Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When I No Longer Feel the Butterflies

If I ever stop feeling those butterflies when I'm about to go into a jury trial, make an opening statement to a jury, a closing argument, or an argument to an appellate court, I'll know for sure the time to quit practicing law has come.  I mean it.  To me, any attorney that can go into a jury trial or to oral argument on appeal not feeling them either does not know what he's doing or simply doesn't care anymore, ... and I really don't know which is worse.

But there is something magical about those butterflies.  If you have prepared well -and I usually overprepare- the moment you get into your opening statement to that jury, or that oral argument to the appellate judges, or the closing arguments they just seem to go away, at least for that stage. Oh, they'll be back, that's for sure.  But you start realizing what they're all about.  They are a reminder that you want to do well, that you have really serious business to take care of, that a human being's liberty may depend not only on the facts but on how well you perform.  Above all, they're a reminder that you care about what you do, and you care about that person you are representing, yes, your client, the one who has all his hopes and prayers placed on you.

Every trial I go to is the same, and they're all different. The same in the sense that my wife always tells me (several times as it gets later and later into the night), "Tom, you've been preparing for this forever, and you just can't let go. You need to come to sleep or you'll look lousy in front of that jury tomorrow morning. Don't worry, I'll wake you up really early."  She simply doesn't understand that I will not get any sleep unless I feel I'm ready or too exhausted to continue getting readier. Sooner or later, usually later, I follow her suggestion.  The same routine is played at several different stages.  "Dear, I need to get this just right. I have to argue that Rule 29 motion. It's really important."  Or, "I prefer to be tired than not ready. Tired I can perform; not ready, no way!"  They're also different in that some trials you go into feeling there is a real fighting chance, whereas other times you know that the deck is really stacked against you. You know it, yes, but you still give it all your best. Even criminal trials where the deck is stacked against you as defense attorney have a funny way of playing out once you're into it, and you just have to be ready to make your moves.  Simply, you have to always be prepared.

And don't worry, the butterflies will be back even when you don't have to do much of anything, ... such as when you're standing there waiting for a verdict to be announced. You look at those jurors as they march into the courtroom, try to read them and hope they look at you or your client with a sympathetic eye. If they don't look, I usually worry a lot. But that's not always justified. I've had jurors look at me and convict, and others look away or down and acquit.  But when even one of them looks at you and smiles gently just that teeny little bit, as if to try to calm you, to reassure you, ... oh boy!

In another post I'll write about the time I hugged my client before they even announced the verdict. That was funny!  Well, the Judge didn't think so, ... but that's why he became a judge and I a criminal defense attorney.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The story of a CJA Voucher

"Frustrated" is not an accurate description for my feelings about the length of time it has taken to have a CJA Voucher processed and paid. Yes, the and paid is a very important step in this process. I filed a CJA Voucher on April 24, 2011. It was near mid-August, and the voucher had still not been audited at the District Court's CJA Clerk's Office. I know they have been overworked and understaffed, but almost 4 months is still a long time to have a voucher waiting to be audited. After some calls indicating that I was ready to commit suicide if the voucher was not audited sometime soon, it finally got audited in a few days and sent to the District Judge, who approved it within two days of receiving it from the CJA Clerk. But, because the voucher requested excess compensation (it exceeded the case compensation maximum) it still had to receive the blessing of the Chief Judge of the First Circuit Court of Appeals or her designee, who is usually the most junior judge on the Court of Appeals. But before reaching the designee at the First Circuit, it goes through another audit at the First Circuit. It finally got audited and approved again in mid-September 2011, and then it makes its way back to San Juan, to the CJA Clerk. So, as of Wednesday, September 28, 2011 the CJA Payment Status page at the District Court's website indicated my voucher had been "processed for payment."

You would think that is tantamount to telling me that the check is in the mail, but it isn't. The "processed for payment" entry means they have taken some step (I think) in getting it moved towards being actually paid, but definitely not all. And as of Friday, October 7, 2011, whatever additional internal steps were required to enter the voucher for payment had yet to be taken! When they finally take all the necessary steps at the District Court here, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will receive electronic notice and the next day will issue and mail my check. Then the prayers start for the postal service to be efficient, as the Administrative Office does not do any direct deposit of these payments, although I'm told that they have long  had the capability of doing so.

So -with luck- I will actually  receive that payment from the April 24th voucher sometime in mid-October, or perhaps a little later?

P.S. - I stand corrected. The CJA Voucher payment was issued Sept. 29th. But ... it still took from April 24 to Oct. for me to receive payment!!