Call to Action - Tell Travis County: "Don't Waste Our Tax Dollars on an Unnecessary Security System."

I loved the following quip when I first saw it: Like Lawyer Jokes?  Next Time You’re in Trouble, Call a Comedian.

This is my call-to-action for anyone who disapproves of wasting tax money on non-existent problems created by law enforcement.  This is my call-to-action for anyone who supports the criminal defense bar.  Below, I ask you to write to the Travis County Commissioner’s Court to voice your disapproval of wasting $374,000.00 on additional security screening at the Criminal Justice Center courthouse.

 

Criminal Defense Lawyers are people, too:

When I first started practicing as a criminal defense lawyer, I was bombarded with the question: How do you defend someone you know is guilty?  My response was always three-part: 1) Most of my clients were only guilty of having a bad day, 2) The Punishment for many crimes is far too severe, and 3) Even if they are guilty of something (often they are not), is it something that should even be a crime?  There are now so many criminal offenses, you (yes, you, reader) are guilty of three felonies every day of your life.  

 

I watched one jury selection wherein the defense attorney asked the potential jurors to use an adjective to describe prosecutors and an adjective to describe defense lawyers.  Once one of the potential jurors used the word “slimy” to describe defense lawyers, many of the subsequent answers echoed “slimy.”

 

As the Innocence Project continues to exonerate innocent people, most people increasingly agree that the criminal justice system is broken.  Judges in the 9th Circuit have suggested that it is time to charge prosecutors with perjury when they lie. 

 

2015 set a record for exonerations – people who spent decades of their lives in prison were set free as we acknowledged their innocence.  

 

People are beginning to understand that prosecutors do not always wear the white hat in the courthouse.  Sometimes they intentionally hurt innocent people – see, for example, Michael Morton’s story.  

 

Defense lawyers are the one obstacle between the awesome power of the government and your life, liberty, ability to walk the earth, go to and fro, work, love, and be able to mind your own business. 

 

I do not defend criminals.  I defend human beings that the State has decided to try to criminalize.

 

Why am I telling you all this?  Defense lawyers in Travis County need your help.

 

Lawyers are officers of the court, and had been able to bypass security with badges:

For years, like many other counties, Travis County defense lawyers submitted to a background check and were issued badges by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.  That badge was then used to enter the courthouse without having to pass through security (it has other uses as well that are not at issue here).  Defense lawyers, along with clerks, prosecutors, and any other county employee with a badge, could bypass security. 

 

This worked.  There has never been a problem with this system.  There have been no security breaches.  No one has been put in danger by this system.

 

Things started to change last year.  The Sheriff’s Department decided to spend money on a machine that would track defense lawyers coming into the courthouse.  Unlike prosecutors and clerks who were permitted to bypass the machine, defense lawyers had to essentially electronically sign into the courthouse with their badge.  They could still circumvent the security screening, but their pattern of coming to the courthouse was tracked.

 

I surrendered my badge and started going through regular security when they made this change.  Being tracked by law enforcement is not something to which I will ever voluntarily acquiesce. We have far too much surveillance as it is.  They track us everywhere we go with license plate readers. 

 

Ghettoizing defense lawyers is a bad thing:

Now, the Sheriff has petitioned and been approved for $374,000.00 for an additional change.  The Travis County Commissioners approved a plan that would implement full screening – meaning that there will be two metal detectors.  One will be used by the public, the other will be for those with badges. 

 

At this point, they claim that prosecutors (who have their own side-door to access the building) and clerks will also be put through full screening.  I call bullshit.  There’s no way prosecutors are going to be put through full screening.  There is not a county in the State of Texas that requires prosecutors to take off their belts and put their briefcases through an x-ray machine.  Travis County will not be the first.  (I have practiced in dozens of counties over the last five years.  If I am wrong about this and you know of a county wherein prosecutors have to take off their belts and go through security, please post a comment below.)

 

And, so, what is very likely going to happen is that Travis County is going to blow $374,000.00 on a security system we don’t need that will most likely be used to screen defense lawyers.

 

Some of you will – justifiably – say: “Millie, quit your bitchin’.  Go through the screening like jo-blow-public.  You’re not special.”  To which I must retort, I already do go through full screening, standing in line with my clients.  By choice, I do this.  The problem is 1) the waste of tax dollars on a non-existent problem, which will 2) further ghettoize defense lawyers. 

 

For decades, the public has been poisoned with some really good propaganda about the heroism of prosecutors through shows like Law and Order.  And – of course – shown how slimy defense lawyers are.  Bullshit.  The truth is every lawyer in the courthouse promised to uphold the Constitution when we got our licenses, and defense lawyers are usually the only ones raising Constitutional issues in response to the State’s zealous prosecution of normal human beings like you, reader. 

 

Do you like the Constitution?  Then you must love defense lawyers.  We’re the only ones who know which amendment is which.

 

Call to Action:

What am I asking of you?  Send an email to the commissioners, expressing your disapproval of wasting more than $374,000.00 on fixing a non-existent security problem.  Williamson County doesn’t work this way.  Hays County doesn’t work this way.  Harris County doesn’t work this way.  Why is Travis County the only one who thinks this is a good idea?  Why are they wasting money?

 

Here are the commissioners’ email addresses:

Precinct 1 – ron.davis@traviscountytx.gov

Precinct 2 – brigid.shea@traviscountytx.gov

Precinct 3 – Gerald.daugherty@traviscountytx.gov

Precinct 4 – Margaret.gomez@traviscountytx.gov

County Judge: sarah.eckhardt@traviscountytx.gov

 

Think defense lawyers are slimy and should be put through full screening?