Friday, March 31, 2006

Movin' on up!!

It's final. We're moving. We'll be leaving 1736-A Western Avenue on April 30th, and moving into 255 Washington Avenue Extension, Suite 108. The image above is of a nearby building that looks similar.

Our current space is a tolerable building in the parking lot of a restaurant. The building is poorly insulated and not very well maintained. The problems range from potholes to the super-loud firehouse siren across the street.

The new digs will have a lot of glass. The building, owned and managed by Tri-City Rentals, is both beautiful and well-maintained. We will have a corner of the building, and yours truly will have the corner office with 28 feet of glass.

It's outrageously expensive. By the time the 5 year lease has run, we'll have spent more on this space than the price we paid for our house in 1999.

But it's worth it. We're excited and very much looking forward to the new location. And easy walking distance from the Italian Community Center for lunch. :-)

More about prosecutors

[Note: In light of a complaint, I have edited this post. Changes are in [brackets]].

I've blogged about prosecutors a few times - a good example is the prosecutor mentality post.

Well now I'm going to lay into a particular DA's office that has gotten quite a bit of bad press recently - The Rensselaer County DA's office. The DA is a friend of mine from law school. Most of the complaints I've heard have been about her personally. I have no bad experiences with her so I will not criticize her here in that way.

However, I am now having a bad experience with her office, and some of the blame for that (if my view is correct that their conduct is inappropriate) must fall on her.

The story: my client is sitting in a jail in Chicago. About 3 years ago he worked for a store in Rensselaer County. He lived in Massachusetts at the time. Apparently he worked at that store for a few months and then left for a job in MA. About 2 months ago (I'm just guessing at the time span) the store decided that this guy stole money from them while he worked there. So they contacted the police. Sometime in February or maybe early March, the State Police got an arrest warrant from a town judge, and asked Illinois (where he now lives) to arrest him. He was arrested March 8th. It's been 3 1/2 weeks and he's still in jail in Chicago. Someone's dragging their feet on the actual process of getting him here. I believe the first couple weeks of delay are due to the State Police.

I was hired about a week ago and am trying to get him out of jail so he can come here and face the charges. It took a while just to figure out who issued the warrant. Once I had all the information, I contacted the judge. He told me who to speak with in the DA's office. That guy was not great, but at least he wasn't unpleasant. The best he could muster was that they'd get my client here by April 15th. This ADA did not know the underlying facts of the case (nor did the BCI Investigator I had spoken with earlier). I told him I was going to ask the judge for bail (I had previously been told that Illinois would let him out of jail if bail were granted in NY). He would not consent to bail, even though he didn't know the facts of the case, and he only agreed to review the facts of the case after I pushed. First he had to tell me how insulted he was by my pushing. Excuse me if I think a guy with a wife and two young daughters ought to get better treatment under these circumstances. But again, this ADA was the nice one.

After speaking with him and getting more details from my client's family, I faxed the bail application to the judge and a copy to the DA's office. Then the DA's office showed its dark side. [Sentence deleted by author.] [He] calls me up and starts telling me how I can't apply for bail because the judge doesn't have jurisdiction over his person. He may or may not be right about that (I think he's wrong), but it was his tone. Extremely aggressive. I asked when my client would be brought here and he said by April 15th. I asked why it takes so long. Answer: "We're not travel agents." He then told me he didn't mean to be flip. Sounds pretty flip to me.

When I explained that I thought the judge does have the power to grant bail, he threatened to indict my client if I don't withdraw the bail application. At this point I'm a bit confused. If you're so sure the judge doesn't have the power to grant bail, why would you bother threatening me? And why is indictment a threat?

I pointed out that my client has been sitting in a jail in Chicago for three weeks, that he has a wife and two young daughters, and that golly-gee-whillickers he might just be innocent. Response: "I haven't looked at the merits of the case yet."


So now I've got one Investigator and two ADAs who are going out of their way to keep my client sitting in a Chicago jail, away from his family, and none of them knows the merits of the case yet??????

I don't know yet whether my client is innocent or not. I have had two similar cases, one dismissed and one still pending where we've rejected an offer for an ACOD. In both of those cases I am sure my clients are innocent. Cases where employees are alleged to have stolen from their employer are often questionable, and the length of time it took to accuse this client makes this very suspicious.

If my client turns out to be innocent, I will make sure that [the prosecutor] gets to meet my client's daughters, so he can explain to them why he kept their father from them without researching the merits of his case.

