2015.74: Kim Davis is a Greedy Bureaucrat

Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.

That’s Martin Luther, who’d had it up to here with the Church, defaced its doors, and been declared a heretic, excommunicated, and declared an outlaw.

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

Martin Luther had a choice, with two options:

  1. Act in accordance with his principles.
  2. Remain a member of church and under the protection of the state.

Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk jailed for contempt of court in Kentucky, also has a choice, but she has three options:

  1. Act in accordance with her principles.
  2. Keep getting paid at her government job.
  3. Stay out of jail.

Davis cannot do all three. There is nothing in the Bible, the Constitution, or the Uniform Commercial Code1 that says she gets to have it all. But she does get to pick any two.

  • If Davis keeps her government job and continues refusing to issue marriage licenses2  — the job that she is getting paid for and that a U.S. District Judge has ordered her to do  — she stays in jail.
  • If Davis gives up her government paycheck, she can refuse to participate in gay marriage and get out of jail.
  • If Davis sacrifices her principles at the office, and issues marriage licenses to all comers, she gets paid and gets out of jail.

I wouldn’t criticize any of these choices. How Davis values these three goods — principle, money, and freedom — is a personal matter. I wouldn’t judge her for making accommodations at work to stay out of jail. I wouldn’t judge her for giving up a paycheck to live her principles. And I don’t judge her for giving up her freedom to live her principles and get a paycheck.

But while the calculus that led Davis to choose jail over freedom is a personal matter, neither these variables3 nor the result are private matters. We know the options that she had, and we know her choice.

A digression that may well end up devouring this post:

Davis’s lawyer now says, discussing marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples today:

… that they are “void,” because they did not come under Davis’ authority.

“They are not worth the paper that they are written on,” Staver said.

Exploring that idea, he said the county clerk has the authority to distribute marriage licenses — and Davis hasn’t ceded that authority to her deputies who issued licenses Friday.

Lest you think — as Davis’s lawyer seems to think — that Davis can gum up the sodomy works by remaining in jail so that marriage licenses can’t be issued: under Kentucky law, a county judge executive can issue licenses when the county clerk is absent.

The lawyer’s statements today might suggest that Davis seeks to stop gay people from getting licensed, but that appears to be his agenda rather than his client’s. Davis’s pre-incarceration arguments suggest that she is interested only in avoiding participation herself: she argued that her religious scruples rendered her “absent” so that the county judge executive could issue marriage licenses in her county. The judge rejected that argument.

Well, she’s certainly absent (“not present at a place, job, etc.,” according to the dictionary definition the U.S. District Judge quoted) now, so the county judge executive can issue licenses in her county. Can he delegate that duty to Davis’s deputies? Mere details.

End digression.

We see three variables to Davis’s decision, and we see the decision. Rationally, she should choose the combination of two options with the highest value to her.

People have been known to swap freedom, money, and principle for each other. Just taking a job is giving up a bit of freedom for money. I make a living because people give up money for a bit of freedom.

We can infer from Davis’s choice that at the moment she values principle over freedom. P>F. We can also infer that at the moment she values her sweet government job over freedom. J>F. If her freedom were more valuable to her than her job, she could resign (or take a leave of absence) and be out of jail Tuesday.4

So we know that Davis values principle over freedom, which might make her hero material if we didn’t know something else about her, which is that she also values her government job over freedom. We don’t know whether there is a price at which Kim Davis would sell her principles, but we know that she has sold her freedom cheaply.

If valuing principle over freedom makes you a hero, valuing a government paycheck over freedom makes you just another greedy bureaucrat.


  1. PBUI. 

  2. Davis is refusing to issue any marriage licenses; she argued that her refusal to issue licenses caused only an incidental burden on the (gay and straight) plaintiffs’ right to marry because they could go to one of the surrounding counties for a license 

  3. There may be other factors of which we are not aware — for example, someone may be promising her some benefit for staying in jail, or threatening some detriment for not doing so. But these are just parts of the three major variables: P, J, and F. 

  4. The injunction was against Davis in her official capacity; when she is no longer the Rowan County Clerk, the injunction no longer applies to her. 

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2015.73: Opportunist Dan Patrick and the Goforth Murder

Yesterday, as those of you who follow me on The Twitter Machine know, I had jury duty. I didn’t get picked, of course—in fact, didn’t even make it to the courtroom. But I did learn some things, about which I will blog later, and I ran into an old friend, whom I’ll call “Frank.”

I met Frank in martial arts class. Frank, who lives in Cypress, Texas, is a a Harris County Deputy. Many times he has filled his patrol car with gas, while in uniform, at West Road and Telge in Cypress. I know Frank’s oldest kid. Good kid. Frank is five years from retirement, and has a couple of businesses he’s building in anticipation. We’re not close, but we like each other and we always take a few minutes to catch up when we run into each other at the courthouse.

It appears that the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth was not motivated by any relationship between him and his killer. If that is true, then it’s just dumb luck that Goforth got killed, and not Frank. It’s just luck that I didn’t lose a friend. Some guy who knew Darren Goforth like I know Frank — not well, but well enough to take personally the wound of his passing — is grieving today instead of me. Frank’s kids aren’t fatherless, his wife isn’t husbandless. Just dumb luck. And if Fortune had frowned on Frank instead of Darren Goforth, Frank’s wife and kids and friends wouldn’t be grieving because Frank was a cop, but because Frank was their own. Just as Darren Goforth’s wife and kids and friends (including Frank) are grieving because Darren Goforth was their own.

But you can expect politicians to make political hay of this personal tragedy.

Our brains try to make sense of things. If Darren Goforth had been murdered out of uniform and had his private car stolen, we might have explained his killing to ourselves as a robbery gone overboard. If he had been murdered in uniform by a white man, we might have explained his killing to ourselves as an act of madness. But because he was murdered in uniform, we explain his killing as being because of his uniform, and because he was murdered by a black man, we explain his killing to ourselves as racially motivated. Because, in the part of our brain that is trying to make sense of the senseless, correlation might as well be causation.

