Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keeping The Faith

I hope that someday soon I can write about pleasantries I encounter doing my job. As I have written before, the victories are too easily forgotten and the losses seem to take root in my spirit.

Today I had a client sentenced to 2 consecutive 31 year sentences. At 85%, that means just over 26 years each for a combined real time sentence of 52.5 years. My client is 35. This is most likely a life sentence.

I wrote a little about this case a year ago. I was hired just in time to stop the client from representing himself at a jury trial. This client maintained his innocence from the first second I met him. I didn't think he was lying. Further field work found much support for his innocence.

Prior to my appearance in this matter, the client had been difficult for the courtroom personnel and judge. It's never a good thing for a defendant to represent himself. But this guy is very principled. He was innocent. He wanted his trial. And he demanded it. The deputies told me that prior to my entry, he was difficult to deal with. Imagine if you were innocent but were sitting in the county jail with no bail. How agreeable would you be?

I walked in. Advised him to slow down. He allowed me to represent him. He took all of my advice regarding trial strategy. The client was charged with shooting 2 young men on the south side of Chicago. This was a very serious case with a considerable amount of potential prison exposure.

I was ready to try this case in 6 months, but the trial was delayed until July. It was my recommendation to take a bench trial. I was burned in April by a jury that didn't want to be there. The State's case was made up of entirely eye witness testimony from felons. I could tell from the police reports they were lying. And since my client was claiming actual innocence, they had to have been lying. My investigation of the case supported everything my client told me.

My analysis was that I felt it was better to trust an educated judge to see through a fictional story. My trial strategy was to pick apart the witness stories bit by bit. I did that. They all lied. They were all inconsistent with each other. I also put on a credible defense and the client testified brilliantly on his own behalf.

If I have an innocent client that can speak in complete sentences, I have no problem putting him on the stand. If he's telling the truth, the State will do no damage on cross. That was true in this case. But it wasn't enough. 

I wrote about the trial and the guilty verdict that still has me stunned to this day. Today my motion for a new trial was finally heard. In my argument for a new trial, I respectfully offered the judge erred in his credibility findings. I didn't rehash all of the inconsistencies and impeachments as I had in closing arguments. I didn't expect this judge to reverse himself. And he didn't. But I laid out a road map for the appellate attorney to follow.

My client told me that he had something he wanted to say to the judge before he was sentenced. I advised him not to say anything, but that ultimately it was his decision. And if he decided to speak, I would stand next to him in support.

Right on cue when asked if he had anything to say before being sentenced, my client pulled out 3 handwritten pages of legal pad paper and read a very well written argument that left me impressed on two accounts.

Keep in mind, I had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth. I had advised him not to insult the court or use profanity in any way. And he didn't. His argument, while largely a repetition of my own, was well organized and worded. I was impressed he kept his criticisms of the judge above the belt. I doubt I would be as composed.

At the end he told the judge again he's innocent and believes he will one day be vindicated. That was the second layer of impressiveness, his continued faith in the system.

He had and continues to have faith in a system that just sent him to prison for life. To me it seems naive. He was willing to be his own trial attorney because he believed his innocence would automatically prevail.

And from day 1 of my involvement in the case, he told me repeatedly he would not be convicted. His mind couldn't believe that a fictional story told by low-life, gangster felons would ever be enough to deprive him of his liberty.

If I am being honest, I too was naive. I didn't expect the State to prevail with this case either. If I had, I would have tried to negotiate a plea deal. But this case was going to trial from the minute he got indicted. He probably wouldn't have plead to a 1 year prison sentence because he would have to admit to something he didn't do.

If there is one thing this client said to me enough times to burn a trail in my memory it was "I didn't shoot these guys, Mark." He never called me Marcus. I don't like being called Mark but I never asked him not to. I wanted to get him out of jail so bad he could have called me Alice and I wouldn't have cared. We have that type of relationship.

But I was not blindly convinced of victory. If anything, the client has no idea just how much work I put into a case he felt he could easily win on his own. He just expected everything to work out since he is innocent. But I know that actual innocence isn't a winning defense in all cases.

I didn't expect an acquittal. I could never be so cocky. But I didn't expect a conviction either.  I was confident in this case and I would try it again tomorrow. I would do it for free. I would like nothing more than to hand deliver this man the justice that has eluded him.

It's bad enough when police skip around 4th Amendment protections and then lie about it. But to have an innocent client convicted like this, it's almost unbearable. It hurts.

The lead prosecutor on this case is an older woman who couldn't be more pleasant if she was my mother. But her problem is that she believed in her case and didn't smell the lies. I don't blame her. She didn't know what I know.

