Blawg Review #316: Where Are They Now?

Jamison KoehlerCriminal Law Bloggers

In the Blawg Review I hosted last year, “Images from the Criminal Law Blawgosphere,” I took a look at the photographs bloggers use on their sites. I was intrigued, for example, by how bloggers portray themselves to their readers. Do they go for the formal headshot? A more informal shot in casual clothes? Or do they provide no picture at all, allowing the reader to form his/her own mental image of the person behind the disembodied voice?

I noted that, contrary to what you might expect, a posed shot can say just as much about a person as any spontaneous image. A candid shot may show what the person happens to look like at any particular moment. By contrast, by allowing the subject to play a greater role in framing how he would like to appear to be, a formal shot might actually provide much greater insight into who the subject actually is. As for the bloggers who don’t use any photograph at all, I was interested in seeking out a picture of the blogger so that we might be able to match the image with the voice.

I wanted to try something slightly different this year. I discovered after setting up a Facebook page last year and reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen for the past 30 years – much less thought about – that there is always something disconcerting about seeing a photograph of someone you haven’t seen for a long time. You have a vague mental image of the person in mind. When faced with the updated version, it may take a while for your mind to adjust to the new reality. Yes, you think after a moment, that is exactly the way the person looked. Only they look more that way now. Age has a way of masking our good features – the ones that conform to our expectations of attractiveness — while accentuating our flaws.

Not surprisingly, given this interest in the way people change with age, I have always been intrigued by the “where are they now” features you sometimes see on supermarket tabloids or the Internet. There is, I have to admit, an element of Schadenfreude in this fascination, a perverse pleasure in the way people change for the worse. Because celebrities, like the rest of us, don’t always age that well.

Clearly, that type of retrospective for the criminal law blogosphere is not possible a mere 400 days after I posted my last Blawg Review. At the same time, given how quickly things can happen on the Internet, I was interested in looking at the changes that have occurred over the past year or so.  Who is still here? What are they doing now?  Who has left us?  And how have they left us? Have they gone out with a big announcement and a bang?  Or have the posts simply petered out such that we may not even have noticed that they are gone?

I begin with the bloggers who have left us, because it was in fact this category of bloggers who gave me the idea of using this theme. It was only while updating my blogroll recently, deleting the blogs that are no longer active, that I realized that many of the bloggers I highlighted in last year’s Blawg Review are no longer posting. For example, Jamie Spencer of Austin Criminal Defense and Brian Gurwitz of In Your Defense are both gone, presumably too caught up in thriving law practices to maintain their sites. I know that Brian Gurwitz’ practice is doing well because I read about him in the paper.

In July 2011, Colin Samuels discontinued the Round Tuit series he had done since September 2009, thoughtful posts every Wednesday that commented on the goings-on in the blawgosphere over the previous week.  While this too is a loss, it is hard to fault Samuels. I have struggled to put together two Blawg Reviews. The links alone will kill you.  Samuels did the Round Tuit thing 63 times.

A number of other bloggers, including Blonde Justice, Charles Thomas of Felonious Munk, Carol D of Public Defender Revolution, and even the Editor of the Blawg Review have taken off long periods of time between blog entries only to make recent comebacks. For example, after a 15-month span in which Carol D did not post a single entry, she reemerged recently by posting the first seven chapters of a novel in progress. It is great reading – fast-paced and entertaining.  With the protagonist trying her first case without ever actually having seen a trial before, the unfinished novel also provides a pretty good introduction on the basic mechanics of a trial.

Also largely absent from the criminal law blogosphere over the past year has been Mirriam Seddiq of Not Guilty No Way. After being honored as one of the ABA’s top legal blogs for 2010, and garnering the most popular votes in the Criminal Justice category, Seddiq has apparently struggled with a persistent case of writer’s block. Her recent blog entry entitled “Innocence” reminds us why she has always been such an enjoyable read – candid, personal, accessible, and passionate about what she does.  After listing things she either doesn’t do (juvenile defense, family law, DUIs) or won’t do (brag or exaggerate her credentials or experience), Seddiq turns her attention to the question often asked of criminal defense attorneys:  Do you work harder for a client if you believe the client is innocent?

