“The collective attention span of this country seems to be measured in nanoseconds.”
This insightfully accurate statement was uttered in a lively (if somewhat one-sided) discussion at Coffee Call, a less commercial Starbucks-lite coffee place that has the added advantage of serving Beignets which I’d previously only sampled at New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde. The more surprising thing is that it was not me who said it. In fact it was made by Mike, another friend of Stephen and Debbie, who explained that he loved to discuss politics when possible (not hard to guess from just how vocal he was), but usually cannot as he works for a state department.
Putting a slight damper on the wonderful mile-high-sugar-coated-“donut”-goodness (yes, Americans can spell “dough” correctly but, it would seem, get a little confused when it comes to the dual-syllable “doughnut”) was the fact a pick-up truck managed to reverse into our car in the parking lot before the evening had even begun. Fortunately it was not serious enough to cause injury but Debbie looked so angry as she threw open the car door and marched over that I glanced away to avoid being a witness to the inevitable murder. As it turned out she held herself back and we had the police check things and make a report. From the positions of the vehicles we were clearly not at fault, so one would hope the insurance companies will settle up with a minimum of fuss.
Yesterday I visited the Jetson Correctional Centre for Youth (JCCY or just “Jetson” for short) for the first time in order to meet a client of ours currently incarcerated there. She is a female sex offender who has admitted to her crime but we are having to fight to get her the treatment she requires because all sex offence rehabilitation in designed purely for males. Under equal protection laws she should have access to similar (if not identical) councilling and treatment made available to her while she serves her sentence, if for no other reason than to prevent reoffence. We spent considerable time researching and drafting a memo to show the treatment she deserves, and have a doctor who has performed an evaluation to back this up. Although Jetson only holds juveniles, security was still pretty high, to the point where they checked our car boot before allowing us to leave, just to ensure we did not have any stowaways. I was also pleased to hear my status upgraded to “paralegal”. Going up in the world!
Yesterday involved some pretty dry work, the dull side of poring over statutes (we’re talking a library of around 80 odd identical thick green statute books) on Insurance Law. In fact it didn’t even involve oneof our cases, but was to help out Rosa whose car had been wrecked in an accident. After much searching I eventually found the liability clause we were after, but Insurance Law looks so tedious that I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can stay awake longenough to practice it!
Today we were seeking extra funding for a case in which we needed a psychiatric evaluation for our client. Now legally it was made clear that we were entitled to “state funds” but there was no mention of precisely from where these should come. The Judge was unwilling to pay it from her own Judicial expense fund, the various groups that previously offered money for such things were no longer able to provide for it in their budgets, the State Supreme Court were generally unhelpful, so it seemed the only available course of action was to ask the State Treasurer, only he can’t give us anything without specific legislation licensing him to do so. Gotta love bureaucracy.
In the evening I met up with Jenna and Cassie and had my first burger from Jack-in-the-Box (one of the things I had been instructed before leaving England to do). Decent, filling, very satisfying cheeseburger. We went over to Jessie and Cassie’s house, where Jenna’s husband Jeff prepared some of the fish he and Jessie had caught during a three-day fishing trip earlier this week. Now, my only real knowledge about Jessie was from a few photographs of unmentionable things being done to a dog, but after discovering we were both Angel fans we quickly warmed to one another, and I got my cult TV fix.
Debbie’s birthday today, which meant just a half day at work since Steve wanted to spend the afternoon at home with her. Unfortunately I had pre-arranged plans with my cousin Jenna, but gave Debbie her gift in the morning: the newer Dido album which incidentally I haven’t actually bought myself yet! Work flew by pretty fast this morning, and I began explaining some procedures to a child and their parents. In this case it was explaining Plea Agreements along with Bernie, one of Steve’s student attorneys. I’ll be doing this more and more to keep things flowing smoothly whenever Steve gets stuck in court.
For lunch I met up with Jenna and her old roommate Cassie. We went out to an Italian chain called Olive Garden which does a decent soup lunch where you can order as many bowls as you like for a set price per person. Not first class but good enough for a reasonable price and awesome bread. Cassie, who I’ve only met briefly before, was fun although she had a common inability to get over “the pinkie thing” when I ordered tea (sorry, hot tea – for some reason this uncouth nation believes the iced variety to be the “normal” version while I strictly maintain it barely counts as tea at all!). I must admit it was a little weird eating lunch with two very young mothers, since to the outsider I imagine I either looked very active or very gay!
We took a trip down to Lafayette for Festival International this weekend, an open air deal consisting of three stages across the town, along with countless market stalls and crafts exhibitions, all celebrating world music and culture. Most familiar with a number of these bands was new arrival Carsten, a friend of Steve and Debbie who had flown over from L.A. He and I got on well (we were kindred city-types amid these backward country hicks!) over his few-day visit with some in-depth film discussion/dissection (he’s in the industry) and an incredibly amusing running joke about Hollywood clichés after Lafayette was flooded with rain and our sodden group wandered the streets like a rag-tag bunch of survivors in some bad post-apocalyptic B-movie.