She never went to where the shooting happened and talked to anyone. Sometimes prosecutors are extremely sheltered and don't believe police misconduct occurs or that State witnesses lie. They often blindly believe in their case.

I sat her down and told her attorney to attorney what really happened and how my client ended up being framed. Her jaw almost hit the floor because she knew I was speaking the truth. It was obvious. To her credit, she appeared to be startled. But there was nothing either of us could do.

Most of what I told her couldn't be brought into court. Either the rules of evidence would keep it out or the additional witnesses wouldn't come to court. This case is a perfect example of what happens when people ignore crime and don't talk to police. I was lucky I got the 2 witnesses there that I did. Even though I had to hide them in a different courtroom because they feared retaliation. They didn't want it known they came to court and said anything.

After my client was sentenced and I filed the notice of appeal, the prosecutor and I walked out of the courtroom together. I thanked her for giving my client a fair trial. And she thanked me for being easy to work with, etc.

She still had a very troubled look on her face. I wonder if she will really believe my client is innocent. And if she does, if it will bother her that she convicted an innocent man as much as it bothers me that I took part in an innocent man being convicted.

But I have grown cynical. And my faith in the system is all but eroded. So far, this case is the pinnacle in my practice of everything that's wrong with the local criminal justice system. I am ashamed I played a role in a series of events that cost a man his freedom.

Somewhere there are 2 young girls that will never really know their father and a mother that will never spend another Christmas with her son.

Well, that is of course unless this whole mess gets corrected by a reviewing court. But to believe that requires more faith than I currently have.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Conduct Credit and Fuding a Prison System

In Illinois, the Department of Corrections answers directly to the governor. Thus, by and large, the prison system runs itself. They have the power to create and administer their own rules and procedures with very little oversight.

When I started in this business I was shocked to find out just how fast some people were being released from prison. It's not that I am into long prison sentences. I think there's too many non-violent offenders in prison. But as a citizen that didn't know any better, I was pretty amazed.

For a very long time, a 1 year prison sentence was in reality only 61 days. You could be home in less than 1 year when sentenced to 3 years. Therefore, a 1 year cop-out for a pistol or a little dope was pretty tolerable to defendants facing longer sentences. I have seen so many delivery and possession with intent to deliver cases (normally Class 1 felonies, carrying 4-15 years) reduced to Class 4 simple possession, which has a sentencing range of 1-3 years.

This is the type of deal making I often encounter. Deal making in criminal cases is not unique to Chicago. It's a nation-wide phenomena. Some criminal lawyers in other jurisdictions call a plea deal a settlement. I choose not to, saving the word settlement for civil cases. I call them negotiated plea deals. But it's the same thing. I really dislike a case that from day 1 is headed to a plea deal. But some cases are dogs and have to be dealt.

Typically a case is charged as a very high felony. In my opinion a lot of cases are overcharged, meaning the evidence supporting all elements of the charge is on the weak side. Or at least there's a lot of argument to be made. The State will often dangle the carrot of a reduced  charge in exchange for a plea of guilty. This keeps conviction rates high. The prison system full. And the adult probation department busy.

In other words, this system keeps a lot of people employed while largely preventing the unfortunate defendant from ever getting gainful, legal employment for the rest of their life. Talk about a circle of poverty. But that's for another post.

Earlier this year, a convicted felon who had benefited from the IDOC early release program committed some heinous crime while on parole. The press got wind of IDOC's program and a politically explosive story ran. Everyone ran for cover and the governor's office claimed they didn't know about it. Within a week, the person who ran IDOC resigned but everyone knew he was really sacked.

As part of the Illinois State Bar Association's Criminal Justice Committee, I have been asked to review proposed legislation and vote to oppose or support it. In the past 2 weeks, I have reviewed close to a dozen bills and have supported only a couple. Why? Well, they are largely political and designed to cover politician's asses, and thus a waste.

In the Illinois Criminal code, good conduct credit is described (see 730 ILCS 5/3-6). Even absent the IDOC's rapid release policy (which was not in the statute), most prison sentences are actually half the time given. We have this thing called Day for Day Credit, which means for every day of good conduct, an inmate gets a day knocked off his sentence. This is called good conduct credit. You can also get 60 days knocked off a sentence for earning a GED while in custody.

Here's an example of how this would calculate today: a defendant is sentenced to 2 years in prison for a non-violent crime. When he gets downstate they will immediately subtract the time he spent in the county jail. Let's say that was 6 months. Now the sentence is 18 months. Split that in half, and you're looking at 9 months of real time.

