Sunday, January 28, 2007

David Soares - One of the most feared and respected politicians in NY?

The 1/18/07 issue of the Metroland features Albany District Attorney David Soares on the front cover. The photo has him in a "tough" pose - arms crossed, no smile. There's a similar photo at the first page of the article, which you can also see on the online version:

The cover text indicates that Soares is now "one of the most feared and respected politicians in New York State." I don't think so.

I know David and like him on a personal level. We were both running for office in 2004 and I chatted with him a few times during that campaign. He's certainly pleasant. I also like the fact that he has spoken out about the drug war, both during his campaign and since. He does talk the drug policy reform talk.

My biggest criticism of Soares is that while he talks the talk, he does not walk the walk. I have seen no significant reform of drug prosecutions in Albany County since he took over, with one exception. It used to be routine here in marijuana cases for the ACOD to go through, no problems. It is commonplace in other parts of the state. I've blogged before about this issue involving marijuana ACODs and marijuana defense. Since he took office, low-level marijuana offenders often face the demand for community service in order to get the ACOD. For someone who's supposed to be going easier on low-level drug offenders, this is not what was expected. His office is being tougher on marijuana than any other DA's office I know of - and I've handled marijuana cases in roughly 20 counties. But it's not just that they're being tougher. Their position on this is actually illegal. See CPL 170.56, compare it with 170.55, and then let me know what you think (by posting a comment on this post, for example).

Beyond marijuana, I have seen the DA's office under Soares continue to prosecute low-level offenders for other drugs, and do so vigorously. His office certainly considers drug treatment and other efforts in plea negotiations, but that was true under his predecessor and is common elsewhere. In the article Soares complains about insufficient funding from the county. This was also a problem that his predecessor complained about, as does just about every bureaucrat in every county, city, town and village in the country.

There's a simple solution to the funding problem - prosecutorial discretion. Direct your assistant district attorneys to go easy on the drug cases. Don't indict the low-level drug felonies and leave them as misdemeanors. Propose ACODs on the drug misdemeanors. Don't oppose applications by defense lawyers for dismissals in the interest of justice. Review all your cases and throw out the crappy ones. I've got a non-drug felony pending right now in Albany County, and it's one of the worst pieces of garbage I've seen - and I've seen some bad prosecution cases in my day. The Beth Geisel case is another good example. I know the politically correct thing to say is that it was a crime, but please don't tell me that a 16-year-old boy who has sex with an attractive 40-year-old woman is a victim. Meanwhile, dump the prostitution cases too. They're another waste of time and taxpayer money. While we're at it, get some volunteer college or law school interns and set up a unit for traffic cases so that cases can be resolved by mail. That would free up time not only for ADAs but also for town attorneys and local judges. Now that we've cleaned out half the cases, maybe your ADAs will find the time to return phone calls from defense lawyers. I can't be the only one they don't call back. -- I'm not cracking on the Albany ADAs here. They're almost all good to work with in Court, but it would be nice if they returned phone calls. This was a problem under the previous DA as well.

Now let's talk about this "feared and respected" thing. I agree that he's probably well known in Albany County, and reasonably well known in the Capital Region thanks to media coverage locally. But beyond the Capital Region Soares is mostly unknown. You can't be feared and respected in New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, etc. if they don't know who you are, and they don't.

While he's well-known here, I don't know anyone who fears him. He certainly earned some political respect for winning the DA race in 2004, though we'll see how that plays out in 2008. I think Soares knows his days are numbered and he's looking around Spitzer and Cuomo's offices to see if he can find a more secure job. We know he's going to face a tough primary from the Dems, and we know they fight dirty too. If he wins the primary he'll be bruised, and if the Albany GOP gets its act together, they might actually run a decent campaign in 2008 for this office. I'd be more impressed if he were feared and respected as a prosecutor, but I don't hear a lot of that from the other lawyers. If you want to talk about DAs who are respected as prosecutors, you'd really be talking about guys like Jed Conboy in Montgomery County and Jim Sacket in Schoharie. They actually try cases. The Columbia County DAs office is feared more than any other. The Saratoga DA's office is very well respected by just about every defense lawyer. Most of the ADAs in most of the offices are good people - I've never met an ADA in Schenectady or Greene County I didn't like.

