Thursday, August 30, 2007

These are not defenses.

I've heard a lot of interesting legal theories lately.  The ones that I've heard with bewildering frequency:
WOTL:  "Ok, so you're being charged with marijuana possession.  It says you had it in your right hand."
Client:  "Naw, man!  I didn't possess anything!  I was with my friend, and these two other guys my friend knows came over.  I just took a hit and was about to pass it to one of the other guys.  Then the cops came out of nowhere and arrested me!  Not even anyone else!  That ain't right."
WOTL:  "So the marijuana was in your hand when the police came up to you?"
Client:  "Yeah, I guess."
WOTL:  "So you possessed it."
Client:  "Uh, yeah."
WOTL:  "Let's talk about the plea bargain."
Client:  "I don't think you know this, but the charges have been dropped."
WOTL:  "No they haven't."
Client:  "Yes they have.  Maybe you didn't bother to check, but the case is dropped.  He/she told the DA they're dropping it."
WOTL:  "'Dropping charges' is like the Tooth Fairy.  Doesn't exist.  Only the DA can drop the case, and the DA is recommending 6 months jail."
WOTL:  "It says you possessed cocaine."
Client:  "Well that's not right.  How much does it say I had?"
WOTL:  "Two zips."
Client:  "See?  They gotta drop the charge because it was just personal use."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

on being a public defender: destroying my youthful good looks

Not quite being at the point where I can coexist peacefully with the burgeoning wrinkles under my eyes, or the (GASP!!!) dreaded vertical wrinkle emerging from my upper lip (only grandmas have those!) because I am only 27 damnit, I figured I'd start accusing. 
Hereinafter, every blemish shall be labeled.  Did you ever have a family member or teacher that did that?  One that used gray hairs as a consequence of bad behavior?  Like somehow, my misbehaving or anxiety-inducing behavior influenced my mother's follicles.
"I can't help you stay out of jail if you're so damned insistent on finding your way back in" = wrinkles under left eye.
"I can't help you stay out of jail if you insist on never keeping your appointments with me or returning my calls" = wrinkles under right eye.
"Telling me that I'm on the DA's side and I suck and I ain't fightin' your case and I'm a worthless piece of shit" = wrinkle above lip
"Being accused by the DA of being deceptive and / or sneaky for requesting what my client is owed pursuant to the U.S. Constitution" = I imagine I must be sprouting a gray hair or ten for that.  I mean, I don't have any that I know of, but seriously, I owe an entire post to this discussion, because it happens so often that I am incredulous and mind-boggled.  Today, I was accused of using this "tactic."  Choke.  I'm sorry.  Did you really just call this a 'tactic'?  I'd call it "due process" or "a fair trial" but whatever.  If that's sneaky, then count me in.  
I do believe that my employer should reimburse for beauty maintenance expenses.  Not that I do any beauty maintenance.  But damn, a look in the mirror today really convinced me that maybe I should.  That wrinkle above the lip is scaring the bejesus out of me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

growing pains

Usually I'm up as soon as the alarm clock starts blaring Mike and Mike in the Morning.  This morning, I woke up earlier than the alarm and decided that it would be more painful to fall back asleep for the last 15 or 20 minutes I had to spare.  I rolled out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom.  I stared emptily at my bleary-eyed reflection, squinting under the unflattering flourescent light, toothbrush in my mouth.  I looked around the bathroom, fairly tidy despite being shared among 4 roommates, wondered if any of my suits were clean, cursed myself silently for never having gotten around to getting those pants tailored (for the second summer in a row), and wondered when I'd have income to get that taken care of, or when I'd be able to afford another suit.  Or a bathroom all to myself.  I squinted at myself again, hair tousled, and thought, I wonder when I'll really be grown up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sallie Mae is a nightmare