If you combine “motiveless murder of cop” with “black-on-white crime,” it’s natural to think that the murder was a political assassination, retaliation for something that white cops have done to black men. It could have been that. Or it could have been an act of madness — the killer might have seen the Deputy sprout wings and horns, and might have acted to save humanity from the vanguard of the demonic invasion. Or the truth could be somewhere in between — for example, the killer might have confused the deputy with someone else against whom he had a real grievance. Smart money always says that the truth is somewhere in between, but sometimes smart money is wrong. We don’t know what motivated the killer. The accused man has a history of petty offenses1 and some mental-health diagnoses.

So why does the first explanation — political assassination — seem like the best one? And why would the political-assassination theory not seem like the best explanation if, ceteris paribus, the killer had been a white man? Because white people aren’t perceived as having a grievance against the (white-dominated) government, and black people are.2 “Guilty conscience” isn’t the right phrase, because the government is sociopathic and feels no guilt, and anyway those who serve the government would deny with every fiber of their being that the grievances are legitimate. But the government and those who serve it recognize the grievance.

And, recognizing the grievance, they do something about it: they take advantage of it. Here’s Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s prescription to “put an end to this violence against law enforcement – now!”:

As more details of the tragic death of Harris County Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth unfold, a morbid reality is unveiled about America’s negative attitude toward our law enforcement officers. It must end now or we run the risk of fewer men and women willing to go into the profession and families insisting their spouses change careers.

Police officers are judged 24/7, 365 days a year for their entire career. One mistake can get them sued, fired or killed. I want to remind Texans and the rest of our country that these brave souls are the thin line between a country of law and order and a society of total lawlessness where no one is safe.

I challenge all Texans to think about how underappreciated our officers must feel, how dangerous their jobs are, how they leave their families everyday not knowing if they are coming home and more importantly, if there is anything you can do to help make their job a little easier.

Join me in changing this negative attitude toward those that protect us, by practicing the following:

Start calling our officers sir and ma’am all of the time. It’s a show of respect they deserve.

Every time you see an officer anywhere, let them know you appreciate their service to our community and you stand with them.

If you are financially able, when you see them in a restaurant on duty pick up their lunch check, send over a dessert, or simply stop by their table briefly and say thank you for their service.

Put their charities on your giving list.
If your local law enforcement has volunteer-citizen job opportunities, sign up.

Join me in a special prayer service to honor our fallen law enforcement heroes on Wednesday, September 2nd at the First Baptist Church of Conroe, 600 N Main St. Conroe, TX 77301 at 5:15pm.

All lives matter and we need to put an end to this violence against law enforcement – now!

This is ripe for fisking — to begin with, “fewer cops” would not be a problem if we also had fewer criminal laws. Legalize drugs, fire two thirds of the cops, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers, and we’ll have less crime. Laws require more cops and cops require more laws and pretty soon the prison-industrial complex has eaten our world.

But I won’t fisk Patrick’s statement today.

Instead I’ll note that he is singing to the choir, the majority of Texas voters, who don’t have a problem with law enforcement. In fact they adulate it, because they are scared. Patrick’s base of Scared White Republican Voters kisses law enforcement butt already; their doing so a little more passionately at his instruction is not going to change anyone’s negative attitude toward police officers.

Actually, that’s not true. SWRVs kissing law enforcement butt will change negative attitudes toward cops. It will make those attitudes worse by increasing the gulf between the police and the people who are not Patrick’s base. Patrick’s statement is for his voters, and for the praetorian class.

You know what will improve the negative attitude toward police officers? If they stop shooting innocent people and their dogs. What kind of man shoots someone else’s dog? The most common internal investigation I see in Harris County Sheriff’s Office personnel files is the discharge of a firearm in the direction of a dog. White people bribing cops with pie is going to save neither an unarmed person nor a dog.

What kind of man buys pie for a dog murderer?

If Darren Goforth had been a black logger (doing the most dangerous job in America, compared to police work, which is not in the top ten3) gunned down at a gas station, it would have been no less of a tragedy, but I would wager a great deal that Dan Patrick would not have piped up.

One of my Twitter friends, a firefighter, commented on Dan Patrick’s statement:

The answer is obvious: Patrick is of the political class, which  relies on the praetorian class to maintain power. Firefighters (and loggers) are not of the praetorian class.

The value of the praetorian class — and its good will — to the political class is obvious. Patrick is seizing the opportunity to remind the praetorian class that he is on their side, and to remind his voters to fear the bogeyman (“a society of total lawlessness where no one is safe”) so that they will increase their support for the praetorian class.

At the same time Patrick’s statement is a reminder to the aggrieved that he doesn’t give a damn about their grievances: You say black lives matter? That’s cute. Hey, waitress, more pie!

Patrick can take this attitude because he doesn’t really want to improve attitudes toward police officers. There is no benefit to him in it. The more police officers get murdered, the more the SWRVs will fear the barbarians, the more police they will demand to keep them safe, and the more liberty they will be willing to give up. Libertarians know that the murder of a police officer will be used as an excuse to curtail liberty.

Curtailing liberty is the agenda of both the left and the right; there is no political downside to a right-winger like Patrick in the death of a cop.


  1. These, when I saw them, screamed “mentally ill!” The explanation-seeking part of my brain didn’t even need to hear that he’d been found incompetent in the past to jump to that particular conclusion. 

  2. Frankly, I think both white and black people should hold a a laundry list of grudges against the government, but blacks indubitably get the worst of it. 

  3. The murder rate amongst cops — that is, how many cops are murdered every year per 100,000, is about 3. That compares favorably to the baseline murder rate for just living somewhere like Houston (9.8). 

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2015.72: Black Lives, Cop Lives, Dangerous Rhetoric

Black lives matter.

This is not to say that other lives don’t matter.

It’s gertruding, sorta. Saying “black lives matter” calls attention to the question of whether black lives matter like white lives matter. Responding “all lives matter” denies the importance of the question.

And it is a fair question: do black lives in America matter the way white lives do? The question has been raised lately in the cases of police shootings, with account after account of cops getting away scot-free after killing black people.

A digression: I’m not nearly as interested in writing about unjustified police killings as Scott Greenfield and the boys at F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s-  …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s? …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s?  …

Fault Lines (whew!) are. What used to be the criminal-defense practical blawgosphere has turned into the police-misconduct blawgosphere.

It is tragic, but killings by cops are banal, a predictable symptom of the predominant cultural diseases of the 21st century, in which fear leads to trust in government leads to more fear, and police mistreatment of the citizenry leads to public resentment leads to more police mistreatment of the citizenry. Prosecuting cops for their killings would at best be an aspirin, temporary treatment of a minor symptom while the disease eats the rest of our freedom.