Going through the article a little more, there's a section where the author raves about how Soares handled the Hevesi case, including "his successful plea bargaining."

Successful? The guy stole over $200K and got no jail time!

Then there's this bit in the article: [Soares] has not made a spectacle of arresting politicians; he hasn't stormed an office building and laid the cuffs on someone in a suit. And, according to Soares, that is simply part of his approach of one standard of justice. "While you can exonerate someone legally, you can't give them their reputation back," says Soares. "So we proceed with extreme caution whenever we are inquiring about elected officials."

Um ... one standard of justice ... proceed with extreme caution for elected officials ... that's two standards of justice! Hevesi got a completely different standard of justice than the everyday defendant gets. If he were to get the same standard as everyone else, he'd get arrested on a Friday night in one of the towns, arraigned the next morning and denied bail because there's no DA available to consent, spend three nights in jail and get bailed out on Monday with bail set at $500,000. The offer would probably be 6 and 5 (6 months in jail with 5 years probation), but they'd probably come down to 90 days in jail, or maybe do the 6 months but only make him spend his weekends in jail for that period, allowing him to work and sleep at home during the week. During the 5 years of probation, once a month or so someone would come to his office or house and make him pee in a cup to see if he's had any alcohol or drugs. If they find any he'd be in violation and get sent to state prison for a year or so. How about proceeding with extreme caution in every case. That's the one standard I'd like to see.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Verizon idiots and debt collection, redux

See update at bottom of this post
I posted more than a year ago about problems we had with Verizon mistakes and their debt collection practices. Like Poltergeist, they're back!

Before getting into this, I should also mention a more recent post I did about debt collectors.

Briefly on the older Verizon story, a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, Verizon misspelled my name and used the wrong phone number in my yellow pages listing. To be specific, they spelled my name correctly once and incorrectly once within a couple lines of each other, and used my cell phone number in my ad instead of my toll-free number. So I made phone calls, sent letters, got no response and refused to pay. I was harassed by debt collectors for a while, and then they just dropped it.

And then they printed the ad again the next year -- still wrong. So they sent me bills and I ignored them. Eventually they started sending me threatening notices and I ignored those. Now there's some collection agency that calls me, usually at home but sometimes on my toll-free number.

As in the old debt collectors post, these debt collectors pretend to be interested in the story, and claim they're going to investigate. The other day one of them called me to tell me that I'm wrong about the ad (I have it in my office, so I know I'm not wrong about it). Then today someone else from that debt collector called. I told him I was tired of talking to his firm and was not interested in talking any more. I'm not paying. Go ahead and sue me. For $252, I just don't think that's likely.

And then he used the classic debt collector's line -- "We'll have to report this on your credit." Well oh me, oh my, dearest me. We've managed to make payments consistently on our mortgage, our home equity line of credit, our credit cards, and so on, for close to a decade. And I'm supposed to worry about a $252 report on my credit? I don't think so.

But why did he make that threat? Because it actually scares some people. People who aren't sophisticated. People who might actually need to borrow money at some point in the near future. But let's analyze this threat a bit further. It's probably been a year since I refused to pay this. It probably went on my credit report several months ago already. It's an empty threat because it was already reported on my credit.

I stand by the comment in my previous post. I used to wonder where felons find jobs after they get out of prison. Now I know. They work in the debt collection industry. So remember this before you buy anything from Verizon. They treat their customers like dirt, and if there's ever a dispute, whether or not they're right, they will turn you over to the wolves. Sadly, many other businesses seem to be about the same.
Update - Since this post I did another one in December of 2008: More Verizon and Debt Collection.

Now this letter came in June of 2009:

Looks like my "debt" has been passed off to yet another bottom feeder. And they got my address wrong to boot.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Someone should have hired a lawyer sooner ...

I'm often asked by prospective traffic ticket clients as to whether they really need a lawyer. The answer is no, but that depends on your definition of the word need. The other day I saw someone who didn't think she needed a lawyer. She was wrong, and the consequences were severe.

