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Frustrations of a Defense Attorney

Attorney Edward Fogarty

Christmas Eve

He was an older man compared to the majority with whom he was housed.  In his early 40's, slight of build, 5 foot nine or ten, slightly hunched and sporting a dark mustache below a thinning crown of hair.  He had no name, though a number marking his identify was stitched somewhere on his green jumpsuit.  He was in transit when spotted through a plate glass window from a visiting room which peered into a windowless hallway, he seemingly in perennial smile subservient to his masters, two guards, uniformed in blue, who were directing him to turn first left, then right and through to the next cell block.  

It was Christmas Eve in prison, his green jumpsuit an indicator he was under sentence for whatever crime he had committed several months or years ago.  Green for sentenced, Orange for awaiting trial.  Mixed in with the Green and Orange from time to time were inmates dressed in the classic black and white striped garb.  Perhaps these men had committed some infraction of the many prison rules and were on some special detail or punishment.  It was not clear at first glance.  

The guard room across from the visiting area was filled with prison technology, monitor screens, three across, surveyed rooms, cells and the visiting area as cameras switched views once each ten seconds or so.  The man in green had stopped at a cell door near the guardroom, he had on his fixed smile, a cell door opened and he passed through.  Smiling.  On to a better cell for Christmas?  



Holidays celebrated with family are a special time for all, returning each of us to times past with memories of times as youth with parents and friends.  Good times.

Prisoners are no different, and holiday periods, Christmas in particular, bring emotional difficulties.  Attorneys can and do try to meet with clients especially at this time of year, bringing at least some sense of solace to what can be seemingly interminable loss of liberty.  Hopefully, family members visit as well, as lawyers are a poor substitute for meaningful family relationships.

Recently I met with a prisoner, within days of Christmas.  He is a young man, with a calm demeanor.  The meeting went well, lasting a couple of hours while reviewing various evidence in his case and discussing issues in the case.  As we sat activity passed by us, easily visible through a plate glass window.  Some prisoners were garbed in a classic white and black striped shirt, each secured tightly in shackles to their hands and feet.  None seemed particularly dangerous as they passed, presumably they were clad in such garb as part of a punishment for perhaps talking back to a guard or something more serious.  

Another passed, dressed in a green jump suit, he too in leg shackles, shuffling as fast as possible to keep up with guard who were accompanying him to another location within the jail.  He was smiling as shuffling, apparently going to an improved location.  

In the middle of all this another inmate appeared, without shackles, carrying a plastic bag filled with personal belongings.  Free at last apparently, and about to be released.  A Merry Christmas.  


Trial Reflections

Trials are the ultimate exercise for an attorney, and it takes specialized training to conduct one properly.  It is an odd experience, the preparation is a survey of sometimes facts and circumstances of which the attorney has limited knowledge.  In addition to mastering the facts, the attorney is often required to master an area of relatively sophisticated expertise: it could be amongst the trades plumbing or electricity, or amongst the professions, medicine or psychology.  

For today's trial it was a master of a lifetime of criminal conduct by the client, and a try at understanding the nature of psychologist testimony as to the client's potential future dangerousness.  The government was attempting to commit the client civilly as too dangerous to let lose on society.  If the client loses, he faces a very uncertain future, and could wind up spending the rest of his life in the civil equivalent of a prison.  In fact, the client recognized his dilemma.  When discussing the trial and testimony, the client would break down and cry: "I don't want to die here."

It could happen.  There is certainly little sympathy for a man in his situation: a lifetime of crime, hurting other people, seemingly uncontrollable.  If he gets out, his past dictates he will hurt someone again.  But then maybe not, and how can we punish someone for in essence future conduct.  We'll have to see.  


Deja Vu

While traversing Brooklyn's Heights and across to nearby Cobble Hill, there are plenty of criminal justice type edifices if you take the time to notice.  Not that these are difficult to see: large courthouses, police cruisers stacked up around buildings with gated entries, doorways with signs indicating when and where a parolee may enter. 

However, in the humdrum of a busy urban street these edifices blend in, and it takes a watching eye to see the goings and comings.   We were staying at a relatively inexpensive hotel along Smith Street, and directly across the street was a local police station.  The building was entirely non-descript, no windows, brickwork facade, the only entry that could be seen from this view was a chain-link gate which slid wide enough for waiting cruisers to enter.  Once inside the gate slid shut and the black and white would then be permitted further entry when a second gate opened, leading the car deep into an underground network of locked doors and prison cells.  (Black and White is a euphuism, police cruisers today are painted more gaily, these were blue and white, to make them more affable and friendly)

On this day, the hotel's windows were open for fresh air, and one could see cruisers lined up at the end of their shift, waiting entry or just waiting, one officer leaving work another beginning.  On the next block was one of Brooklyn's large courthouses, it was Sunday so closed, but Monday it would receive those arrested over the weekend and being held next door in the underground police department cells.

Years ago I had tried a federal case here in Brooklyn, just down the street.  It was a "white collar" case, involving computers and software technology.  The result for the client was a good one, and sitting here sipping coffee, the moment brought back memories.


Clock Without Time

The Massachusetts Treatment Center is a low-profile angular brick structure located in a "correctional complex" in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Bridgewater is also home to Bridgewater State College, a state-run small college of long-standing, which gives the center of the town somewhat of a college-town atmosphere, a few small shops here and there catering to college students which would not exist but for the college crowd; and larger than usual groupings of college-aged students.   

But the town is likely best known for its "Correctional Complex" located about five miles south of town along Route 18.  A visitor takes a left off 18, and enters a road winding through lowland and scrub only to shortly enter a broach swath of cleared land filled with various jails, prisons, mental hospitals and treatment centers.  Old Colony Correction Center ("OCCC" in the vernacular) is first up, housing felons of various types, usually of lesser threatening nature.  Behind are large brick structures covered with ivy and missing walls, which guards say are the remains of older institutions since replaced.  At the end of the road is the Massachusetts State Hospital, which houses, amongst others, those who are in common parlance criminally insane.  Entering the State Hospital is in itself somewhat intimidating, but that is for another blog entry.

In between OCCC and the State Hospital, on the right, is the Massachusetts Treatment Center.  The TC, as it is known, houses sex offenders, the scourge of the criminal justice system and indeed the scourge of society.  Many if not most of those committed here are not doing time for any crime.  In fact, most have long-since completed any punishment meted out for whatever sexual crime they may have done, the majority pedophiles.  These men, they are all men, are held for what they might do upon release.  It is an odd law, being held captive for what may happen, but the idea has won approval as constitutionally sound by all courts, and most states have such laws.  

The TC has as its entry a newly repaired concrete stairway of two levels.  The prior stairway had been in disrepair for some time, half blocked from use by wooden barriers, and the useable part marred with shattered concrete and broken stairs.  Upon entry to the TC, one is greeted by an expanse of mahogany-like or perhaps mahogany benches with a wide triangular centerpiece.  The centerpiece had been replete with flora until recently, when it was removed for some unknown reason.  

The TC is a village of the damned.  A purgatory between crime and punishment.  Time, criminal justice has stood still.  

Just before entering the main visiting area, if one turns, there is a clock above the TC entryway.  It has no hands.  It has been in that condition during the time and viewed by this writer.  Appropriate.