Monday, September 29, 2014

It's Not About You

A lesson that I learned long ago, but which is easily forgotten, was brought back to me the other day. A young man I represent is charged with several very serious crimes. If convicted at trial, he faces the likelihood of spending most, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison. He just turned 19. The State has what appears to be substantial evidence. Last week, at the last moment, he balked at accepting a plea offer. It was not a remarkably generous plea offer, but it would have resulted in him getting out of prison while still being a few years younger than I am as I write this (and, contrary, to my son's opinion, I ain't old). The offer is now off the table. We go to trial next week.

My immediate reaction was a mixture of frustration and anger. Couldn't he see the choice he was making? Couldn't he see the logical, rational decision was to take the plea that I had fought long and hard to get? What am I going to do now? I'm going to get killed at trial. Several people came up to me afterward, all murmuring consoling phrases. After a bit, though, I stopped and thought about it. What the hell was I frustrated and angry about? This is not about me. It's about my client. He's made a choice. Whether I agree with it or not is no longer the point. He made it. And my job is to fight for him as hard as I possibly can. So there's no time to wallow about, criticizing my client's choices, bemoaning the task I have facing me. It's certainly  not the time to go through the motions, put in a perfunctory performance, knowing the realities of what may likely happen. If you do that, everyone will pat you on the back and say, "hey, you had nothing to work with".  Pardon the language: Bullshit. What it is time for is to focus on the fact that a young man has only me between him and perhaps a lifetime in prison. It's about him at this point, and it's my job to do everything I possibly can to help him.

So let's go. We're coming out, guns blazing. Every issue is going to be a fight, no matter what. No concessions, no quarter sought or given. Because I'm all he's got left.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hope Solo, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson: Same Thing, Only Different

By now I am sure you have heard (and seen) quite a bit about both the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations. Roger Goodell, The NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens have all performed like craven and inept buffoons in the Rice matter. The Minnesota Vikings' vacillations on Peterson would be comical if the topic were not so serious. But this is not a post about them. Nor is it about the ways a large part of our culture is premised on misogyny (another day, perhaps). Nor is it a discussion of the nature and scope of parental discipline (although, as a caveat, I will note that the protestations of those such as Sean Hannity, Charles Barkley, and others that "my mother/father beat me and I turned out fine" suffers not only from defects of logic, but from faulty premises).

No, this is about those situations in the NFL and the comparisons some are making to the situation of Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the Seattle Reign of the NWSL and, more importantly, for the U.S. Women's National Team, which is in the midst of preparations for the Women's World Cup next year. To say that Solo, who many (myself included) consider the greatest women's keeper of all time, is important to the U.S. team's chances is an understatement

But, there is a complication. Solo is a mercurial and volatile talent who, frankly, does not care one whit what others think of her, including her team. It is my opinion that this trait is part of what makes her great. She plays with an arrogance and swagger that intimidates opponents and seems to make her immune to big game pressure. But it often leads her to trouble off the field. There were allegations of domestic violence by her against her then-fiancee, now-husband, ex-NFL player Jerramy Stephens (who has his own demons). Nothing came of that incident and Solo did not pursue it. But earlier this year, Solo was charged with assaulting her half-sister and 17 year-old nephew at a birthday party at her house. There was alcohol involved (shocking, I know) and by all accounts it was quite a scene. Solo has plead not guilty and is awaiting trial. U.S. Soccer has allowed her to keep training and playing with the team while the legal situation plays out.

You are now hearing calls for Solo to be taken off the team and/or not be permitted to play, a la Rice and Peterson. There are cries of a "double standard". I even saw one particularly unhinged commenter state that the fact that Solo was being permitted to play and Rice and Peterson were not was evidence of a "leftist, feminist attack on the NFL".(Because nothing says free-market masculinity like beating women and children, am I right? But I digress.) But are the situations comparable? I would argue not. Not unless your position is that any athlete charged with any crime must sit until their legal situation is resolved. Yes, the alleged victims are family members of Solo's, so technically this falls under the heading of "domestic violence". I even heard one commentator, who I generally like, refer to it as "child abuse", since the nephew is 17. But this is not domestic violence, and it is not child abuse. The sister and nephew do not live with Solo. They are not financially dependent on her, and there are obviously not issues of emotional/romantic/sexual dependency.

Domestic violence and child abuse are real, they are far more prevalent than the public realizes, they are often covered-up, minimized, and rationalized, and they are a significant precursor to a startling percentage of the homicides and sexual assaults in the U.S. But it is the unique and intimate nature of those relationships that makes them so fraught with peril. Solo's situation is not the same. To call her situation "domestic violence" and "child abuse" is to cheapen those terms. Again, if your position is that any athlete facing any criminal charge should not be permitted to play, well, that's another discussion for another day. But don't try to sell the false equivalency of Hope Solo, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson

Monday, September 22, 2014

As Long As I Got My Suit and Tie.....

No, this is not a blog about the Justin Timberlake song ,as much as I think it's great (well, I could do without Jay-Z's part, but I quibble). It's about dressing--more specifically, dressing appropriately. If you know me, or have ready any of this blog, you know that I'm a criminal defense trial lawyer. So, a suit and tie is my normal dress. In a world of "business casual", criminal law is about the last bastion of "business formal". I prefer what I refer to as an "East Coast Big City" style--dark suit (sometimes pinstripe), nice dress shirt (color is not a bad thing, sometimes French cuffs, but never button-down with a suit), tie with some color and/or pattern (not regimental stripe, and silk not wool), silk pocket square (coordinates with, but does not "match" the tie), wingtips. When I first moved to the South, I saw lots of seersucker--sorry, not me. Also saw lots of blazers and khakis. For court? Nope. Again, not me.

But this is not really a fashion post either. What you wear and how you look MATTERS. Sorry, it does. Always has. Probably always will. When I walk into a courtroom, I am sending a message. To the judge, to the prosecutor, to the other lawyers in the room, and most importantly, to my client and the jury. I am here, I am ready, I am the big league. This is business. I am here to win and if you think you can beat me, think again. Should it matter? In a perfect world, perhaps not. Your intellect and brilliance should shine through. But, in case you hadn't noticed, the world is not perfect. And if you don't send the message with your appearance, many will never give your intellect and brilliance the chance to shine. Now don't get me wrong. You can look impeccable, and if you are unprepared the perfect knot in your tie won't help. But it is the setting on the table.

Now, this brings me to an interesting juncture. I am pretty far left politically. Not what you would think about a guy who just spent two paragraphs telling you about suits and ties and how important they are. Although (actually, I would contend because) I am quite far left, I am not a huge fan of President Obama. But I find a lot of the criticism of him by the far right fairly juvenile. There is one area where he has been criticized recently that I think does have some merit, and it is precisely this topic. When the situation between Russia and Ukraine was beginning to heat up earlier this year, there was a photo that the White House put out of the President speaking to Vladimir Putin from the Oval Office on a Saturday. It was characterized as a very serious call, and the President was warning of sanctions. He was wearing jeans and a button-down shirt with no tie. He appears at a lot of speeches and press conferences with no tie (now, I am not knocking the tan suit. It may not have been my style, but I thought it was fine). Sorry, that's a mistake. If you don't think those "optics" (the current word for it) matter, you're kidding yourself. As I said before, the message is "I am here, I am ready, I am the big league. This is business. I am here to win and if you think you can beat me, think again".

And on top of conveying a sense of seriousness and purpose, dressing nice has other benefits. Just ask ZZ Top: