To date, my blog posts have been related to issues of local or national concern. I did not intend to make this blog a place to brag about my numerous exploits and spin yarns with my war stories. However, I feel that the time has come to pat myself on the back a little bit. I promise that I will return to an issue of local concern next week. More specifically, we will address more chicanery by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office. Stay tuned.
In any event, back to patting myself on the back. I was honored to recently represent an older African-American lady. For the ease of writing this blog post, I will refer to her as “Ruby,” which is (of course) not her real name. Ruby has OKed me writing about this on my blog.
Ruby was issued a summons to appear in Orleans Parish Municipal Court after getting into a verbal altercation with a woman less than half her age. When I first met with her, she was distraught. She had no idea why she was issued a municipal summons, did not understand what she had done wrong, and was generally terrified at becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
I asked Ruby if she had ever been arrested before. She replied that she had not. I then asked her if she had ever gotten a traffic ticket. She says, “well, I got a speeding ticket awhile back but I can't remember exactly when.” I press Ruby for the date. “Well I'm not 100% sure . . . it was either in 1968 or 1969.” A law-abiding woman, this.
Now, Ruby was issued a summons without knowing exactly what the summons alleged. In New Orleans, when a police officer issues a municipal summons, he or she gives you a copy of the front of the summons but not a copy of the back (where the allegation that led to the issuance of the summons is described in detail). By the way, this is neither uncommon nor unconstitutional. In any event, our first court appearance was arraignment, as it often is in any other case. An arraignment, whether it be in a municipal case or otherwise, is simply for the purpose of entering a guilty or not guilty plea.
Prior to Ruby's arraignment, I was able to examine the original summons. The back of the summons stated that Ruby told the younger woman that she was going to “kick her ass.” Her charge was disturbing the peace. Much to my surprise, I noticed that the younger woman was also issued a municipal summons for threatening to kick Ruby's ass. Ruby was adamant that she had not threatened to kick the younger woman's ass and that the younger woman had in fact threatened to kick her ass.
In investigating the matter, I discovered that there was long simmering bad blood between Ruby's family and the younger woman's family. I also found out that the younger woman and her family had recently attempted to file a restraining order against Ruby. When the merits of the restraining order were heard, a Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge had determined that the younger woman and her family had failed to meet their burden and dismissed their case. I contacted the court reporter and obtained a transcript of that hearing.
I wanted to be ready to try the matter at the first setting if needed because I knew that Ruby used a cane and had several health problems that made it difficult for her to attend court. So I made the Civil District Court judge's ruling the centerpiece of my strategy. The theme boiled down to one question: “if the younger woman and her family claimed earlier that Ruby was harassing them, and the judge that heard the matter did not believe them, then why should anybody believe the woman now?”
After beginning to outline an opening and closing statement, I began to do some research. It turns out that the section of the Orleans Parish Municipal Code that Ruby was alleged to have violated states that in order to disturb the peace, one either has to threaten to kill another person or threaten to inflict “great bodily harm.” In my opinion, threatening to kick somebody's ass did not rise to the level of threatening to kill or inflict great bodily harm, so I drafted and filed a motion to quash, which is essentially a request to dismiss the case.
On the trial date, the city attorney called Ruby's case for trial. The younger woman was there too, and she was hopping mad. She began to tell the judge that Ruby had been harassing her for years, that she was sick of Ruby, that she wanted justice, etc. But before anybody could even think about trial, the judge had to rule on the motion to quash.
The judge began pouring over statute books and the municipal code for what seemed like an eternity. When the judge asked the city attorney and I to approach the bench, I knew that he was going to grant the motion. I gave Ruby a thumbs-up, listened to the judge explain why he was going to rule in our favor, and returned to the podium with that indescribable feeling of triumph. The judge dismissed the case and the younger woman stormed out of the courtroom, obviously pissed off at this suited shyster something fierce. Ruby couldn't thank me enough.
I share this story to illustrate several points. First, it is imperative that a good criminal defense lawyer be creative. Not many defense lawyers would not dream of filing a motion to quash in a city municipal case. Those same lawyers think those same motions are reserved for serious drug offenses, crimes of violence, and the like. But my out-of-the-box thinking in this case was directly responsible for the client's success. Even the judge, who has probably heard hundreds or even thousands of these cases, acknowledged that he had never considered my argument before (hence the need to pour over the statute books).
Second, a good defense lawyer must always be prepared. Not many lawyers would be ready for trial on the first setting. I knew that I could have moved the court date back if I wanted. But I also knew that it was important to Ruby to get the case taken care of quickly, so I went out of my way to ensure that I was set to go on the first trial date.
Third, any defense lawyer worth his salt knows the importance of doing a thorough investigation. If I hadn't done that, I might never had discovered the prior judge's ruling or developed a winning theme.
Finally, a good defense lawyer feels empathy towards his clients and treats those same clients with compassion. Most of my clients aren't over 70. I have a feeling that many defense lawyers would not want to deal with the issue of an older client. But I am sure that if you asked Ruby, she would acknowledge that I always lent her a kind ear and treated her with the kindness and respect that she deserved.
I have never had a client plead guilty or be found guilty at trial in a city municipal case, and I wasn't about to let Ruby be the first. If you need a creative, dogged, and compassionate lawyer in a Municipal Court case, or any other felony or misdemeanor case in the area, contact the Law Office of Alex Kriksciun today!