Our other new compatriots were Tim, whose big house (it could comfortably sleep 10 if necessary, with some great art including a cool old Mexican ink-sketch) we used as a base camp and ended up spending the night, and Phil who…well, he was Phil. Completing our A-Team of concert-goers were Steve and Deb’s kids, Dave and Nick. Aside from the torrential rain which, I lamented loudly, was probably far worse weather than back home in the land of the sun – err, England – the festival was great.
The weather cleared up and by evening it was cool and dry for some of the best bands. My favourite was long-haired funky South African reggae artist Lucky Dube, accompanied by a group of backing singers, Lilt Lady stylee! Uplifting and soaring vocals coupled with his magnetic stage presence made this a real stand-out experience. Also noteworthy was the final act we saw, Baaba Maal. The traditionally-driven rhythmic music from Senegal had the crowd pulsating, but more haunting was Maal’s unforgetably mesmerizing voice.
In the morning we stopped off at Lake Martin, a beautiful swamp-lake with some mean looking aligators. It could have offered some incredible photographic opportunities, but was marred a little by the weather which still broke into a rather British drizzle at regular intervals. Back home by the evening, I cooked pancakes for the first time, and since Carsten’s plane was delayed by the poor weather, we finished the day with a serious Scrabble marathon session . Frickin’ American spellings. The pilgrims were clearly dyslexic.
Got a chance to impress people with a trick from back home today. Our investigators were having trouble tracking down a woman who was refusing to pay child support and generally doing her best not to be found. I mentioned that in England the electoral roll is considered publicly information so is readily available because most people don’t know about it. So we called up the American electoral register number and turns out things are the same here: we gave them a name and they provided an address, no questions asked!
I spoke to some of our clients in the detention centre today. I had been back there with Steve but this was the first time alone. Although a little intimidating (some of those kids are huge!) it was a cool experience. Obviously they treated me with a fair bit of respect since I was working to get them out of there, and I was generally explaining to them how their case was going. After yesterday I realised I can now predict how some cases would go based on the information in our files. I also spoke to the girl from Wednesday’s case and feel a lot better about that one now. She didn’t understand what the Judge’s ruling had been, and while explaining it to her, I emphasised how lucky she had been and I honestly think she will try to straighten herself out now.
Today I was also researching past cases and looking for precedents on the delightful topic of sexual battery (in this case whether or not an act can be classified as “sexual battery” while those involved are clothed – the answer is yes, and in this case the clothing can act as the required “instrumentation”).
And I finally managed to get my hair cut. It was too long even before I came out here, so it’s a great feeling to dump that extra weight! And more importantly my hair stands up properly now – spiky hair seems something of a rarity out here, so does attract a little attention. Weirdly, this was the first time I’ve had my hair cut by someone different in about five years!
No, I kid you not. There are glittery cards and flowers and everything. In fact, people seemed rather incredulous when I explained we didn’t really go for all this back home. So yes, here they choose this one day to shower affection upon their secretaries (err, administrative professionals – “secretary” probably sounds too much like “prostitute”…). Of course, I can see why the secretaries buy into it; not only does it offer gifts, cards, and – even more unusually – a little respect, it also means free bacon with the tauntingly great-smelling cooked breakfast they all received at our office.
On the work front today was a pretty hard day. We had two mothers who had given up and no longer wanted their kids at home, while one girl, scared of being locked up, had made the bad decision not to attend court (she’ll be arrested and brought in). Another girl suffering from severe depression and substance abuse (although the D.A. may have been exaggerating a little as he described cocaine binges at fourteen) had her mother moving away to Arizona, and she reminded me (somewhat painfully) of Adeel. In fact she was lucky in the Judge’s ruling that she complete a drug clinic programme and then be returned to her mother in Arizona, rather than remaining in state custody indefinitely. I just genuinely hope she uses this opportunity to get straightened out. Generally I discovered today that it’s not easy to watch children being cuffed and taken away, especially when you know from having spoken with them earlier that many are essentially okay kids who made stupid decisions.
In the afternoon I attended the last of Steve’s classes at LSU. It was shorter than usual, but included references to numerous cases from the past few days which I experienced firsthand, so it was interesting to hear his thoughts and more detailed explanations. After the early close to the lecture, we headed down to Serrano’s, a local restaurant, for drinks with the students (about a dozen of them) who were a cool bunch. I’d met a few in court already and will no doubt be seeing more of them sporadically over the next few weeks. It was nice to unwind during a quiet afternoon, and it was only then that I truly realised just how hectic the lifestyle can be.
On the way home we also passed Steve’s old house, a now somewhat run-down house near the university. The couple who now own it noticed us wandering around (or more probably the fact we were paying an inordinate amount of intention to a rather unremarkable tree that happened to have been planted on Steve’s son, Dave Marley’s, birthday) and after discovering he was the previous owener, in thoroughly un-British style invited us to take a look around the inside too. They were a funky family, in the process of sound-proofing one room for their band to play, and with a father who both doted over his young baby and was also a serious comic-book artist (his inspiration seemed to be Preacher-style work).
Today’s spotlight American product are Funyuns. Coming in a cool little curvy plastic tube with a lid that doubles up as a bowl, they’re a corn-based hoop-shaped snack food rather like Monster Munch but without the punch (a straight onion flavour instead of pickled onion). Oh, and they’re fun. Hence the name.