I walked into this small-town court a few minutes after the session was supposed to start. The judge was sitting at the bench. Standing in front of him, a local police officer and an attractive young woman were speaking with each other and with the judge. I signed in and started chatting quietly with a couple of attorneys on the side. Another attorney who I know well mentioned to me that he would consider giving this woman free representation due to her derriere (he used a shorter word). I didn't think she was that special. And to ensure my political correctness, I hereby disapprove of that attorney's remark, and am deeply remorseful for anything I may have done to suggest otherwise.

In a few minutes I was called by another officer from the same department (let's call him Joe - I don't know his real first name) and we discussed my case briefly, reaching an agreement. We went back into the courtroom to wait our turn. The young lady was still in front of the judge, apparently not satisfied with the offer that had been made.

Joe and I talked quietly while this was going on. I learned that the young lady had a lengthy driving record, with multiple speeding tickets and that her license had either been revoked or suspended by DMV because of this.

The scene our intrepid young woman was making prompted Joe to a realization. She's got a revoked or suspended license. She probably drove here and will probably drive away. So when the young lady finally wrapped up (her case was adjourned), Joe kept an eye on her and, from a distance, followed her outside.

About 20 minutes later, Joe came back in with the young lady in handcuffs. She was now being charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the 3rd degree, commonly referred to as AUO 3rd. This is a misdemeanor - a criminal charge. The nature of the offense is driving with a suspended license. Joe also charged her with Resisting Arrest, which is also a misdemeanor.

Now, I'm not saying this woman needed a lawyer, because need is such a strong word. I do believe she should have hired a lawyer, long, long, long before that night. Certainly by the time she had been handed her third speeding ticket, and probably when she got the second one. And maybe, just maybe, she should have hired a lawyer for the first ticket.

While I'm at it, she should have started to obey the Vehicle & Traffic Law of the State of New York. Yes, I do think the speed limits are too low in most places. I might even exceed those limits and otherwise violate the V&T Law myself occasionally. But after you've received two speeding tickets, you really should adjust your behavior accordingly. And maybe it's just me, but if your license is suspended, you really shouldn't drive and you certainly shouldn't speed excessively.

On a brief tangent, I had one client who was arrested for AUO 3rd after being pulled over for going 53 in a 30 mph zone. He was also charged with UPM (marijuana possession). So let me get this straight. You're suspended and you have marijuana in the car. Why on earth would you be going more than 20 mph over the speed limit?

I generally advise clients to go no more than 8 mph over the limit, and no more than 5 over if they have a significant driving record. --What honey?-- Oh, I mean I tell all my clients not to speed at all. Of course.

Friday, January 19, 2007

AdWords runaround

I've been having this odd problem with AdWords lately, and am very displeased with the folks at Google about how they've handled it so far. This isn't really lawyer stuff, so much of this will be in Greek for those who are not into SEM and PPC.

First I'll describe the problem. I run a campaign targeted to the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area of New York State. One Ad Group is for keywords related to DWI cases. The biggest keyword in that group is, not surprisingly, 'dwi' (I'm using the ' mark to indicate what keyword I'm referring to, but when I enter the keyword in a search, I do not use the quotes). A couple of other keywords that get some traffic are 'ny dwi' and 'new york dwi'.

So I noticed that my ads do not appear when I search for 'ny dwi' or 'new york dwi'. The ad from the same campaign does appear when I search for 'dwi'. The fact that the ad shows for 'dwi' indicates that the computer I'm using is seen by Google as being within the region I'm targeting. So then why doesn't the 'ny dwi' keyword work?

I should mention that my AdWords account indicates I am getting impressions and clicks on the 'ny dwi' keyword. But if they're not showing when I look for them, where are they showing?

So about a week ago I submitted a question to Google's AdWords team inquiring about this. Excerpts of the back-and-forth that ensued is down below. It does not reflect well on Google.

Since I was not satisfied, I called the number I was given in the last message. I spoke with someone at Google, apparently in the Bay Area. She was pleasant, but I still was not satisfied with her answer.

If I understand her answer, it is that Google has made New York City a special exception for AdWords. Google assumes that if someone searches for 'ny widget', the 'ny' in the search means they're looking for widgets in New York City. This ignites a long-standing frustration. For those of us from upstate New York, we often encounter people who think we're from New York City.