The more violent crimes are served at 85% of the sentence. And murders are 100%.

I never really wondered how IDOC landed on 61 days for a 1 year sentence. It does seem like a strange number since it's odd. But I never asked why it was 61 days. Last week, I might of found out why 61 was the magic number.

I have no source to prove what I was told, and I don't care enough to look for myself. However, it's food for thought. I was told for fiscal purposes, an inmate has to be in the penitentiary system for at least 61 days before IDOC is credited for having him incarcerated.

Credited by whom you might ask? You figure it out. But here are some shocking numbers.

At the close of 2009, IDOC had a prison population of about 45,000. In the same year, IDOC claims it spent $1.1 billion in operating costs. According to IDOC's 2009 Financial Impact Statement, it costs on average about $25,000 per year to keep an inmate incarcerated. This is big money.

Also in 2009, almost the same number of people were paroled as freshly locked up. That seems a bit odd to me. It's awfully convenient. And there's more people locked up for drugs than anything else (20.7%). Murder comes in second at just under 20% and sex crimes a distant 3rd at 10%.

In its October 2010 report to the Illinois legislature, IDOC expects to increase in population at a rate of 3% annually. Thus within 2 years, it's predicted IDOC will have 50,000 inmates. Assume the annual cost per inmate remains the same (it won't), that's an estimated annual budget of $1.25 billion. Compared to $1.1 billion, the increase seems negligible, but in reality it's an increase of $150 million.

I know throwing around numbers in the billions and millions is often hard to grasp. How much money is that? Here's a calculation you might understand. Let's assume you worked a full-time career job from age 25 to 65. That's 40 years.

Assume you have a high paying job and the salary is $150,000 a year for the first 10 years and then increases $25,000 per year every ten years. With these generous salary numbers you would earn $7.5 million before taxes over 40 years. Assume 25% taxes and you're left with $5.6 million. Your lifetime net income would be over 20 times less than the current IDOC annual budget.

It should be clear, Illinois spends a lot of taxpayer money keeping people in prison.

Compare these figures with the 2010 Illinois State Education budget. The 2010 budget is $11 billion with just over $3.5 billion of that coming from the Federal government. According to the Illinois Board of Education, the annual cost per student is just over $10,000.

Therefore, on an annual basis, the state of Illinois spends over 3 times per inmate than public school student. The number is really more staggering if you consider that the majority of public school funding is derived from the local tax base as opposed to state funds.

Only about 80% of Illinois public school students pass the 8th grade reading and math exams. The number plummets to just over 50% at the 11th grade level.

Am I the only one that sees a tremendous problem with these numbers?

Running prisons in the United States is big business. I think I might have written this before, but our country has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its incarcerated adults. Every 1 out of 4 adults locked up in the world is in a U.S. prison.

I think that spending tax payer money should end up bringing about a benefit to the tax payer. That's pretty simple. Ask yourself how you benefit from having so many people sitting in prison. The argument is that it makes society safer. For violent offenders, I agree with this argument. But I think the numbers would show nationwide, non-violent drug offenders make up 20-25% of state prison populations.

In my opinion, drug addiction is the real problem. Anti-drug laws are the reason drug addicts are in prison. Are the laws working? Absolutely not. They are making us spend more money in the long run. We don't need more police officers, we need less people addicted to drugs.

I wish I had the answer. I really do.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Critical View of Today's America

Yesterday was election day here in the United States. I haven't looked yet, but I don't think it went well for Democrats. I didn't vote myself. In a large way, I have given up on American government on both the State and Federal levels.

The Constitution was crafted from pure brilliance. It's an amazing document. But our current government has to be light years from what the framers could have ever imagined. How did a country founded with such noble intentions end up where it is today? I will give you the answer shortly.

In my opinion, the main problem with the current government is that it's corrupted. I am not necessarily talking about corrupt politicians, although there's plenty of those to go around. The American political system itself is corrupted because money can create, alter, or block legislation. It's that simple.

I believe that the majority of Americans that get into public service via elected government positions probably do want to help and serve. But it's almost impossible to get elected without money. And unless you're just rich, donations must be sought. No one with a large purse is going to give a candidate money blindly. Something has to be in it for them if this person is elected.

This type of quid pro quo has probably been going on in this country on some level since its creation. Currently, however, it's out of hand and should be stopped.

I almost completely stopped watching the news during the run up to this election. The political coverage was the same old thing day after day. Democrats blaming Republicans. And Republicans blaming Democrats. While all this finger pointing is going on and putting Americans to sleep, big business is behind the scenes manipulating the media while attempting to gain political strength on the hill. Business as usual.

