Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections on jury duty - part 2

In CA, jurors are summoned to appear for a single day, which can end up being a single trial, no more frequently than once per year.

When people receive a jury summons, more than half try to find a way out of it. About 25% actually WANT to sit on a jury. The remaining folks will appear on the stated date and hope they are excused without being selected.

When my mother is subpoenaed and questioned, she states “handguns are purchased for no reason except to kill people.” This causes her to be excused from criminal trials most of the time. She has been selected to sit on a jury in several civil cases, though.

A friend works from home. When her children were little, she would use “child care” as a reason, and usually was excused. Once she wasn't excused and was unable to find a babysitter, so she showed up in court with two toddlers. She was excused.

On a recent day in X County, an attorney brought his 4yo son with him to counsel table.

Judge, teasing: “You need help on this case, counsel?”

Attorney: “My wife has jury duty today.”

Judge: “That's the best reason to see a child in my courtroom.”

On the left side of this blog are links giving experiences with jury duty.  Do you have any personal experience?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Murder with a Twist - Tracy Kiely [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library “new books” shelf

Description: The back cover tells us that Nic, the protagonist, is a former detective. Together with her husband Nigel and their newly adopted bullmastiff Skippy, Nic investigates the disappearance of Nigel's cousin's husband. I love the line on the back cover - “despite the fact that it would be better for everyone if he just stayed lost.” This exactly sums up the character of the man they're looking for, and asks the question of why does the family want to find him in the first place.

Plot: The book is a light, fun read and moves quickly, with short chapters [some only two pages, which I thought odd] and lots of humor. The storyline is sufficiently complicated to make for an interesting read, and includes plenty of suspects and motives. The end includes a satisfying twist, and although I managed to figure out most of it, the final resolution did keep me guessing until the end. The one negative I can say, is that at no time did I worry that Nic wouldn't solve the puzzle, or that her physical or emotional safety was at issue. That reduced the tension level quite a bit.

Characterization: The characters are reasonably well-developed, although not as much as they could have been. I wanted Nic to succeed, but I wasn't as invested in her success as I wanted to be, possibly because of the reduced tensions level, see plot above. I also wish the dog had been given a larger role.  A bullmastiff is a 100+ pound dog, and it would have been fun to see him with more of a role.

Setting: New York City. The descriptions were very good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: The line on the back cover – Includes cocktail recipes – is entirely false. There were no cocktail recipes included. The last name of the main character is Martini, the characters do some drinking, and a few scenes are set in a bar, but that's as close as it came.

Overall: a fun book. I would read more by this author.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reflections on jury duty - part 1

In the news this week - Donald Trump reported for jury duty.

I've been subpoenaed for jury duty several times. Usually, I will be “thanked and excused” because I'm an attorney, plus I was a law clerk at the Public Defender's office while in law school. However, twice I've sat on a jury. Both criminal cases, go figure.

First trial, residential burglary. I had no reservations in voting guilty.

Second trial, also residential burglary. Jury was 11 – 1 in favor of guilty. I was the holdout because I initially wasn't convinced the DA had proven the case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. We deliberated for over three hours, and I re-read the jury instructions several times. I was finally convinced that the DA had in fact proven her case. After the trial, I asked the DA why she didn't bounce me. She said I had an honest face. LOL that shows how little she knew!

Any of my readers have any interesting jury duty experiences?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why do people treat their foreclosed property so badly?

I represent several investors who purchase foreclosed properties.  The prior owners of these properties sometimes treat them VERY badly, presumably because they are angry that they can no longer afford the payments.

Some of the common problems are dirty swimming pools.

One of my clients drained an icky pool like this, and found a car under the water!

Quite a few properties have kitchen counters which appear to have met the business end of a sledgehammer.  Missing kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures are common.  One prior owner brought a garden hose inside and ruined the hardwood floors.

The worst story I think I've heard is one client who purchased a property in the desert near the end of the summer.  After the purchase, my client sent a property manager to investigate whether it was occupied, etc, and discovered that the prior owner had apparently abandoned the property several months earlier, probably near the beginning of the summer.  Before leaving, he had smeared yoghurt on all the walls and ceilings, then locked the doors and left.  The mold was so bad, pervasive throughout the entire structure, my client had to pretty much demolish the entire house and build a new one.

I don't understand the mentality of people who do this sort of thing.  Anyone have any ideas to enlighten me?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Know your conditions of probation BEFORE you enter your plea

You may have read a news article this past week about the unique sentencing decision by a judge in Texas.

A 21yo defendant pleaded guilty to assaulting his 19yo girlfriend's former boyfriend. The judge gave the defendant the option of (1) fifteen days in jail or (2) two years probation.

The defendant said he would have been okay with the 15 days in jail, but when he asked the judge if he could call his employer to let him know [and presumably to save his job], the judge declined to allow that.

Now, faced with that choice, I'm not surprised the defendant chose probation.

Then the judge added to the terms of probation – (1) write out a Bible verse 25 times every day, and (2) marry his girlfriend within 30 days.