I answer nay. In fact, a potential client called the other day and said he wanted to hire a lawyer who would defend him because they believed he was innocent. The right answer would have been yeah, totally man. That’s me.  I think you didn’t do it. But, my stupid self wouldn’t allow me to say that so I told him if he wanted someone who fought harder for innocent clients than for ones who admit guilt, that wasn’t me and he should find another lawyer. 

He called me back the next day.

Truth.  It does not matter to me if you did it. It does not matter to me if you did not.  I can think about it at night before I drift off to sleep, but I probably will not because my thoughts will be taken up by how I can best craft a defense for you in either case.  My job, dear potential client, is not to seek justice.  My job is to defend you.  Let your friends and family champion your righteousness and let me hire an investigator to find out if your girlfriend’s daughter is know to tell tall tales and maybe has a boyfriend who doesn’t know she is under the age of consent.

The frequency of blog entries from Marcus Schantz of Chicago Criminal Defense has also decreased greatly over the past year, enough so that I finally dropped him off my blogroll.  After posting 107 entries in 2010, he posted a mere 13 times in 2011 and only 3 times so far this year.  At the same time, his entries over the past year include a long and extremely interesting piece he did last September after he won a high-profile and racially-charged case in Chicago defending someone who was accused of a shooting a cop. Beginning with the initial phone call from the client’s sister and taking the reader through trial preparations and eventual win, the entry is as fun to read as any good crime or detective novel.

Speaking of bloggers who have left us over the past years brings us to what must have been the biggest news in the criminal law blogosphere over the past year:  Scott Greenfield’s announcement in February that he was closing down Simple Justice after five years.  With links to the blog entries discussing Greenfield’s departure assembled here, Greenfield’s announcement resulted in a tremendous outpouring of gratitude, warmth, and respect. As someone noted, it was almost as if Greenfield was dead and, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn hanging from the rafters, was able to sit in on his own memorial service.

As far as I know, Mark Bennett was the only blogger to publicly predict Greenfield’s return:

Scott will be back thanks to [Jack] Marshall, Joseph Rakofsky, and Rachel Rodgers, and Arkady Bukh, and ten thousand “lawyers in hot-pants strutting their stuff on the boulevard.” 

I’m not saying Scott can’t quit, but Scott has said that himself:  “It would be wonderful if we could all have a big group hug, but ethics precludes me from pretending this never happened . . . “  It may not be authoritarian Marshall’s suggestion that drug addiction is a question of collective willpower and that Ron Paul killed Whitney Houston, but some day – probably very soon – someone will publicly say something so outrageously stupid, illogical, unethical or ugly that it will pull Scott back in.

Bennett was, however, wrong about the impetus for Greenfield’s return.  It was not something stupid or illogical or unethical or ugly that brought Greenfield back but something positive and it involved Bennett himself; namely, Bennett’s announcement that he will be throwing his hat into the ring for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

If Greenfield’s temporary departure was the most newsworthy event in the criminal law blogosphere over the past year, the publication by Nathaniel Burney of his “Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law” was undoubtedly the biggest and most original accomplishment. Clever is the only word I can find to describe it. Having developed the concept, written, and illustrated the guide all by himself, Burney clearly has talents that extend well beyond both blogging and the practice of criminal law. I only wish I myself had the benefit of the guide when I first began learning about criminal law. With all the misconceptions out there on our criminal justice system, it should be required reading in every American high school.

The sites of Eric Mayer and Matt Kaiser have both undergone multiple changes over the last year. Although Mayer moved from Military Underdog to a much more minimalist blog called Unwashed Advocate, the wry, satirical humor remains along with a sometimes quirky look at the things that either irritate him or pique his interest.  He wrote most recently about watching his child perform in a lesser role – as Sharp Cheddar – in a kindergarten performance of “The Cheese Stands Alone.”

I’d like to say that the story warmed my heart and made me a better person, but I can’t.  In fact, I barely noticed the gist of the story.  Why?  I was preoccupied with the fact the my child – my offspring – my pride and joy – watched his dream of future success and renown shatter into a million pieces upon the stage in the elementary cafeteria.

To my horror, I saw that he had been relegated to the role of “Sharp Cheddar.”

Just typing the words causes tears to well in my eyes.  The heartbreak I feel is something no parent should ever suffer . . .

