WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL RICHARD E GERSTEIN JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG. THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED TO JUSTICE BUILDING RUMOR, HUMOR, AND A DISCUSSION ABOUT AND BETWEEN THE JUDGES, LAWYERS AND THE DEDICATED SUPPORT STAFF, CLERKS, COURT REPORTERS, AND CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS WHO LABOR IN THE WORLD OF MIAMI'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE. POST YOUR COMMENTS, OR SEND RUMPOLE A PRIVATE EMAIL AT HOWARDROARK21@GMAIL.COM

Sunday, February 24, 2008

REPORT FROM THE FRONT LINES

Hi Rump. We are a State Attorney And a Public Defender and we decided to take you up on your offer to write something for Sunday.

Each of us feels, for different reasons that we cannot reveal our identity. On the PD side, there is a culture of being against “sleeping with the enemy” (not that we’re sleeping together) and the PD here feels s/he will have the friendship held against him/her.

On the Prosecutor side of things, the fear is much worse. There is no outspoken rule against fraternization with the other side, but as we have seen this past year, prosecutors have been fired for less.

There is as you have written, "a palpable sense of fear" in the hallways of the State Attorneys Office. If you are content to sell your soul, if not your ideals, and act as an unreasonable, unfeeling automaton, then you can do just fine here at the SAO. Make unreasonable offers, refuse to compromise, don’t listen to reason or sympathy, or the particular facts of any case that might necessitate a lesser plea offer, and you will not run afoul of the administration and the myriad of “chiefs” that sit above you. They just wind me up, send me to court, and I parrot what has been written down that my supervisors have approved. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what discretion is as a prosecutor, since I have none.

And the psychological toll this takes on a person is devastating. If you are so inclined to use your legal skills to create a path of destruction on the lives of people who might otherwise deserve some sympathy , then you sleep well at night. If however, you have a conscience, then things get a bit rough.

Before the ASA here signs off, I want to highlight something that was reported in your (Rumpole’s) beloved NY Times on Saturday.
40 years ago, Joseph Pannell was young black teenager in Chicago. Confronted on the way to school by a white police officer, Pannell pulled a gun and shot him in the arm. Officer Terrence Knox was wounded and suffered permanent damage to his right arm. Pannell took off and fled to Canada, where for the last 40 years he has lead an upstanding and law abiding life as a husband, father, and librarian.

Pannell returned to Chicago and pled guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated battery in exchange for 30 days jail, 2 years probation, and a $250,000.00 donation to a charity that benefits the families of wounded police officers in Chicago. This extraordinary deal was obtained because reasonable people were able to look at Pannell’s life on the whole, and reward him for the way he lived his life.

Now I am not saying my office might not have done the same thing. I am way too low on the totem pole to have any input into a decision like that.

Here’s what struck me: Had Pannell shot an officer in Miami today, and been caught, he would have been prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to a mandatory life in prison. That is what troubles me. We have no ability (and this is a criticism of the criminal justice system, not my office) to try and look beyond the circumstances of a crime and see what is fueling it. There is limited discretion beyond warehousing people for decades. The way things are progressing in this state, by the time I am ready to retire, DUI will have a ten year minimum mandatory. I just don't have the stomach to continue sending young black men to prison for decades. When my committment is up, I am outta here. I don't know where I'll work next, but I can promise you this: I will work at a law firm that allows me input and where I feel my knowledge and experience are worth something.

Ok, I’ve said my piece. Help me with the link Rump- the Times Article is
HERE


OK Rump- the PD here. There is no question my office treats me better than my counterpart. I am better paid, and I have more discretion. However, beneath the surface, there are tensions here as well. Many of us view the coronation of Carlos Martinez as a continuation of policies that we think have resulted in a bloated and top heavy office. Beyond the silliness of this blog, many of us were really hoping Bill Barzee was going to run.
We have some great experienced lawyers who are out there every day helping us. Oliver Morales comes to mind immediately. I think my chief complaint is the emphasis on trying cases. A trial is not always the best thing for a client, and there is a tension here between your career and your client. The best of us negotiate that tension very well and settle the cases that need settling, and try the cases that need to be tried. However, not all of us do that very well, and sometimes the clients suffer for it.

Well Rumpole, that’s all we have for you now. Thanks for the opportunity.

Just call us Perry and Mason.

26 comments:

au bon pain regular said...

Wow! That will have people talking monday morning.

Anonymous said...

