I usually have lunch in one of the downtown Orlando restaurants. Being downtown means that there are lawyers who frequent the restaurants as well. Recently, as I was quietly enjoying my lunch, a group of four lawyers were sat next to me. Normally, I don’t look up and I mostly don’t notice who sits next to me, other than to register the number of people and sometimes their gender. Don’t make assumptions it is just what it is. However, this time, I looked up and scrutinized the four individuals because they were loud, and somewhat obnoxious. Obnoxious in that they were intrusive. I tried to get back to my reading material on my iPad, but their conversation didn’t allow me to concentrate on what I was reading, it was too loud and, frankly, shockingly interesting. I write shockingly because what I heard made me angry and caused me to laugh at the same time.
Most of us have preconceived notions of the intelligence of people by their profession and what their jobs entail. We assume people are competent in what they do. Like everything else, there are those who provide quality services and then there are those who don’t care one way or the other. This is true for all professions.
I immediately knew that all four were lawyers because they weren’t exactly keeping it a secret. They made sure everyone else in the restaurant knew it as well. It is the conversations they proceeded to have that made me write this post today.
The first thing I learned is that for these attorneys, their clients were just revenue sources to them. I heard them share how they charge between $1,500 to $5,000 for criminal cases, offering payment plans to their clients. For them, their clients were in jail so, as one articulated, “the trick is to get the parents to borrow the full amount of my fee” by promising them that I’ll get their kid out of jail today. They giggled knowing that it was the leverage of getting the child out of jail that was needed to make them come up with the money, even if they didn’t have any. Another said, “I tell them to take credit card advances or borrow money from family or friends.” The third chimed in, “this morning I asked” their client’s mom, “if rent was more important then getting him out of jail.”
They laughed when one added, “that one phone call is all they get” meaning they aren’t exactly in the position to shop for an attorney, much less compare prices.
It bothered me, but it is par for the course because there is an underlining reason for why they are in jail to begin with.
But what really got me to pay more attention to the conversation was what I heard next. One of the attorneys explained that they were worried about losing their home because the attorney forgot to file a motion for their ongoing bankruptcy. Although the bankruptcy caught my attention, it was the matter of fact way in which the attorney told the others how the attorney missed the deadline to file a specific paper to save their house. I wondered how often a deadline was missed and what the repercussions were for their clients, especially if the attorney couldn’t manage their own case properly. The others told the attorney that they hoped the judge would let it slide.
Unfortunately, it got worse as another attorney chimed in. “I was found guilty,” said the attorney. I nearly dropped my fork and, I’ll admit I leaned in to listen to more. Apparently, the attorney was in another vehicle when the driver was pulled over. I am not clear as to what happened because it seems like everyone already knew about the saga, but it appears that the attorney was a passenger in the vehicle and that the driver was arrested. The attorney was also arrested for something, not sure what, and they fought it in court. The attorney explained how the “cops lie” under oath, arguing that during cross examination they were unable to prove that “the stop was illegal” and thus the charges needed to be dropped.
The attorney told their lunch companions that they had been sentenced to “time served” and “100 hours of community service.” The attorney giggled saying that the community service would be providing legal services.
Throughout the conversations, one of the attorneys didn’t really say much, until the conversation shifted to hustling business for their practices. This attorney told the others that they had a family that kept the sole practitioner so busy that the attorney hadn’t hustled for business in years. The attorney explained that when they picked up a client a few years ago at the jail, the attorney became friends with the mother of the inmate. As soon as the attorney got the child out of jail and got them probation for their fourth drug case, the mother just started calling the attorney each time another child or family member was arrested. As per the attorney, “it’s mostly petty stuff” but it keeps the attorney busy with three to four cases going on at the same time. “It’s gotten to the point where I get a call” from the mom and she provides the attorney jail information and the list of charges. The attorney goes on to explain that they just add the new case to their jail rounds and goes to visit with the inmate. The attorney adds, the mother slides the money under my office door, later in the day.”
The other attorneys stated how “lucky” this attorney was to have the ongoing revenue stream.
I’ve been mulling this over for a while and I’m bothered by what I heard.
I’m no stranger to the controversies of judiciary malfeasances and corruption and know that some police officers lie but not all of them. The criminal element takes advantage of manipulating the process and the lack of trust that is generated in the community. But I’m bothered by the nonchalant way in which the attorneys deal with their clients, the families of the clients, and most importantly, how they see the legal system.
I was left with the impression that it was all a game to them. From taking rent money to doing community service for their own transgressions to arguing that “cops lie.” It’s as if being a criminal is just a normal thing in society. Take for example the attorney who was convicted and blamed the police for lying while laughing that they will do their community service by representing someone else.
If the “cops lie,” where is the indignation? Where is the outrage to doing community service because a cop lied? What does it say about the American legal system when one attorney might lose their home because they didn’t do what was professionally needed? What does it say about the practice of law when asking family what is more important, rent or getting out of jail? What does it really say about the legal system when one attorney just sits by the phone waiting for a mom to tell them in which jail they can find the next client.
As if none of that was bad enough, the last thing I heard left me dumbfounded. Apparently one attorney is representing someone that was driving so fast their automobile went “airborne” and landed upside down killing the driver’s girlfriend. The driver was charged with manslaughter. From what I heard, the attorney is trying to get the whole case thrown out because the police did not have a search warrant to read the automobile’s “black box” which proved how fast the driver was going in a residential street.
Since 2014, all new vehicles sold in the United States have a black box in them that tracks things like engine speed, steering direction, whether brakes were applied at the time of the accident and whether the seat belt was buckled or not, among other variables. Most of you know the black box as the port used by car’s mechanic to check on your car’s “check engine light.”
As I understand it, it requires a court order to pull the data from the automobile. But here’s what bothers me about this. In this case, there is a totaled vehicle that went airborne because of the speed in which it was being driven in a residential street. The driver, according to the attorney, admitted to police to driving “100 miles an hour” before the accident. A woman is dead because of the accident. The issue appears to be on whether the police pulled the black box data before the warrant was issued, or after. The lawyer argued that getting the data thrown out would get the case dismissed. I’m not sure about that, but what disgusted me was that it wasn’t about proving the client innocent, but rather gaming the system to throw out evidence to keep the client out of jail. The dead woman? Apparently she was just fodder left over from the accident.
I left the restaurant disgusted with what I had just overheard.
Why do you think there are so many “skid mark” jokes about lawyers?
BTW, Martin, if you ever get to El Paso let me know so I can buy you lunch. Anson’s to savor the irony.
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