I just had the most infuriating interaction with my loan provider, Sallie Mae.  It was so infuriating that it erases all previously pleasant customer service I've received from them.  Heretofore, I have recommended them as a loan provider.  Hereafter, I will not do so.  It was so bad that I'm now very concerned about them handling my [massive] debt for the next 30 years.  If I had any way to transfer my debt elsewhere, I'd do it this second in a heartbeat.
I applied for a 2 month forbearance.  It makes me feel yucky to do it, but just postponing two payments on one of my loans will help me get my finances straightened out.  (It's been a tight couple of months).  I got a letter in the mail confirming my forbearance, and informing me that my next payment will be in one month.  That doesn't make sense, I applied for two months.  So I called.  And so begins today's nightmare.
The first rep I spoke to informed me that the forbearance was applied to last month's payment.  I informed her that last month's payment was made, so it could not have been forborne.  She informed me that it was made late.  I responded that it wasn't possible, because I have auto debit from my account.  How could Sallie Mae be taking out money automatically, every month, and then deeming it late?  And if that's the case, why has no one brought this to my attention earlier?  Well, the rep informs me, I only started auto debit last month, after the late payment was made.  No no, I respond.  I've had it for at least one year.  On your other loans you have had auto debit, she says.  But not this one, not until after you paid late last month, she tells me.  I didn't pay late last month!  I insist.  It was automatically deducted!  I'm staring at my bank statement right here!  I'm staring at my Sallie Mae account right in front of me!  We argue back and forth like this for several minutes.  I'm growing increasingly agitated because this rep is telling me that I had one previously late or not-made payment forborne, which is why only next month's payment is forgiven.  Then she keeps trying to railroad me into just extending my forbearance one month.  I insist that I don't want an ADDITIONAL forbearance - I want a two month forbearance that I applied for, one that means I don't have to make two months payments.  (I was so insistent on NOT asking for an additional month's forbearance because there's a finite number of forbearances you can request over the life of a loan.  I didn't want to burn one because some idiot can't push papers).  She goes back to telling me that I missed a payment.  I ask what payment I missed, and she tells me a different date - this time a June date.  I informed her that the payment was made, she said I only paid part of it.  I told her that Sallie Mae took MANY HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS out of my account in the beginning of June, the entire amount due, and there's no way I missed that payment, because I'm staring directly at my bank statement.  She said I paid it late, I told her it was impossible because I had auto debit, and she told me I didn't.  They have been automatically deducting my payments for over a year - probably two years, at this point.  She kept assuring me I was wrong, and I offered to send her copies of my bank statements to show every single deduction made, endorsed "DEBIT", over the past year, on the due date.  She didn't need my bank records because her records were not wrong, she said.  And the forbearance covered that payment I made in either July or June that was either late or not made. 
After a solid 10 or 15 minutes of this, I was livid.  She kept telling me, "Ma'am, I'm not trying to argue with you, but our records aren't wrong."  And about then, about that point, was the time that I was going to reach through the phone line and throttle her self-righteous neck.  Finally I said in a voice that could slice through flesh, "Stop telling me I am wrong and let me speak to someone who is going to fix this."  So I got a supervisor. 
Only marginally less frustrating, this second conversation.  I explained to the supervisor exactly what I was calling about and what the representative told me.  The supervisor said oh yes, the forbearance that you applied for online was applied to the last due payment.  Well, I explain, that's impossible because I PAID that payment and made sure to apply for forbearance AFTER that payment was made!!  But that's how it was processed, she explained.  My two month forbearance covers last month's payment (which was made) and next month's payment.  So I don't have to pay next month's payment.  Well, if the forbearance applies to last month, then refund last month's payment to my checking account.  I cannot do that ma'am, the supervisor bristled.  So, I posit, if I had applied for a ONE month forbearance instead of a TWO month forbearance, I would have to pay next month anyway?  Yes, she says.  Which means I would have asked for one month's forbearance, and had to make every month's payments anyway?  Does this make any sense to anyone else?  Apparently the Sallie Mae reps are crystal clear on this. 
In the end, she cancelled my original forbearance request and reissued a 2 month forbearance for August and September (which she explained so poorly that I honestly had to say, "I want two months forbearance and just want to NOT pay for August and September.")  And she responded, Yes, that's July through September.  I'm pretty sure they went ahead and fucked shit up again, but the supervisor continued to assure me that what I wanted was exactly what she was saying.
And then, the call didn't end with a friendly, "Is there anything else we can do for you today?" so thusly, the call never addressed the issue of my late / missed payments because I've never had auto debit before, and it's just as well.  Fucknuts.  She was all, Bye.  And I was all, Bye. 
I tried to get online to send some customer service feedback email but lo and behold!  No such thing exists.  So the only person, it seems, that I can complain to are the very people who I wanted to complain about.  Excellent.
So this is my customer service complaint, Sallie Mae.  For the whole world to see.  Everyone will know that you are accusing citizens of not making their payments for YEARS when said payments have been made, everyone will know that you will tell your customers that they are wrong (inexplicably.  I mean, how in the world did you come up with this fucked up, "You don't have auto debit until last month" shit?  Of all the things to dispute - how in the world could you believe that you've never automatically deducted my payments?)  Sallie Mae, the whole world will now know that even though tells me that every payment has been made, on the due date, for the past year, on the auto-debit plan, that your reps will insist that's not the case.  I hope the word spreads far and wide, I hope all are forewarned, I hope that hundreds of thousands of people will become aware of the risks that they take with their finances when they agree to deal with you.
I anxiously await my next confirmation letter in the mail, due to arrive in 7-10 business days.  They'd better not dare to fuck this up again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

is it ethical...

to answer a client's family member's questions regarding the client's case?  What if your client's family member is on your side?
We all talk to family members.  Sometimes you can answer their questions, sometimes you have to insist on NOT divulging information to them.  Today in court, my client's mother was there and asked why her daughter couldn't get into therapy instead of doing a year.  I agree, as does the DA - the DA is recommending treatment or 1 year incarceration.  My client has adamantly declined both offers.  She doesn't want to be in therapy.  She's going to lose the case.  She admits she committed the act but doesn't think she should be punished for it.  If she loses, she will certainly get one year incarceration.  I think therapy is a much better alternative, given the strength of the government's case and the certainty of her incarceration.
So if my client's mother asks why she can't do therapy, do I say, "That's been the offer the entire time and your daughter rejected it."  Or do I say, "I can't really discuss the case with you." 
I feel pretty strongly about taking the therapy route, so I said, "I'm not sure.  We MIGHT be able to try it.  But it's really hard to do therapy as a sentence.  I wouldn't usually recommend it.  Unless someone was already really committed to it, it's a big risk because it's a long time to receive therapy, and if something happens along the way, it lands you in jail for one year.  Therapy is good, but it's difficult to do it in a courtroom with the judge and DA breathing down your neck."
I was hoping that throwing it out there, Mom can help me convince my client to take it.  And if my client doesn't want it, then she can always blame me, saying that I said it's too hard and too easy to end up in jail that way. 
Anyone else?  What would you have done?