Good morning Rumpole and readers, with a criminal county court bench in flux (two judges- Bloom and Seff are out in the new year) there are troubling issues that are already bedeviling county court. These issues are reported after several weeks of witnessing most of these problems myself and with speaking with several long time county court practitioners
PROBLEM #1 EX PARTE COMMUNICATION:
Judges (and prosecutors who are being encouraged by Judges), are routinely engaging in ex parte communication with clients in an effort to clear their courtroom. Here's what happens: All judges are different in their ability to timely move their calendars, which usually are set every half hour. A solo practitioner may have to go to Judges Miranda and Krieger-Martin for a 9 am trial (both on the 5th floor) then race up to Newman and Bloom on 6 before trotting down to Schwartz on two. Meanwhile it is now 9:30 and the practitioner runs to Seraphin on 4 and waits in a long line until getting called at 10:15. In the meantime one or more of the 9:30 am cases that he or she hasn't gotten to yet has been dismissed. While the attorney is in another courtroom the judge in one of the 9:30 am cases tells the client to leave or the prosecutor does at the encouragement of the judge. The attorney runs back to that courtroom-can't find the client- calls him or her and the client says "the case was dismissed without you... why did I even need to hire a lawyer?" Now the lawyer has to explain that the case was dismissed because of the ten hours of work he or she did in getting the client a new license and then communicating that to the ASA before the trial was set or because the ASA agreed with the motion to suppress or dismiss that was filed, or for any other reason based on work the attorney did and the client didn't see.
Bottom line: Judges and prosecutors do attorney great harm when they start talking to their clients, even in a misguided belief that they are helping the client. It's also against the rules of ethics. So stop it.
PROBLEM # 2 : PTI: Basically the SAO and the courts have sold out to the PTI programs. Lets be clear about this - this was a decision based solely on money and not on anything else like a desire to help defendants. Defendants who get arrested are now receiving letters from people who are not attorneys basically telling them they don't need a lawyer to get their case dismissed. And these letters are sanctioned by prosecutors and Judges. Never mind the fact that a PTI disposition is now being used against clients in a whole host of situations, or that innocent people are being coerced to accept something other than vindication. It's not the existence of the PTI program. It's the way it is being marketed to clients before they have a chance to consult with an attorney: the marketing encourages the clients NOT to hire an attorney. If attorneys were allowed to first meet their clients and thoroughly discuss their history, the availability of PTI would be beneficial to all. Would you go to a surgeon without first getting tests and consulting with a diagnostician?
PROBLEM # 3 SLOM LOCKS THE DOORS.
This problem is mostly confined to Judge Slom and his totally intransigent and difficult bailiff. Basically, when Judge Slom covers for one of his Judges, there are times when he apparently wants to segregate the defendants by the calendar and only let the 9am defendants in the courtroom until he is finished with the 9am calendar. A couple of problems with this: First- this is the United States of America and any citizen has a right at almost any time to enter any court of law and observe. Except in Judge Slom's court. Second- to facilitate this segregation- the bailiff locks the door. Thus if an attorney is running from courtroom to courtroom and doesn't time it right- he or she is locked out of Judge Slom's courtroom while the client is inside. Third- Florida has a statute and procedure for closing a courtroom. It involves among other things notice to the media and a hearing on the attempt to conduct court business in private. To my knowledge Judge Slom is not following this procedure.
Additional issues: some Judges are overly influenced by Judge Slom from everything to case law interpretation to exactly how to run their courtrooms. Thus there is this new Slom inspired practice of playing a pre-recorded introduction to court several times throughout the morning, and usually doing it while several attorneys are waiting to dispose of cases.
That's it for now. And remember: There's gold in them there misdemeanors.
Rumpole says: Judges, ASAs, and criminal defense attorneys are invited to respond via comments or email which will be posted on the front of the blog unedited if they so request it.
We forward one urgent help wanted request:
"Help wanted. Professional sports team in Davie, Florida, needs one or more quarterbacks, preferably with experience. Inquire at Sun Life Stadium, attn: Tony Sparano."