How many new pieces of legislation at the Federal level in any given year actually have a positive effect on the average American? I doubt very many. Compare that to how many help the rich get richer, be it corporations or individuals. Probably more.

Who in Washington with any money to spend is lobbying congressmen for more drug abuse treatment centers? Who is lobbying for better schools? I am sure there are some out there writing letters and perhaps even gaining appointments with their local congressmen, but are they getting anywhere with no money to spend? Large amounts of money only go into lobbying if large amounts of money can reasonably be expected from the investment. That's common sense, right?

By the last paragraph you might dismiss me as a liberal that's just whining about yesterday. I don't normally discuss my political views broadly, but I will for purposes of this post.

Let me preface by saying that normally a person's political beliefs are largely shaped by their core values that have been instilled in them since childhood. These beliefs are sharpened and perhaps slightly altered with aging, education, and real world experience. But because one's basic values are so ingrained, it's very hard to change someone fundamentally in their basic political beliefs.

That being said, I support a large number of historically labeled Democratic social programs. If you grew up with money and never needed help from the government to buy food, such a program might be easily dismissed. However, during my childhood my mother had to be on welfare for a short time. We had no money. No food. No job. I clearly remember the food stamps and what they looked like.

Thus, I support welfare programs as a means of temporary assistance. But I do not support welfare blindly for life. It breeds laziness and increases poverty. I also benefited from veteran's education programs. Naturally, I support any program that helps Americans help themselves.

On the other hand, I am a fiscal conservative and prefer a smaller, more efficient government. I think businesses should be able to run themselves without Uncle Sam getting too involved. There should be a framework of rules and regulations as is industry necessary. In other words, I think Wall Street needs oversight and a lot of it. The tire store down the street, not so much.

Clearly, I am neither Democrat nor Republican. If you blindly align with a political party 100%, you've lost the ability to think independently and are part of the problem.

It is my belief that the United States peaked across the board shortly after World War II. Since that time our status as a world super power has gradually decreased. Family and moral values have evaporated. Our global influence has been on a rapid decline in the last 10 years. The dollar has weakened. And we have had to borrow money from countries like China.

Like it or not, I believe China will be the next world super power. They are currently implementing the infrastructure to accomplish this. And their economy has shown steady growth. It might reach 10% this year, whereas the U.S. might not reach 3%. Once the Chinese government lifts some restrictions in the private sector...look out. China also claims to have generated 22 million jobs since the current global financial crisis began.

The Chinese government credits the $568 billion stimulus it injected into its economy for the growth in jobs. Didn't we do something similar? Why is our unemployment rate still  around 10%? I think it's because the U.S. had to bail out financial and insurance companies and the auto industry. What was supposed to trickle down to main street has been tied up in congress because our elected leaders are fighting over it. Politics as usual and the ordinary American is getting screwed.

The Chinese government has placed its primary focus on education, jobs, economic growth, and industrial leadership. In 2005, China awarded more than twice as many engineering degrees as the United States. And China leads the world in green energy technology.

What are we doing? Fighting over health care and gay marriage. The world is passing us by at a steady rate and our own arrogance prevents us from even acknowledging that it might be happening when empirical data shows it actually is happening.

Please don't label me as un-American. I served my country. I pay my taxes. I have done more for this country and for my fellow countrymen than most. But I am saddened because I see before my own eyes a once great country being consumed by its own greed.

The problem I alluded to earlier that has been the cause of our slow decline is simply greed. Americans want it all rather than what we really need.

We also have our priorities skewed. Shouldn't people be paid by how they benefit society? This sounds mildly communist, but bear with me. Don't teachers have a profound impact on our youth? Isn't there a compelling American need to insure more of our children go to college and earn professional degrees that can advance our country globally?

If so, then why do we pay teachers so very little while we pay a man $ millions to throw or hit a ball? Why are top researchers in universities across the country having to fight over small research grants to advance medicine while bankers give themselves $ million dollar bonuses?

Why did it take September 11, 2001 to unite this country? And why did the executive branch of the government at the time use such a profound event as a political scalpel that allowed it to run a reckless foreign policy through the Middle East? How much money did we spend in the Iraq war? $ Trillions. What did we as a nation gain from it? Little.

Some U.S. corporations, however, profited immensely from the war and we paid for it. Who were these corporations? Who were they associated with in the government at the time? In the end, who profited the most from the Iraq war? I can tell you it wasn't U.S. citizens as a whole. Go find the answer for yourself.