So here I am, in Albany, looking to display my ad to people in Albany who search for a term I've chosen, and Google has decided to circumvent my choice.

It gets worse. I still didn't understand why I was getting impressions and clicks on the 'ny dwi' keyword if the ad is suppressed here in the region I chose. She explained that if someone elsewhere searches for 'ny dwi', then my ad would show up for them because they might be looking for me. So Google is further circumventing my choice here. I want to display my ad in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, but Google has decided that my ad should actually appear anywhere but in that area.

I don't know if this violates the "Don't Be Evil" principle, but it sure violates the "Don't Be Stupid" one.

Now, with all of that said, I should mention that overall I am very happy with both Google and AdWords. Google is still my search engine of choice, and my only online PPC ads are with AdWords. I just think this reflects poorly on the company and hope this does not signal a downward decline.

I pasted the e-mail exchange below and going through it prompted some additional thoughts. First, forgive my political incorrectness, but I'm betting Deepa is not located in the US. Good chance he's in Bangalore. Second, notice that the 'correct' answer does not come until Deepa's last message, after three apparently incorrect responses.

The thread is below, edited mostly for brevity. I've also put it in the correct chronological order, from oldest to newest:

> > > From:
> > > Subject: doesn't appear when I search, but shows impressions
> > > Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2007 20:39:25 -0800
> > > My ad for the term "ny dwi" doesn't show when I search, but my ad does show if I search simply for "dwi". I've checked this at various times of day on several different days, and don't understand why this is happening. Please review and advise.
> > > Thanks,
> > > Warren
> Hello Warren,
> > > Thank you for your email. I've looked at your account and found that your campaign is targeted by region. Google identifies a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is assigned by a user's Internet Service Provider (ISP), to help determine the user's location. Then, we'll show ads targeted to that user's location. This means that only users with IP addresses in your targeted region usually see your ad.
> > > According to our records, the IP address you're using is either unidentifiable, or is located outside of your targeted region. As a result, you may have trouble seeing your regionally targeted or customized ads. However, our records indicate that your ad is appearing for users whose IP addresses are read as located within your targeted area.
> > > The following tips may help you to see your ads in your customized or regionally targeted campaign: [tips omitted]

> > > We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising available.
> > > Sincerely,
> > > Deepa
> > > The Google AdWords Team
From: "Warren Redlich" <>
Subject: Re: [#100223937] doesn't appear when I search, but shows impressions
> > Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2007 07:49:44 -0500
I disagree with your analysis. My "dwi" keyword from the same Ad Group is appearing on my computer, so my IP address is within the targeted region. I have seen this from 2 or 3 different IP addresses within my region. Please review this again. – Warren
Hello Warren,
> > Thank you for your reply. When possible, Google analyzes users' search queries for location-specific information in order to show regionally targeted ads. Because the name of your region or city is clearly displayed in your keyword, the system does not show the ad as you are targeting Ontario-Quebec in Campaign 'Ontario - Quebec' and Albany-Schenectady-Troy NY in Campaign 'DWI & Traffic.' If you search for 'Albany Ny Dwi' or 'Troy Ny Dwi,' you will see your ad appearing on top of the search results. Therefore, your ad shows up for the keyword 'dwi' as it does not have a specific location assigned to it. However, for the keyword 'ny dwi,' the system recognizes that the search is for defense attorneys in New York and, so does not show the ad for specific regions in New York or Canada.
> > To learn more about targeting your ads, visit
We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising available.
> > Sincerely,
> > Deepa
> > The Google AdWords Team
> Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately I'm still confused. Looking at my account today, I see that there were 24 impressions and one click in the last 7 days for the keyword 'ny dwi' in my Albany-Schenectady-Troy NY targeted campaign -- DWI & Traffic ad group. So if your message is correct, I should not see any impressions or clicks at all for that keyword in that ad group. … Please take the time to review this thoroughly and give me an answer that makes sense.
> One particular question -- if I delete the 'ny dwi' keyword in the Ontario-Quebec campaign, will that make the keyword work better in the Albany-etc campaign? Warren
Hello Warren,
> Thank you for your response, and for your continued patience. Let me start with an example. Lets say you have 2 campaigns relating to hotels - Campaign #1 is targeting New York and Campaign #2 is targeting Los Angeles. You have the same keywords in both campaigns - 'New York hotels' and 'hotels in new york.' When a user searches for the keyword 'New York hotels,' ads in Campaign #1 show up as it is targeting New York. The probability of ads in Campaign #2 showing up is very less as it is targeting Los Angeles. Moreover, when the user enters a location in his keyword, the system recognizes that he wants results which are specific to that area. Therefore, the ads targeted to New York will show. However, if you would want ads targeting Los Angeles to show up, then you will have to edit the keywords and do not make them location specific. For example, in Campaign #2, you can change the keyword 'New York hotels' to 'top hotels' or 'hotels in los angeles.'
This same logic applies to your account. Users may see your ad when they use location-specific search terms on Google, even if they're located outside your targeted area. For example, a user in Texas searching for 'Ny Dwi' on Google will see ads targeting New York as the system recognizes the location New York in the keyword. The reason you are getting impressions or clicks for Campaign 'DWI & Traffic' is because people are searching for your ad from Albany, Schenectady, or Troy. …
> Additionally, please note that deleting the keyword 'ny dwi' from Campaign 'Ontario - Quebec' will definitely help Campaign 'DWI & Traffic' to perform well. Also, you can use generic keywords like 'dwi' or 'dwi laws' for Campaign 'Ontario - Quebec.'

