ll do.

So, for the first time ever, I’ll allow you a peek into my Operations Center. Normally, I require at least a “Secret” security clearance, but I’ll make an exception, just this once.

Like Scott, I also have a library along with various publications and websites that aid in proper digestion.

The Marlboro Man of Kansas

A few weeks ago, I attended a CLE seminar as a means of keeping in the good graces of the Kansas Bar. I talked about all the geriatric lawyers there in a previous post. While there, I attended a brown-bag luncheon.

I know very little about Kansas Law, having practiced Military/Federal-centric law for my entire legal career. I know little about the status of Kansas courts or the lawyers who practice within them. Nonetheless, I found the luncheon to be informative and instructive.

The keynote speaker was the Chief Justice of the State of Kansas, Lawton Nuss. Damn, I love that name. Lawton Nuss sounds like someone who spits tobacco at least 25 feet and has a shadowbox filled with different varieties of barbed wire on his wall. It is the name of a real man’s man–a guy who embodies everything the Marlboro Man is supposed to be–minus the carcinogenic stuff. Here’s a picture of this former Marine who stands about 6’3”. Am I wrong?

He spoke to us in the most unpretentious manner about the state of Kansas courts and the initiatives undertaken to streamline operations and improve accessibility. I was impressed (something I don’t say often).

My opinion of all state court systems is that they are ripe for stagnation. More than any other branch, they get away with the statement “that’s the way we’ve always done it” more than any other. They do so by being relatively inaccessible, closed to new thoughts and procedures, mysterious, and exclusive. They are led by bureaucrats, not leaders.

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Got Bloodlust?

U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, named as th...

Image via Wikipedia

Just a brief note about the death penalty in the military…

Note within a Note: If you want to know everything there is to know about the death penalty, please check out Gamso: For the Defense. It is written by Jeff Gamso, and I suspect he might be against the death penalty. Jeff is on my list of people I want to have a beer with.

Every now and then, I’ll see some writing or comment regarding an overwhelming desire to see MAJ Nidal Hasan (the Ft. Hood shooter) die via the death penalty.

Please, stop getting your hopes up.

I’ve already warned that this trial will be made as boring as humanly possible. It will take eons, and the trial is merely the beginning of years and years of time, expense, appeals, and waiting. Even if he passes through all those hurdles, you’re still not going to see him strapped to the Terre Haute gumby and pumped full of battery acid.

Quick, when was the last military execution per the Uniform Code of Military Justice?

If you answered 1961, you’d be correct. John A. Bennett was sentenced to death for premeditated murder and rape in 1955 and hanged in 1961.

Since then, several individuals sat on death row. Most recently in 2008, President George W. Bush approved the execution of Ronald Gray, and a date was set to visit Terre Haute later that year. A federal court stayed the execution to allow for more appeals, and no date has been set since. He was sentenced in 1988.

So, consider that Gray has been on death row for 23 years. Consider also that Hasan’s case will be complex, with mental issues dominating much of the proceeding (not to mention the damn-near impossible task for finding an impartial jury). Even if sentenced to death, Hasan will likely equal (and probably surpass) the 23 years of Gray’s never-ending appellate process.

Knowing this, go find something constructive to do with your time. Read a book, hang-out with the kids, volunteer in your community, or work a little extra at your job. Stop waiting for the blood-letting. Go make a difference.

For those of you who think the death penalty in this case will do some good, think again. Only two things can come from this. Disappointment and death.

Beware the Technological Terror You’ve Created

I love gadgets. I freely admit that.

As a kid, I suffered through life in rural Kansas where my choice of TV stations were CBS, NBC, and PBS (later, we got an ABC affiliate, and the local community rejoiced). If we changed between CBS and NBC, we had to adjust the rabbit ears and avoid standing to the right of the TV. There was regularity to our TV watching. Every Saturday at 7PM after dinner, we’d all sit down and watch “Hee Haw.” Coming home from school, I could always count on “Scooby Doo” (The non-Scrappy ones. Scrappy pisses me off.) and “Happy Days.” Tuesdays, I always planned for the 7PM showing of “Knight Rider.”

TV was planned then. When nothing but crap was broadcast, you found other stuff to do (we didn’t get a VCR until I was in late high school). Normally, the other activities were moderately productive or engaging, at least. Now, thousands of entertaining shows are available to me on demand–on a device I carry with me all the time. It is a constant potential distraction. The benefits of convenience are balanced by the constant threat of poor productivity.

Technology seeps into every aspect of life and profession. In law, we’ve seen plenty of this. Lawyers jump at any chance to get a technological edge. Many purchase new doo-dads and resolve to somehow integrate their functions into practice. Although, I think the practice should dictate what devices are obtained to make life a little easier. Call me crazy.

I’m sure every tech device has been somehow shoehorned into a law practice by an enterprising young attorney. Likely, someone discovered how to center their practice around the first generation iPod, the PSP, and the Epilady. It’s like Rule 34, only for tech in law practice. If there has been a tech device invented, someone claims to use it as the cornerstone of law practice. It may not work well, but they are jazzed at the thought of having the most tech savvy office in town.

Others are so enthused (or so desperate) by tech that they write whole books about it. Social media, using iPads, Twitter, cloud computing (whatever the hell that is), and apps have all been treated to whole shelves of books dedicated to showing how they are the future of law practice. If you’re looking to make the ABA (I am not a member) gush all over you, just write a book about some tech-squirrely-thingie. I’ve never bought one of these books, but I’ve paged through a few. They are an excruciating read. In one night, I could write a more interesting tome about how to harvest and catalog dingleberries.

You can choose to have a tech-centric practice, but, if you do, be prepared for a short drop and sudden stop. When it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.
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Not Glamorous, But We Still Love You, Ken

Ken at Popehat had a highly-anticipated drunk fest (AKA CLE Conference) interrupted by the ill-timed arrest of a client by the FBI (despite previously offering to surrender upon indictment).

Ours is not a glamorous area of the law, but it is never without interesting moments. For those of you who judge the life of a CDL through movies, please read his story.

We at MU still adore Ken–even though he shaves with women’s razors.