I think the comment about Chumbley having to go, from the last thread is a bit unfair. First off the play on his name makes him sound silly but Chumbley is far from silly. Out of the four delinquency judges there, while there are two that have more time and experience in, I think Chumbley actually takes the law quite seriously and applies it equally and fairly to both sides, a characteristic which makes him a lot more thoughtful and thorough than his counterparts. In the event of an ambiguity, that is resolved in favor of a respondent. I don't necessarily always agree with his decisions, but reasonable minds can differ. All in all, respondents appearing before him can be assured he is vigilant about protecting their rights and making sure they receive a fair consideration.

Therefore, I think it would be a loss to the bench to lose him.

Anonymous said...

DESERVES A REPORT HERE CONSIDERING DENISE WAS SLAMMED BY AN IDIOT:

Anonymous said...
FYI, from someone who knows her...she's smart, she's honest and she's ethical. Her husband is ALSO hispanic (what? assuming the last name is Italian? tsk tsk). He's Uruguayan, to be specific. The change may have been strategic, but when you are running in an election, you must seek out the weakest opponent. (i.e., the only other one who has been up for re-election AND LOST!!!) Judicial candidates are non-partisan and don't speak on the issues; it boils down to name recognition. She was Martinez for most of her life and it is as much a part of her as her married name. It's only an issue b/c she's a woman and married. If she were a man, this conversation wouldn't be happening.

It's easy to make assumptions when you don't know someone...

Funny how no one comments on "John Doe" candidate being a member of CABA, FAWL, Wilkie Ferguson Bar Association, etc. etc.

Saturday, February 23, 2008 10:31:00 PM

Anonymous said...

B.S. As a former ASA that did not tote the line, I cannot disagree more with the nitwit ASA that wrote in. There is pleanty of discretion to be found by ASAs that are not too lazy to put together factual reasons for the offer they want to make. Truth be told I was a bit lazy myself, but I was brave too and willing to do what I thought was right without going through the tedious process of getting approval.

The ASAs that tell you in court they cannot make an offer because of a lack of discretion are the ones that pick up the file the night before sounding and then again on the day of trial. That is county court bush leauge crap, when you get to felonies it takes work to make the right offers. If you didn't come to the State Attorney's Office prepared to work hard to make justice happen, then you should go on over to the PDs.

Anonymous said...

best blog of the new year

Anonymous said...

I agree, Captain's post was the best of the year. The only idiot is the one who can't see how poor her decision making was when she filed under two different names in only 5 days. The issue is her decision making and she made a really poor one. Keep it up Captain.

Anonymous said...

11:22

Agreed! Granted, pit ASAs do not have the discretion to make a decision in court, but if they would get off their asses and actually do some work, figure out what the holes are in the case, figure out what the case law is, and explain the situation to the "higher ups," they will convince whomever needs to be convinced why the case needs to be pled out to CTS rather than life in prison (i.e. new ASA, you can plea out a life min-man by amending the charges, and it has been). Most ASAs go to their chief and say this defendant should get CTS because the defense attorney says so. In reply, the chief asks what about the seriousness of the injury to the victim; what about the numerous priors that show up on NCIS (not those stupid CJIS rap sheets); what about the fact that the defendant recently had a case nolle prossed in domestic violence court because his girlfriend failed to show up in court. Rather than give any competent answers, the ASA just stares at the chief like a deer in headlights. Give the chief answers, and you'll get your discretion. Act like a dumbass, and you'll be treated like a dumbass.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mason (or Perry)...whichever is the PD,

Why don't you take some time from your busy day and sit down and talk to Carlos about his vision for the office instead of assuming that you already know what it is--you might be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Best thing about starting as a PD
is that from day one you make your
own decisions. This is what new
attorneys need in order to be successful later on down the line.
You are better off with a little trial and error. This allows one to grow as an attorney. As an ASA automaton you learn how to not mess up and get yourself fired.

Although one benefit of being an ASA rather than a PD is that you get to the "A" slot much quicker and can try armed robberies and occasionally even murders within the 3 year commitment. Whereas it took me 5 full years to get an "A" slot at the PD's.

Regarding the PD emphasis on trial statistics - this is simply a budget driven issue. The more trials the office does, the more budget they can ask for from Tallahassee. Same thing with the new deposition requirements. The more depositions taken, the more budget they can ask for from Tallahassee.

Welcome to Carlos Martinez land.
Now I like Carlos and at least I think he will have more of a presence than no-show Brummer, but he is going to micro-manage you people to death. How many depos have you done this week? How many clients have you visited at the jails? How many trials have you done this year? How many hours since you sat on the shitter?

Under Carlos it will continue to be a budget driven administration.
Just my thoughts hopefully I will
be proven wrong.

Christian Dunham

Anonymous said...