There is way too much divisiveness today. The prevailing Us v. Them mentality is only hurting us. The rally around 9/11 was brief because it was politicized. Americans across the country complain about lack of jobs, but as a nation we can't agree on a means to fix it. Why? Because our elected leaders are just playing tired old party politics. Every first term congressman wants one thing: a second term.

Consequently, no real progress is achieved. The politicians give short interviews dropping key words to stimulate their support base. Pundits offer commentary. Fingers are pointed. And the average American is fooled because they never look below the surface for the real story.

Have you ever tried to discuss a current political issue with someone that simply repeated what they heard on the news rather than offer their own thought? It's very frustrating, thus I don't generally discuss politics. People get way too heated about an issue they really know nothing about.

It really doesn't take much of a story to convince our citizens because we blindly believe those in charge. Most are too easily swayed by what they hear on TV. This has to stop. Elected officials have to be challenged and called out, not reelected. Party politics has to end and Americans have to get educated and think for themselves.

It would also serve us well if the average citizen started thinking every now and then about what's best for America rather than what's best for themselves. Too many people think they're entitled to something. I say you're only entitled to opportunity. It's up to the individual to use that opportunity to its fullest. If you sit on your ass all day, you deserve to be poor. If you work your ass off all day, you're entitled to a living. Easy.

If you're an American and don't fit the profile I have described here, I mean no disrespect. I wrote in some generality here based on my own observations and thoughts. But I don't think anything I suggested is impossible to reasonably support without much effort. But, they are my beliefs. Whether I am factually accurate or not either remains to be seen or cannot be ascertained. If you hold contrary beliefs, that's your right. And I respect that.

On its face, the idea of being a politician is appealing to me. I have always felt the need to serve others. I like helping people. But I am not willing to sacrifice my integrity to get my foot in the door and keep it there.

I just went and peaked at CNN. It's funny but the Republicans that won yesterday are saying the same types of things the victorious Democrats said in 2008: The people want their country back. They want jobs. They're tired of the sluggish economy. They're fed up.

We just changed the make-up of Congress 2 years ago. And it didn't fix much. Who's to blame? Everyone is to blame. Both parties. The White House. All of them. The Democrats had control of the House, Senate, and had a Democratic President in the White House. What do they have to show for it? A health care bill that no normal person can make sense of.

I don't care who you elect. If the system is broken it doesn't matter who's in power. Nothing is going to get done.

I say fire them all. Start from scratch. And ban lobbying. That would be a good restart. Do some research. Find out who spends the most money on the hill and ask yourself if you're in anyway benefited. Due to recent laws, there's a lot of transparency when it comes to lobbyists. The data is there, but you have to look for it.

See who is spending the most money and ask why?

I can almost guarantee that it's to make more money. Is this greed at work or just corporations answering to their shareholders? Is there really a difference? Opinions vary.

I will not turn into an extremist, call for the overthrow of the government, and join a militia. While that may, in some corners, be considered patriotic, I think it's misguided and futile. The only way the government will change is if the people demand it by refusing to accept the status quo.

The notion that special interest has corrupted American politics is not new. But I fear that the majority of Americans aren't even aware of it's existence and how toxic it is.

We need more awareness, not more apathy. That is ironic for me to write since it was my own apathetic attitude that prevented me from voting yesterday. But I see no logic in taking part in a broken system.

I am not afraid to call myself out, however. But I am so tired of these people on TV claiming they are speaking for the American people. Do they really speak for you?

They don't speak for me, thus I write separately and respectfully dissent.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Recent Absence Explained

Some of you that follow me on Twitter have expressed some concern because I have been absent for the last week. A couple of you have emailed me directly or sent direct messages to insure I am still alive. Even my mother has been worried since she tracks my days via Tweets. If I don't Tweet, she thinks I am dead.

I am alive. That much I can vouch for.

So what's going on? In keeping with the spirit of openness as found in most of my blog postings, I will be completely honest with those that want to know.

The main problem is that I am injured and cannot run. Some of you might that's really lame. But running is how I handle work and life stresses. It's running that allows me to cope with the daily grind that is my small, little law practice.

It's almost as if running creates a barrier that keeps sadness, frustration, anxiety, despair, and depression at bay. Remove the barrier and it gets ugly. I am not sleeping well. Case after case consume my consciousness. I have small panic attacks thinking about the enormity of a couple of them. I have to calm myself down and break the case down into small manageable tasks.

As soon as I am relaxed about case A, case B walks in the door and the process begins again. Usually by 4:00 am, I shut down for a couple of hours. But after a week of this, I was a mess. I am now taking prescription sleeping aids, though it's only been since Friday. It's also during times like these that I have very violent nightmares that always somehow tie in with work.

