Monday, April 16, 2012

Maybe He's Just Not That Into You. When the Prosecutor Doesn't Like You.

Try Changing Your Cologne
I recently caught up with an old law school friend who was lamenting that a particular Superior Court prosecutor did not like him very much.  No matter how hard he tried, his clients seemed to constantly get bad pretrial offers. "The guy is a jerk" he blasted. "He hates me."  My friend sounded like a dejected elementary school student who was convinced his teacher was out to get him. He ranted about how he was always sitting around in court for hours waiting for his case to be called. For some reason, his case always seemed to end up at the bottom of the pile.  "That prosecutor is on a power trip.  They all are. You know what I'm talking about right?"


I disagreed with him.  (Editor's note: If any of our fine Connecticut State prosecutors happen to be reading this, I consider the state's attorney's office in Connecticut among the...nay....the finest in the nation). In all seriousness, I thought the particular prosecutor he complained about was tough, but always pretty fair. “Maybe he’s just not that into you.” I reasoned.  "Have you considered changing your cologne?"


Olfactory issues aside, my interest was piqued in how he handled himself in court. I volunteered to shadow him on a day we both had criminal matters in a courthouse outside Hartford County. We were both making straightforward continuance requests in our cases. Nothing complicated. As the day progressed, it would not take me long to deduce the error of his ways. It soon dawned on me that it had nothing to do with his ability as a lawyer.  It was elementary, dear Watson. Simply stated, the guy was a complete jackass. For the purpose of our story, let’s call him Richard.


Our journey began at the courthouse entrance. Entering the grand structure, Richard and I made use of the special “VIP” access many lawyers enjoy at some local state court houses.  If you are not familiar with this practice, attorneys are given the courtesy to jump the line or enter the court through a separate attorney entrance. It always makes me feel like Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" as he is being led through the kitchen of the Copacabana to his front row table. Sometimes, I feel like I should be tipping a doorman.  Unfortunately, a visibly pregnant woman did not realize we were "made men" and she started to complain that we were cutting the line. Richard's response to her was “you should have gone to law school, lady." I let the poor woman go ahead of me and pretended not to know Mr. Entitlement.


Of course, King Richard was in a rush and decided to focus his charm on someone else. He started giving a hard time to the poor court marshal manning the metal detector. “I don’t have all day.” The court marshal shared a disapproving glance with me and then proceeded to examine Richard as if he was the offspring of Osama Bin Laden and Bill Buckner. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Richard taking off his shoes, belt, and cufflinks. While he was standing in his socks emptying the coins out of his pockets, I entered through a separate detector. I greeted the marshal by name.  Despite being there almost everyday, Richard never bothered to learn it.  “ Go right ahead Adrian” was the reply. As I walked through, it appeared Richard was getting a full body cavity search that put the current stringent TSA searches to shame.


Our next step was to proceed to the courtroom. The procedure was to first obtain your client's file from the marshal and then to stand in line to see the next available prosecutor. Richard gave his client’s name to the marshal with the suggestion that the retired cop "pick up the pace." The marshal told him to wait a moment and proceeded to instead hand me my files. "How's the wife?" he asked.  "Great." I thanked him by name and proceeded to the state’s attorney where I asked for a  continuance so that I could review a videotape that had just been made available. “What date would you like counselor?”


It was now Richard’s turn.  Upset that it took a bit longer to find, Richard threw his file on the prosecutor's desk.  It landed with a thud as Richard started making demands. “Listen, I have another matter I need to get to. Just give me a new date.” Without raising his head, the prosecutor's face began transforming into the spitting image of Clint Eastwood.  His eyes began to squint as he chomped down on the dangling Bic pen in his mouth. It resembled a well chewed cigar.  I could have sworn I heard the haunting whistles of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.


“Counselor, do you have your appearance form as required by the Connecticut practice book?” he asked with the low gravely voice of a weather beaten cowboy. "Seriously?"  With a huff,  Richard got out of line and hastily prepared the pink form. When he returned, another lawyer was already speaking to the prosecutor. “I was here first” he stammered. The prosecutor looked up at Richard and admonished him to wait his turn. Richard made his second pass. “Counselor, do you have an additional copy of the appearance for the clerk as required by the Connecticut practice book. Well do you?......punk" (Editors note:  OK so the prosecutor did not actually call him a punk and I do realize that line comes from a completely different Eastwood film. )  "Come on!" he grumbled.  Richard returned with the additional form and was told again to stand in line.  He finally made it back to the prosecutor's table.  "It looks like we are going to have to put your continuance request on the record. You’ll have to wait for the judge. Unfortunately,  he's running a little late today.” I smiled at Richard and told him I would catch up with him at high noon.


Richard’s unfortunate court demeanor reminded me of a guy named Billy Zabka. From Back to School to the Karate Kid, Billy was the actor that appeared to play the consumate bully in virtually every teen movie produced in the 80s. Although the actor was a nice guy in real life, the parts he played gave the impression that he was a jerk. It's the same reason actors playing soap opera villains get slapped in the street by angry housewives. Richard's act fit the same mold. Truth be told. Richard is actually a good guy. Although I would never let him date my sister, I considered him to be a pretty decent human being. Unfortunately, he has this odd notion that, as an attorney, he must appear as an aggresive blowhard to get an "edge".


