Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hiking outside of Seoul

So, this morning, I decided to head back into the Angeles National Forest, to do a morning hike. From where I live (about 10 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles), the closest location that offers some hiking trails is the Chantry Flat recreation area, in the San Gabriel mountains. I used to hike there every weekend, and I noticed that if I got there around 8am, I could get a parking place in the parking lot.

That, however, was last summer. This summer, I've gone a couple of times, and by 8am, I'm already having to park a half mile down the access road from the parking lot. And of course, the vast majority of people are headed to the 1.5 mile trail that leads to Sturdivant Falls, a popular picnic destination. However, why is the rec area so crowded? Koreans!

Yep. You heard me. Koreans. The parking lot is chock full of Koreans, who arrive as early as possible. The access road opens at 6am, and I'm sure that they are lined up, waiting to drive the three miles up the winding road to snag parking places.

Today, I tried to get up a bit earlier, at 6:30am, to see if I could arrive by 7:30, and get a parking spot. I got there at 7:35, and I was out of luck again. But, this time, I didn't have to park a half mile down the road. I was somewhat closer to the parking lot. And once again, as I set off on the Upper Winter Creek Trail, looping around to Hoegee's Campground, I lost track of how many Korean hikers I ran across. I would say that about 80% of the hikers are Korean, at that time of the morning. Of course, there's a reason why I'm there that early; it's summer. It's really hot, and under the canopy, it's really humid. Hiking in the middle of the day is absolutely brutal; 90 degree weather with humidity to match; not a pleasant hiking experience. And so, I share the morning trail with the Koreans.

Later in the morning, as I sat on a large fallen log near the Campground, getting ready to turn around and retrace my steps the 3 miles back to my car, a middle aged Korean man sat next to me. After exchanging greetings, I asked him what was with all of his countrymen (and women! More than half the hikers are women.) hitting Chantry Flat every Saturday. He told me that Koreans love to hike. He said that Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is surrounded by 6 mountains, all accessible by public transport, and all popular hiking spots. So, for Koreans in Southern California, hiking offers them virtually free exercise, a chance to socialize with friends, and it reminds them of their homeland. After a brief 10 minute conversation, he set off to go hike up to Mount Wilson, and I set off back to the ranger station, passing several Koreans along the way.

So, now I understand why they're there; I just wish they would save me one measly compact parking space for my Honda.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A date with MRSA

One of the occupational hazards of representing prisoners for a living is that you get exposed to whatever they are exposed to. The County Jail, in Downtown LA, has had all sorts of outbreaks over the years; chicken pox, tuberculosis, and most recently, MRSA, a particularly virulent outbreak of a staph infection.

In the past year, I've had clients that were treated for MRSA, and, from what they've told me, it's not a pleasant experience.

Which brings me to Wednesday. I was representing one of a pair of defendants charged with carjacking. The two guys were alleged to be gang members, and they were accused of helping two other gang members steal a car from a woman, who knew all 4 men. When I interviewed my client at his arraignment, he was pretty angry that he was in custody, and was really incensed that the female victim was identifying him. So, when the prelim rolled around, I was curious to see what the victim would do.

See, in gang cases, the way that the victim testifies is often more important that what they actually say. Because, when victims say that they can't really ID the defendant in court, or if they say that they can't remember what really happened, judges and DA's always assume that the only reason for the phenomenon is that the witness is so intimidated by the gang members that they are faking. Of course, it can't be that the victim is being honest......

So, when the victim testified, she said that she had given permission for one of the gang bangers (her boyfriend) to borrow the car, and then changed her mind, which is what led to the other guys being involved, and the car being taken, with charges being filed. However, she made it a point to say that the two defendants in court never took the car; and she claimed "I don't remember" to many statements that she told officers the night of the incident. And throughout, she was complaining of pain in her head, and she had what, from my vantage point, looked like like a swollen eye lid, that was leaking.