I wanted him to be successful.  I wanted him to attend a top-flight college and be a professional.   Now I’ll be lucky to get him a mowing job with the county.  So quickly I descended from high hopes to forlorn desperation.

I’ll still be positive.  I’ll try to accentuate the positives while other parents look at me with pursed lips, silently pitying my predicament. 

Friends a few days ago now avoid me.  The conversations are abrupt.

“Hey, I saw Tucker in the play, he did a great job as “Aged Parmesian.”

“Thanks,  I saw . . . your kid.  He looked like he made the most of being Sharp Cheddar.” 

Matt Kaiser began many years ago with a blog called “The Kaiser Law Blog.”  After taking some time off, he re-emerged recently with The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog in which he covers every published decision in a federal criminal appeal in which the defense wins. Considering that when I come onto the Internet during the day, I am looking more for entertainment than serious legal analysis, Kaiser’s talent is in taking what could be a fairly dry opinion and making it an interesting read. You also know with Kaiser that you are in good hands when it comes to the legal analysis.

Jeff Gamso and Norm Pattis are, in my opinion, two of the most underrated bloggers in the criminal area. I am always surprised, for example, every year when the ABA Blawg 100 thing comes out that neither one of them has been recognized. This is due partly to the fact, I think, that, focusing on the writing itself, neither of them really plays the game. Gamso isn’t even on Twitter, and there are things about Pattis’ site that seem to prevent you from picking up the feed. Pattis also doesn’t do the whole linking thing.

That said, there is no one who writes more intelligently about the death penalty than Gamso and no one who writes more beautifully and persuasively about a whole range of issues – legal and otherwise – than Pattis.   In the meantime, without the readership of some of the more popular blogs, they will apparently remain – for the time being at least – like J Mascis in the music world; that is, more popular with other practitioners of their trade than with the larger population.

Rick Horowitz of Probable Cause bristled after I noted in last year’s Review that he can occasionally be a bit long-winded for my tastes. He himself admits that he often doesn’t know where he is going with a blog entry until he sits down to write, and it is still true that he does have a tendency to go on a bit.  I am also not a big fan of stream-of-consciousness writing and extended block quotes. At the same time, Horowitz is passionate and insightful in arguing for more fundamental changes to the system.

Brian Tannebaum is provocative and rude, and that is what makes him such a good read.  There is no one who writes more persuasively about ethics and mentoring, Starbucks lawyers, Internet and SEO scam artists, self-proclaimed social media rock stars, and shiny gadgets and toys.  Having recently accepted a gig with Above The Law, he is currently taking his arguments directly to the latest generation of lawyers.  It is fun to read the fallout.

I am not quite sure what it says about me as a criminal defense lawyer that two of my personal favorites – DA Confidential and Liberty & Justice for Y’all – are both written by prosecutors or former prosecutors.  Mark Pryor of DA Confidential is pleasant, funny, and always so reasonable it makes you wish he were the prosecutor sitting in your courtroom. It is also interesting to get the perspective from the other side of the courtroom. Pryor posted most recently about visiting the crime scene immediately after an “officer-involved” shooting and dealing with the angry community:

It was, on a professional level, fascinating to hang back and watch as the Austin Police Department took control and went to work.  I was hugely impressed with their organization and professionalism, I really was.  Those in charge gave quick, clear orders and the officers went straight to work, putting up tape, setting up the perimeter, doing what they needed to do.

And they have a lot to deal with in situations like that, they sure last night.  As the news reports will tell you, there were a lot of very angry people in the neighborhood so while working to investigate and collect evidence related to the shooting itself, officers had to worry about their personal safety and other side matters like the huge in-rush of media.

Focusing on criminal opinions in Texas, Brandon Barnett of Liberty & Justice for Y’all does his own thing while keeping a low profile in the blogosphere.  Barnett is as smart and as thoughtful in person as he is on his blog; you get a sense that he is about to do very well in private practice. Clients are going to love his manners and respectful nature.  They will also like that whole slim and fit military thing he has going on.