> Sincerely,
> Deepa
> The Google AdWords Team
[ A sidenote here – I did pause the Ontario-Quebec campaign and this had no effect ]
I really don't think you're reading my question carefully and would like you to forward this problem to your supervisor.
Below you state:
"The reason you are getting impressions or clicks for Campaign 'DWI & Traffic' is because people are searching for your ad from Albany, Schenectady, or Troy."
I am in Albany, and the ad doesn't show up when I do a search for 'ny dwi'. So how am I getting impressions and clicks on this keyword on a campaign targeted to my area when I don't see the ad when I do searches for the same keyword from the same area (using 3 different IP addresses in the area).
Keep in mind that I do see ads when I search for just 'dwi'. Please forward this to someone who is better able to answer my questions in a sensible manner.
Hello Warren,

Thank you for your email. The technical team has replied and they say that you are unable to see your ad when you search on the keyword 'ny dwi' as our system parses this query to New York City and not to parts of New York state where the your campaign is targeted to.
When possible, Google analyzes users' search queries for location-specific information in order to show regionally targeted ads. This search functionality currently shows ads targeting the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and selected cities worldwide.
If your campaign targets a location where this search functionality is supported, users may see your ad when they use location-specific search terms on Google, even if they're located outside your targeted area. For example, a user in Manchester, England, searching for 'London hotels' on Google will see ads targeting London.
[omitted is the instructions for calling for follow-up]
This still does not explain why my Ad Group shows impressions and clicks. At this point I'm extremely dissatisfied with your handling of this. I'd like to actually get an e-mail from someone on the technical team.


Monday, January 15, 2007

A Call for Stimson's Head

I was tipped off to a news story about Charles Stimson, in the Defense Department, criticizing law firms who represent Guantanamo detainees. If I read the story correctly, he called for corporate CEOs to boycott these firms.

The Pentagon has "disavowed" Stimson's remarks. Not enough. Stimson should not only be fired, but also disbarred.

I am not a fan of large law firms. It is common among small office practitioners, especially in upstate New York, to have some level of dislike for the big NYC firms. It's motivated by jealousy, bad experiences with them, and other factors such as the appearance that large firms dominate the New York State Bar Association and have greater influence over the court system.

With that said, I personally have had some good experiences with attorneys from large NYC firms, have noticed that their involvement with the bar association is mostly positive, and I particularly appreciate some of the things they do for public service. The pro bono representation of the detainees really couldn't be done by anyone else.

Work like that can be an unpopular task. It is one of the hits we take as lawyers. I know many lawyers who shy away from representing defendants in controversial cases. These firms should be commended for what they're doing, not attacked.