Another component in play is lack of sunlight. I suffer from fall and winter blues due to lack of sun. Almost every summer afternoon I was running shirtless at the lake soaking up sunlight. In my world, that is a perfect afternoon. I am really that simple.

My favorite thing to do this summer was a mid-afternoon 10 mile run followed by 15 minutes on my patio. I would sit there dripping in sweat, stoned on runner's high endorphins slowly sipping Gatorade and reading my Twitter stream on my phone. Sadly, that scene will not return until at least next May. Ugh.

All of this stuff together has dipped me into a mild depression. I have been here before. And typically I withdraw from social activity until I feel better. As lame as I feel about admitting this, Twitter is pretty much my social universe.

It's with my Twitter family that I share career successes and failures. A fellow criminal defense attorney in Miami, who shall remain nameless, recently wrote that Twitter is a conversation. I agree. Or at least that's how I use Twitter. I don't market myself on Twitter or really on the internet for that matter. I have a website but I don't think it draws clients.

Twitter simply allows me to communicate with other attorneys across the country and most of them are also in the criminal business. Some of them have blogs that I follow. We share war stories. There is also a small number of law students I chat with. And a few other random people who are interesting to me for one reason or another. Journalist Jake Adelstein , being one of them.

The last time I had a group of friends I hung out with was when I lived in Austin immediately before law school. Since then I am changed. My prolonged illness during law school turned me into a pretty quiet person. I am ok with being alone. Sometimes I prefer it.

Besides my mother, there's only one person in my life I am close to. I am not a social retard, however. I make small chat with people I encounter during my work day: clerks, deputies, clients, judges, attorneys, coffee baristas, etc. I am friendly and smile often. Anyone that sees me with any regularity will tell you I am about as nice as they come.

But I am just not the type to go hang out these days. I don't drink much and I prefer to watch sports at home. Twitter happened by accident and slowly grew into a social network of people that I can communicate with on my terms. Well, mostly. I have directly helped other attorneys via Twitter. And other attorneys have directly helped me.

I think it's safe to say that my small Twitter community of fellow criminal defense attorneys helps each other indirectly every day by being supportive. We all express sympathy when one of us has a bad day and we join in the celebration of victories no matter how small. To keep things light, we often tease and pick on each other.

Rather than be a negative Nancy because I am not feeling well, I chose to leave the party for a while. If I have nothing positive to offer my followers, than I am pretty much useless to those that have some token of interest in me. And if you read my posting from this morning, it's clear I am not a real positive person today. 

I am feeling pretty damn beat up in all honestly. The work is getting to me. I admit it. The stories are extremely sad and real justice is way too elusive. But I am taking all reasonable corrective measures. I am still working out daily. I am hitting the tanning booth a few times a week to get some fake sun (and yes, this does help). I am eating. I am taking medications to help my sleep and my mood.

Naturally, I am still working. But I got the crap beat out of me last week in court on Monday and Tuesday, which just made things worse. Everything I touched turned sour.

I have always believed that a person's true character can only be measured in a time of adversity. It's how we deal with the bad times that count. Easy living is just that. I was trained in the military to keep driving on no matter what. Keep on, keeping on. That's my life. I just keep going.

We criminal defense attorneys swim neck deep in an ocean of adversity. It's part of the job. So, don't feel sorry for me. I chose this profession. I asked for this. And I got it. But I admit, in some ways it was more than I bargained for. I had no idea it was going to be this sad and frustrating. But on the other hand, I had no idea it would feel as good as it can when things go well.

It's something special when the jail doors are sprung open as a result of my work and someone dearly missed is returned to their family. It's an amazing feeling. And probably why I do this. It's nice to play hero every now and then. I admit it.

Keeping things in perspective, I have about 30 files of people who have much, much bigger problems than myself. Thus, I won't be sitting around whining because I don't feel really well right now.

So for those of you who did express some worry or noticed my absence, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am ok. I will be back soon. It's all good.

Besides, there's nothing that a week in the Caribbean can't cure. Or at least mitigate the hell out of.



Sad State of Affairs

Recently it appeared that shootings here in Chicago had slowed down. Or at least the reported ones anyway. I was also seeing less arrests for aggravated battery as well. This is what a suspected shooter is initially arrested for. If indicted later, it's usually for attempt murder.

A reduction in violent crime usually arrives with cooler weather. Summer is long gone. But it's still warm enough to be outside. 

This last weekend saw the violence return. And it was all over the city. Well, mostly. I think no less than 30 people were shot this weekend and about 7 of them died. These were just the ones reported. From past discussions with area detectives, I know that usually only 50% of violent crimes get any press. An Area 2 detective (Calumet Area) told me they catch about 6 bodies on a warm weekend. Area 1 and 5 have to be similar but I bet Area 5 (West side) has to get more.