Rump, you couldn't have picked a worse "guest blogger." I'm an ASA, and everything in today's post is crap. The Dade SAO gives its ASAs loads of discretion. All the line ASAs have to do is learn how to utilize it. While there are a few unreasonable chiefs, in 80+ percent of felony divisions, the DC will never tell the line ASA to persist in offering state prison if the case can't be proven, or if there are real and legitimate mitigating circumstances.

The ASA you selected as guest blogger clearly has no business being an ASA as he seems to believe that putting people in prison is "ruining people's lives." No shit, Sherlock. Many of the defendants you are assigned to prosecute BELONG in prison. People who shoot, stab, rob, rape, and repeatedly burglarize do not deserve to remain out on the streets. If you don't like this basic fact of life, I urge you to fuck your three year commitment and quit. The office will be better off without you!

Rumpole said...

4:49- I didn't "pick" anyone, these people emailed me, anonymously. I see some of what s/he says- If I charged ten bucks for how many times a week an ASA tells me "Its not up to me. The victim wants the max and my chief says I have to follow along" I'd increase my income enough to buy a new boat. Plus- just how happy are things in the SAO when people are getting fired at christmas time for donating to charity? I hear lots and lots of ASAs tell me how unhappy they are and how low morale is. That being said, I agree with the comments that there is discretion if you know how to play the system right. So in the final analysis, I do not think Perry and Mason have done a bad job at all documenting problems. And with any problem, there are two sides to the story- and that is something that many prosecutors don't or refuse to see.

Emerson Spalding said...

Cases should be decided by juries on the merits. A PD philosophy that encourages the lawyers to try cases is good for society. If a jury hears the evidence and renders a verdict, justice is done.

If you want to plead out a case, if a defendant wants to admit guilt to a crime he committed, that's fine too. However, cases should be tried.

old guy said...

I know from long experience, unfortunatey sometimes because I did the leg work myself, that the lazy ASA has no dicretion; while the caring and industrious ones -- who can argue the merits of a decision with a supervisor, have all the discretion in the world to make things right.

The skilled ASA can separate the wheat from the chaff, and is given wide leeway in decision making. The timid and lazy just give me lip service and blame their supervisors - who usually are never even asked - for their own inability to make the tough call.

Your guest blogger must be a recruit from the sick, lame , and lazy brigade. When I go over their heads, I often get proof that they never even asked their chiefs if they could do the right thing.

1969 Mets said...

Rump, for reasons not relevant to this blog, we have been forced off a local NY Mets 1969 blog. Is is OK if we just hang out here for a while?

Fake Don Clendennon
Fake Tommy Agee
Fake Jerry Grote

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think the reality of the situation is a combination of the situation of "no discretion automatons" and "discretion to those who reason for it". Such blanket assumptions don't fit the reality because there are some 20+ DC's around and then other types of chiefs around and the ASA's in the pits vary from the sharp to the dim witted.

There are some DC's who are afraid of their own shadow and who even if you give them the reasons, still won't approve the right result because they don't want to stick their neck out. There are other DC's who have the experience and the courage to help their ASA's obtain proper approvals for pleas that produce the right results.

I don't think many Career Criminal Chiefs are very helpful and they fall under the category of those who just max first and rarely offer the right deals unless there's something else going on that makes them want to sign off on a deal.

Chief Assistants will do what they have to do, if the ASA can have all the right answers for the right questions.

So in short, I don't think you can really generalize too much but I think the extreme portraits painted here are the ends of the spectrum and that the truth lies in the gray in between.

Now that's not to say that the morale isn't low. I think the problem isn't lack of discretion but perhaps lack of training and/or experience. Whereas the plus side is you move up faster as someone pointed out, moving up faster doesn't mean you are more experienced. It means you are likely a less experienced person in a spot you may have been rushed into.

Not to mention, it would help to have a lot of more experienced support staff and decent offices with better furniture. And a raise.

Anonymous said...

You know who I feel sorry for? Me.

I have to appear in front of Jackie Scola this week.

Please shoot me.

Anonymous said...

Rump your asa writer is truly a moron. i worked at the sao for over 10 years and this guy has no idea what he is talking about. as others who have written in have said, the truth is you can get things approved at the sao if you work hard and actually know the facts of your case. when I supervised lawyers there, some would come to plea a case out and you knew that if they told you there was a problem there really was a problem. others, and there were lots of them, just were afraid of going to trial and/or losing. you could tell they were worthless because when they couldnt answer the obvious questions you knew that they barely looked at the file. others would come in and say that the judge is asking for X and "i dont want to lose my credibility with the judge". what these idiots didnt realize is that judges are like 5 year olds, if you keep giving them what they want they wont respect and will expect more and more.

sad thing is the becuase of the ever widening gap between private firms and the sao and the skyrocketing costs of living in miami, the SAO is attracting a much lower quality of applicant then they used to. miami used to be able to attract alot of applicants who might have gone to chicago or new york but came here because it was cheaper and those days are gone.

and lastly to this whining ASA, if you think that there is a law firm out there where they will pay you alot of money and let you excercise your discretion, you believe in the easter bunny and santa claus. you will realize that i am right when you finally quit your whining and leave the sao. you will then realize what having no discretion really is.