Barnett’s most recent entry was a guest post from a Texas prosecutor comparing styles of defense attorneys to different breeds of dogs. Although you may want to be a bulldog, the prosecutor writes, you need to be careful you don’t end up like a yipping Chihuahua. And what you really want to aspire toward is being a German shepherd:

The attorney that comes in and exudes that high level of comfort in the courtroom.  He’s professional to everyone (including state’s counsel) and acts in a way that sends the message to the client – “yes, I’ve been here several times before.”  Does he “grandstand?”  No.  He establishes dominance by respecting the balance b/w the defense, the state and the bench.  Does he bark?  Sometimes.  But only when there’s cause.  And when he barks everyone hears it and respects it.

Speaking of Texans, Paul Kennedy of The Defense Rests is another personal favorite. He writes on a whole lot of things, from coaching his daughter’s soccer team to local goings-on in Houston to national politics and events. He calls things as he sees them without being gratuitously disagreeable. He wrote some of the most compelling entries, I thought, on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Why are there so many first-rate bloggers in Texas? Although Jackie Carpenter doesn’t post nearly as often as she should, she is very good when she does get around to it. Her posts about the humiliation of being arrested and later about being called as a witness in the government’s case still help set the standard for what we like to read in the blogosphere.  I like the clever connection between her domain name ( and blog name (Sustained!).  I also like the photograph she and law partner Eric J. Davis chose for their site, with the two of them standing back-to-back, arms folded, like the characters out of a T.V. crime show.

Moving westward, Matt Brown continues to post intelligently and thoughtfully about the challenges of a criminal defense practice in Tempe, Arizona. He called me out earlier this week for my praise of a recent federal court opinion upholding the constitutionality of D.C.’s post-and-forfeit statute. Thankfully, I know I am right and he is wrong.  I only wish I could get him to agree to that.

I had thought for a while that the still anonymous Gideon from A Public Defender had joined the ranks of the departed until I realized there was simply a problem with my RSS feed. Like Kaiser or Greenfield, he is someone you can trust when it comes to the legal analysis. I particularly like the piece he did recently on solitary confinement.

Back in the D.C. area, no one has been doing this any longer than Jon Katz over at Underdog. Katz posts on a range of different things, including the legalization of marijuana, trial strategies and wins, recent events, and his interest in the taijiquan martial arts. Katz and I use one of the same experts for DUI cases, Dick McGarry from Roanoke, Virgina. McGarry was regaling me just the other day with stories of one of Katz’ DUI trial wins in Fairfax County.

If this is the current state of affairs in the criminal law blogosphere, according at least to me, the question remains on the future. Greenfield has described the evolution of the blogosphere in terms of three waves:  an initial wave, a second wave of which he was a participant, and then the current wave.  Although I don’t have the same perspective on these things as Greenfield, I myself like to use the sports analogy of draft classes in which you look at the quality of the bloggers in terms of the years in which they either began blogging or started to gain a readership.  You could say, for example, that Jeff Gamso was the top prospect coming out of the draft class of 2009.

In these terms, the jury is still out on the draft classes of 2011 or 2012. Despite great expectations initially, not everyone has the ability plug away at it over the longer haul.  New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Joe Scura joined the scene earlier this year with an inaugural post that received lots of acclaim.  He has posted only a single time since then.  It is difficult to assess the quality of a blog on the basis of two entries.

Although the Philly Law Blog shows lots of potential, it is cheating to try to claim this blog within the criminal law blogosphere — neither Jordan Rushie nor Leo Mulvihill appears to practice criminal law.  Appellate Squawk was another recent discovery, although it turns out the anonymous New York appellate lawyer who writes this blog has been posting since 2010.

Blonde Justice pointed our attention to Gideon Speaks, and Mark Pryor introduced us to two other blogs written by prosecutors, Prosecutor’s Discretion and the Sarena Straus blog.  I myself am partial to a new blog written by former Biglaw associate and new D.C. criminal defense attorney Noah Clements, although I have to admit this is at least to a certain degree because I know, like and respect Clements.

Years after our high school and college friends began to marry off, my wife and I find that we were notoriously bad at predicting which marriages would last and which ones wouldn’t. Concluding I will be equally bad at this type of prognostication, I won’t even try to predict which of these new bloggers will still be around this time next year.

It is good to see Blawg Review back after an 8-month hiatus, beginning with George Wallace’s review last week here.  Mark Bennett is hosting next week’s review, and Dan Hull the week after that.  This means there are still plenty of spaces available, with information on hosting a review provided here.  See you next year.  Or not.  Happy writing.