Maybe it’s a topic of such compelling importance that criminal-defense lawyering pales in comparison; maybe they love writing about it; or maybe blogging criminal-defense lawyers fetishize police misconduct for other reasons.

End digression.

The truth is that cops are going to get away with their killings regardless of their victims’ race. Which is not to say that black lives don’t matter less than white lives to the American criminal-justice system, but only that cop lives matter more than either.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman says, “cop lives matter too.” Yeah. No shit. The law and society already treat cops like special snowflakes with their own set of rules. It’s a felony to assault a cop; it’s a capital felony to kill a cop; when a cop is killed every other cop in town drops everything to find the killer; a cop can’t get indicted for murder in this town; corrupt judges will not find lying cops to be dishonest because they fear the judgments of police unions. That our society treats cop lives as mattering more than others is beyond obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

Hickman also

said the attack “strikes at the heart of law enforcement” and noted the “very dangerous national rhetoric that’s out there today.”

And when it gets to a point where cops are being assassinated, he said, this rhetoric is “out of control.”

A guy kills a cop for no obvious reason, and we immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s because he was a cop. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable conclusion, but would we jump to it if police didn’t think and behave like occupiers?

In truth, police officers are safer now than ever before: in 2013 there were 107 law-enforcement deaths in the US, the lowest annual number since 1912, when the population of the U.S. was less than a hundred million. It’s hard to see how the national rhetoric is “very dangerous.”

But rhetoric is speech. It ought in any case to be out of the control of people like Hickman. What Hickman and his ilk seek is two things: for the rhetoric to be controlled, and for cops to be treated even more specially than they are now. “It is time to come forward and support law enforcement,” says our DA, Devon Anderson.

Right. In Harris County, people don’t support law enforcement. I don’t know whether Anderson is delusional or cynically manipulative. The American public, out of irrational fear fed by people like Anderson, give law enforcement obeisance and tribute enough already.

That obeisance and tribute fuel anti-cop rhetoric. Treat cops like they are a class above, and the classes below will resent it, will talk about that resentment. Their talk will do no good, and they will occasionally resort to violence in their frustration. Calling for more obeisance and more tribute will do nothing to diminish the resentment and frustration.

We human beings are in no position to name anyone who deserves to be gunned down from behind. Goforth didn’t deserve it, and his wife and kids didn’t deserve to lose him. Killing him was a shitty thing for the killer to do.

Turning his killing into a political platform is a shitty thing for Hickman and Anderson to do, and ultimately counterproductive.

 

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2015.71: The Judo Lesson

My oldest child and I were standing at the meat counter. I bumped him sideways with my shoulder. Not enough to knock him over, just enough for him to notice. He retaliated with a little more velocity (because teenager, plus I’m bigger than him). I sidestepped, and he overbalanced. I caught his fall, but it was still very amusing to me (almost as amusing as the time he advised my brother, who was trying to open our securely locked front gate, “pull harder”).

This morning Scott Greenfield quotes Emily Bazelon, in Bazelon Forfeits Her Credibility:

“The discrepancy [between what is called rape on campus and what is called rape off-campus, Deborah Tuerkheimer] argues, diminishes the violation of victims outside universities, even though studies show they are actually more vulnerable to sexual assault than college students.”

Follow along:

  • There is an epidemic of rapes on campus, so
  • We broadened the definition of rape on campus, so
  • The discrepancy between definitions on campus and off diminishes the violation of victims outside universities, who are more vulnerable to rape than their undergraduate counterparts, so
  • We must broaden the definition of rape off campus rape allegations.

 

 

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2015.70: Okay, Stan. Okay.

(Go to the bottom of the post and click play.)

When I first read this, I have to admit, I had an ego reaction. Hey, I’m in my 40s!:

StanInDefender

(That’s an interview of Stan Schneider by Brandon Ball in the Summer 2015 HCCLA Defender.)

It’s not the “you’re not like Dick and Dan” that bothered me — I bring different skills to a practice of law that is different than it was when Dick DeGuerin or Dan Cogdell were my age.

It’s the “leaders” comment that poked my ego.

Maybe Stan is being uncharacteristically inaccurate in his words — maybe by “leaders” he simply means “great lawyers.” Dick DeGuerin, Dan Cogdell, Kent and Randy Schaffer, Jack Zimmermann, Jim Lavine, Mike Ramsey: all (and more of that generation whom Stan hasn’t named — Tyrone Moncriffe, Katherine Scardino, Candy Elizondo, Lonnie Knowles, as well as these guys) are great lawyers who have gotten great results for their clients.

If by “leaders” Stan means “great lawyers,” then I would argue that Stan needs to look around to see that this generation has its great lawyers. Not like Dan and Dick — not white dudes, for one thing, and products of a different time — but great lawyers nonetheless, who have quietly racked up victories that compare to anything Dan and Dick accomplished at that age.

Except for Jim Lavine (who was mentored by Jack Zimmermann), the lawyers Stan named all were mentored by Percy Foreman or Racehorse Haynes. If each of them had paid it forward, there would be a cloud of great lawyers making their own names at the criminal courthouse.

Mentoring makes the next generation great. If there is indeed a deficit of “amazing” lawyers in their 40s, the blame is squarely on Stan and those he names. Can you name one lawyer in her 40s mentored by each of the lawyers that Stan lists? I doubt it; I know that I can’t. If I have my memealogy right, Percy mentored Racehorse, and Racehorse mentored Dick and Dan and Jack and Mike. Dick mentored Neal Davis; Dan mentored Rob Swofford (who’s out of the game); Jack mentored his daughter Terri; Mike mentored Chip Lewis. I’m sure Kent and Randy have mentored associates as well.

I don’t think “leaders” means “great lawyers.” Being a great lawyer — or even an amazing lawyer — is not the same as being a leader. A lawyer can rack up an impressive record of wins without inspiring the next generation of lawyers to greatness.

The 20th Century raised a few stars in the Houston criminal-defense firmament. Those stars have for the most part failed (as evidenced by Stan’s concern) to elevate the next generation. The media, also, do not make stars of criminal-defense lawyers as once they did. But I would argue that while it has fewer stars, my generation of Houston criminal-defense lawyers has at least as many leaders as the generations that came before us.