We also had some fatal car accidents. And one 23 year old teacher fell to her death while trying to slide down a stairway at a downtown Hilton hotel before a Halloween party Saturday night.

The families of the murdered will get no compensation. The murderers may never be brought to justice. But I have a feeling the family of the deceased teacher will find a lawyer who will sue Hilton for having unsafe stairways in their hotel.  But I am not commenting on either situation. Perhaps the stairs were indeed unsafe. I don't know.

Is any one death more tragic than the rest? I think everyone who died was under 30 years of age. A couple were even teenagers. Sad all the way around, I think. But I know that some people will think the death of the white, pretty, blond teacher with a great smile was a greater travesty. She was obviously college educated and employed. Surely she's worth more than some 19 year old South side black male with no hope or future, right?

The problem is that, somewhere, thinking like this lurks. And it's not widely scattered. It's real. Just as racism is real. And it scares the hell out of me because people who think like this have the right to vote.

Meanwhile Chicago police made 35 South side arrests in a narcotics enforcement sweep. They also confiscated 18 guns, $18,000 worth of narcotics, and $11,000 in cash. Go Blue. I wonder if I will be hired to represent any of the 35 recently arrested? Or if I might be hired to defend someone arrested for one of the weekend shootings or murders?

How many illegal guns are here in the streets of Chicago? I bet the number would blow me away. Have you ever heard how many insects could be found in a square mile of dirt? Isn't it like 4 billion or something ridiculous?

How many illegal handguns are in the city blocks between Central Park & Austin from East to West and say Jackson & North Ave from South to North? It has to be in the thousands.

The only difference I see between our current city streets and the Old West is that way back then, guns were not often concealed. They were carried in holsters on the hip so everyone could see it. It was cowardice to shoot a man in the back. But some men were still blood thirsty. Not much has changed.

Neitschze wrote that our violent dreams are a reminder of our violent past. But he was speaking in terms of human social development, not about an individual. Thus, violent dreams were merely a relic of the human condition thousands of years ago. I think logically, he felt humans had become more civilized over time. I agree. Mostly.

I don't know why some people are just violent. I was never a kid that liked fist fights. Getting punched in the face hurts and punching someone with a fist hurts the hand. Sure, I was in fights as a child and young adult. But I never enjoyed one.

I have known people who love fighting. And I tried to never go out drinking with them because a bar fight was never too far away. I didn't go to bars to get in fights. I went to talk to girls. Duh.

Though our legal system discourages violence, our social system applauds it. Think about that for a minute. Think about movies. Think about video games. Think about music.

You might think I am going to go off on some purity crusade that would make a Quaker or Mormon proud. But you're wrong. I am just calling an Ace an Ace. So much of American culture is about hurting and/or even killing others. As a country that's not terribly old, we have a violent past. Our country was established by way of violence. And clearly, we like a good war every 10 years or so.

When I was a kid we had video games like Pac Man and Asteroids. There was no simulated death via video game. Killing humans was not entertainment. Movies were violent, however. The Taxi Driver was about as violent as it got when I was a pup.

But our music certainly wasn't violent like today's. Why are we celebrating being a Thug? Why was 50 cent worshiped because he had been shot several times and been to prison? Why did we as a country collectively allow this to be socially acceptable? Why are suburban white kids talking like they're black and from the inner city?

Do black people as a whole get royalties from white impersonation? No. What happened is that once again, blacks, in part, were exploited by white people for financial gain. The record companies recognized a huge market for hardcore hip hop. And I have been here for the entire show.

I remember hearing NWA's Straight Outta Compton for the first time. It was 1989. I was in the Army stationed in Hawaii. I met a couple of girls from Los Angeles in Waikiki one day. They told me about this new rap group and wanted to play me the tape.

I couldn't believe what I heard. Fuck The Police. Really? No, they didn't say that. Oh yes, they really did say that. A couple years later, Ice T came out with Cop Killer. That one caught some attention. And I think it was eventually pulled from future pressings of the album.

But clearly this new rap was a bit different from Run DMC and the Fat Boys. These guys were rapping about being armed and pissed. Not a good combination. The lyrics were so real. Drug addiction, welfare, police brutality, murders, gang life, no education, despair. It was things I knew about but had never heard put to music before.

These artists had something to say and it was real but very sad. Instead of society as a whole attempting to help people who experience the type of life that spawned such lyrics, some made money off of it.

