By the time you read this we will have finished Thanksgiving dinner and we may be moving out of our respective food-comas. I hope that each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, safe from COVID, and with the ability to enjoy all the family time that you can possibly handle. Now, on to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and other winter holidays that allow (require) each of us to do it all again. In case my tone is not clear via the typed word, too much family time is too much for me on occasion. I am known to reach my limit on extended family interactions somewhere around the first or second day of joyous festivities, and I suspect I am not alone in that need for space. But, shame on me.
We, as criminal practitioners, know better than just about anyone what a privilege it is to spend time with family on the holidays. So many of our clients, whether they are pre-trial or post-conviction clients, don’t get to experience what we take for granted or what, in my case, tends to drive me nuts. I can’t tell you the number of jail calls I get beginning around the week before Thanksgiving begging me to try one more time to get someone out of jail. I know as well as the next person that not every client is being truthful about wanting to be home for their respective holiday celebration, but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the old line, “I just want to spend Christmas with my kids.” Even when I know the dude is full of it, it makes me wonder how I would feel if I couldn’t see my boys’ smiles on Christmas morning. Even if picking up all the trash after opening presents and the inevitable breaking of a Christmas present on Christmas morning is aggravating, seeing and feeling the joy of watching them open presents fills my tank and helps me get going for another year.
When I was a baby lawyer, I had this yearly feeling by Thanksgiving that I was tired of it all and needed a break from the grind. I would try and coast as best as I could to the end of the year. (Let’s be honest, I still get that same feeling). Then, one year, I was set for trial in early December on an injury to a child case for an appointed client for whom I had been fighting for years. I knew the judge wouldn’t actually be calling any cases for trial that week and that all of the trials would be reset. I was grouchy and tired of the grind that Friday morning when I showed up at the courthouse just to reset my client’s case. My poor client had been beset by horrible health problems during the duration of her case, brought on in part by the anxiety of the pending charges. I walked into the court coordinator’s office to get my new setting and she instructed me I needed to conference the case with the prosecutor. Annoyed, I walked to the room where the prosecutors were waiting and grumpily informed them that I was told to conference with them before I got a reset and consider this grumpy message my conference and I was leaving. The lead prosecutor on my case, however, told me to wait a second. He told me that the case had been reset too many times and, although they knew they weren’t actually going to trial, they had subpoenaed many of the cases in order to determine if they actually had any witnesses to testify in the eventual trials. Mine was one such case. He said, let’s go check and see if I have a witness. We walked out, together, into the foyer on that floor of the courthouse where he called for his witnesses, and none appeared. He walked me back into the court offices and filled out and signed a dismissal. After getting the Judge’s signature, I walked a copy to my client, handed it to her with a smile and told her something to the effect that the perpetual annoyance of her case was over. She burst into tears in the middle of the crowded foyer. She hugged me and told me that I had saved her life.
I’m not re-living this story for an atta-boy. I’m telling y’all, and really reminding myself, that we all have a Christmas miracle in us that we can bring to one of our clients. And sometimes prosecutors surprise us near the end of the year, too. I don’t always get dismissals at Christmas time, but I might be able to get someone out of jail, or I might be able to do something as simple as going and visiting a client in jail, not to talk about the case, but just to visit and remind him or her that they aren’t alone. If we shrug off the tired at the end of the year, we can bring some semblance of joy to someone we represent and make this time of year a little happier. And who knows, that may make all the difference in the world to our client.