I have not seen the stars that Stan listed seek out opportunities to mentor young lawyers. They sometimes hire associates, and train them up, but I don’t believe they look for opportunities to mentor protégés if their mentorship will not directly benefit them. That is, they’ll mentor their associates, but not outsiders. Mentoring makes the staff better, so being mentored is a benefit of being hired.

For the leaders of my generation, by contrast, mentoring is a raison d’être. They mentor young solos not because there is anything in it for them, but because they want the whole criminal-defense bar to be a little better.

I see two contrasting (but not mutually exclusive) memetic strategies: the old strategy of mentoring one or two associates at a time; and the new strategy of mentoring as many people as you can.

My own criminal-defense mentor, Jim Skelton, subscribed to the new strategy. He was always available to answer questions, and he had young lawyers over to his house on Wednesday afternoons for brainstorming sessions. I learned from watching him, and I’ve tried to pay it forward to as many young lawyers — in Houston and anywhere else — as will listen.

The old-school strategy produced a short list of stars; the new strategy will produce an army of instigators.

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2015.69: The Montgomery County Online-Solicitation Litigation

Yesterday Kelly Case, Judge of the 9th District Court in Montgomery County, Texas, found the remainder of Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code unconstitutional, and dismissed the case against a defendant charged with that crime.1

Scared White Republican Voters are up in arms. Phil Grant is up in arms.2

Judge Kelly Case and prosecutor Phil Grant both took the same oath: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State. In holding the remainder of Section 33.021 unconstitutional, Case kept his oath. In his criticism of the decision, Grant calls into question his ability to keep his own oath.

Section 33.021 is a content-based restriction on speech. A content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid. Unless the State shows that the statute meets strict scrutiny — that it is, that it is narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest, a judge is bound by his oath to find it unconstitutional. Absent any authority binding him to hold the statute constitutional, Judge Case was bound by oath to do what he did yesterday.

There should be nothing special about a district court judge holding a statute unconstitutional. It should happen regularly. Constitutions trump statutes, and appellate courts have found three Texas statutes unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the last two years alone.3 Yet when Judge Case follows his oath to defend the Constitution, people are surprised. Phil Grant gnashes his teeth, and the defense bar cheers.

There is a word for a judge who violates his oath to defend the Constitution. That word is corrupt. A judge who fails to defend the Constitution, for fear of losing his job or for hope of pecuniary gain or for any other reason, is a corrupt judge.

A judge who takes into account the wishes of the voters or of prosecutors in deciding not to hold a statute unconstitutional is as corrupt as a judge who takes money to rule a certain way. It avails the corrupt judge nothing to say that he would have ruled the same way regardless of the corrupt influence.

I can count on one hand the Harris County judges who are willing always to do the right thing despite how it will look to the voters. To most of my judicial readers: what’s it like, being corrupt? How does it feel to know that I know that you’re corrupt?

Judge Case is not corrupt. Phil Grant wishes Judge Case were corrupt, and rants against Judge Case because Judge Case is not corrupt and does not subordinate his oath to reelection. Phil Grant would incite corruption in the judiciary. Phil Grant wants to be a judge himself. Because of his visceral reaction to Judge Case following his oath, we can safely assume that when Phil Grant is judge he will relegate his own oath.

The Montgomery County Criminal Lawyers Association responded to Phil Grant’s statements in the Conroe paper. Here’s my favorite bit:

if Mr. Grant is incapable of protecting the children of Montgomery County without the help of unconstitutional statutes, then he is incapable of keeping his own oath, and is unfit to be either a prosecutor or judge.

Can you not see the problem here, Phil?


  1. You can stop calling and emailing to tell me about it. I was there. 

  2. To hear Phil Grant tell it, you would think that Montgomery County is a hotbed of pedophilia. Why is that? Are the SWRVs who flee the scary diversity of the city for the scared whiteness of MoCo especially prone to kiddy diddling? 

  3. District judges have held another two statutes unconstitutional; three including 33.021(c). 

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2015.68: A Texas Online-Solicitation Law Roadmap

Here’s a quick summary (more than a soundbite, less than a brief) of the status of the remains of Texas’s online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute.

The statute forbids adults soliciting people whom they believe are minors to have sex, but it also forbids their soliciting other adults whom they believe to be adults to have sex, as well as soliciting people to not have sex (that is, fantasy communications or communications with no intent to meet).

Soliciting a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is unprotected speech.

Soliciting someone you believe to be a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is probably unprotected speech.

But soliciting an adult to have sex is generally protected speech. And making solicitive noises to a child, with no intent to actually carry through, is protected speech. It’s the intent to commit a (non-speech) crime that makes the speech unprotected.

So section 33.021, as it currently stands, forbids protected speech as well as unprotected speech.

The law will change as of September first, to correct this problem.1

Here’s what Joan Huffman, the sponsor of Senate Bill 344, wrote in her Statement of Intent:

The current statute is overbroad. Though the statute was enacted to impose sanctions upon those who engage in Internet conversations with minors with an intent for physical contact to take place, the statute’s sexually explicit communication provision contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child.

Like Section 33.021(b), the current Section 33.021(c) contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child. It appears to, but the requirement that subsection (c) gives, subsection (d) takes away:

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that: …

(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or

(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.

“The actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” would, if not for (d)(2), be an inferential-rebuttal defense: it negates the “intent that the minor will engage…” element of the offense. If “the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” is not a defense, then “intent that the minor will engage…” is not an element (because inferential rebuttal of an element is always a defense).

Likewise, “The actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense” would inferentially rebut intent; if “fantasy” is not a defense then “intent” is not an element.

So what have the courts said about this argument? There are four cases:

In Ex Parte Lo, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed 33.021(c) in dicta:

Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code is titled “Online Solicitation of a Minor.” It includes subsection (c) — a provision that prohibits and punishes an actor who uses electronic communications to “solicit” a minor, “to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in” certain sexual behavior.[20] Such solicitation statutes exist in virtually all states and have been routinely upheld as constitutional because “offers to engage in illegal transactions [such as sexual assault of a minor] are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.”[21] Thus, it is the conduct of requesting a minor to engage in illegal sexual acts that is the gravamen of the offense. The First Court of Appeals previously upheld the constitutionality of the Texas online-solicitation-of-minors statute.[22] That specific provision is not at issue in this case, but it provides an excellent contrast to the provision that is at issue.