In fact, the detainee cases are an example of lawyers stepping above and beyond, and fulfilling an important ethical obligation (EC 2-27 in New York's ethical code for lawyers). By contrast, Stimson's outburst violates several ethical principles. For example, EC 7-14 states that a government lawyer "has the responsibility to seek justice and to develop a full and fair record, and should not use his position or the economic power of the government to harass parties or to bring about unjust settlements or results." He is criticizing lawyers who are doing something highly ethical that few lawyers are willing to do. Essentially he not only advocates that lawyers should not follow their ethical obligations, but goes further and calls for them to be punished for doing so, and he does it in his role as a public official.

Before going after a guy I know little about, I figured I'd do a little research. I found one thing about Stimson where he says: I have to choose my words carefully because I am a public figure on a very, very controversial topic..

If he chose his words carefully on the radio the other day, that's pretty frightening.

Then there's an interview with Stimson which is disturbing. Underlying the interview is the notion that we are at war, and detaining combatants is part of war. He repeatedly compares the situation to WWII and how we detained Nazi soldiers. The problem is that the government has altered the definition of war. Stimson may not have noticed, but the Germans invaded several countries and were bombing England constantly. In this war the only invasions were us invading others. 9/11 was an attack, but it was not and is not a war. If we let these fascists dumb down their definition of war enough, they'll squeeze the drug war in with it and maybe a war against drunk driving, and while they're at it they'll find some more things.

Getting to the disturbing bits, the interviewer states at one point:

there’s no question but that the guys that are still there are bad guys. There’s no question about that. The military is convinced of it.

Shortly after the interviewer then states:

The problem is that not all this evidence would withstand the rigors of the federal rules of evidence if these people were to be prosecuted either in a federal court or in a traditional court-martial.

Stimson agreed with the interviewer on both of these points. So let me get this straight. We know they're guilty. There's no question about it. We're convinced. Of course, we can't actually prove it, but we know it anyway. So just trust us.

By the way, I'm not the only one calling for Stimson to be disbarred.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Our traffic court directory continues to grow

I was stunned just now. Our traffic court directory has been growing. We're over 700 courts now. Lawyers in local courts come up to me and compliment me on the site. Seems like it's helping a lot of people.

Traffic to the site has been growing, and I thought we would soon have a week with 3000 visitors. I checked our statistics today and we had nearly 4000 in the past 7 days. I checked it three different ways to be sure. Quite a burst. The police must have been writing a lot of tickets in the last couple of weeks.
Brief update -- for the seven-day period from 1/6 to 1/12, we actually had almost 4200 visitors. Some were repeats, so the "absolute unique visitors" total was a bit over 3700. I think we were reindexed by Google so more of the courts in the database are showing up on searches. The 500th most visited page on the site, for Pawling Village Court in Dutchess County, had 3 unique visitors in that 7-day span, and the tie for last (1 unique visitor) was held by 130 pages. Over 190 pages on the site had 10 or more unique visitors. The top page (which shows the list of counties in New York State) had 740 unique visitors. This last statistic is quite interesting, as it means that 80% of the visitors came into the site without touching the main page. This is even more dramatic with my law firm site, where a bit over 10% of unique visitors go to the main page. Many websites focus on their main page and expect most traffic to come in that way.

I've been pretty lucky

I was thinking recently about how lucky I've been in my life. I see so many people who have so much and yet complain about their problems, which are usually trivial when compared to the problems of others. Most of us in the US have very good lives compared to certain parts of the rest of the world.

How have I been lucky? For starters, I was born into a family that cares about me. I don't just mean my parents, but include my brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. My parents, in particular, were very good to me. My father was in many ways my best friend. My mother and brother continue in that, along with my wife. My entire family cared about making sure I got an education. They made sure I understood some of the fundamental values that I can't quite put my finger on, but are at the core of my being and keep me grounded. I've also had some very good friends over the years.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I often encounter clients who lack that important base. Their parents didn't care about them in the same way. They don't have a place where they feel safe, secure and loved, and they never had it. Perhaps they were abused in some way. This is not necessarily true of all our clients, but it's not unusual at all among criminal defendants.