About the same time Straight Outta Compton was being made, the movie Colors was released. Produced by Dennis Hopper, it starred Robert Duval and Sean Penn as Los Angeles police officers working in a gang enforcement unit. It largely introduced America to the Crips and Bloods street gangs. It was a controversial film that I think was largely ignored. Most of middle America thought the violence was way overplayed in the movie. Ironically, the violence was actually underplayed. The streets are way worse than that film portrayed.

The condition of the inner city black male was exploited for profit. But, at the willingness of the black inner city artists. They got paid too, but no where near as much as the record companies. Yes, the artists were willing participants in the exploitation of their brothers.

Overnight gangsta rap was IT. I remember a Christmas from my past so clearly. It had to have been 1993 because Dr. Dre's The Chronic had already been out for a while. That was released in December of 1992.

I was in Athens, IL. It's outside of Springfield. Though Springfield is the state capital, it's pretty hick compared to Chicago. Athens is even more white bread, if that's possible. I had a young cousin living in Athens who would have been about 16 or 17 at the time. I hadn't seen him in a couple of years.

I walked into his room. My other cousin was in there too. He was the same age. On the wall were posters of giant Marijuana leaves and hip hop artists like Dre and Snoop Dogg. I found it a tad disturbing, but I had The Chronic and liked it. I am not a hypocrite.

When these kids opened their mouths, however, I was stunned. All I heard was "Nigga" and "Bitch" sprinkled between "F bombs". They were wearing pants that were pulled down to their knees and I could see their boxers. They looked ridiculous and sounded even worse.

I grew up in a black neighborhood. I had been around black people my entire life. I had more black culture instilled in me than some blacks. And here were my two ignorant white cousins who would never drive a car through my old neighborhood, acting like hardcore street thugs.

After about 5 minutes, I turned around, walked out, and shut the door behind me. I was completely disturbed. I had wanted to smack the crap out of both of them. More than once each too. Though neither of those cousins is dead or in prison, they have both had their share of run-ins with law enforcement. Whereas myself, who grew up in crime-ville, has never been arrested and has had 2 speeding tickets in 23 years of driving.

From there it just got worse. Hip hop became mainstream and the artists just got more Thuggish. Then the East Coast/West Coast crap started. Tupac was murdered. Biggie Smalls was gunned down. The Source awards got nasty in 2000. And even Jam Master Jay from Run DMC got killed in 2002. 

The two main record labels producing hardcore rap and central in the West/East rival, were Suge Knight's Death Row Records and Sean "Puff Daddy" Comb's Bad Boy Records. Both Knight and Combs are black. Knight went on to go to prison. Combs is in movies. So it wasn't just whites profiting off of blacks. Brothers were pimping brothers and getting rich in the process.

What happened to Atlantic and Motown?

All the while mainstream American youth is gobbling up this stuff unchecked. People in the music business got richer and richer. But inner city blacks, from where all of this originated, remained poor, disenfranchised, and stricken with violence.

What kind of world do we live in where it becomes acceptable and cool to mimic and even profit off those that have it the worst? Why are children across the country, of all races, idolizing people who couldn't get a job at McDonalds? Where has our sense of value gone? Have our morals evaporated suddenly?

What the hell is going on?

If anything the thug/gangster culture has exposed the country to the real problems of many inner cities. But who is doing anything to solve them? No, we just keep producing more videos with more rappers with more gold teeth and more tattoos and more scars and more money and more women and more felony convictions.

But the music is so watered down and uninspiring. I like old hip hop when the artists had a message. And the message was on point and relevant. Now it's just about money, the great spoiler of genuine noble intention. 

In a very roundabout way, this brings me back to our street violence here in Chicago. If a hugely profitable market could be created by producing commercial media based on inner city plight, why can't we fix it?

I don't think the kids stuck here in the streets think they have a cool or glamorous life. Most of them carry guns to keep from getting murdered. And if you have mouths to feed and slinging dope is the only way to earn money, is there really a choice?  A man does what he has to do to handle his business. And sometimes what he has to do runs afoul of the law.

I am not giving a blanket pass to people I work for. But I will be damned if I just label them all as lawless villains who have no respect for authority. My work is extremely sad because I see the tough choices so many of my clients are forced to make. And too often I have to admit to myself that, if in their shoes, I probably would have done the same thing. There is no right or wrong. It's which shade of wrong do you prefer.

The real problems are drug addiction and poverty. One feeds the other in an endless cycle that effects the community as a whole. Until those that control the power of the purse really make an effort to relieve these problems, there's no end in sight. I will have a job forever.

And that, is a sad state of affairs.