Tardy Prosecutors, Gutsy Judges

by Jamison Koehler on November 4, 2011
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Judge Milton Lee of D.C. Superior Court takes the bench at 9:00 am. Promptly. Every morning. Without fail.

One of my biggest complaints about the Office of the Attorney General in D.C. is that its prosecutors often waltz into court well after 9:00 am every morning, usually minutes before the judge takes the bench.

This can make life difficult for defense lawyers.  Your case is often called before you have had a chance to talk to the prosecutor.  At best, you find yourself trying to get the harried prosecutor’s attention during the call of the list.

This morning I was surprised to have my robbery case called for status before the prosecutor had arrived.  No government representative, the judge asked?  Case dismissed.

The mother of my client hugged me afterward in the hall.  It was the first time I have ever seen her smile.  I had to tell her I hadn’t done a thing.  She should really be thanking the prosecutor for failing to appear.  She should be thanking the judge for having the guts to throw the case out.

I am thinking the judge was sending a message.  I am thinking this message has been received.  And I pray that they don’t re-arrest.

8 Comments on “Tardy Prosecutors, Gutsy Judges

  1. A criminal goes free because the prosecution can’t get it’s act together and you think that is cause for celebration?

  2. In Philadelphia, I saw how judges who strolled in at 10:30 every morning when defendants were required to be there by 8:30 undermined respect for our legal system. The judge should value his time. He should also value the time of everyone else in the courtroom – lawyers, clerks and, yes, defendants.

    In this case, I assume Judge Lee had repeatedly warned the prosecutors about showing up late and decided the message was not getting across. And he is no dummy – he picked a good case to set an example. It was a purse-snatching, not an armed robbery, no one had been hurt, the property had been returned, and so on. It is not as though a criminal was suddenly put out onto the street. The defendant was already in custody — and under the court’s supervision – on another case. And the government can always re-arrest if it concludes that a grievous error was made.

  3. Dear Mr. Koehler:

    Because I wasn’t in court today, I never would have known that the judge dumped my robbery case. Now you’ve told me. Thanks for the head’s up. Your client will be re-arrested this weekend.

    — DC Attorney General

  4. Very funny, Gurwitz. Very funny. I’m not sure she needed me to give her that idea.

  5. Interesting. Here, judge’s don’t have the power to just dismiss cases – for any reason. And conversely, the usual pattern of events is four prosecutors sitting around a quiet courtroom waiting for defense lawyers to show up. To be fair, it’s often because they are working in other courts in the building, but that’s not always the case.

  6. Wouldn’t a better way for the judge to have handled this been for the judge to call tge AG’s office and demand a supervisor come over? The judge has no idea why the prosecutor was late. (Suppose it was a genuine emergency or unpredictable contingency.). And it’s unfair to punish the public for the prosecutor’s mistake. (No fair to say”just a purse snatching.”. You know full well that anyone who’s been caught once for that kind of thing may well have done it dozens of times — and may well be mixed up in other things that the police know about but the judge doesn’t.). Finally, in any criminal court in this country, judges spend far more time waiting for defense counsel than for prosecutors (partly a function of the fact that prosecutors often spend all morning in one courtroom while the defense lawyers have to jump from one to another.). So nice gloating, but this judge’s actions harm the public and show poor judicial temperament.

  7. Dear Reader,

    I like to see criminals in jail, but I have to agree with the Judge on this one. There is no reason a prosecutor shouldn’t turn up in time for the hearing. Now, I don’t know the exact procedure of a criminal trial in D.C. but if the defendant had pleaded not guilty, and there was no one to say otherwise why shouldn’t he/she go free?

    The burden of proof lies on the State, not on the defendant (innocent until proven guilty still applies).The State presents no case, the defendant goes free. I agree this is unfair on the people in general, that’s why the prosecutor should be punished for not turning up.

    Furthermore as a citizen I would be angry that the state would waste money for no reason, turning up 2 hours late wastes time and productivity of State employees, which are paid by everyone.

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