THE KIND OF PERSON

I wonder what the judges think when they hear the same private attorney give the same canned speech about how his client is “not the kind of person” we typically see in court. This client is different. Not like a criminal at all. Would never be expected to commit a crime. Never! Week after week, these unique non-criminal individuals take their seat in the defendant’s chair in the unlikely shape of a white, educated, middle-class man, usually a family father. A homeowner. A dog walker. A decent sort of fellow, all around. Not who we (the public) would expect to beat his partner or drive drunk. And so this attorney feels justified in asking the judge to set his client apart and give him, well, special treatment at sentencing. Because he is the kind of person who expects and deserves it, and he is paying through the nose for it. Specifically and coincidentally, across the board:

“This defendant, Your Honor, is a very special person, whom I am pleased to present to You today. He extremely remorseful for his actions. He realizes that he used poor judgment and made a mistake, and he is eager to pay for it and put it behind him. This situation was truly eye-opening for him, Your Honor. It was a wake-up call. It has had an extreme impact on him and his family. They were truly shocked – it was so out of character! Let me introduce him briefly, as I know the Court’s time is limited:”

(Here comes a spiel about his job, his home, his volunteer activities and even some hobbies. He may do some woodcarving, or enjoy long walks in the mountains. He may pitch in with money or time at the children’s school (always managing to have more than one child) and if he doesn’t play an instrument, he is sporty, and likely to enjoy pickup games of (fill in sport) at his local gym or park. He is active in professional organizations, has a lot of responsibility of work, and it is vital to his family that he can keep on his career path, as he is a breadwinner of some merit. He is a pillar of the community. Any character-building challenge he faces such as chronic high blood pressure, male pattern baldness, struggles with the sedentary nature of his job, or a dependent mother-in-law may be inserted here.)

“I have truly enjoyed getting to know this defendant during the course of our work together on this case, Your Honor. He has been a real pleasure to work with. He has shown up for every appointment on time. He has never missed a court appearance. He was prompt in getting his evaluation completed, and it shows that he needs minimal treatment, which he has already completed. He has taken this case very seriously.

“This defendant, Your Honor, is stepping up and taking full responsibility today, rather than fighting the case and going to trial. He brought me on board the very day after the incident. Given all the circumstances, the prosecutor has agreed to reduce the charges in exchange for my client’s guilty plea, and I ask that you accept the plea as it is written, particularly as to the joint sentencing recommendation. It was heavily negotiated and is agreed upon by all parties.

“This truly was a one-off, Your Honor. Without attempting to minimize anything, because my client is truly remorseful and has learned an important lesson here, this defendant is not the kind of person you typically see in your court. He is as surprised as anyone, and I feel confident in stating that You will not see him in your courtroom again. In fact, I feel very confident in stating this!” (At this point, the attorney nods at his client, and the client nods back).

“In considering the sentence, Your Honor, I wish to point out that my client has already faced severe consequences from this case. (Fill in the blank for the “he has been punished enough” justification – an angry spouse, a boss who found out, a suspended license, a no-contact order, fines and fees, a night in jail, having alcohol monitoring, or an evaluation and treatment). He is very embarrassed about what happened and he has already taken the steps he needs to make sure it never happens again. So we respectfully request that You take this into consideration.”

Ironically, the whole canned speech is made mostly to convince the paying client himself that he is getting a special deal. The courts where I work do not give any reductions in the charge or lower sentences, let alone free rides, to drunk drivers or domestic violence aggressors simply because they can afford a private attorney. There are state-mandated sentencing grids with set minimums and specific consequences across the board, and required monitoring and treatment. There are victim’s advocates involved. So the private lawyers are simply getting the same offers that the public defenders do, with a lot more fanfare. But private attorneys need to set themselves (and their clients) apart in order to to earn their keep.

I long for the day when one of these private attorneys breaks out of his role and refreshes the court with something sincere, along the following lines:

“In closing, by virtue of being able to hire me, a private attorney, my client is de facto special. He is not the kind of person to commit a crime and face the usual punishment for it. No, he is the kind of person who has likely gone through his whole life with his parents, teachers, and bosses smoothing his path and lightening his consequences, just as I endeavor to do today. It would be unfair now to suddenly treat him like everybody else in the courtroom. Therefore, even though I have simply gotten him the same deal that public defenders are offered for their indigent clients, let us close with a flourish and flare that make me look like I am not the kind of lawyer whose clients face the full consequences of their actions. Because that would hurt my client’s feelings and make him feel unsafe in his cushioned, protected world. And I was specifically hired to keep him feeling safe and entitled as he faces the heavy hand of the law, and the legal consequences of his actions, perhaps for the first time in his life. Thank you, Your Honor.”