Subsection (c) was not at issue in Lo; to my eternal embarrassment I hadn’t yet looked closely at the interplay of (c) with (d) and (a), so I held out (c) as an example to the Court of Criminal Appeals of a constitutional statute, which resulted in this bit of dicta. Fortunately, though, dicta are not binding.

Footnote 22 of Lo links to Maloney v. State, the First Court of Appeals’ 2009 case upholding 33.021(c) in the face of overbreadth and vagueness challenges. Maloney, a published opinion, is the major obstacle to relief. Justice Higley wrote the opinion in Maloney, and made the same mistake that that intermediate court later made in Lo: “applying an incorrect standard of review.” That is, a content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid, and the First Court in Maloney treated 33.021(c) as presumptively valid. When the burden shifts to the State, everything changes.

At the end of April I had oral argument in Ex Parte Wheeler, in the First Court of Appeals. The panel to which I argued included Justice Jennings (who wrote the erroneous opinion in Ex Parte Lo) and Justice Higley (whose opinion in Maloney v. State the First Court will have to overrule to invalidate the statute). We’re waiting for an opinion on that case, which will — thanks to the court hearing oral argument — at least apply the correct standard of review. If the court reaches the correct result, the Court of Criminal Appeals will most likely grant discretionary review; if the court applies the correct standard but reaches the wrong result, I will petition for discretionary review, and hope the Court of Criminal Appeals is interested.

So Lo‘s 33.021(c) language is dicta and is not binding. Maloney‘s 33.021(c) language is published and binding on courts within the First Court of Appeals’ geographic jurisdiction, but Maloney applied the wrong standard of review and will be revisiting 33.021(c) in light of Lo.

There are two other cases that the State relies on in support of the remnants of Section 33.021. First, there is the published San Antonio opinion in Ex Parte Zavala. In Zavala the defendant argued that the statute was vague, but not that it was overbroad. In finding that the statute, with conflicting subsections (c) and (d), was not vague, the San Antonio court made this baffling statement:

The crime of soliciting a minor under section 33.021(c) is committed, and is completed, at the time of the request, i.e., the solicitation. … Indeed, it is the requirement that the defendant must solicit “with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact” that operates to make otherwise innocent conduct, i.e., soliciting a minor to meet, into criminal conduct. It follows then, that for purposes of a subsection (c) solicitation offense, … it does not matter … that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation.

Zavala didn’t answer the overbreadth question; it’s a published opinion, but it is binding only on courts within the geographic jurisdiction of the San Antonio Court of Appeals.

The case that did answer the overbreadth question is Victorick, out of the Beaumont Court of Appeals. In Victorick the Court of Appeals, like the First Court in Lo and Maloney, applied the wrong test:

Victorick makes a facial challenge to the statute and he must therefore prove the statute is unconstitutional in every application, and that it could never be constitutionally applied to any defendant under any set of facts or circumstances.

This is not the law. When the statute is a content-based restriction on speech, the burden is on the State to show that the statute is constitutional, and the State must prove that the statute meets the very high standard of strict scrutiny.

The Beaumont court ignored this standard, writing:

On the other hand, if the statute punishes conduct rather than speech, the courts apply a “rational basis” level of review to determine if the statue has a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose.

For this proposition the Beaumont court cited Broadrick v. Oklahoma. Neither on the cited page nor on any other does Broadrick say anything about a “rational basis” test. The Beaumont court seems to have pulled its proposition from thin air.

The Beaumont court and others (including the State in every brief they’ve filed anywhere in Texas) reads far too much into this line from Broadrick:

where conduct and not merely speech is involved, we believe that the overbreadth of a statute must not only be real, but substantial as well, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep

They read too much into it because recent Supreme Court cases2 make clear that whether speech or expressive conduct is involved the overbreadth of a statute must be real and substantial.

The Supreme Court does not treat expressive conduct differently than speech, and speech does not become unprotected merely because you call it conduct. But the State’s defense of Section 33.021(c) hinges on this:

A conduct based restriction is presumed constitutional and requires a rational basis standard of review.

For this proposition the State cites Victorick, which in turn cites Broadrick, which doesn’t say that.

In any case, Victorick is an unpublished opinion, and is not binding authority anywhere.

To sum up: Lodicta, not binding; Zavala — vagueness only, binding only in San Antonio area; Maloney — under attack in Wheeler, binding only in Houston appellate district; Victorick — goofy, unpublished, not binding.

Next I’ll talk, in light of this roadmap, about the litigation this week in Conroe that has brought Judge Kelly Case unfair and unethical criticism from Phil Grant and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Then I’ll talk about why Phil Grant’s criticism was unethical, and what it shows about his fitness for office.


  1. The new law comes close to being right; it may be close enough to survive an as-written challenge, but I can envision as-applied challenges. 

  2. Such as Ferber, in 1982, but there’s no reason the State should know about that. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2015.67: Texas Legislature Outlaws Sex

From Texas Penal Code Section 43.02, effective September 1:

(a) A person commits an offense if, in return for receipt of a fee, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b) A person commits an offense if, based on the payment of a fee by the actor or another person on behalf of the actor, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b-1) An offense is established under Subsection (a) regardless of whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) regardless of whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

So if you engage in sexual conduct in return for receipt of a fee, you commit a crime regardless of whether you received or even were offered a fee.

We might guess what the Texas Legislature meant to do here:

An offense is established under Subsection (a) whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

Unfortunately, elections select for neither writing ability nor intelligence, so we wind up with grammatical abominations such as this (thanks again, Joan Huffman!).

(H/T @TDCAA.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

2015.66: The Unlawful Sweetcakes Order

You’ve probably heard about the bakers in Oregon penalized $135k for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. You probably haven’t read the order. I have so that you won’t have to.

(It’s long—3,000-plus words—so tl;dr: The facts are fascinating, but if you must, jump over the facts to the conclusion.)