I was lucky to be born in the United States. Sometimes I think Americans just don't realize how good we have it. My foreign travel experience is mostly limited to 1st world countries in Western Europe and East Asia. While these places are mostly pleasant, we still have it better. I forgot to mention Canada. For me Canada is really the same as us, but that's way off topic and maybe I'll discuss that another day. Getting back to this point, we in the US are blessed with abundance like nowhere else on earth. First and foremost, we have so much land. As we build our town court directory, I am frequently struck by the towns that have 40 square miles of land and less than 1000 people. Our country as a whole has 3.7 million square miles, which is 2.4 billion acres. We have 300 million people, for an average of 8 acres per person. That is simply astonishing. France, which has lots of rural areas, is 3-4 times as crowded, with Germany and the UK about 8 times and Japan more than 10 times as crowded as us.

But our abundance is not limited to land. We are wealthy. Our per-capita income is roughly third in the world behind Luxembourg and Norway, and Ireland right behind us. Japan, Germany, the UK and France all have 75% or less of our income. I would argue that we are still wealthier than the others in many respects.

One often hears complaints about inequality in the US, but the poorest here have better health care than much of the rest of the world, and certainly better than what the richest had 100 years ago. I was at the home of a rather poor client a couple years ago. While this large family shared a small apartment, they had running water, phone, cable TV, internet, and plenty of other resources that are often unavailable to the upper middle class in poor countries.

I was lucky to find the right woman for me. My wife Heather is really a perfect fit for me, in so many ways. I'll keep this part short and just say I married well. We have also been lucky to have healthy children and a family that continues to be supportive. We have even been lucky in having wonderful neighbors.

That's a good background on how I was lucky from the beginning. Other brief mentions are being born with good test-taking skills and having had good health (knock on wood).

And I've been lucky in other ways. For my career, I was lucky to have a father who was a law professor. This made the path to becoming a lawyer easier than it is for others. My dad was very helpful in so many ways in the process of becoming a lawyer.

You could argue I was unlucky in the timing of my graduation. It was a bad year for new lawyers. There just weren't many jobs. But eventually I lucked into a job as a trial lawyer with Allstate. This was just plain dumb luck. The guy they wanted to hire failed a credit check, so the job fell into my lap. It was a great job for me - fantastic experience.

Next, I got a job with a judge. Not just any judge, but a great guy, extremely intelligent, and a good boss - the now-retired Hon. Robert P. Best. Not only that, but the job was in Fulton County, which was a great community for me. I got to see a lot of solo and small office practitioners and that gave me the confidence to open my own shop.

This is where luck becomes really palpable at the moment. When I opened my own office, I didn't have that much work. I knew how to create a website and have a brother who has been quite helpful in that process. When I started I didn't know that the website would be significant in the practice, but since I didn't have that much else to do, I worked on it some.

My practice was going along okay, but I was not making much money. I started getting a few clients from the website and - I'll give myself some credit here - I paid attention to what brought them to the site. Once I realized what was working, I started building on that.

Still, the money situation wasn't great. When tax time hit in April of 2005, I had to borrow on credit cards (zero interest, but still nerve-wracking) and was looking at the help-wanted section of the local paper. Then the website really started to hit. Starting in July of 2005 and through January of 2006, we really started getting some substantial and consistent revenue online. And that pretty much gets me to where I am today.

The web thing was lucky in a couple of ways. First, I had no idea it was going to work this well. Second, the web happened to click around the time I started my practice. If I had started 2 years earlier, I probably would not have made it. 2 years later and others would have gotten there first.

When I started this post I never thought about the conclusion, and still haven't figured it out. So that's it. :-)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sad thought - human suffering

I'm not sad at the moment, but I was nearly overwhelmed recently when I thought about the volume of cases I see in the courts. I'm not talking about the amount of cases we have. We're quite busy, but that's a good thing for us.

I was just noticing how many people I see in court. In a typical week I might go to a several courts. In a two-day swing I was in Albany City Court - Criminal Part, plus Colonie and Guilderland, and I think one other court.

In each of these courts there might be 100 or more cases going that particular night. Then you start to think ... Guilderland has criminal court one night a week. That means 50 nights times 100 people -- 5000 people a year. Hmm. Colonie has two or three nights a week, with two courtrooms, so that's probably over 10,000 a year. And then you get to Albany. Criminal Part is packed to the gills every day. There are two sessions, morning and afternoon. And there are three courtrooms - though usually no more than two are busy. So maybe that's 50,000 people a year. Many are repeats, or repeat visits on the same offense, but it's still a lot of people. And I'm not including the speeding ticket cases either.