So, after she testified, but, before the next witness could testify, the judge took a recess and ordered the courtroom cleared of all but court personnel. It was at that point that we were told the victim's eye problem was caused by MRSA, and she had touched her wounded and leaking eye, and then touched everything in the witness area; the desk, the microphone, two exhibits, her chair, etc. MRSA is highly contagious on contact, and hard to kill. So, disinfecting is necessary. And now the court was going to have to be disinfected, and the unit that did that would arrive sometime in the afternoon. So, at 11am, we recessed for the morning, and resumed at 2pm, in another courtroom.

When we resumed in the afternoon, the investigating officer testified as to what the victim's original testimony was, and the defendants were held to answer and bound over for trial. On Thursday morning, the next day, we found out that the disinfecting team didn't arrive until around 4pm, and it took about an hour to clean everything up.

So, later that morning, I decided to have some fun. I became the first person to sit in the disinfected area, which made the court staff really queasy, and very doubtful of my sanity. So far, so good.

Although my butt itches...., could it be from the chair?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How did that happen?

So, I've been doing this job since 12/14/1994. I was sworn in as a lawyer the day before, so this is the one and only job I've had as a practicing lawyer.

I remember my first few months in the office; like all baby lawyers, I was negotiating a huge learning curve; trying to learn how to be a PD at the same time I was learning how to be a lawyer. I remember how all of the jargon seemed incomprehensible to me, and having to speak to a judge on the record was such a nervewracking experience. I would watch experienced lawyers work, and I would marvel at their ease with how they handled their caseload.

I remember watching felony lawyers appear in court; they would banter with their judge, exchange pleasantries, and then handle their cases with what appeared to be a total familiarity with their surroundings. I would watch them, and think to myself, "I'll never get there".

And yet, here it is; all of these years later, and even walking into a new courtroom for the first time doesn't faze me. It's all the same, really; you first walk in and look for the bailiff, to let them know that you are an attorney, and that you have cases there. Then, the clerk; to hand over a business card and introduce yourself, providing your bar number so that they can input you into their computer system. Then, the reporter; hand a card to them, so that they'll know how to spell your name. Then, I go the DA; tell them who I am, and that I'm the new PD. They ask where I'm coming from. And, this time, when I tell them I'm coming from Norwalk Felonies, the DA's, both new and inexperienced, are a little awed; just by virtue of telling them where I've come from; they know I'm one of those: the experienced felony lawyer who's totally familiar with the surroundings.

Somehow, I became one of those guys that I stared at all those years ago. How the hell did that happen? And where the hell did the time go?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hurry up and wait.

So, it's now week 2 of my new assignment in East Los Angeles.

The plan is that I'm one of 3 lawyers assigned to one felony courtroom. And lot's of stuff gets done here:

1) Arraignments: People are told what their charges are, and we set them directly for a preliminary hearing, or we set them for an Early Disposition date, where we try to settle the case early.

2) EDP: We get probation reports from the Probation Department, which include a rap sheet, which tells us exactly what our client's record happens to be. Then, armed with this info, we try to get the DA to agree to a plea bargain that our client will be OK with.

3) Preliminary Hearings: Probable cause hearings, where the DA brings in just enough evidence to establish a) a felony has been committed, and b) the defendant is the one who did the crime.

We are still trying to work out a happy medium in terms of actually dividing the work. Theoretically, I'm supposed to do all 3 things, while one guy (Michael) only does prelims, and the other guy (Armando) only does EDP and arraignments. So, I get to be the jack of all trades, master of none.

It's still a work in progress. My guess is in the next couple of days, the three of us will sit down and figure this shit out.

But, in terms of work; all of it is easy. I don't have to prep anything; the prelim is very brief, sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes an hour plus. But, it's not like a trial. I take nothing home with me. And Sundays are mine again.

To a felony trial lawyer, Sunday morning is the worst. For everyone else, they leisurely get up, and it's a day of rest. But, for a felony trial lawyer, the first thing that goes thru your mind on Sunday morning is all the crap you have to do this week. Which case is going to trial? Which motions did you forget to file? Which investigation reports did you not do? And your day goes downhill from there.

But, with this gig; none of those concerns. It all rolls off of your back. Because your possession of the file is temporary. Of course, there are trades. Since there are more matters to do, you are in court more than you are in felony trials. And there is a lot of downtime in court. So, there's a lot of times, I'm sitting there, watching a prelim and waiting to do my stuff. And I lost my 9/80 Fridays. Back to the normal work schedule. But, a little bit of R/R isn't such a bad thing. I can recharge my batteries for the next felony trial assignment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A last look back.

