The man standing at the bar of the court is a nicely dressed, middle-aged white guy. He looks like a lawyer. That’s because, as it turns out, he IS a lawyer. He is seeking the court’s permission to represent himself in a criminal case.
He begins by criticizing his current lawyer. “My lawyer hasn’t done anything for me,” he tells the judge. “This is the first I’ve seen or heard from him since the arraignment.”
“Did you try to contact him,” the judge asks?
“Yes. He never returned any of my calls.”
My colleague, standing beside the man, does exactly what he should be doing: He does not shake his head or correct the record. He does not grimace or shift from one foot to the other. My colleague will not correct or disagree with his client in public. He is loyal to his client even when his client is not loyal to him.
“I know what they say about a man who wants to represent himself,” the man tells the judge. “He has a fool for a client. I know that. But I think I can represent myself in this case. The facts are pretty straightforward.”
“Have you ever practiced criminal defense,” the judge asks?
“I have worked for many years as a lawyer,” he answers, and he mentions a well-known law firm.
“I understand that,” says the judge. “But have you ever done criminal defense?”
“I litigated a criminal case when I was in law school,” the man says. “As part of the D.C. law students in court. But I can figure this out. Unlawful entry is not a serious charge. This is not rocket science.”
“You understand,” the judge tells him, “that it is often much more effective to have someone else act as your advocate. You understand that, don’t you?”
The man claims he does understand, and the judge eventually relents. My colleague is allowed to withdraw from the case and the man is left standing by himself as the court reviews the conditions of his release.
“I see from pre-trial services,” the judge says, “that you are accused of violating your conditions of release. You were ordered to stay away from the Catholic University Basilica. And yet you have gone back into that building. You have violated the stay away order.”
“I am a devout Catholic,” the man says. “I always have been. And I know the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Basilica is open to everyone. I am welcome in that building.”
The judge puts down his pen and smiles sadly. “There you go,” he says. “Remember what I said about having someone else speak on your behalf? You have already gotten yourself into trouble. The stayaway order you violated was not from the Catholic Church. The stayaway you violated was my order. I can’t tell you what the government will do. But now, in addition to facing charges for unlawful entry, you have just admitted on the record that you willfully disobeyed my order. This is contempt of court.”