Monday, June 19, 2017

Mama Bears

Every criminal defense attorney secretly aspires to be Atticus Finch.  In reality, we spend far more time babysitting our clients to a good plea agreement than we do preparing and waging epic court battles.  The defendants who qualify for a court appointed attorney are all indigent (the legal definition of impoverishment).  As a result, most of them have a criminal history, few of them have any education past high school, and only the smallest minority believe that the court system is going to treat them with fairness and impartiality.  As a result, indigent defendants rarely desire to fight their charges.  In fact, most are anxious to get out of the court room ASAP and are willing to accept any deal that does not include having to serve any further jail time - even when the state's case against them is weak.

I like a fighter.  I like meeting fighters under any circumstance, but I especially like shaking the hand of a client and discovering that he or she is a fighter.  I recently shook the hand of a new client (let's call her "Mama Bear") and instantly pegged her as someone who would be desperate for a plea agreement.  She was small, quiet, mousy, and had the weary look of someone who has been repeatedly beaten down.  In our meeting, she explained how she and her children had gone through hell the past two years.  They suffered an unexpected abandonments, health scares, deaths in the family, unemployment...the works.  In the midst of all this, a woman (the "Wicked Witch") who was in love with Mama Bear's partner began to harass my client.  The Wicked Witch spread vicious gossip about Mama Bear and sent her a multitude of texts and voicemails explaining how she deserved everything that was happening to her.  Mama Bear endured this new affliction quietly, but it all came to a head a few weeks ago when the Wicked Witch and a friend showed up at my client's house.  The Wicked Witch shoved my small, sweet client and, to her shock, found herself physically thrown off the property.  Not content to let Mama Bear have the last word, the Wicked Witch came back for seconds and yelled at her friend to attack one of Mama Bear's teenaged children who had come running out of the house .   Long story short, it was a tough brawl, but my client more than earned her nickname and prevented her child from getting hurt.  The Wicked Witch and her friend high-tailed it out of there, much the worse for the wear.    The Wicked Witch then decided to call the police on Mama Bear.  A deputy came to Mama Bear's house, heard both sides of the story, and decided to charge both women with fighting.  So, to cap off two miserable years of setbacks and betrayal, Mama Bear was slapped in handcuffs and pushed into the back of a police cruiser in front of her terrified children.

By the time I met her, I assumed Mama Bear was ready to throw in the towel after being attacked and arrested.  I read the warrant before meeting with her and I immediately recognized the state had some problems with its case. I expected that I would have to convince her to fight the charges, but she was geared up and ready for battle. All of her children were there, all but two had directly witnessed the fight, and all corroborated her story.  I helpfully showed the assistant district attorney the weaknesses in his case by painting a word picture of all those sweet children going on the stand and telling the world how their gentle and kind mother had been attacked in her own home by a horrible woman who had been harassing their family for the preceding several months.  In the end, the DA dropped the charges.

This case did not take up too much of my time or energies, but it made a world of difference to my client and her family.  For the first time in nearly two years, they had stood their ground and actually won.  They told their story to me, the DA, and the judge and we all listened.  That family came into court with defeated and frustrated postures, but they walked out like the champions they were.  Mama Bear struggles to make ends meet.  It is unlikely that she will be able to buy her children cars, nice clothes, or to send them to college.  However, all through their time in court, she told them she was fighting for them.  When they won, she told them that this was proof that a person standing up for what was right would always accomplish something worthwhile.  It was incredible to behold.  I hope her children remember how she fought for them.  I hope they never forget the courage she modeled for them.  In a world drowning in college graduates and teenagers driving nice cars, we need more courageous and principled fighters.  We need more Mama Bears.


  1. Such a great story Corbin. I know of a similar story here in Monroe County that reminds me of Mama Bear. I hope my friend reads this and keeps fighting for her children and a better life away from the abuse she's been going through.

    1. Thank you! If the court system has taught me anything, it is that sticking to your guns pays.


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