Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Playing Catch Up

Just yesterday, I realized I hadn't written a blog post since September. Every now and then, I do a Google search of my name just to make sure nothing false has been written about me. I am not paranoid, but an attorney is only as good as his reputation. To date, there's been no internet grenades thrown my way. I do always find it odd the corners of the internet where my name or something I've written pops up.

While Google hunting myself, I did find that I was mentioned on Scott Greenfield's blog, Simple Justice. Apparently I was nominated in December of 2011 for Criminal Law Blog Post of The Year by Mark Draughn of Windypunidt. I don't know Mark personally. We've never met. Somehow last year he learned of my blog and threw me a salute on his blog. I was not aware of this until I was informed by a friend. I know I sent Mark some appreciation for his kind words.

Scott Greenfield goes on to spread some niceness my way when he discusses some of the 2011 nominations. I like that Scott also considers 40 years of age to be 'young'. I also appreciated that I was considered for the award. However, the winner was Mark Bennett, a Houston Criminal Defense Attorney. Here is the winning blog post. I've never been much for reading blogs of any kind. I simply don't have the time. Even my Twitter activity has been reduced significantly.

In part, I wish I could blame my busyness on work. But it wouldn't be true. I am busy with life in general. My case load is actually pretty light and has been for over a year. However, the cases I do have are not simple guilty pleas waiting to happen. Nope. I remember those days when most clients had crap cases and chose to plead at the arraignment. I didn't earn a lot per case, but I had a ton of them.

For whatever reasons, at some point I stopped getting hired to negotiate plea deals but was actually retained to litigate cases that needed it. I remember back in the spring of 2009 (my first year doing this), someone called me on the phone and said "yeah, I heard you're a good 'cop-out' lawyer." I think I was a bit offended, but at the time, it was true. I had very litigation experience. I didn't conduct my first suppression hearing until September of 2009 and didn't try my first case until December 2009.

But what a year 2009 was. In early 2009, I was doing misdemeanor cases where I would go to court, the cops wouldn't show up, and the case would get tossed. To the worried client, I seemed like this awesome attorney and would get told as much. But inside, I sort of knew it was smoke and mirrors. To my credit, I never puffed any of that. I never told a client "see, I got your case dismissed. Love me now." No, I would just say "thank you" and walk away. I was just filling a suit and I knew it. But I also realized at the time, I couldn't do much more.

I spent so much time in the fall of 2008 and all of 2009 sitting in court and watching other attorneys conduct hearings and trials. It wasn't hard to figure out who was good and who sucked. I spent most of the time watching the jurors, noting what held their attention and what put them to sleep. I befriended the attorneys I felt were the best. And I am still friendly with them (not like it's been ages).

Though I hadn't tried a criminal case, something innate led me to believe that's what I was supposed to do.  Something told me that I would be good in front of a jury. And just 11 months into my criminal practice, I got my first shot at a jury. My client was charged with a Class X felony (6-30 years). I liked the case. I felt my client would make a very good witness. And I had enough police mess ups on the table with which to design some pretty effective cross.

Counting the day we picked the jury, it took 2 days. The jury came back in about an hour with a 'not guilty' verdict. My client cried. His mother cried. Back in the lockup, my client said "I love you". And that night, after sitting in the county jail for 5 months away from his fiancee and their three children, he went home. I am sure they all had a very nice Christmas.

Some might think I was wrong to take that case and they are welcome to their opinion. However, I wouldn't have taken that case to trial unless I felt I was fully capable of living up to my professional and ethical duties to my client. My ass might be dumb. But I ain't a dumb ass. I felt like I was ready. And I did it. All guts and glory. A little Patton-like perhaps. I never questioned my ability once and not out of arrogance. You see, I am my own worse critic. It keeps me in check.

I left the courthouse that night with a feeling like I was floating. And when I walked back into the courthouse the next morning, I felt like I was finally part of the club. In other words, my cherry had been popped. I was now one of them. One of the felony trial attorneys that have graced, or in some cases, disgraced what's locally known as 26th & California.

That building has a very long history. I admit when I first stepped inside to handle my first felony case, I was a bit awe struck. Somehow I had romanticized the Cook County main criminal courthouse. I actually wanted nothing more than to actually practice in that building. What's that careful what you wish for....Amen.

These days I see that old courthouse like a black hole that sucks in attorneys and never lets them out. It would be appropriate for a cemetery to be on the grounds where dead attorneys are buried. Yes, I am serious. On the right (or wrong) day, that place takes on a very dark character where it just feels nasty to be inside of it.

But back in the summer of 2009, Kenny Green came into my life. It was my blog posting about his case that was nominated for blog post of the year. When hired, everyone knew I hadn't tried a criminal case. No experience. But apparently I had something equally valuable to families: belief. The fact I was willing to take that case played a role as well. However, I don't think it was a large role. After meeting with Kenny and conducting some research into the case, I met with his family in the law library in the Court's Administration building that's adjacent to the old courthouse.

