All of the posts on Clews are open to comment. Some folks have had particularly interesting things to say. Of great interest to me was a remark made by a fellow who read my story about John Buettner-Janusch. The commenter was actually one of his students and offered a personal perspective on the professor. Click on the link to hear what he had to say.
Do feel free to remark on whatever moves you. Corrections are particularly helpful, and I appreciate your time.
L.A. NoirThere are two blogs that carry stories about Los Angeles and crime. One is 8763 Wonderland by Rodger Jacobs, which exposes “the underbelly of the L.A. terrain.” Another is The 1947project, “a daily recounting of historic true crime and offbeat human interest tales, each retold 58 years from the day they happened, often featuring visits to the crime scenes as they are today.” I particularly like that blog and the old stories it has to share, as you might suspect.
Now the two blogs have joined feeds, so you can get all your west coast crime news in one feed. They are:
RSS version (for blog readers) : http://app.feeddigest.com/digest3/MB0TAXN45L.rss
Web version (for bookmarking): http://app.feeddigest.com/digest3/MB0TAXN45L.html
Straying into the Realm of Opinion
I’ve generally avoided trying to show partisanship or express strong opinions on my blog here, fearing that it will get in the way of telling some good stories. But having spent a few weeks now delving into death penalty cases and sites and theory, I’m ever-so-slowly coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t work and shouldn’t be used. Not that I wouldn’t have pulled the switch myself on some of the pukes whose stories I’ve told... but is that always the issue? I don’t think so. I think the death penalty is a bad idea for two simple reasons: the lawyering in such cases generally does more to influence the outcome than the facts, while a lot of criminal defense attorneys are not good lawyers. Second, I wouldn’t trust a jury today to take out my trash. And that’s not hyperbole.
Don’t email me telling me that I’m wildly off track. It’s my opinion, I’m entitled to it. And you won’t convince me to change my mind that a lot of criminal defense attorneys are bad, bad lawyers.
Okay, there are notable exceptions. Mark Geragos is easily one of the best criminal defense attorneys practicing in the United States today, but even he could not save his most famous client, Scott Peterson, from the death penalty. I saw Geragos interviewed on Larry King a few months ago, and he candidly admitted that the case contained what was for Geragos an insurmountable fact: Laci Peterson’s body was recovered in the exact location of Scott’s fishing-expedition alibi. If it weren’t for that one fact, Geragos maintained, Scott Peterson would be free today. I don’t doubt it.
And Detroit-area lawyer Geoffrey Fieger is also one of the best trial lawyers (in my book, the best) practicing today. (And that has nothing to do with the fact that a few years ago, before I was married, I spotted him, or rather he spotted me, in a nice Italian restaurant, and he gave me a long look and one of those slow smiles, and if I hadn’t just read a profile of his wife in a local paper, I... well... (ahem) back to blogging.) But even the amazing Fieger, who is the master of the civil courtroom, who at one point had $20 million in civil judgments sitting up in the Court of Appeals of Michigan, who can wring a multi-million-dollar medical malpractice verdict even from the notoriously stingy juries of Oakland County, Michigan, even he could not save Dr. Jack Kevorkian or Nathaniel Abraham, his most famous criminal clients.
But lawyers like Geragos and Fieger are the exceptions to the rule that most criminal defense attorneys are not good lawyers. Why is that? For one thing, not many law students are attracted to criminal law. Put simply, criminal defense work does not (generally speaking) attract the best and brightest and in some cases attracts folks who have no business being lawyers in the first place. Don’t believe me? Do I need to attach links to stories of lawyers who fall asleep during a murder trial, for crying out loud, or, even more disgusting, sleep with their clients while the charges are pending?
Moreover, you have to deal with dirtbags, and it doesn’t pay very well. When I was in law school at the University of Detroit, my crim law prof told us right off the bat that there were three basic rules to criminal practice:
“One, get paid first. Two, get paid first. Three, get paid first. If the guy is convicted, he’ll blame it on you, and you’ll never get your fee. If he’s acquitted, well, he never did it to begin with, so he’ll wonder why on earth he has to pay you.”
If the private-pay work doesn’t pan out, there’s always the court-appointed work, but attorneys are not paid well for it. Many cases are paid out at a flat rate. Where is the incentive to dig for evidence and witnesses, to spend hours in preparation?
A lot of law students these days incur heavy debt to go to law school. I was lucky and got a lot of scholarships and walked out the door with a mere $20,000 in student loan debt, which it still took me a decade to repay. A good friend from law school ended up borrowing a hundred thousand dollars to pay for it. Who can afford to practice criminal law with that kind of debt hanging over your head?
But even if you set aside the issue of the quality of the representation and the low standards for court-appointed lawyers, there’s the juries to consider. A few years ago, many states started moving away from selecting potential jurors based on voter registrations and instead moved to a system of selection based on driver’s licenses. And what a difference that made to the quality of the jury pool. Needless to say, there’s a tremendous difference in the education and intelligence of the average driver’s license holder vs. the average registered voter. Felons who can’t register to vote can now appear on juries. People who aren’t informed enough to have enough of an opinion to cast a ballot now appear on juries. Ask lawyers who’ve been in practice long enough to witness the change and they’ll tell you that the quality of the average jury plummeted.
And when it comes to the problems associated with implementing the death penalty, the quality of the lawyers and the jurors are only two issues, and there’s no easy solution to these systemic challenges. So I wonder whether we aren’t all better served in foregoing the death penalty until the day these problems are addressed. Ha ha.