10/23/2006 - 7:18 p.m.


Ah, those special little moments as a public defender that make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. You feel so….wanted. The judges hate you, the district attorneys hate you, the public hates you, and even the clients hate you. Yes, I've gotten a death threat. No, I'm not too concerned. I long ago learned not to quiver every time a client makes a threat.

First, this one is was not exactly personal. The client made it before he knew who I was, let alone my name. He did not make it directly to me. It came in a letter to my boss and it was contingent. If his new lawyer, like his old one, was a secret agent of the prosecutor and if his new lawyer, like his old one, refused to listen to him and do what he wanted yesterday, he would kill him (or, in this case, her.)

Second, the type of threat suggested an inability to plan. His plan for killing. Well, he would kill "personally." He would not have gang members do it. He would not have family members do it. He would not have friends do it. He would do it personally. Considering that he is locked up for a while in one of our fine state prisons, I figure it will be quite a while before he will have an opportunity.

Third, it was surrounded by other threats and he seemed to have ranked them. He would sue the lawyer, he would file a grievance against the lawyer, he would complain to the courts, and then he would personally kill the lawyer. I figure I have plenty of time while he works his way through what he perceives to be his legal remedies.

So, how did I deal with it? I walked my usual fine line when dealing with impulsive teenagers. I tried to indicate a lack of concern without indicating so little concern that I forced the guy into a corner. I explained how the law worked so he had some chance of understanding why what he wanted to happen yesterday is not happening for at least a month or so, I gave him the address for the Office of Lawyer Regulation, and I explained that, if the prison officials opened his letters (which is not supposed to happen but does happen from time-to-time), he would end up with a disciplinary or a new criminal charge.

I then pulled a Haim Ginott or Faber/Mazlish (or used "active listening" or mirrored feelings, depending on what title for it is in vogue at the moment. I can never keep up with these things.) I let him know that I recognized his threat as an expression of frustration and granted him what he wanted in fantasy (as in "I wish it could be done more quickly.") I just hope that, unlike my children, this client understands how all of this stuff is supposed to work.

Still, it's not my favorite thing to start the week with a threat—even if it does come addressed "to whom it may concern."


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