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My cup runneth over

They didn't show this on LA Law.

It's not easy to practice law here in Cuyahoga County. This morning I walked over to my my 9:00 criminal cases at about 9:15.  I've got two pretrials and a hearing on a motion to suppress.  No, I'm not a guy who's usually late.  I used to be at pretrials at 9:00.  In fact, the other day I showed up for one at ten minutes to nine, and the bailiff looked at me like I'd lost my mind.  If you're lucky enough to find a prosecutor in a courtroom by 9:15, it's even money that he'll tell you that another prosecutor will be bringing up the files.  Which will eventually happen.

The line for the elevators to the main courtrooms winds back past the information desk and down the stairs, snakes along the coffee kiosk, goes up another set of stairs, and finally ends by the admission entrance for the jail.  That's a 45-minute wait, at least.  I do my usual routine:  take the other set of elevators up to the 10th floor, then walk up four flights of stairs to the 12th floor.  A lot of people get off the elevators on the 12th floor, where the arraignment room and a bunch of municipal courtrooms are located, so you've got a pretty good chance of catching a ride there, without having to wait in line.  Perry Mason didn't have to wait in line for the elevators, I tell myself as I trudge up the stairs.

It's funny to listen to lawyers from other counties who come to Cuyahoga County for a case.  They can't believe it.  I don't blame them.  Neither can I.  I tried a case out in Lake County earlier this year.  Seven witnesses.  It took a day and a half.  The trial was scheduled for 8:30, and by 8:30, the judge was on the bench and the jury was in the box.  There were seven witnesses in the last case I tried in Cuyahoga County, too.  It took five days.  The trial was scheduled for 9:00.  The judge showed up around 10:00, and spent a half hour in her chambers on the phone.  The bailiff told us the judge had to get some pleas and sentencings out of the way, and we'd get started around 11:00.  If we could get a jury, that is; we were 7th on the list.  They finally got one by 3:15.  The other days were better; we almost always got started by eleven, and some days as much as a half hour before that.

I make it up to the first courtroom, and find the prosecutors are short-handed; there's only two of them, instead of three, to handle the two courtrooms on that side of the building.  Each judge has about ten to twenty pretrials scheduled.  It's the first pretrial in this case, and after waiting a few minutes, it's my turn.  I sit down and start jotting notes on my legal pad as the prosecutor reads the police report to me.

Yes, that's right.  He read it to me.  In other counties, you're given a copy of the prosecutor's file, but not here.  Ohio doesn't have open discovery, and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office is as much a reason for that as anyone else; they've fought it tooth and nail.  They will give you the exact items that Criminal Rule 16 says you're entitled to:  names and addresses of witnesses, results of tests, statements of the defendant and any co-defendants.  At the pretrials, they read you the police reports and anything else they think you should know.

What about exculpatory evidence?  There's not exactly a tradition here of turning that stuff over to defense attorneys.  One former prosecutor, Carmen Marino, was notorious for not doing that.  Put my name into Google, and the first hit you'll get is this site.  Put his name in, and the first hit you'll get is this story, about how three people got sent to death row because he hid evidence in their cases.  Marino retired years ago.  The prosecutors office gives an annual award in his name, with County Prosecutor Bill Mason lauding Marino as someone who "set the standard for what law enforcement should be."

I get done, get a new date for a couple weeks later, then go to my next pretrial.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Then it's time for the hearing on my suppression motion.  The prosecutor tells me he's run into a problem with the subpoenas for the cops:  the sheriff's office forgot to send them over to the district, and both cops work the night shift, so they're in bed now, and he doesn't know how to reach them.  The judge wants to talk with us about the case, but she's in another hearing.  I hang around for another hour, go take care of a sentencing, and return.  By that time, it's noon, so I go tell the bailiff I'll be back at 1:15.  He's okay with that.

When I come back, the judge is still in the hearing.  She gets done, then talks to the prosecutor and I for about a half hour, trying to work out a deal on the case.  It's a drug charge, my client's got no record, and the judge thinks that the Early Intervention Program would be ideal:  the client does a year of supervised probation, and if she stays clean, the charges are dropped.  The prosecutor can't agree to that without his supervisor's approval, and the supervisor is in a meeting.  We'll come back on Friday.

I get back to my office at two.  There's a mass email waiting for me from the county administrator, informing all of the attorneys on the assigned counsel list that the assigned fee maximums have been increased.  For a fourth degree felony, like the ones I was on this morning, I can get up to $500.  For a first degree felony, like the one I had the sentencing for, it's a maximum of a grand.  Forty bucks for out-of-court, fifty for in-court.

Those were the maximum fees back in 1978, when they were first established.  Cleveland hit a rough spot in 2000, so they knocked a hundred dollars off the maximums.  I didn't really notice the rough spot going away, here or much of anyplace else in Ohio, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. 

Still, I'm pretty sure Matlock got paid more than that for his cases.


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