In Part 73, Judge Mader explains why an expensive defense team can result in a longer trial. The Judge also offers an update on the case of a chronic drunk driver and details the essential role that a court clerk plays in daily courtroom operations.

You can find links to all installments of Inside the Robe here.

August 30

The aftermath of a giant bar brawl took up my morning. Uniquely, this was an upscale bar, neither the multiple victims nor the four defendants have criminal records, the victims suffered major injuries, and each defendant hired expensive and experienced criminal defense attorneys. The victims and the defendants had never met each other before the incident.

The preliminary hearing lasted for two days, with extensive cross-examination of the victims’ states of inebriation based upon bar bills dug up by the defense investigators. The defendants are out of custody and in no hurry to go to trial. Getting four expensive attorneys to coordinate their schedules to set a trial date is always difficult for the judge because each attorney will claim they have many trials lined up with in-custody clients. The law says “in-custody” cases must go first. All appearances in my court I expect will be lengthy because each attorney will insist on talking to show their fees were well-earned.

A trial involving multiple people fighting with each other is notoriously difficult for a prosecutor. Juries have trouble figuring out how a fight started, and the role each party played. Juries get impatient trying to parcel out responsibility, throw up their hands, and either end up hung, or vote “not guilty.” The aggressiveness of the defense attorneys will muddy up the evidence and confuse the jurors. No judge wants to preside over this type of trial. 

An update on two earlier cases:

Beginning May 9, I wrote of a trial about a defendant running from the police and hiding a gun. The police found a gun at the top of the stairway exactly where they saw the defendant run. In my trial, the jury hung in favor of not guilty, an inexplicable decision.

The case was just retried in another court. The trial judge came up to me at lunch today, and incredulously said, “You won’t believe what happened in my court to the case you tried first. The jury found the defendant not guilty! I can’t believe it! The officers were such good witnesses.”

How some juries analyze cases baffles me. Two judges believed the prosecution’s case was solid. However, nineteen out of twenty- four jurors disagreed with us. If a defense attorney suggests police misconduct, even with no evidence, some jurors will automatically vote not guilty.

In another matter that I wrote about on April 18, 22, and May 17, I sent the defendant, a middle-age, mild-mannered financial analyst, for a ninety-day diagnostic examination at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I wanted insight in order to figure out what to do with him. His drunk driving history was severe, including passing out in the fast lane of the freeway with his nine-year-old son in the car.

All three evaluators from the state prison system recommended that the defendant be sent to state prison and not be placed on probation. Probably I’ll follow their recommendation, but I am worried that when the defendant gets out of prison next year, he will have no more control over his impulses than he has today.

The defendant’s young son came to court with his parents today. Although they asked, I did not let the defendant’s son speak. I didn’t want to hear a young child plead to me to release his father. I addressed the son: “Your dad is in a predicament. Besides his alcohol problem, he made extremely bad choices to drive his car several times when he was under the influence of alcohol. He even drove drunk with you in the car with him. I understand you want to help your father, and, trust me, I would hope that my children would do the same for me. I’m trying to figure out the best possible way for your father to get better for you to enjoy a long life with him.”

I’m worried that the defendant still doesn’t get it. He is panicked about being in custody and desperately wants to be released to be with his son. As I described his drunk driving history, he stared angrily at me. Perhaps the hostility came from me informing his son about his father’s recklessness. I would feel better if the defendant felt as strongly about straightening himself out as he does about avoiding being locked up.

Unbelievably, a new driving-under-the-influence case is pending against the defendant in another part of the county. It happened just six months ago. I have sent for the other file to review it and wrap it up with the current case. I am leaning toward two years in state prison. With the defendant’s jail credits, he would have to serve a little over a calendar year. One year of forced sobriety in state prison, if that’s possible, might give him a start on figuring out how to live a sober life. And if his state prison experience is bad, it might give the defendant the impetus never to drink again. I hope that the defendant’s stay in prison is not punctuated by Pruno parties (fermented prunes manufactured into alcohol inside prison toilets).

August 31

While my permanent clerk is on vacation, a brand-new clerk has been assigned to my court. It is hard for anyone with experience to handle a felony criminal trial calendar, and even harder for someone who hasn’t done it before. On the first day, she stayed late into the evening, and the files were still unprocessed when I returned Tuesday morning.

It’s midweek and things are a mess. It’s critical to have a clerk who knows what they’re doing. Small tasks, like herding attorneys to get to court, are difficult for an insecure new clerk. Attorneys will take advantage and not show up until they feel like it. Polite pushiness is needed to properly run the court. For two hours this morning, we could not find the public defender assigned to our court.

Multitasking is a critical skill for all of us. A clerk needs to be able to answer phones, keep track of cases, input cases into computers, find missing files, all the while paying attention to what is happening among everyone in open court. Not everyone has that skill. Whether this clerk will develop it is unknown. Several veteran clerks have been watching the disasters pile up and have offered to help my overwhelmed clerk. Their loyalty is not to the new clerk but to my vacationing clerk, a longtime friend to all of the helpers. They don’t want him to return to a mess. 

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