Do The Right Thing
As George Peppard used to say in the old TV show, “The A Team,” “I love it when a plan comes together.” This is in direct contrast to the Robert Burns quote to the effect that the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. I can’t speak for others, but in my practice, it is more often the latter than the former. There are, though, those rare occasions where all the gears mesh, when all the players share a common perspective and understanding of what’s right, a plan does come together and everything comes out the right way. I had one of those rare experiences recently.
I represented a client-let’s call him Jim-who, thanks to an extremely close relationship with demon rum, had a long, out-of-state criminal history sprinkled with breaches of the peace, disorderly conducts and DUI’s. Although arrested many times, he had never been incarcerated. Never, that is until he took a fateful trip from Boston to points South. Along the Amtrak way, amply fortified with his beverage of choice, Jim managed to make himself so obnoxious and offensive to a sufficient number of both passengers and conductors that, by the time he reached The Elm City, he was invited by the Railroad Police to interrupt his journey and enjoy the comforts of a cell at the Union Avenue lockup.
Jim was disinclined to accept the invitation. He expressed his displeasure by requesting additional liquid refreshment. That request denied, Jim communicated his further displeasure physically, stomping on one officer’s foot and injuring another officer’s hand. Having thus expanded the duration of his unanticipated layover in New Haven into felony dimensions, Jim appeared in GA 23 with fairly serious charges. Gifted with the dubious skill of making small problems large, he further endeared himself to everyone at 121 Elm Street by refusing a reasonable offer with which to dispose of his “matter,” then insulting the prosecutor and capped that off by filing a grievance against his appointed lawyer. The reasonable offer was withdrawn.
Time went by. Now lodged at Whalley Avenue, Jim called a friend who contacted me to attempt to put the pieces back together. I appeared for Jim, retrieved most of the original offer; he entered a plea, and remained in jail with a long sentencing date which would give him effectively a time-served sentence. Unfortunately, between plea and sentence Jim’s father passed away in Massachusetts. Confined and unable to make bond, he was distressed. There was no way he could attend his father’s funeral in Boston.
Now comes the plan. Purely by chance I visited Jim in jail on a Thursday, the day after his father died. Jim sorely wished he could attend the Saturday wake and funeral, but had been told it was impossible. Only the warden could allow his release, he was told, and the warden was on vacation. Furthermore, since it was an out-of-state funeral, the Department of Corrections wouldn’t send guards with him even if the warden approved. Jim was despondent. Wakes and funerals are important. No one should be prohibited from attending the last rites of a parent. Some people understand that. What to do? This was a problem for which there had to be a solution.
That afternoon I went to Dave Strollo, the recently appointed Chief Prosecutor for GA 23. I explained the situation. I proposed that Jim’s bond be reduced to a Promise to Appear so he could be released on Friday for the Saturday funeral and surrender on Monday to return to Whalley Avenue to await sentencing. Dave understood. If the judge went along with it, he was on board. We saw Judge Damiani. Would it be necessary to file a written motion, to file a certified copy of the death certificate, an affidavit from the funeral home? The Judge was understood.
No, just get him here and we’ll take care of it.
A habeas was issued. Jim was brought to Court on Friday. Judge Damiani released him by noon. Jim was picked up by a friend by four, attended the services and returned to Court as ordered on the following Monday. No muss. No fuss. A happy ending.
I must admit to some trepidation in requesting the release of a fellow with an alcohol problem to attend an Irish wake in
Boston essentially with no strings attached, but I walked away with a sense of pride in a judicial system that put doing the right thing before procedures and technicalities. This was not about a guy who had stepped on everyone’s toes on his way into and through the courthouse. This was of a different dimension. It was about values and priorities. When people in positions of power in “The System”-in this case a judge and a prosecutor- instinctively recognize those values and priorities
and act on them, it makes the system better. There’s an additional benefit: it influences others to do likewise.