And then we're going to sue some people [remainder of paragraph deleted].

I also need to talk to my friend Ernie Tetrault and the folks at JusticeNow about getting a law passed in NY that takes away immunity from prosecutors who recklessly prosecute people who turn out to be innocent. They are absolutely immune under NY law, but I think they may still be vulnerable under federal law. Not my area of law - yet.

DWI Victory!!

I previously blogged about a couple of DWI cases I have going.

One is where my client's car broke down, he walked home, a neighbor called the police, and he was arrested about 45 minutes later from inside his home without a warrant. We moved to suppress the arrest as a Payton violation (warrantless arrests in the home prohibited without both probable cause and "exigent circumstances"). About two months ago that judge denied the motion finding probable cause. She made no finding as to exigent circumstances, so we'll appeal that one if we lose at trial. We should have a good shot at trial anyway, since all they can really prove is that he was sleeping while intoxicated.

But that's not what motivated this post. In my other DWI case, the client was pulled over for a stop sign violation in a parking lot in Stuyvesant Plaza (near Albany). V&T Law Section 1172(a) governs stop signs. Section 1100(b) says that law does not apply in parking lots. Note that we still recommend obeying such signs. :-)

So we moved to suppress the stop and all the evidence from it (which would essentially destroy the prosecution's case as they have no other evidence). The first judge heard the motion and I was sure he was going to rule in our favor after oral argument. Instead he scheduled a hearing 5 months later. His decision was sent out a week after he lost the election.

So the new judge got the case and was at least kind enough to move the suppression hearing up a month. We did the suppression hearing, which was an awful lot of fun for me (trial lawyers love cross-examining cops). I have to say that the officer was scrupulously honest - there was no other reason for the stop, and he also admitted to imperfections in his handling of the field sobriety tests. I have seen other cops bend the truth on occasion, and I think they may get some pressure to do so. This officer was clean as a whistle and earned my respect. As for the stop, he simply didn't know about 1100(b). Don't be too hard on him. Seems like a lot of lawyers are unaware of this -- I had a hunch about it when the client first called me and had to look it up.

The judge's decision came in today's mail. We won!!! I actually jumped up and down. My cell phone fell out of my shirt pocket. One of the downsides of criminal defense work is that we don't win a lot of cases. We mostly get the best deal we can for our clients. Every once in a while we get a good case to defend. Those cases become passionate obsessions for me, and I suspect the same is true for other trial lawyers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Harvard finally noticed me ...

I still can't believe anyone reads my blog. There seems to have been a surge lately. I got a call from two reporters from local papers in the last month or so, plus a call from a reporter from Fortune Magazine. One local reporter was writing about local businesses that use blogs. The other two were writing about speeding ticket issues. And today I got a nice e-mail from a guy who writes a blog on harvard law school's website.

In other news, we may be moving our physical office space, probably on May 1st. Very excited. I'll blog more about this in a future post.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cruise ship fire - Princess Star - and my in-laws

This has nothing to do with being a lawyer in Albany, not even close, but it's interesting nonetheless.

My wife's parents went on a cruise a few days ago and my wife read that there was a fire on the ship. The Albany Times Union has a story about it.

The good news, as far as my family is concerned anyway, is that my in-laws were apparently not injured.

The interesting part is the phony effort by Princess to show they care. My wife asked me to see what I could find out online, so I did some searching.

A spokesperson from Princess is quoted in stories saying all the right things. Their website has a very well thought-out (or lawyered-up :-) ) statement expressing their concern.

But that's where we get to the fly in the ointment. At the end of the statement it says "A special number has been set up for inquiries from immediate family of passengers who are currently onboard: 1-800-693-7222."

So I ask my wife if I should call and she says yes. I call. The phone is answered and a pleasant woman's voice begins saying something. Shortly I realize this is a recording. A bit later I realize she's reading a statement. Not just any statement, but the statement I just read on the web. Keep in mind that I found the number to call by reading the statement, so I'm not sure why I needed to hear it again. And when I say the statement, I mean the whole statement. She even read the part about the special number for inquiries --- which I would obviously know since that's the number I called.

But they really care. And I'm not done with the story yet.

After the statement another voice says to hold to speak with someone. So I hold. Pleasant music starts. Another recorded voice then says that all "cruise consultants" are assisting other "customers". I'm not a customer. I'm an immediate family member of a customer, and this is supposed to be a special number set up for us. Apparently the number is special but the service provided is not. And I'm still not done.