But that isn't what got to me. It was when I started thinking about all the towns and villages across New York State - there are so many places like Rotterdam, Clifton Park, Utica, and so on - and then across the country. I'm not big enough to think globally so I was just overwhelmed by the volume in NY and the US.

All these marijuana cases, petit larcenies, DWIs, assaults, domestic violence, etc. Something is just wrong. Are too many things being brought into criminal courts? Yes, I think so. But even with that, much of what happens is the result of people having some kind of problem. And what gets into the courts is the tip of the iceberg. Our courts are in many ways an indicator of human suffering, and it looks like there's a lot of it going on.

With all my criticisms of judges and prosecutors, etc., I give a lot of credit to them for wading through this tide of human suffering on a daily basis. Public defenders too. It's not nearly as hard on me as it must be on all of them.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The face of a DWI defendant

Today's Wall Street Journal has a great article by Michael M. Phillips about a marine dealing with the loss of a fellow soldier who fell on a grenade for him. The article mentions somewhat briefly this marine's arrest in a drunk driving incident and the consequences he faces. If you can access that article, it puts a good human face on a DWI defendant. Our current system dehumanizes defendants in all sorts of cases. The populist bashing is particularly severe for DWI cases. Maybe, just maybe, this one article will help the general public recognize that "tough on crime" means being harsh on people.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Another judge with a policy

I just recently did a post criticizing the notion of judges having policies. So I was in Court the other night and had another such encounter.

This again is a judge I like, arguably one of my favorites. He has a warm personality, a good sense of humor, respects not only the lawyers but the people who come before him as well. He also has policies, or at least one policy.

My client was accused of shoplifting (petit larceny), allegedly stealing a fairly small amount of merchandise from a local store. We worked out a deal with a very pleasant and fair prosecutor where my client would do a rather substantial amount of community service as part of an ACOD. The client had a completely clean record, is a good student, etc. So clean in fact that he was literally trembling for most of the time we were in court. This was possibly the most terrified client I've ever had.

We approached the bench and the judge informed us that he doesn't do ACODs on petit larceny cases. That sounds a lot like a policy. I made a further effort, going into some detail about why it was appropriate in this case. I think he actually thought about it, as he did hesitate for a minute and seemed to be thinking about it, but he fell back on his policy of no ACODs on petit larceny.

The legislature sets policy. It has established CPL 170.55 (and 170.56 for marijuana). In my not-so-humble opinion, judges should evaluate each case on a case-by-case basis to see whether the broad circumstances suggest an ACOD would be appropriate. The nature of the offense should not be a significant factor, because the legislature has set this provision for all misdemeanors and lesser offenses. Nothing in the statute gives judges authority to make their own policy decisions about which offenses are unworthy.

The idea is (or at least it should be if Warren ran the world - all who know me shudder at that thought) that the defense lawyer, prosecutor and judge review the defendant's background, criminal history, and various factors such as grades, mental health, strength of the case, etc. If the defendant has a clean record, gets good grades or does good work at their job, and otherwise seems like a good person, then an ACOD is like a warning without leaving a damaging stain on the defendant's record. If the defendant has a mental health issue, then treatment for that issue can be a part of the ACOD. Community service can also be a condition of ACODs under 170.55 (but in my opinion, not under 170.56), and may be appropriate to make sure the "good, clean" defendant gets a clear message that what they did was not acceptable and make sure the message sticks.

I'd say it would be nice if the legislature did a better job of setting clear standards for ACODs, but they'd probably just make things worse. When I gripe about judges, remember they have to deal with poorly written laws. These are good people doing the best they can with the junk the legislature puts out there, and the problems society sticks in their courtrooms.

I'd like it if there were a bit more sympathy and understanding for first-offenders who appear to be otherwise good people, but the politics of criminal law mean that judges and prosecutors have to be "tough on crime." Just remember next time you hear some politician saying that - they're not just referring to rapists and murderers, where things are already quite tough. They're referring to your kid, your sister, your brother, and maybe even you. We don't need to get tough on crime. We need to get smart on crime, and especially on dealing with mental health.