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Stuck inside of Cleveland with the Phoenix blues again

With apologies to Bob Dylan...

I'll be in Phoenix next week.  About three years ago, I spent the entire winter in Cleveland.  I swore then that if I had crawl south over broken glass to get out of here sometime during that wretched stretch between mid-October and the end of April, I would.  The Briefcase will be closed down for the week.  I'll be back on March 9 to talk about more law, and maybe a rundown of the Indians' spring training.

Now the rainman gave me two cures

Then he said, "Jump right in"

The one was Texas medicine

The other was just railroad gin

And like a fool I mixed them

And it strangled up my mind

And now, people just get uglier

And I have no sense of time

Cleveland's not an easy town to live in.  The winters didn't used to bother me as much as they do now.  My wife says it's like having another job:  you get up in the morning, put on your boots, bundle up, go out, brush the snow off your car, scrape the ice off the windshields, try and navigate the roads...

It's not an easy town to practice law in, either, especially criminal law.  A few weeks back, the sheriff laid off eighteen deputies, and changed the visitation hours for the jail.  The only times for visitation now are 8:30 AM to 11:00 AM, and 1:oo PM to 4:30 PM, Mondays through Fridays.

That's not just for family and friends, but for lawyers, too.  You can't visit your client in the evening, or on weekends.  If you're trying  a case where your client's in jail, that essentially means you can't see him outside of trial.  I told my wife about this, and she said, "Doesn't that violate their right to counsel?"  My wife is smarter than the sheriff.

Of course, when you do get in to visit, attorney-client confidentiality isn't exactly foremost.  There are two -- count'em, two -- rooms in the entire jail of 1100+ prisoners which allow private contact visits.  Otherwise, you're conversing with your client over a phone with a glass window between you, and with the family of God knows who sitting next to you and talking to their loved, albeit incarcerated, one. 

It's no day at the beach even if your client's not in jail.  There are four little conference rooms on each floor of the Justice Center, maybe ten by six.  If you find one with a couple of chairs, you're lucky; usually, you wind up trying to explain what's going on to your client while you're both standing there, him gazing down at a rug scarred by cigarette burns, your explanation interrupted by another lawyer poking his head in to see if the room's free.  That's after you and your client wait forty-five minutes to catch an elevator up to the courtroom. 

Whoops, did I say four rooms?  On a number of floors, all four have been taken over by the prosecutors office as part of their reorganization in how they handle cases. 

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street

Where the neon madmen climb

They all fall there so perfectly

It all seems so well timed

And here I sit so patiently

Waiting to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of

Going through all these things twice

Part of the blame for this has to go to us.  Criminal defense lawyers, for a variety of reasons, aren't particularly good at organizing, and the motto of the criminal defense bar in this town should be BOHICA -- bend over, here it comes again.  Back in 2000, when Cleveland first ran into the recession, the county cut appointed counsel fees by ten to twenty percent, making them the lowest of any urban county in the state.  Ooops, they already were.  For some reason, no judges or prosecutors volunteered to take a ten percent pay cut, but we were told to keep quiet and the cuts would be restored.  We did, and sure enough, they were -- last September.  About five years ago the ACLU offered to file a challenge in Federal court to the fees, if it got the backing of the local bar.  It didn't; we didn't want to make waves.  When a fellow defense attorney got royally screwed by being turned down for additional appointed fees, getting $900 after spending over five weeks in trial, there was talk about boycotting the assignment system.  That went nowhere.

And now this.  The local criminal bar association wrote a letter to the administrative judge, and we got a response back from the sheriff saying that they never intended to cut back on attorney visitation hours, no siree.   Just show up on the weekends and they'll make the necessary arrangements for a visit, or at least will try to.  What's more, the administrative judge told us that the prosecutors would be limited to having one conference room per floor.  That means we still get 75% of the rooms we had before, to handle the dozens of pretrials that take place on each floor every day.

I'm looking forward to a week off from all that.

Oh, mama, could this really be the end

To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.


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