Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing with people's lives

It's bad enough that the misdemeanor courts in Harris County hail citizens before them every two-to-three weeks while their cases are pending -- meaning lost time from work and extra money for baby-sitters and parking; due to last week's election, I had a client who had to appear in felony court three times last week for the privilege of resetting a trial to February (after the new judge takes over).

Jury selection was set, originally, the day before the election.  The prosecutor and I spoke and I was informed that all of Monday's trial cases were being rolled to Wednesday -- but that my client still needed to be present.  So we come back to court the day after the election and one floor in particular had more the mood of a funeral home.  My client and I sit and wait.  No one wants to approach the judge...no one knew what he might do.  After an hour he asks the status and we announce that we're trying to work things out but we didn't think they would.  The judge then said he didn't feel like picking a jury that day and told us to come back the next day.

So we make our third appearance of the week on Thursday and are told that something came up and we weren't going to try the case.  The case was then reset to fall on the new judge's docket.

Now I'm paid to be down at the courthouse and even though it meant I had to bring my boxes and display boards and pay extra for parking, it wasn't that big of a deal -- for me.  But for my client, a budding entrepreneur who runs his own chimney sweep company, it was a hassle.  Three days at the courthouse meant three mornings with no paying clients.  It meant keeping potential witnesses in a position where they could come to the courthouse if needed.  It meant the added anxiety of not knowing if "this was the day."

My client may have been charged with a crime, but he hasn't been convicted and for the courts to treat him otherwise is nothing short of wrong.

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