Tragedy and the legal system

Regardless of how you feel about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, the racial issues pervading the case, the right to use deadly force to defend yourself, the requirement that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt…a seventeen year old kid is dead for no good reason, and that is a tragedy. The legal system is imperfect in countless ways — but even if it wasn’t, it would still be incapable of turning a tragedy into a happy, fairy-tale ending.

Where the CBO report on federal pay went wrong

The CBO concluded that the most highly educated and highly paid federal employees are underpaid by more than 20 percent compared with employees with similar “characteristics” in the private sector.

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The logical policy implications of the CBO conclusions would be to provide significant raises to the highest-paid federal employees, which would amount to $30,000 to $50,000 for annual salaries of $150,000 to $200,000.

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The federal pay system aims to find a balance between offering a fair and competitive wage, a secure retirement and a satisfying work environment for those who believe in public service. Especially for the most educated, highly skilled and highly compensated federal employees, the importance of the mission, the challenge of the work and the commitment to public service provide ­non-monetary incentives.

It is clear that the public and its representatives in Congress do not support compensating even the most educated and skilled employees at the level they could attain in the private sector. Nor would these employees ever see the kinds of monetary and ­non-monetary perks their counterparts in the private sector receive, such as paid sabbaticals, 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, bonuses, stock options, on-site spas and more.

For the record, I would totally support legislation that paid me market rate and gave me 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Lawyer-y views on the Casey Anthony verdict

The verdict didn’t surprise me, and I doubt it would surprise most other lawyers.  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. allegedly said, it’s a court of law, not a court of justice.

Now admittedly, I am not a criminal lawyer.  I did, however, intern in a public defender’s office (in Florida!) and I’ve spent a number of years working in a quasi-prosecutorial role, just on the civil side of things.  I know a thing or two about litigation, trial law, and juries.  And I also know that it’s a lot harder — and a lot less glamorous — than it looks like on tv, even the news.  Plus — unlike most other people opining on the case, I am licensed to practice law in the state of Florida and I even have an (admittedly antiquated, 1998) copy of West’s Florida Criminal Laws and Rules within reach of my desk.

With that disclaimer, in my opinion, the problem with the Casey Anthony case wasn’t the jury.  It was, plain and simply, that the prosecutors didn’t — or couldn’t — entirely prove their case.

According to my law dictionary, “reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial is “that doubt which is direct and reasonable in light of all the evidence presented at the trial, which would justify the jury in reaching a verdict of ‘not guilty.’  Where the evidence presents a case of guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, the evidence justifies the jury in reaching a verdict of ‘guilty.’  A reasonable doubt is more than a mere skepticism but does not need to be represented by clear evidence; it need only be that doubt which reasonable people would consider.

The prosecution showed that Casey was likely responsible for Caylee’s death, but they never showed anything concrete about how or when or even really why. So the only thing that they really managed to prove (without a reasonable doubt) was that she was an unfit parent. The prosecution didn’t tie everything together quite enough, and left the jury with a lot of unanswered questions.  In other words, reasonable doubt.

And the defense — as horrible as they might have been — somehow — perhaps by accident — managed to poke just enough holes in the prosecution’s theory of the case.  More doubt, although most of their version of the case strained credulity. In short, Baez lucked into a poor case by the prosecution, and then seemingly tried really hard to make the jury change their mind.

So yeah, the verdict was disappointing, in terms of justice for Caylee, and perhaps the search for truth.  But it was right in terms of law.

What we saw today is: It is better to be lucky than to be good. [José Baez] won this case because the state lost the case. He really is the luckiest man in America.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, as quoted in the Orlando Sentinel’s story on the Casey Anthony verdict.

Alternative Career for Lawyers?

From Above The Law:

In the J.D. context, we usually think of “whoring” as a figurative state. But not for much longer.

We already know that many strippers do what they do in order to get money for their drugs. Now, through the wonders of Craigslist, we’re about to see strippers baring all in order to get money for their educational debts.

Sallie Mae might be just a lending institution now, but she dreams of becoming a madam…

All you need to know about what it’s like for recent law school graduates is contained in this Craigslist ad (in case it has been removed, there’s a screencap at the end of this post):

How many ladies out there thought that getting a J.D. would keep them off the pole? How many fathers encouraged their daughters to go to law school to avoid this very fate? Now, well, they might as well be handing out clear heels and thongs at commencement ceremonies.

Is Law School a Losing Game?

Short answer:  Yes.

Job openings for lawyers have plunged, but law schools are not dialing back enrollment. About 43,000 J.D.’s were handed out in 2009, 11 percent more than a decade earlier, and the number of law schools keeps rising — nine new ones in the last 10 years, and five more seeking approval to open in the future.

Apparently, there is no shortage of 22-year-olds who think that law school is the perfect place to wait out a lousy economy and the gasoline that fuels this system — federally backed student loans — is still widely available. But the legal market has always been obsessed with academic credentials, and today, few students except those with strong grade-point averages at top national and regional schools can expect a come-hither from a deep-pocketed firm. Nearly everyone else is in for a struggle.

45 Under 45: The best young women lawyers in The Am Law 200

I am glad that only one of these women is younger than I am.  I am, however, appalled that the list is limited to only big-firm lawyers (i.e. “The Am Law 200”).  Just ‘cause you make the big bucks doesn’t mean you are the best lawyer.

Fini

I graduated from law school on December 18, 1998, three weeks after I turned 23 years old. Nineteen months later, after the bar exam and an extra year spent getting my LL.M, I was sitting in my crappy apartment in a complex where one of the Gainesville murders took place, packing up my meager possessions into boxes, and waiting for the movers to come get my stuff to cart it a thousand miles north. Other than continuing education seminars, I was done with school, raring to enter the working world.

Fini.

Or so I thought.

Which brings us to the beginning of 2010. After the loss of my mom, several painful failed relationships, and interminable work stresses, I found myself looking for something, well, more. That more turned into a graduate degree program at Georgetown. And as of a few minutes ago, I just turned in my final exam for my very first class.

I am proud of myself for finishing that first class, but I have so many more to go if I want to complete the degree program.  I have no idea whether I’ll ever make it to the end, with work and responsibilities and (arguably) life. But still, in this moment, I am proud. Exhausted too.