So, the boxes are packed and moved, the transfer memos have been written, and I am officially out of Norwalk.

Before I left, I sat on the couch and thought of who I was leaving behind:

DiSab: came in late, left early, refused to wear his reading glasses unless he was using them in trial for effect.

Gabe: every couple of hours, like clockwork; either a question or something he wanted proofread. If he was waiting on the couch for me to finish, within 10 minutes, he'd be snoring like a fiend.

Cappucino: Son of a bitch looks 20. And he's also eaten at El Bulli. And I like the guy anyway.

CRod: One of the guys, but she happens to be an attractive woman. Now pregnant, that emotional pendulum should make for great arguments with her custody clients. I'll forever be indebted to her for turning me on to Mom's Burgers.

Snooze: My twisted, demented, partner in crime. He just got back, and now I'm gone. It was never a fully adult conversation at lunch unless Snooze was there.

Noguchi-san: The zen-master. The best court partner Gabe Martinez ever had.

Mendez: I'll miss her balance ball chair.

Daniel: The new guy, and a crude, sexist germophobe; he is a perfect fit for Norwalk.

The Commodore: The old, crusty veteran. Always armed with a joke, and some leftist political commentary.

So long, gang, and thanks for the use of the hall.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Touristing my own town.

So, one of the benefits of having a steady paying job is that I get to do something I dreamed about as a small boy; travel. My first trip out of the country was in 1996, a trip to Guernsey Island, and then, London. I had been in the PD's office about a year and a half at that point. Since then, I've been to Europe several times, and Asia several times. My wife and I usually do one, if not two, trips per year.

We love big cities; the hustle and bustle, the subways, the tall buildings, the energy, the dining options, you name it, we love it. But, we realized recently that we live in a big city, one that tourists flock to all the time. And we further realized that we never viewed our home city the way tourists do. So, this year, we decided to change that. We've decided to take some excursions to places that tourists go in LA, to see the city as they do.

With that in mind, I booked a room at the Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown LA. For those of you that have never been to LA, you've seen the Bonaventure. It is the cylindrical tower with small cylindrical towers surrounding it, and with the elevators on the outside. The hotel has been featured in so many movies and TV shows, I lost count.

We checked in last night, around 7:30pm. Each of us with one bag; Dolores', of course, being larger than mine. We dumped the bags, checked the room out, and headed back out for dinner. The Bonaventure is on the western end of Downtown, the business and law firm section of town, and the dining options are a ways away. So, we drove to the other end of Downtown, and headed to a place called Pete's Cafe on 4th and Main. I had been there before for lunch, when I worked Downtown. Really nice place; wouldn't look out of place in San Francisco or New York. Dolores got a seared tuna appetizer, while I got a caprese salad. She went with crabcakes for her entree, while I went with a smoked and roasted rack of lamb. Everything was fantastic.

Stuffed from dinner, we went back to the hotel, and went up to the top, the 34th floor, where there is a rotating lounge. If you sit there for a full hour, you will get a 360 degree view of Downtown LA. So, since it was a lounge, we got drinks. She ordered a chocolate martini, and I got a lemon drop. Now, as opposed to my college days, I am pretty much a teetotaler; so I'm a real lightweight with alcohol. There was a fair amount of citrus vodka in my drink, and I could feel it. But, since I was already in the hotel, who cared, right? I tend to just get silly when I drink, and D just watched me getting silly and amusing myself, playing with the Pepperidge Farm goldfish left as appetizers, making puns, and giggling to myself. We didn't quite last the hour, since the slow turning was messing with Dolores' head. So, we went back to the room, and pleasantly tipsy, we turned in for the night.

