Saturday, July 1, 2017

Our Finest Hour

Lawyers are an opinionated, argumentative bunch.  There are over a million of us in the United States and there are over a million opinions on the greatest moment in legal history.  Most of them are wrong because the greatest moment was John Adams's passionate defense of the British soldiers who fired on civilians in the Boston Massacre.  As I have now definitively resolved this debate, I would like to tell of my personal greatest moment.

I was appointed by the Court to represent a young man who had a long history of drug use (but no prior drug charges) and whom the state suspected of dealing drugs.  He was finally charged with possessing a large amount of meth with the intent to resell in a school zone (a felony in Tennessee), two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and public intoxication (both misdemeanors).  Based upon the amount of the drugs and his proximity to a school, he was looking at seven years in prison. I soon realized that he was entirely innocent of the charges.  The statement provided by the arresting police officer specified my client was passed out drunk in the near vicinity of the alleged drug deal.  The other individuals charged with the crime were friends of his, but there was no evidence that he was aware that anyone had any drugs in their possession, nor that there was a drug deal about to be transacted.  Prosecutors like to charge as many people as they can with a crime and see what sticks.  So, he got lumped in with everyone else.

I was a pretty green attorney at this point, but even I knew we had a pretty good case.  I quickly convinced the DA prosecuting my client that the drug charges would not stick at trial and I was working to convince her that the paraphernalia charges were not worth pursuing.  We were negotiating while in court, and we took a break when the judge adjourned for lunch.  I stepped out and an older woman flagged me down and introduced herself as the grandmother of my client.  She asked what I thought about the case, and I proudly told her of the successful negotiations and of my conclusions that the evidence against my client was rather weak.  I expected relief.  I got tears.  She calmed down after a few minutes, then gently told me that she and her family had been praying for me to lose her grandson's case.  They wanted him in prison because he has been living on the streets constantly hunting for his next fix.  An inmate is not homeless, is not going hungry, and is not living one hit away from a fatal overdose.  They had tried every rehabilitation and treatment option they knew, but he was uninterested and they had been living for the last two years wondering if every phone call and every knock on the door would be announcing news of his death.  If he was in prison, they would have the comfort of knowing he was safe.

After lunch, I had my client moved into a jail visitation room and I crowded into my side along with his grandmother, his mom, his baby mamma, and his toddler.  It was hot, stuffy, and cramped.  His family told him how they would prefer he go to prison than to continue in his current lifestyle.  They all cried.  It was long.  I worked hard to persuade him to plead to the misdemeanor charges and agree to court-ordered rehab.  After a few hours, we had not gotten anywhere.  I finally told him that I would do as he asked and negotiate to get his other charges dropped, but I did say that I thought he was man enough to get clean and I knew he was up to the task.  He broke down and cried.  He said he wanted to get clean, but he did not think he could do it.  Everyone was crying at this point and his family all strongly affirmed their love for him and their commitment to shoulder through this journey along with him.  The DA readily agreed to drop the possession with intent to sell charges and to take his plea on the misdemeanor charges without requiring any further jail time plus mandating that he complete rehab.  I walked out more exhausted than I had ever been after a day's work, but I knew even then that this had been my finest hour as a working man.


I ran into him a while back.  He is working hard and he is clean.  I did not recognize him initially because of how healthy he looked.  His daughter is very blessed to have a champion like him in her life.  I have been thinking about him recently.  I tried to help a recent client get the help he needed, but he did not want to be helped.  He died of a drug overdose the other day.  Another client was incarcerated and went into withdrawal.  She became so despondent that she attempted suicide.  When it comes to dealing with the drug addiction, the stakes are high; they are life and death.  I genuinely believe that the client I helped persuade to go into rehab is going to make it and that his decision to seek help and treatment saved his life.  That was a great moment, and I consider myself privileged to have fought alongside those warriors who loved him so fiercely.  Drugs have a powerful hold on those addicted to them, but love is more powerful still.

Our Finest Hour

Lawyers are an opinionated, argumentative bunch.  There are over a million of us in the United States and there are over a million opinions ...