From the moment he enters the court house, Richard is rude to everyone from the marshals to the court clerks.  He acts as everyone is beneath him.  He comes off very aggressive. While there is a time and a place for being aggressive and you should advocate fiercely for your client, this doesn't excuse you from being a decent human being.  You would be surprised how far a little civility will get you.  In any event, I think Richard picked up the obnoxious trait from his dear old mother (And I will surely suffer for this comment). His mother is the type of person that yells at waiters thinking it will lead to better service. She doesn't realize that the waiter is probably spitting in her food.


What Richard failed to realize was that courthouses can be pretty tight knit. Marshals talk to prosecutors. Clerks talk to judges. People tend to notice how you treat people. Pretty soon, you have a reputation for being a mean spirited bully. It is a reputation you do not want to have. Clerks hold the key to scheduling matters on busy dockets. Court marshals have the ability to usher you in the court faster when you are running late. Secretaries have the judge's ear for the better part of the day. Is it really a good idea to piss these people off? Besides, didn't you learn anything from 1980s cinema? The bully never wins.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a real jerk. I'm surprised you never noticed this kind of behavior outside of court, these kind of attitudes usually spillover.

Anonymous said...

Well said, all it takes to be treated well is to treat others the way you want to be treated. I hope the dude took your advice.

Anonymous said...

Here's what's sad: people have to be TOLD these things. Honey v. vinegar, etc. I comfort myself with the thought that the "Richards" of the world have to live unhappy lives, soaking in their own bile. They also give us courthouse regulars something to talk about.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it is hard to be nice to guards and clerks who are bullies first. I notice many think they are little kings of their kingdom, I am afraid it is hard for me to hide my hatred of the clerk who screams at my paralegal to hurry up, or the guard who laughs at my mentally retarded client.

Afraid I am often a "dick" to these people.

M. Sugar said...

Your have a witty way of getting a serious point across. I enjoy reading your post. I completely agree with you about "Dick". I have one for you. What do you do when you are the former prosecutor (not to boast , but well liked by most, Judges, fellow prosecutors and Defense attorneys); suddenly after leaving for the darker side-criminal defense you can't find a friendly face in your old stomping ground.In the beginning all was great, until I started winning most of my jury trials. I was their lead attoney. I live in the corrupt state of Louisiana and most of what you have heard is true. I can beat them at trial if I have anything to hang my hat on, but the preliminary stages are becoming brutal. Fortunately this is but one of a dozen or so Parishes where I practice. Am I hindering my clients? The current head DA makes my days miserable. Ultimately my clients receive a favorable outcome--so far. At what point do I stop taking cases in this Parish (1/4 of my revenue) b/c the DA's hostility towards me often prolongs jail time for clients or keeps them waiting all day, or until the Judge intervenes.
Any advice? I value your opinion.
Thank you for your nice comment on legalnewsandmommyviews.typepad.com amd for adding me to your blogroll

Seattle DUI Defense Attorney said...

Well said but I also wonder that you have never experienced such behavior
outside the court.

class action lawyer said...

The funny thing is, I can relate to your experiences. I know a "Richard" like prosecutor too. Any chance that we are referring to the same guy?

dog bite attorney los angeles said...

Don't worry about him. He will definitely get what he deserves. As the proverb says: “What goes around comes around”.

Anonymous said...

Awesom post. You hit the nail on the head!

-Your favorite neighborhood State's Attorney

wites and kapetan said...

It is really important to treat everybody with respect wherever you go. Acting like a bully will make life a lot harder for you.

Anne Roberts said...

I hope for his sake that "Richard" gets to read this post. Nicely done!

Anonymous said...

I think the lesson we can all learn here is don't be a Dick

Anonymous said...

In an earlier life, I was a welfare caseworker. It's odd how many welfare clients act this way. It's all too often their life strategy. Their lives are awful. And they think acting like jerks will improve their lot. What goes around does indeed come around!

Durham DWI Lawyer said...

It is has been my humble opinion that being an attorney is a balance between being personable and knowing when to stand your ground politely. I am a firm believer that being kind, respectful and polite will get you pretty much everything you want and then some. In Durham, North Carolina, DA's can be especially difficult if you give them a reason. Particularly with certain charges, like DWI.

Victor Deloach said...

I think it is unprofessional for lawyers to be acting like brats or bullies. One of the best lesson I've learned in law school is to be ethical in every person I meet in and out of courtrooms(even opposing sides).

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criminal lawyer los angeles said...

In courtrooms, I work as a professional citizen with a name prefix of "ATTY". I stand in court not to please everyone but to give facts about the case I handle.

Lena Harris said...

I met a brain injury lawyer Los Angeles once during my trip to California. I was impressed by his stories about professional ethics on courts. He even shared that in every workplace, no exception to courts, we meet people of different character.

semi truck accident lawyer said...

An important aspect of a lawyer's job is developing and managing relationships with clients. The client-lawyer relationship often begins with an intake interview where the lawyer gets to know the client personally, discovers the facts of the client's case, clarifies what the client wants to accomplish, shapes the client's expectations as to what actually can be accomplished, begins to develop various claims or defenses, and explains her or his fees to the client.

Melissa Heart said...

Most of you guys might disagree with my opinion, but the way I see it, this are actually the types of lawyer that can win cases in court. Yes, he may seem like a psycho, but you never know he might have the skill that wins cases. I once knew a plane crash attorney. He looked mentally unstable, but he was very intelligent and had a great view on things since he read a lot. What's the result? He won almost 95% of the cases he worked on.

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