This morning, we slept in. But, we finally checked out and got underway around 11. I didn't want to leave the car at the hotel, because the parking rates are criminally usurous. So, we drove to a lot near Chinatown, and dumped the car there. We walked thru Olvera Street, and looked at all of the booths selling Mexican and Central American schlock to midwesterners and people homesick for their homelands. We then went across the street to Union Station, to catch the Metro Red Line to Metro Center/7th Street. It is such a shame that LA doesn't have a better Metro system; this city really needs it, and it will never happen in my lifetime. But, I digress. Once off the Metro, we walked 2 blocks to the Original Pantry.

I used to go there a lot when I was in college and law school. Dolores had never been. I had warned her that one does not go to the Pantry for a light lunch; it is heavy duty eating. There was a slight line to get in; par for the course. 25 minutes later, we were seated. She got 2 eggs, bacon, french toast, and potatoes. I couldn't resist ordering the country fried steak, with corn and mashed taters, and I got 2 orders of their cole slaw, which is the best cole slaw ever. It was an obscene amount of food, as evidenced by the photo. We were absolutely stuffed to the gills when we walked out and waddled back to the Metro station.

Once at Union Station, we walked about 15 minutes to Chinatown. We cruised up Broadway and back down Hill Street, stopping in several galleries and shops, and peering into at least one shop where you could purchase freshly killed poultry of all sorts; squab, old chicken, and various other game birds. I filed the location away, for the next time I was interested in doing some experimental cooking. We also went into a large department store, that had a very large tea section. We love tea, from our various travels, and getting really good loose leaf Chinese tea can be rather difficult and expensive. This place may be just the find we've been looking for. We were pretty beat, so we didn't explore the possibilities as much as we could have. But, we'll return.

So, having been walking for a couple of hours, we went back to the car and headed home, having enjoyed our touristy romp thru Downtown LA.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another year, another transfer

So, Thursday, I found out that I'm being transferred again. This time, I'm leaving my felony trial assignment in Norwalk for the early disposition program in East Los Angeles. My understanding is that I will be handling felony matters for settlement or for preliminary hearing.

A couple of benefits to the move; one is that I no longer have the stress of a trial rotation. Once I handle a preliminary hearing, it's done, and I don't have to deal with that case any more. Another benefit is the fact that I will be much closer to home; my house is just minutes away via surface streets.

A couple of cons, though. One, is I lose my 9/80 day. In felonies, you work a "9/80" schedule, where you get every other Friday off. This position I'm going to is a more traditional 5 day/week schedule. No great harm, but I will miss my regular day off (RDO). The other con is the fact that I will miss my Norwalk assignment. I enjoy being in felony trials; the hustle/bustle of court work, the give/take with the bench and the DA's, and my colleagues. I have some really good friends there in Norwalk, and it will be a shame to lose the daily contact. Plus, I'm leaving a sweet courthouse gig; I've got a great judge and DA, and it's the best courtroom gig I've ever had. But, I knew all along that great things don't last; and I enjoyed every minute there.

So, every transfer that comes along, I think of all the places I've been. It's a long list:

12/94-4/95: Criminal Courts Building (CCB), Downtown LA, Misdemeanor Training
4/95-5/95: Metropolitan Courthouse, Los Angeles, DUI Training, Misdemeanor Trials
5/95-1/97: South Gate Courthouse, South Gate, Misdemeanor Trials
1/97-1/98: East LA Courthouse, East Los Angeles, Misdemeanor Trials
1/98-3/99: Pomona Juvenile Court, Pomona, Juvenile Practice
3/99-9/99: CCB, Downtown LA, Calendar Deputy, Misdemeanor Trainer
9/99-2/02: Norwalk Courthouse, Norwalk, Felony Trials
2/02-1/03: Huntington Park Courthouse, Huntington Park, Deputy-in-Charge, Misdemeanor Trials
1/03-1/04: Public Integrity Assurance Section, Downtown LA, staff attorney
1/04-3/05: Long Beach Courthouse, Long Beach, Felony Trials
3/05-3/06: Metropolitan Courthouse, Los Angeles, Early Disposition/Preliminary Hearings
3/06-6/09: Norwalk Courthouse, Norwalk, Felony Trials.

That's what a public defender's resume in Los Angeles County looks like. Lot's of movement, lots of friends, and lots of goodbyes.

I've said lots of goodbyes over the years. One would think that it gets easier. I've found that it doesn't.