His family all knew what really happened and that he was not the thug that the media was describing. I am sure their biggest concern was whether or not someone else would believe what they knew to be true. At the time, I wasn't consciously aware of this. Apparently, I said the right things, because despite my lack of experience, they hired me to take Kenny's case. And Kenny, himself, wanted me as his attorney.

My unwavering belief in that case played a substantial part in Kenny's eventual acquittal. Of course, by the time the trial came around, 2 years later, I was no longer a total rookie. I am not going to claim I am some super duper experienced trial lawyer that has nothing but sage advice to shell out.

But I know how to try a case. And as it turned out, I think I am pretty good in front a jury. To contradict myself a little, there's two cardinal rules I follow when it comes to juries: never give them a reason to dislike me and never lose my credibility with them. It won't necessarily seal your client's fate, but it damn well might.

On that Friday afternoon when Kenny was acquitted, he told me he loved me. Knowing him like I do, he wasn't surprised at the verdict. For he knew he had done nothing wrong. He expected the right verdict to be given. Once upon a time, I was that naive too.

Kenny will never know the personal, mental hell his case put me through. He will never know how many nights I had trouble sleeping because I was thinking about his case. He won't know how frightened I was before that trial. He won't know of all of the anxiety and stress I took on by handling his case. He won't know that just a random thought about his case would cause my pulse to quicken, my blood pressure to rise, and make me feel like immediately vomiting. I've learned that all of that ickyness comes with the job. Or at least in my case it does.

After I walked out of that courtroom, his immediate family was in the hallway. His mother was a little teary eyed. I immediately broke down and cried. All of the emotion that had been built up in me was suddenly released. An emotional orgasm, if you will. All I could say was "thank you for believing in me and trusting me to handle Kenny's case." While hugging me, she whispered into my ear "Marcus, we always believed in you." Of course, that just brought more tears, but in a very good way.

I learned a lot through that case. I grew as a person and as an attorney. I realized that some fear is good. But too much fear can cripple. And I also learned that the belief stuff runs in both directions. There's nothing wrong with being an attorney with a heart.

That I regularly show so much of mine has bode well with some clients. Just recently one said "I'll say one thing about you Mark (that's what he calls me and I let him), you practice with compassion. You're not like most lawyers in this business."

Unfortunately, in this business, my compassionate side causes me a lot of grief. When I fail to deliver justice to a client so desperately in need of it, I always feel terrible. Despite all of the bullshit I see in the Chicago criminal justice system, there's still a palpable amount of idealism inside. Not as much as my law school days, but just enough that it still bothers me that our system is horribly broken and that, by and large, black and Hispanic citizens of Chicago don't have the same constitutional protections as I do. In fact, that still really, really, really pisses me off.

It saddens me that Kenny's trial may end up being the pinnacle of my career as a criminal defense lawyer. It was an extraordinary case. One of a kind. I was extremely invested in it. And there was a lot at stake. I was so completely unaware of that cases' magnitude, that the post-trial reactions, both good and bad, were hard to grasp and still are. I had a client with a case that needed to be tried in the right way. That's how I looked at it.

I hear from Kenny from time to time. Not too long ago, I got a text message from him that read "Happy New Year my hero!" I don't think of myself as a hero. I did my job. As expected, not much has really changed. I didn't start waking up wearing a cape. I had a nice weekend after that trial. But Monday came and it was business as usual. I won a suppression motion that week. And then lost one the following week. Up and down. Up and down. For someone that treasures stability and tranquility, I picked the worst job imaginable. Maybe I am a dumb ass, after all.

I want to take a few lines to thank a lot of people in no particular order. First off, thanks to DawnMarie White for leaving a husband in Indianapolis for a week to try Kenny's case with me pro hac vice and for damn near free. I couldn't have done it without you. Thanks to my dear friend, Annie, that stayed with me every night of the trial, brought DawnMarie and I dinner, did my laundry, went to the office store to pick up supplies for us, and kept me calm. Thanks to Mark Bennett for calling me out of the blue the day I was interviewed for the 6:00 news, and giving me advice on how to answer the reporter's questions. Thanks to all of my fellow CDL's on Twitter that shared in that win. Thanks to the bloggers that picked up this story and published it. Thanks to everyone that commented or wrote kind words. And thanks to everyone else fighting the good fight in a tireless effort to keep the constitution alive.

It always amazes me at how unaware I often am of myself. A couple weeks back, I was headed to court to litigate a motion. As usual, I was nervous. I always am. It's one of the worst parts of this job. It messes with my stomach. It jacks up my nerves. It's just not something that's really nice to experience.

I wrote my girlfriend a text message, expressing my nervousness and anxiety. Her response really hit me in the forehead: "You get that way because you care. Your clients are lucky to have you." That's great sentiment and all, but is it true? I think so.

I wrote back: "The only alternative is to just go numb and not give a shit. But then I'd really suck at this job."

In a nutshell, that's who I am. All I've ever been. And all I ever will be.

I'm cool with that.


  1. Marcus, I personally miss your writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, just as I enjoyed Kenny's win. I'm glad you're getting to enjoy life. Live well.

  2. Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you.

    Criminal Defense


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