You may have heard that the bakers were also ordered not to talk about the case (true) or that they were fined for doxxing the couple (false).1

The Kleins violated Oregon Revised Statute 659A.406; this is pretty clear: acting “on behalf of a place of public accommodation” they “denied full and equal accomodations” because of the Bowman-Cryers’ sexual orientation when they refused to bake a wedding cake for them. The Kleins do not appear to have disputed that they (actually, he, but she was held jointly and severally liable) violated 403; the issue is whether their right to exercise their religion trumps the statute.2

The Kleins were also found liable for violating Oregon Revised Statute 659A.409: publishing a communication to the effect that services would be withheld on account of sexual orientation. This finding is on shakier ground: their strongest indication that they would continue withholding services on account of sexual orientation was this note on their door:

This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart. [heart symbol]

If 409 is not facially unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional as applied; by finding that statements like that violate 409 and enjoining further violations of 409 the Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Brad Avakian, enjoined the Kleins from making statements like “the fight is not over.” (See also Popehat on the subject.)

But I want to talk about the damages in this case. The Commissioner could not order a fine or penalty. In fact, he gertrudes:

In [this] order, the forum considers the extent of Complainants’ emotional suffering and the cause of that suffering; and the appropriate amount of damages. Any damages awarded do not constitute a fine or civil penalty, which the Commissioner has no authority to impose in a case such as this. Instead, any damages fairly compensate RBC and LBC for the harm they suffered and which was proven at hearing. This is an important distinction as this order does not punish respondents for their illegal conduct but, rather makes whole those subjected to the harm their conduct caused.

So $135,000 is, in his opinion, fair compensation to RBC and LBC for the emotional suffering caused by Aaron Klein’s refusal to bake them a wedding cake.

Nonsense.

This is Commissioner Avakian sending a message—a message that, as he notes, he has no authority to send—to people who would politely decline to participate in gay marriages. To justify the huge sum, he goes at length into the Bowman-Cryers’ mental suffering, most of which has only a tenuous relationship to the Kleins’ conduct.

When RBC asked AK to bake her a cake, AK “stated that he was sorry, but that Sweetcakes did not make wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies because of AK’s and MK’s religious convictions.” Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

RBC began crying. She felt that she had humiliated her mother, CM (who was with her) and was anxious about whether CM was ashamed of her. (CM had come to terms with RBC’s homosexuality recently—she “had believed that being a homosexual was wrong until only a few years earlier” than the cake incident.) CM walked RBC out of the store; RBC “became hysterical and kept telling CM ‘I’m sorry’ because she felt that she had humiliated CM.”

“In the car, CM hugged RBC and assured her” that RBC had not humiliated her. Just kidding. CM assured RBC that “they would find someone to make a wedding cake.”3

CM drove a short distance, then returned to Sweetcakes to talk to AK alone, leaving RBC in the car “bawling.” CM told AK that she used to think like him, “but her ‘truth had changed’ as a result of having ‘two gay children.’ AK quoted Leviticus 18:22 to CM, saying ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.'” Which would be a pretty shitty thing to say to the mother of two gay children, unless said mother had subscribed to the same philosophy herself until recently.

So that’s the end of the matter, right? RBC, already bawling in the car, doesn’t need Leviticus quoted at her; she needs a mother’s love. It would have been a crappy cake anyway. I mean, how could a heterosexual pastry chef possibly be any good?

Oh, no. Because, apparently addicted to drama, CM returns to the car, where her child has been bawling while CM discusses theology with AK, and tells RBC “that AK had told her that ‘her children were an abomination unto God.'” Since she had raised RBC as a Southern Baptist, her telling RBC that AK thought she was an abomination (a message that RBC had surely gotten from church and family, including CM, for most of her life) “made her feel as if God made a mistake when he made her, that she wasn’t supposed to be, and that she wasn’t supposed to love or be loved, have a family, or go to heaven.” In other words, all of the feelings that had made her flee Texas (whence she and her brother had moved so that they “could be more accepted in the community”) for the Pacific Northwest.

CM drove RBC, still crying, home, where LBC asked what had happened, and Drama Mama CM related to LBC what AK had told RBC and what AK had told CM—”your children are an abomination.” Raised Catholic, LBC recognized the Leviticus quote, and was “shocked.”4 LBC took AK’s words to mean “‘this is a creature not created by God, not created with a soul; they are unworthy of holy love; they are not worthy of life.’ She immediately thought that this never would have happened if she had not asked RBC to marry her and felt shame because of it. She also worried that this might negatively impact CM’s acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation.”

LBC tried to soothe RBC. RBC pushed her away. “LBC lost her temper and started yelling that she ‘could not believe this had happened’ and that she could ‘fix’ things if RBC would just let her.”5

One of LBC and RBC’s two foster daughters was “extremely agitated from events at school that day.” LBC could not calm her, and RBC was unavailable (presumably because she “continued crying and spend much of that evening in bed”). LBC did not know how to handle the situation. That night, she was “very upset, cried a lot, and was hurt and angry.”

CM called Lauren at the wedding venue and told her that Sweetcakes, whom Lauren had recommended, had refused them cake service. She also posted a review on Sweetcakes’s Facebook wedding page and on another wedding website recommending that gay couples avoid Sweetcakes’s “because they discriminate against gay people.”

Lauren emailed RBC and LBC wanting the details. That evening (same evening she was unavailable to console her young daughter) RBC emailed Lauren back: “This is twice in this wedding process that we have faced this kind of bigotry”; this is an interesting detail unexplained in Avakian’s order.

LBC, the partner who got the story from CM, filled out an online complaint form with the Oregon DOJ. She stretched the truth ((In his order, Avakian found that LBC “had a strong tendency to exaggerate and over-dramatize events…Her testimony was inconsistent in several respects with more credible evidence.” In short, she was not a truthful witness.)) a bit: “Today…we went for our cake tasting…. We were then informed that our money was not equal, my fiancé reduced to tears.”

RBC’s brother AC got home and had a 30-minute conversation with LBC and RBC about what happened.

All of that happened on the first day, January 17, 2013.

The next day, RBC “felt depressed and questioned whether there was something inherently wrong with the sexual orientation she was born with and if she and LBC deserved to be married like a heterosexual couple.”

The church she came up in would say that she and LBC did not deserve to be married; her mother would, until recently, have agreed; but these thoughts became Aaron Klein’s fault when he refused to sell her a cake.6 RBC spent most of the day in her room, trying to sleep.

The days following were rough. RBC had difficulty controlling her emotions and cried a lot; LBC and RBC argued because RBC couldn’t control her emotions. “They had not argued … since moving to Oregon.”