Writing out a Bible verse is sufficiently problematic that unless the defendant agreed to do it, I'm sure this requirement would be easily overturned.

Requiring him to marry his girlfriend? The news article states that the judge asked the 19yo girlfriend, in open court, if she would agree with that. What's she supposed to do, in front of the judge, the attorneys, her boyfriend, and a courtroom full of people? Say “no”, thereby requiring her boyfriend to serve 15 days in jail and the high probability of losing his job?

So yes, these two young people were married at City Hall within the 30 days.

Now a looooooong time ago when I was in law school, I clerked part-time at the Y County Public Defender's office. And in all my months there, I can guarantee that our clients were fully informed of ALL of the terms of probation BEFORE they agreed to it. And the terms of probation were, oh, you know, actually RELEVANT to the charge, like anger management classes, obtain employment, stay away from drugs, etc. Never ONCE were our clients required to write Bible verses or get married.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Winning your traffic trial

I've been an attorney for over 20 years.  One thing I've definitely learned, is that even if your case is a 100% winner for you, you can still lose.  Judges make bad or weird rulings.  Witnesses don't answer questions the way they answered them at deposition or in your office before trial.  The courthouse burns down the day before trial.

 [Photo from Wikimedia]

Stuff happens.

The best you can do is be prepared.  So even though I had a winner case because, altho I was texting while driving, that was NOT the code section I was cited for violating [see last week's post], I still tried to contemplate everything that might happen --

1.  Officer wouldn't show up - This is the easiest result, because the ticket would be dismissed without me having to say anything.

2.  Officer would show up and tell the truth - If the officer testified that he saw me texting, I'd need to be sure I got him to admit I was not LISTENING or SPEAKING on the phone.  So I had a paper with proposed questions:  (1) Did you see the phone near my ear?  (2) Did you see me speaking into the phone?  (3)  Did I appear to be listening?  (4)  Did I nod or shake my head?  Questions like that, to show he did not see me LISTENING or SPEAKING on the phone.  If the officer was telling the truth, he would only be able to say he saw the phone in my lap and I was typing on it.  But it would be best if I also obtained his testimony that he did not see me LISTENING or SPEAKING on the phone.  I would have to be careful NOT to testify myself, just ask him questions on cross examination.  If I admitted to texting while driving, sometimes judges will find traffic defendants guilty even if the infraction is NOT the one indicated on the ticket.  I made myself notes, and printed the People v Spriggs case which states the code section written on the ticket was ONLY for speaking and listening.

3.  Officer would show up and lie - This happens more often than I'm comfortable with.  So if the officer lied, the worst lie would be that he testifies he saw me listening or speaking on my cell phone.  I would have to testify that (1) I only have one cell phone, (2) here's a copy of my phone bill, and (3) it accurately reflects that I did not MAKE or RECEIVE a phone call during the relevant time and for about an hour before that time.  I dug out my phone bill and discovered I had not made or received any call since the day before, more than 12 hours previously.  That worked.  I made a copy of the bill to present to the court.  I made myself notes on what I could say and NOT say while I was testifying.

I arrived to court early, with my phone bill and notes and copies of the case and the code sections.  I herded into the courtroom with all the other traffic defendants, none of whom really wanted to be there.  The lady I ended up seated next to, had a huge book with her, it must have been 3-4 inches thick.  She had way more patience to slog thru a book than I had.

The officers all entered the courtroom and sat in the jury box.

Each of the defendants were called in alphabetical order.  My name is in the back half of the alphabet, so I had the privilege of watching the procedure, which I've seen before because for three years I was a temporary judge in X County and I presided over quite a few traffic trials.  Oddly, each court in X County conducted its traffic cases in its own way.

The clerk called each name.  If the defendant was not present, bail was forfeited for the failure to appear.

If the defendant was present and the officer was not present, the case was dismissed.  Bail would be refunded by mail in 8-10 weeks.

If the defendant was present and the officer was present, the clerk asked the defendant if s/he wanted to change the plea to traffic school, or speak with the officer.  Many defendants wanted to change to traffic school.  Some wanted to speak with the officer, which is what I do when I'm in court in attorney mode representing a defendant.  I try to plea down to a non-point offense, which the officer agrees to about 80% of the time.  But I didn't want to do that today, because a cell-phone violation is NOT a point offense in the first place, and I had a pretty good case anyway.

If the defendant wanted to go to trial, the case was called for trial once the roll call was completed.  This is the stack my case would go to, if my officer appeared.

I was raring to go.  I'd gone thru the potential trial several times over the preceding few days, trying to anticipate everything that might happen.

My name was called.  I stood.

Clerk:  Your officer is not present.  Your case is dismissed.

Oddly, I was somewhat disappointed.  It was kind of a let-down that I didn't get to fight the ticket.  My husband told me later that he thought the officer probably realized he wrote the wrong code section on the ticket.  He didn't appear so he wouldn't be embarrassed.  If that's true, that would mean he was an honest cop who would have told the truth.

At least there's that.

Stuff happens.

Here's more on how to fight a traffic ticket

How to act at a traffic stop