Anonymous said...

glad to know you feel that way now chris, considering you let carl young convince you into asking for a mistrial because he saw the court reporter talking to one of the cops on the case outside and out of the presence of the jury and not about the case. then after the mistrial wasn't granted (after an hour of interrogation not to mention me having to testify on my own record) he asked for a new reporter cause he thought i was bias... ha! remember that?? damn you made me angry that day. other than that i still thought you were a cool guy..


ex-court reporter.........

Anonymous said...

The discretion discussion is a ruse. True discretion is seeing a crap case, knowing that the victim and your supervisor are full of crap about the plea, and offering what you think is fair and not caring about the HERALD!

The discretion some of you are talking about is offering 364 instead of 366, get over yourselves.

Anonymous said...

The cases ASA's need discretion on are DV cases. Often the charges: armed burglary, or assault with a deadly weapon have huge guidelines, but the victim either doesn't want the defendant to serve 20 years because she realizes he doesn't deserve, or it will be bad for the kids; or, alternatively she wants him to get the death penalty, so she can have the kids. The ASA must have the sophistication to look through this morass. That's alot to ask of an unmarried 26 year old with little life experience.

Anonymous said...

Don't trust anyone under thirty!

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw that "don't trust anyone under 30" comment I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever read.

Now, the more I think about it - it's damn brilliant!

Anonymous said...

While I agree that discretion at the SAO is on the wane, it is true that those ASAs who truly analyze their cases--and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of a particular case--will get the discretion they deserve. Most of my DCs learned to trust me and, as long as I offered justification for what I wanted to do, would do so. Unfortunately, there are a few hardasses there who don't give a shit about that......in such cases, the best thing to do is to try the case and lose it. That advice was given to me as an ASA, over a decade ago, and I'm sure it is valid today.

As for the PDs trying to take lots of cases to trial--it is fun to try cases and the only way to become a better trial lawyer is to try lots and lots of them. But listen to what your client wants. I remember, as a relatively new ex-ASA, having a case in which I was 90% sure I could get my client acquitted. But he was looking at at least 10 years if convicted, and I knew the judge (a very fair one) would probably give him more like 15 or 20 if he was convicted. The State offered probation. My client's wife had just had their first child, and he told me he couldn't fathom his daughter growing up without him. While he professed his innocence, he was offered a great deal and couldn't afford to spend a long stint in prison. So think about your client's wants and needs. The idea that you are "playing with someone else's money" when trying a case is pure bullshit.

And as for the poster who talked about lack of discretion at law firms--in many cases you are right. In many large (and not-so-large) firms everything you do will be reviewed and ripped apart by someone with more seniority than you. Yes, your office will be nicer. Yes, you will be making much more money. Yes, you will probably have more competent support staff. But keep in mind that everything you do--even drafting a one-page motion--will be reviewed.

Another former ASA said...

On the discretion topic: It is hard to know the facts of your case when you have 350 of them, and 20 set for trial at one time. That being said, the reason why the "higher ups" have to be such hard asses is because there are so many lazy ASAs would find it easier to plea out a garbase case (which is garbage in large part because the ASA was not at the office at all hours of the night and on weekends tracking down witnesses, reviewing the reports, travelling to crime scenes - all of which I and many other dedicated ASAs did regularly!) than to actually work up a case, figure out the strengths and weaknesses, and recommend a reasonable plea to their DC, backed up by reasson and explanation. Discretion is not granted along with the badge. It is earned, and so many do so little to earn it. Like life in general, you have a reputation. If you have a reputation as a hard worker who knows your cases, you will not even need to explain why you want to plea out a case to probation or CTS. If, on the other hand, you never have any explanation as to why you want to plea a 15 ymm case out to CTS, you will lose credibility and develop a bad reputation. No one will trust you and you will have no discretion. Quit whining, ASAs, quit reading this blog, and get back to work. Then, perhaps, you will earn some discretion. Otherwise, leave. Your job is too important to be occupied by a warm body.

Anonymous said...

Disinterested observer

WTF is CTS?

Anonymous said...

To the ASA who posted the leading comment. Get over your fear of "sleeping with the enemy." I sleep with the enemy every night and have been married to the enemy for quite some time. To insinuate that the State Attorney's Office would fire you over something like that is assanine. Grow some cojones will you!