After about 5 minutes waiting and listening to elevator music and reassuring female voices saying how important my call is to them, someone finally picks up the phone.

I give her my name and my in-law's names. She got the name wrong and was looking for my first name. Minor glitch, I know. After I correct her she then tells me that my in-laws were in fact passengers on this cruise.

Q: What hotel are they in?
A: We don't have that information.

Q: Were they injured? (I already knew they were not)
A: You would have received a call this morning if they had been injured.

Q: Do you have any information on whether they were injured?
A: I don't have that information.

She did know what cabin they had been in, and that their cabin was not near where the fire was. She said it was possible they were staying in their cabin since it was not near the fire. But she didn't know.

So basically, a special number was set up for inquiries from immediate family, but no special effort was made to prepare to answer those inquiries.

Another example of corporate phoniness. It's nice to know they say they care.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The busy lawyer

One paradox lawyers face is being busy. If you're not busy, you might go broke. If you are busy, you're too busy, you don't have a life, and your wife gets mad at you.

I know I'm busy at the moment because I'm pulling an all-nighter trying to catch up on all my paperwork. I am making a dent, but at 3:44 am on a Sunday morning (i.e. I started Saturday night), you start to wonder if you're too busy.

But those clients seem to think their lawyer should take care of their cases. And since they pay for it, a good lawyer feels the same way.

When you combine the busy law practice with family, it doesn't leave much time for hobbies. Besides blogging, of course.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Speeding tickets in New York - On the horizon

Another new thing coming, and a lot sooner than the Extreme DUI I mentioned in my last post, is a change in how New York State Trooper tickets will be handled in local courts.

One of my best friends is a Trooper. The other day we were out and he mentioned this coming change. I've talked to a few other Troopers and a couple of attorneys about it and it sounds like it's for real. ... Oh, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about. :-)

The story is that, starting September 1st, Troopers will no longer be allowed to plea bargain tickets. If they show up in Court, the only options are to plead guilty to the charge or have a trial.

The underlying idea here is that the head honchos want to cut down on Trooper overtime. By creating the new policy, they are hoping to force local DAs and/or municipal prosecuting attorneys to handle the Trooper tickets. If the local prosecuting attorneys handle these matters, Troopers will make a lot fewer trips to local courts, and that will dramatically reduce overtime expenses for the State Police.

Sounds to me like yet another example of the State finding ways to push their costs onto local governments, who will now need to hire more prosecuting attorneys. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but I doubt we'll see the locals get a greater share of the fine money to go along with this change.

It's not clear how this will affect the average struggling speeding ticket lawyer. But I'm sure we'll manage.

Extreme DUI - Coming soon?

I attended a seminar for New York DWI lawyers. A great program that covered a lot of topics. One new development nationally is a concept called Extreme DUI. The idea is to increase penalties when the person's blood alcohol content (BAC) is over a certain level.

Arizona has already adopted Extreme DUI. You can read a bit about their DUI laws on this page from the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

In their take, regular DUI is a BAC of 0.08 and above. Extreme DUI is when the BAC is 0.15 or above. The fine for an Extreme DUI is $1700, where a regular DUI is only (only?) $950. As an aside, you have to wonder how they chose $950. Once you're going to $950, why not choose $1000?

Anyway, a couple of the speakers at the seminar mentioned this and they believe it is going to spread around the US and will soon be here in New York State. The speakers were all very successful (and very respected) DWI lawyers, and they joked about how they would now all be able to afford limos.

It is possible that Extreme DWI would lead to not only higher fines, but also longer suspensions and perhaps a greater likelihood of jailtime. We'll be watching.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Town Court website

I'm pleased to report that our new version of the town court directory website is up and running. The site is a directory of local courts. We're starting with New York town courts. It should take a month or two to get all the courts for NY up. Next will be other states, probably starting with NJ and MA.

For now we have several pages up for town courts in Albany County, and a few other counties.

Courts that seem to be the busiest include:

Guilderland Town Court

Colonie Town Court

Albany City Court - Traffic Part

Rotterdam Town Court (in Schenectady County)

Princetown Town Court

Clifton Park Town Court (in Saratoga County)

Another surprisingly busy court is in Greene County: Athens Town Court.

There are several more courts on there, and soon we should have all the local courts in the Albany area up.