RBC became more distant in her family relationships. She and her brother AC were not as close “for a little bit.” She questioned whether she could be a good mother because of her difficulty controlling her emotions.7 She was still “very sad and stressed” a week later.

LBC felt “extreme anger, outrage embarrassment, exhaustion, frustration, intense sorrow, and shame as a reaction to AK’s refusal to provide a cake. She felt sorrow because she couldn’t console E, she could not protect RBC, and because RBC was no longer sure she wanted to be married.… she was not sure she could protect RBC if any similar incidents occurred.”8

Drama-queen CM took over responsibility for contacting the wedding vendors. She found a gay-friendly bakery (amazing!) and made an appointment. CM did most of the talking until they got to the design of the cake; the bakery charged $250 for the cake (which AK would have charged $600 for).

The Oregon DOJ sent a copy of the complaint to AK; AK posted a copy on his website. He had only seventeen friends (though the page was apparently public), and he took down the posting the same day. Meanwhile, one of LBC’s friends9 emailed her to tell her to look at the posting. LBC did, and called the couple’s lawyer.10

On February 1, LBC found out that AK’s refusal to make their wedding cake had made the news. She may have found out because RBC got a call from a talk radio host and called LBC.

The couple became afraid that their foster children would be taken away.11 LBC’s headaches increased; she felt intimidated and became fearful. Their lawyer sent out a press release requesting privacy.

There was a protest outside the bakery on February 9th; RBC and LBC both made comments on the Facebook page organizing the boycott “in which they indirectly identified themselves as the person who sought the wedding cake and thanked people for their support.”

On February 12, 2013, the Oregon Department of Justice emailed a copy of the complaint to the media. The findings of fact do not mention whether DOJ redacted the complainants’ names and addresses first—a fact that Avakian surely would have mentioned had it been true.

After the DOJ publicized their complaint, LBC had a confrontation with “an aunt who had physically and emotionally abused her as a child and also owned all of the family property”: “the aunt insisted through social media that LBC drop the complaint. She also called LBC and told her she was not welcome on family property and she would shoot LBC ‘in the face’ if LBC ever set foot on the family’s property in Ireland or the United States.” LBC was devastated “as it meant she could not visit her mother or grandmother, both of whom lived on family property.12

Meanwhile, “RBC’s sister, who believed that homosexuals should not be allowed to get married, wrote a Facebook message to teh Kleins to tell them that she supported them. This was a ‘crushing blow’ to RBC, and it hurt her and made her very angry at her sister.”

From February 1, 2013, “many people have made ‘hate-filled’ comments through social media and in the comments sections of various websites that were supportive of Respondents and critical of or threatening to Complainants. These comments and the media attention caused RBC stress, anger, pain, frustration, suffering, torture, shame, humiliation, degradation, fear that she would be harassed at home because the DOJ complaint with Complainants’ home address had been posted on Facebook, and the feeling that her reputation was being destroyed.”

“The publicity from the case and accompanying threats from third parties on social media made RBC ‘scared’ for the lives of A, E, LBC, and herself.”

I assume that Avakian included all the facts “necessary to provide context to Complainants’ claim for damages” and omitted all the facts irrelevant to that claim. For example, if he hadn’t considered, as part of their damages claim, the fact that people were shitty to them on the Internet,13 he would have omitted that fact. If someone had harassed the complainants at home he would have included that fact.

Consider how things might have been different had CM—who until recently might herself have quoted Leviticus to LBC and RBC—kept her mouth shut after talking to AK. While RBC was very upset by the denial of cake, it was CM’s words to her that had her doubting her worthiness. LBC’s reaction, too,  was not triggered only by AK’s refusal to bake the cake, nor by AK telling RBC that she was an abomination (he didn’t), but also and more significantly by CM telling LBC that AK had told her, CM, that “her children” were an abomination.

What’s really going on here? CM’s recent acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation is so tenuous, in the view of RBC’s life partner, that the baker quoting scripture is a threat to it. I hunch that, consciously or not, CM wanted LBC and RBC to feel shitty about their sexual orientation.

If someone says something shitty to you about me, and you relay it to me, you are not doing me a favor; any emotional harm I suffer as a result is on you. The burden should have been on the BOLI to show that any emotional harm was caused by the Kleins. But Commissioner Avakian made no effort to distinguish between the effect of the denial of accommodation, and the effect of CM stirring up trouble.

AK never initiated contact with the media. He did not give the complainants’ names to the media. He never told the media anything but the truth. Even if he had  done more to spread the story than post the complaint for a few hours and respond to media inquiries, it would not be appropriate to hold him responsible for the Internet’s reaction to the story: if you sue someone and people find out and say mean things about you, the defendant is not liable for your hurt feelings. Yet Avakian did not try to distinguish between the effect on the complainants of the denial of accommodation and the effect on them of filing a complaint with the state.

We take our victims as we find them, and someone breaking the law by refusing accomodation based on a forbidden distinction assumes the risk that the potential customer is on the edge of breakdown already because of incompetent parenting and a repressive upbringing. But he doesn’t and shouldn’t assume the risk that the potential customer’s family will make things worse.

So the Kleins are not responsible for CM telling RBC and LBC that AK told CM that her gay children were an abomination. Nor are they responsible for any of the effects of that statement.

The Kleins are not responsible for LBC’s aunt threatening to shoot her in the face.

The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s sister not supporting her against the Kleins.

The Kleins are not responsible for the community’s response to LBC and RBC’s complaint. They are especially not responsible for others’ hateful comments.

RBC and LBC were not harassed at home. The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s fears that they would be.

The Kleins should no more have to pay for the harm that Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer suffered because of the complaint they filed than they should get credit for the free cake the Bowman-Cryers got from Charm City Cakes.

By including in his assessment these myriad effects that the Kleins had nothing to do with, Avakian shows his true and unlawful intent: to punish the Kleins and make an example of them disproportionate to the damage that they caused.


  1. Posts to that effect are based on this language in the order:

    The Agency’s theory of liability is that since Respondents brought the case to the media’s attention and kept it there by repeatedly appearing in public to make statements deriding Complainants, it  was foreseeable that this attention would negatively impact Complainants, making  Respondents liable for any resultant emotional suffering experienced by Complainants. The Agency also argues that Respondents are liable for negative third party social media directed at Complainants because it was a foreseeable consequence of the media attention.

