Friday, July 16, 2010

Keeping 150 cases straight

I have mentioned in a few posts that I have roughly 150 cases at any one time, all the trial prosecutors do. My tally is nearer 200 right now because one colleague is on maternity leave. The question came in (you may have seen it):

how do you keep all of those cases straight? I'm not sure my brain could contemplate 150 cases, let alone have to negotiate and prosecute them as well.

I feel that way sometimes. But it's not as burdensome as it seems. I've posted before about the method for handling a case, here, but I didn't include a timeline and a few other details that might make the process a little clearer. Here's the handling of a typical case, with a made-up timeline:

April 1 - alleged offense is committed.
May 1 - case is indicted.
May 5 - case gets assigned to me by my chief.
May 6 - I read over case (offense report and arrest affidavit) and maybe make a recommendation as to punishment, noting it on the file.
Jun 1 - case is on the docket for court; defendant and his lawyer show up (with fifty others). I chat with the defense lawyer and he says he'll convey my offer (say, felony probation) to his client. Case is reset.
June 2 - my secretary puts the file in a big cabinet where it takes a nap for a month.
July 1 - case is set for docket again. I again talk with defense counsel who tells me his client has rejected the offer but would accept a misdemeanor. I say no. We reset the case because the defense lawyer has three other courts to go to.
July 2 - my secretary puts the file in a big cabinet where it takes a nap for another month.
July 31 - I get a call from defense lawyer who asks whether there was video of the incident. I look back through the offense report and say "There should be an in-car video." He calls the court and resets the case so my investigator can collect the video from the evidence locker.
August 31 - the case is set in court and I hand over a copy of the video to defense counsel. We reset the case so he can watch it with his client.
September 20 - back in court. I lower my offer in light of the video, which doesn't quite show the crime as I'd like. We reset the case for the defense lawyer and his client to consider it.
October 10 - Case is in court. Defense lawyer comes back with another misdemeanor offer. I reject it. Case gets put on the jury docket.

Until now, you will see that the case has stretched out over six months and I've not had to dig too deep into it. I don't have to worry about collecting the video myself (thanks, Mike the Investigator), or figuring out when the case is in court (thanks, Leah the secretary). I just have to have read the file thoroughly and been proactive enough to gather evidence to share with the defense. And usually there are a lot more resets than listed above. These can be for any reason: the defense lawyer is trying to collect his fee (if a case pleads out, the client has no incentive to pay his bill), the defense lawyer is sick, client is sick etc. Sometimes it seems like resetting a case is the default position.

Additionally, a lot of the peripheral tasks get done by others, as you can see. I've mentioned my investigator and secretary, but I have a most fabulous victim/witness coordinator who will keep in touch with victims and let me know how they feel about testifying and other case-resolution issues. And, as you might imagine, when a defense lawyer calls me on the phone and says, "Hey, I wanted to talk about my client John Smith," I usually have no clue who that is, or what the case is about. But I just grab the file and refresh my recollection.

Remember, too, that a lot of the cases are pretty straightforward: someone is arrested for possession of crack cocaine. Assuming no 4th Amendment issues, those cases are going to be factually easy to deal with. Likewise a DWI where there is blood evidence - I'm probably not going to need to talk to a bunch of witnesses, possibly not even review the video evidence of the sobriety tests because a blood result is very hard to argue with.

I don't mean to minimize my workload, I would love for you to all pay more taxes so I could get a salary increase (did I mention that I took a $45,000 pay cut when I took this job? No? Well, I did, and I don't regret it even a little bit). We all work hard and that's especially true at trial time when we go into overdrive. But with the good assistance (and assistants) I have, as long as I keep on top of things and stay organized, the case load sounds more fearsome than it is.

And talking of staying on top of things, I won't be around for the next two weeks, I'm on vacation. Going to Europe. Which means I'll be in catch-up mode when I get back.

BUT. Don't think this is a good time to burgle my house, it's not. I have two house sitters (necessary to keep my pet lion fed and exercised) and very vigilant neighbors. The heavily-armed kind. You can continue to send flowers and gift-baskets, my house sitters will enjoy them. Just don't try sneaking in through the back window because you won't even get that far: I've added piranhas to the moat.

I just hope the crocs don't eat them....

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments posted to this blog are NOT the opinion of the Travis County D.A.'s office, under any circumstances. They are only the personal, non-representative opinion of D.A. Confidential if posted under his name.
I welcome all comments, as long as they are expressed with politeness and respect. I will delete all comments that I deem to be personal attacks, or that are posted merely to antagonize or insult.