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?

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