We had a drug possession case today which reminded me how much I inherently dislike those laws. My personal views on drugs aside, I fail to see what business the law has in dictating such things. Regulation in the same way as alcohol is one thing, but the law is really there to protect you from your neighbour and vice versa. Drug laws seem to be an attempt to protect you from yourself which is not, in my opinion, the jurisdiction of the law. Naturally drug-related crimes should be prosecuted, and perhaps even more harshly, but drug-taking is largely a personal affair provided it does not pose problems for others to deal with.
CASE OF THE DAY: One case that was clearly going to get confusing involved a backyard brawl between a few families (American chavs!) and our various witnesses all seemed to have a very different idea of what was going on. It seemed fairly clear to us that our client was basically helping out his sister (or possibly neice or cousin, I forget) but got involved in a fight with the father of the family whose house it was. At any rate, the key witness for the prosecution was this father and in cross-examination he let slip the comment, “while I was chasing her around the truck.” Now it’d be fairly hard to claim chasing round a truck in self defence so we decided to play on this: “So who were you chasing around the truck?” He points out one of the black women in the first bench…who happens to be Rosa, our assistant investigator who was nowhere near the scene! Dismissed.
First day of work was a pretty sharp learning curve. Since we were dealing with real cases right off, there wasn’t any “practice” time beforehand. Working for the Public Defender’s Office at Juvenile Court, our job is basically to defend youths accused to various crimes. Undoubtedly some are innocent and some are most definitely not. But it’s never that simple as there are a variety of reasons for which a child may end up breaking the law, and jail time isn’t always the best response. Working with the District Attorney and the Judge, our role is not only to defend them in court, but also to help their families and ascertain the best punishment for those who are found guilty.
The first thing that surprised me was just how much of each case was decided before the Judge hears a word. Working with the D.A. plea agreements are commonly drafted, as well as having various charges dismissed outright. This takes a good few hours before court comes into session each day, and much of the work is done by the time proceedings begin.
Things were a little emotionally charged during the final case which was being run by one of Steve’s student attorneys (he teaches a law class at LSU – Louisiana State University), Wyndi. The kid’s mother, breaking down in court, was in the middle of a serious meltdown which was clearly evident. In a way it helped for the judge and D.A. to see what we (and the child) were dealing with, and Wyndi handled the mother’s rather personal attack very professionally.
CASE OF THE DAY: My favourites case today was the bunch of guys from Mamou who came down to Baton Rouge for a football game. Having gotten drunk, they managed to start a fight with themselves and our defendent was charged with disturbing the peace. Now, this case is clearly not going anywhere since the alleged “victim” was not only a friend of his, but also the guy who drove him and illegally supplied him with alcohol underage! Things got even more amusing when we asked him what game they’d come to see. Turns out he doesn’t actually know since they never got that far and he was too drunk to remember…
Yesterday was a thirty-hour day for me, of which I must have been up for around twenty-four hours straight. The flights were pretty good, all things considered. They ran smoothly and surprisingly punctually, the first arriving exactly on time and the second five minutes early. The wait at Cincinnati was only a few hours and immigration was fairly fast although they’ve taken to photographing and fingerprinting new arrivals.
Neither flight boasted terribly impressive in-flight entertainment, the first only featuring a few ceiling-mounted TV screens (not individual ones for each seat) and the second having none at all. That said, the first flight showed Lost in Translation at some point as we crossed the Atlantic and I’ve been waiting for a chance to rewatch it. I now understand what one reviewer meant when he described the film as changing subtly with each viewing. This time for me it became a film about insomnia, and how we act as result. My sleeping patterns leave a lot to be desired, and it seemed to portray what might happen one sleepless night if, instead of being alone at home, I had the company of another insomniac…
I became distinctly less impressed with the whole travel experience today, however. While unpacking my luggage, I came across a note which had been thrust between my clothes. From the Transport Security Authority (TSA) it explained why my bag had been hanging slightly open when we recovered it from the baggage claim belt. What we had assumed was the result of poor handling was in fact a heavy=handed search procedure by the TSA. Deciding to perform a random search without my presence, they took it upon themselves to break the locks of my bag (an action for which, the assured me in their note, they took no liability!). I have yet to discover whether I need to replace the suitcase. Needless to say I feel a strongly worded letter is due, though probably once I’ve left the “safety” of this wonderful country…
Last day of work at Vodafone yesterday and man does it feel good to be finally free! Well, technically unemployed. Well, until Monday. The “leaving party” was pretty good, mostly consisting of me wandering into Safeways and buying one packet of every decent-looking junk food item available. I was quite impressed that the cashier managed to just ring up so much chocolate so early in the morning without raising an eyebrow. Trudging up the road with all those bags was a bit of a mission, but looked suitably impressive as I walked into the office laden with goodies.
The unfortunate incident leading to Rayhan being asked to leave rather put a damper on things. Fortunately he’s managed to find another job in Croydon already. Not only that but the jammy git managed to win £50 in the office bingo before leaving!