    That is the Agency’s theory of liability, that is, one party’s argument. What did the Commissioner think of that theory?

    The Commissioner concludes that … the facts related solely to emotional harm resulting from media attention do not adequately support an award of damages.

    So the wildly popular theory that the Kleins paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers is based on a reading-comprehension failure. (See also Eugene Volokh on this subject.)

    Should the Kleins have paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers? Well, no, if for no other reason than that they didn’t dox them. They published the first page of the Bowman-Cryers’ complaint, on which the Bowman-Cryers had put their address, on their Facebook page for less than a day at a time that they had 17 “friends.” The Oregon Department of Justice sent the same information to the media two weeks later.

    Even if the Kleins had researched and published the Bowman-Cryers’ identities, liability would not be appropriate: people seeking state to have the state punish other people risk community scorn, and ought to. 

  2. My view is that it does. The Kleins should be free not to do business with the Bowman-Cryers, just as I am free not to do business with the Kleins. 

  3. Protip: when your grown child becomes hysterical about a cake, it’s not about the cake.

    This is mostly true of non-grown kids too. 

  4. Gambling in Casablanca? 

  5. We are getting a clear picture of unstable people raised in dysfunctional families. 

  6. As though by compelling us to treat strangers nicely the state could erase all our self-doubt and emotional pain. 

  7. What parent hasn’t? 

  8. It’s interesting how people fall into stereotypical gender roles. 

  9. More drama! 

  10. The complainants had lawyered up. 

  11. The “Love Joy Feminism” blog post that started the “doxxing” rumor also said that “State officials told the Bowman-Cryers that if they couldn’t protect the foster children in their home from the harassment that resulted from the Klein’s public posting of their home address, etc., they would lose the children.” This is untrue: they had been instructed, before the cake incident, that it was their responsibility to make sure that the foster children’s “information was protected.” 

  12. See the note above about Commissioner Avakian’s comments on LBC’s testimony. 

  13. Gambling in Casablanca? 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

2015.65: Teach. For America.

I described in An Apostrophe too Far why, despite the undeniable truth that the criminal justice system would crash if every defendant refused to plead guilty, defense lawyers cannot crash the system. Tl;dr: “Prisoner’s dilemma writ large.

I hypothesized a criminal-justice system, ours in micro, processing 100 defendants a year, with capacity for four jury trials (for Harris County, multiply by about 300). Twenty defendants of the hundred don’t plead guilty, and eighteen of those twenty get their cases dismissed. Of the last two, one defendant is convicted and one is acquitted.

Each additional defendant who doesn’t plead guilty will force the State to try or dismiss a case—his or someone else’s. There is theoretically capacity for another two jury trials, but the system doesn’t love jury trials, so a dismissal is more likely than another jury trial. For every additional defendant who refuses to plead guilty, there will likely be another dismissal.

I observed that The cases that are tried or dismissed are those in which the defendant assesses a trial as more valuable than the government does (or the government assesses a trial as essentially valueless). If we can increase defendants’ assessment of the value of trial, more defendants will refuse to plead guilty. How do we do that?

Defendants get their cues for valuing trial from society (including their cellies), from the radio receivers in their heads, and from their lawyers. We can’t do anything about the receivers in their heads; we can do a little (like writing blog posts about how many cases get dismissed) about society’s messages about the value of not pleading guilty; we can do more about the lawyers.

Every lawyer communicates to her client her own assessment of the value of pleading not guilty. She might do it explicitly, or she might do it without knowing it. The client relies on the lawyer’s assessment because it is the best information the client has. At best, the lawyer’s assessment is objective and accurate. At the worst, the lawyer’s irrational fear of trial or her unwonted self-confidence poisons her assessment.

If the lawyer’s assessment is accurate, the client can rely on it. If the lawyer has an irrational fear of trial, she’s probably going to lose,1 so the client can rely on that assessment as well. The danger for the client lies in relying on the lawyer’s inappropriately optimistic prognosis.

For purposes of this post we are not worried about that last situation—for the sake of the system it’d be better if more lawyers had pathologically rosy outlooks, because then fewer defendants would plead guilty. In fact, one way that we might get more defendants to refuse to plead guilty is to get lawyers to believe more in their ability to win more cases. If our concern is the clients’—rather than the client’s—interest then we want to encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically, whether or not that optimism is merited.2

How might we encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically? One way would be to pretend to teach them to be better lawyers—to teach fake CLE, and pretend to give them more tools to use to win their trials.

There may be a downside to this brilliant idea: that some lawyers might, as a result of fake education, wind up trying cases that they shouldn’t have, losing them, and losing their optimism because losing sucks. Such lawyers may might discouraged and view trial even more pessimistically than they did before. So fake education may3 be detrimental to the system in the long run.

Besides, fake CLE seems like a lot of work. If we’re going to go to the effort of putting on a show, we might as well give teach them to be better trial lawyers.

There are a very few criminal-defense lawyers who are natural-born trial lawyers. I don’t know many of them. There are a few criminal-defense lawyers who are flat-out incompetent, beyond all hope of repair. The vast majority of us can learn to be better.

Training better trial lawyers will have an exponential effect because society’s view of trial will feed back the results of our tweak to the system: the more cases are dismissed, the more defendants will refuse to plead guilty, and the more cases will be dismissed.

When we see injustice, we can ignore or accept it (and, like Anita Hill, “get as much as you can out of it”), we can make a big show of our outrage, or we can take action to fix it. “An Apostrophe Too Far” was inspired by @NormDeGuerreEsq’s tweet. Reading Norm, the outrage is palpable, but the action is wanting.

I favor action over outrage. Outrage is easier, but it never fixed anything. Norm, you want a solution to the problems of overcriminalization, of overprosecution, of overimprisonment? You and I are not the first lawyers to discover that the system is broken, and that by setting everything for trial we could bring it to its knees. But we have wargamed this time after time, and we cannot ethically take general action at the client’s potential expense.

You’ll never go on strike because you know that if you’re the only one you’ll just get hammered down. So if doing a conscientious job for each client isn’t enough for you, get out there and start teaching.


  1. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

  2. So: Go you! You can win that trial! 

  3. It amuses me that whether fake education is harmful might be subject to discussion. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments