Thursday, June 30, 2011

Author interview: Jennifer Hillier

I want to introduce you to a new author, a hugely talented thriller writer whose new book is brilliantly titled CREEP. I mean seriously, how perfect is that for a thriller?

I interviewed her via a series of emails, a more conversational back-and-forth. I did that because she has an amazing website and a blog, and most of my usual questions are answered there.

So without further ado. . . Jennifer Hillier:

You have a book coming out, called CREEP. July right? What's it about?

CREEP is a psychological thriller about a popular college professor who is stalked and terrorized by her teaching assistant. Whew! I’m getting better at my elevator pitch. This is my first novel and it will be out very soon – July 5!

That was way too coy... but we'll send people to your website to get more. Where did this idea come from? Were you a teacher? A stalker?

Ha, neither, but I did spend a few years working in the Registrar's offices of a couple different universities, which inspired the setting for CREEP. And I've always been fascinated by worst-case scenarios. What if you cheated on your boyfriend? That's bad, obviously. But what if you cheated on your boyfriend with Hannibal Lecter? That's about as bad - and scary - as it gets.

No kidding. Anything to do with Hannibal Lecter is worst-case-scenario! So how long from coming up with the idea to the finished product? And then how long to get an agent? And then how long to get a book deal? I've found that there's as much waiting as writing in this business, has that been your experience?

Oh, definitely. Like you said, it’s a business, which you don’t necessarily think about as you’re writing and focusing on being creative. There’s a lot of “Hurry up and wait!”
It took me 14 months to write the novel (I wrote a total of 7 drafts). I queried for 3 months, sending out almost 100 queries, half of which were rejected. After I signed with my agent, we worked on another 2 revisions before subbing to editors (which took 3 months), and then the book sold 2 months after we went on sub.

So, to summarize, I started writing the book in August 2008 and the book sold in June 2010. I can’t believe that was almost a year ago. Since then, I’ve worked on a round of edits with my editor, another round of edits with my copyeditor (he kicked my ass), and another two rounds of hardcopy edits. And here I thought I’d have it easy once the book was contracted!

As a business, will you be doing a lot of marketing? Do you like that side of it? Or are you one of those live-in-a-cabin reclusive writers?!

I would love to be a reclusive writer, but unfortunately I don't think that's realistic for any debut novelist these days. I don't particularly enjoy marketing and promo, but it's an important part of the job. I'll have to talk about the book next week at ThrillerFest, so somehow I'm going to have to get over my shyness between now and then! I do enjoy talking about writing in general, though, so conversations like this one are fun.

What about research, is that something you do much of in person? Do you like it? What's the most fun research thing you've done...?

Research can definitely be fun. For the new book (which will hopefully be out in the summer of 2012), I spent an afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. I interviewed the Superintendent and was able to tour the prison. It was an eye-opening experience, sad and strange all at the same time. For CREEP, I mainly drew on my experiences from my own university days, and read as much as I could about serial killers.

Ah, so you have an interest in serial killers, too? Why do you think that is? (I'm with you, by the way, absolutely fascinated by them...)

You are a kindred spirit. I think the fascination stems from the fact that serial killers are just wired so differently from regular, non-murdering people. They don't follow the same rules that we do, and they don't care that they're breaking the rules. It makes them fun to write...but I wouldn't want to live next door to one!

Well then, without getting too specific (don't want to give my serial killer readers ideas) tell us where you do live, and what kinds of things keep you busy when you're not writing.

I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, about forty minutes outside Seattle. Been here for going on four years now (I’m originally from Toronto, Canada) and it’s finally grown on me. I’ve discovered that the rain is good for writing!

As for what I do when I’m not writing, I read a lot (my fave authors are Stephen King and Jeffery Deaver), I watch a lot of movies (last one I saw was Super 8 – loved it!) and I hunt for new restaurants to try. I also love tennis. I’m watching Wimbledon right now.

I left England because of the rain, so you're a braver woman than I am. You're a braver woman than I am a man. Brave man. I'm not a brave man. Shoot, you know what I mean. :) Anyway, you mentioned a new book. What's it called (if you can share!) and what's it all about?

Haha! I don't know about brave, but the weather isn't for everyone. It definitely took some getting used to.

I would love to tell you all about the new book, but I can't without giving away the ending of CREEP. I will say that that the new book takes place a few years later, and many of the characters do return. I know, so cryptic, but I don't want to jinx it!

Okay, we'll just have to read CREEP and wait, then. So what festivities do you have planned for the launch?

I will be in New York at ThrillerFest next week as part of the Debut Author's Breakfast panel, and afterward there'll be a signing. I'm excited and nervous as these are both firsts for me! I'll also be meeting my agent and my editor for the first time - it's crazy to think how we've worked together for over a year now and yet I've never met them.

Well good luck and thanks for joining us!

Thanks for having me, Mark. This was a fun conversation!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A random collection of things

... some are even related to criminal justice.

Most not, though.

First, what do you make of this?
I catch a paper boy
But things don't really change

I'm standing in the wind

But I never wave bye-bye

But I try

I try

There's no sign of life

It's just the power to charm

I'm lying in the rain

But I never wave bye-bye

But I try
I try

Nonsense isn't it? Yet I, and millions of others, know these words off by heart and happily sing along whenever David Bowie's Modern Dance is played on the radio. I heard the song this morning on the way into work and decided to listen to the lyrics. I have no idea what he's talking about and, frankly, I'm a little concerned about the whole paper boy thing. Can someone explain?

Okay, criminal justice. Big problem with jail over-crowding. Not just prisons but our local jails. Huge problem. The solution -- bring back flogging?! And it's not some whacko saying it, either. Have a read.

I've been spending a lot of time with the folks from 48 Hours who are making a show about my cold case. This week they had me on a horse (no pictures, sorry) and playing footie with my teammates. Quite a set-up they have. . .
I do one more interview today and then tonight I'm off to Momo's to see Johnny Goudie and his band Liars & Saints play - and 48 Hours will be filming that, too.

Finally, a colleague from the defense bar, and fellow-blogger, touched on a pet topic of mine. Not serial killers, no, but close: civil litigators. I couldn't resist commenting, of course, and it's nice to see I'm not the only one who holds the opinion that those in civil practice, generally speaking, endure a more hostile relationship with their opponents than we do in criminal law. Check that post out here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What do YOU want to know?

I'm planning on running an interview with an author , hopefully this Thursday. I'm doing things a little differently, hoping to make it more of a conversation that my usual list of questions.

But then I wondered, what would YOU like to know from a first-time thriller writer? Ask anything, from the publishing process to the creative side, and I'll pass the questions on.

(Hint: someone ask about her research experiences . . .)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A rendez-vous

I met a woman in a hotel room yesterday. At about noon, a place just off I-35.

I didn't know her well, we'd talked a couple of times on the phone and emailed maybe three or four times. Mostly to set up the meeting: which hotel, what day, what time. She had a nice voice and a cute name, but that's about all I knew of her. And you never can tell, right?

I wasn't nervous when I arrived, just wondered what it'd be like. Haven't really done this before. Well, once, with some big shot TV reporter in a music studio in east Austin, but this felt different. . . less planned and more spontaneous.

She met me in the hallway outside her room, friendly smile, firm handshake. Not awkward at all.

We went into the room and I saw that the blinds were closed already, and she'd even hung quilts on the back of the door for sound-proofing. What a pro!

And boy, did she have equipment. All over the place.

We chatted for a bit and then got down to business. It wasn't hard to get into the moment although I'll tell you, the guys holding the cameras put me off at first. Still, they quickly faded into the background, very professional and discreet. At least they didn't keep popping out to put make-up on me, like last time.

A couple of times we had to stop because kids were shouting in the hallway outside the room - very distracting for us all, I can tell you!

It took longer than I'd expected, and it was a little hot and stuffy in there. I guess it was those big lights-- you can't exactly do it in the dark now, can you?!

She offered to buy me pizza afterwards, which was kind of her. One of the guys went out to smoke.

I hope I was good. She said so, but then you never really know, do you?

I suppose we'll find out in the Fall, when the show about my cold case airs on the Discovery Channel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Crime and the brain

Every so often we prosecutors will share stories with each other about some dumb criminal move that seems incredible to a normal, thinking person. In fact, there are websites devoted to such things, like this one, and this one.

But really it's not about brains, it's about choices, right? In other words, it's not that criminal is necessarily a dolt, just that he made a doltish decision.

Maybe . . . I posted recently about the science relating to serial killers and brain function, which suggests that decisions, however doltish (or evil), may well be influenced (or even driven) by biology.

And on this same theme, there's a fascinating article in the Atlantic on the subject. It looks at some famous and bizarre cases, including one that happened here in Austin, when Charles Whitman shot and killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. Did you know he had noticed and recorded his own change of behavior and the onset of violent impulses? Did you know he wrote a letter in which he asked for his brain to be analyzed for what might have caused these changes? And did you know that he had a brain tumor that affected the part of his brain that controlled aggressive impulses?

Neither did I.

Now, I had heard of the 40-year-old who suddenly became a pedophile, until they took out the tumor from his brain, returning him to normal.

It's a long article, but well worth your time if any of this interests you.

If not, well, have a splendid weekend anyway. :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spine-chilling flashback

I'm getting ready for a trial that will happen in a month or two. Doing the work early is a remnant of my days as a civil lawyer when I didn't ever dare rush things last-minute, because I knew critical and beady eyes were on me and looking for mistakes (at $400 an hour, that's no surprise).

So now I do all my notices and motions well in advance, I go through my evidence and talk to the cops involved well before trial. I'm sort of grateful for the training in that regard, it makes trial much less stressful.

But this case gave me another flashback because a civil lawsuit was filed between the victim and the defendant. And civil lawsuits means depositions.

A deposition, for those of you who don't know, is where two lawyers (or more) sit at opposite ends of the table and ask inane questions of civilians for up to six hours at a time. Those questions need to have no relation to the lawsuit, by the way. And for every lawsuit, the more depositions the better.

The one I'm reading now is about, in effect, a car accident. The depo lasted five hours and is 184 pages long. I will tell you that the lawyer did not get around to asking about the actual incident until page 77.

But at least I know where the witness went to school, got to hear about his facial skin condition, and the names of the co-workers with whom he discussed this incident.

And none of it was as fun as this one.

The thing is, I have five more of these danged depos to read. Where's my second chair when I need her?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Predicting violence and, maybe, serial killers

Back to my favorite subject. Well, one of them.

Serial killers.

What makes them tick? How did they become that way?

There has been a huge shift in recent years away from the idea that serial killers are created solely by environmental conditions, such as their upbringing. More and more, scientists are looking into biological factors, genetic predispositions to callousness and violence. I came across a fascinating article on the subject that I wanted to pass along to those of you who share my interest in the criminal mind.

Read it here.

As the article notes, even if we can predict serial killers (or think we can), what do we do about it? A difficult question but one that needs discussing.

Either way, if the article is right, more fish oil appears to be in order. Just in case.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Interview with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

A while back I did interviews with various folks involved with criminal justice, including Judge Mike Lynch and crime scene specialist Stacey Wells, but I never got around to serving up the words of the men in black hats, the people who strive to put crooks back on the streets (I'm kidding, I'm kidding).

So, here's a friend and colleague Bob Smith, who has been a criminal defense lawyer for. . . well, let's let him tell us, eh?

Say, Bob, how long have you been practicing criminal law?

I was licensed to practice law in 1988. I have been practicing predominately criminal law since 1995.

Why did you go into this field?

I went into it out of necessity. From the time I was licensed, I worked for three different governmental agencies: the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Senate, (General Counsel on the Agriculture and Elections & Ethics Subcommittees) and what was then the Texas Water Commission (now Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). I had a strong background in the agricultural and environmental areas and followed my desire to be in public service. I was also single and carefree and was able to live quite nicely on a governmental salary.
In 1994, I got married and two children came with the marital package. Suddenly, I discovered, a family of four couldn't live near as well on a state salary. I then got a small business loan and started my own practice. As a struggling solo practitioner, you take what comes in the door. What slithered, er, walked in was mostly criminal and family law cases---i.e. people who had gotten in trouble one way or another. There's never a shortage of those. The criminal area of practice was fun and it grew. The other...not so fun and let's leave it at that, although I will take a family law case IF the retainer is right.

How many clients do you have at any one time?

I have a rather unusual, hybrid practice. The Law Office of Robert R. Smith has approximately 30 clients at any one time. I receive all income from those. I also am an associate with another attorney who has a high volume business with hundreds of clients. He pays me for assisting him with his clients. I also do the vast majority of his trial work. I am in court five days a week and probably substantively interact with about twenty clients each day.

What is your daily schedule, on an average day?
I arrive at the office at approximately 8:30 and check the early morning crises, er messages. Then I get a daily docket from the office staff and discuss the tasks with the other attorney with whom I associate. I take whatever files/information/documentation that I need and enter the courthouse between 9:00 and 9:30. I then prioritize which courts I attend. I may need to make an announcement as to whether I am ready for trial in a court before 10:00 a.m. I may need to attempt to resolve a case where my client will end up being released from jail if it can be concluded that day. Later in the morning, I do less urgent things such as resetting cases to buy more time for a client to finish counseling, or get more time to investigate the facts, or badger the prosecutors into coming around to my point of view, or especially TO GET PAID!
I return to the office between noon and 1:00 p.m. Upon returning, I look at the pink phone slips of urgent messages and ignore them. Yes, you heard me. I allow myself and hour or more to "decompress" and regain my sanity. That is MY time and is essential for keeping balance and perspective in the day. I watch "All My Children" play computer solitare, send funny emails to friends, or do something totally non-work related.
Afternoons are spent returning phone calls and business emails, maybe going over to a driver's license revocation hearing or an occasional afternoon docket, doing minor "housekeeping" tasks---such as getting a judge to sign an occupational driver's license for a client because I have lost the earlier hearing--- and undoing miscellaneous client screw-ups. "But judge, he said that he was in Llano with his sick mother and missed court because the transmission was out in his car...for the fourth time. Please don't issue the warrant." Or, "yes, yes, we admit that he tested positive for marijuana...and cocaine...and meth...and all seven hallucinogens, but he was clean of heroin, so that is a step in the right direction. Please don't revoke his bond. We'll get him into drug counseling!"
The four o'clock hour---Usually, one of the earlier pink messages is from mom, we'll call her Enabling Elaine. Her li'l darlin' Ronnie the Rogue has been arrested for [fill in the blank] --often a small amount of weed or a rock of cocaine or a very heinous Driving While License Suspended. "Ronnie just can't be locked up! What will it take Mr. Lawyer to return him to my loving arms?" "$750." By 4:15, Enabling Elaine is in my office with $612 and a sincere promise to get the balance soon. I pull the trigger and hastily scour the courthouse for a judge to sign a bond. I usually succeed in finding and conning, I mean, convincing a judge to give me a signature at 4:55 about 75% of the time. I get grief for it 100% of the time.
After five, that is when I get quiet time to actually read case law, draft a motion, etc. Saturdays are good for actual reading and writing. Weekends are also used for talking with witnesses or doing the bulk of trial preparation

How do you deal with the inevitable question, "How can you defend guilty people?"

Oh, that is easy. I tell them that I prefer to defend guilty people because there is no pressure. A judge once said that his job was to separate the truly evil from the truly stupid. I think that Mark would concur that the vast majority of people that each of us deal with are not evil, just fairly decent people that have a serious problem (drugs, alcohol, mental health, bad relationships) that leads to a violation of the law. Others are relatively normal people that get really dumb for a brief moment. There might be the teenager that decides to shoot up a mailbox for a prank. There's the high-testosterone macho man who picks a fight, gets the holy what-fer beaten out of him, then pulls a knife to even the odds.
But what if you have a truly evil, blackhearted demon who robs or tries to kill someone you ask? I do what I hope that you do in your own profession: your very best. I hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do their very best. When that happens, the bad guy gets put away. If he or she goes free, then there were obviously problems with the case and justice gets served. If the rights of even a no-account scoundrel are protected, then our sacred rights---yours and mine---are certainly protected.
What happens if I do my best but the demon walks free because the prosecutor is lazy, unprepared or sloppy? (Inept prosecutors are a rarity in Travis and most of the other counties I've been in). All I can do is my best and not worry about it. The blame for turning loose of a guilty or dangerous person resides with the person who didn't do their best, not me.
The flip side of the coin is what happens if a defense attorney is lazy or sloppy and an innocent person is convicted? Then the blame lies solely with the defense attorney. In my interacting with my colleagues, I'm noted for making wiseacre quips, bad jokes, or excruciating puns in part of my banter and negotiations. It is my personality and part of my lawyering technique. However, when it is time to get serious about a case, I get serious. No jokes, no kidding, just hard, thorough preparation, because I could not face myself if an innocent person---or a guilty person for that matter---suffered because of my failure. That's why it is more stressful in dealing with an innocent person.

What is your proudest moment as a defense lawyer?

That's a tough question. It is hard because when I think back, there are many times when I can see that my lawyering has made a difference in someone's life. Most recently, I had the most loveable marijuana dealer I've ever known. His criminal record was HORRIBLE albeit non-violent. Nonetheless, he not only claimed that he had turned his life around, he took major actions and showed concrete proof that he was not all talk. As the case was pending, he kept showing me more and more results. I even had a letter from a Child Protective Services worker that said that she would unhesitatingly leave her child in his care. The prosecutor was tough, but fair and open-minded. She was sympathetic, but could not do less than 6 months in the state jail because of his history. Finally, with my last presentation and last document, she gave him a 12.44(a) reduction to time served and he walked out of the courthouse a free man---after I received numerous hugs and "God Bless Yous" from him and his family.
Another time, I represented an innocent man in an aggravated assault--stabbing---that really was legitimately self-defense. He had no other recourse. I got him out on bond and kept announcing ready for trial. Even the State realized it was a pathetically weak case for them.
While the case was pending, he got into a verbal argument with his wife and step-son. The stepson leaves the house so that everyone can cool off, but makes a final smart remark. My client pulls a gun and fires a shot to scare him and make him run faster. Unfortunately, the bullet ricochets off the pavement and strikes stepson in the buttocks. Now the State has my guy cold. He spends six months in the jail. However, when the dust clears, he walks out of jail with an eight year probation. His 9 year-old daughter was the apple of his eye and when he got out, she ran and hugged him and tears welled up in each of their eyes (mine too) like we had watched the ending of "Old Yeller." Today, six years later, he has been absolutely PERFECT on probation. The family is still together, and he is a good role model to his daughter others in his family.

What do you like best about what you do?

Now that is an easy question. It's all the people in the courthouse. It's the judges, the prosecutors, my fellow defense attorneys, the probation officers, the bailiffs, the court coordinators, the clerks---everybody. We are all friendly with each other. We are understanding of everyone's quirks. Most of all, we are willing to help each other out. Yes, we are adversarial at times, but we understand and respect that each of us is doing our job and doing it to the best of our abilities. It is like we all realize that we are all in this venture known as the justice system together and any one group can gum it up and make it unpleasant for all.

What do you like least?
Liars. I do not mind a client who says, "yes sir, I stabbed that guy". I despise a guy who says "See here, it's like this. This guy walked around the corner and ran into my knife...forty-seven times...backwards. That's the honesttogod truth! For real." Also, I do not like zealots of any stripe. I'm not talking about people who not only go down with the ship, but are still on the deck under 40 fathoms of ocean. Zealots are different from true believers. True believers are filing stays of execution for Mike Massmurderer at 11:59 p.m because they truly do not believe that the death penalty is just, Zealots say things like, "All cops are liars," or "all defendants are worthless piles of dung and do not deserve an ounce of mercy."

Anything else you are dying to share with my readers?!

I have just one vignette to share regarding Mr. Mark Pryor Esq. It is one of my prouder moments and typifies what it means when a prosecutor is not charged with "getting convictions" but rather "to see that justice is done." On a broader scale, it shows why the criminal practice in Travis County should serve as a model to other jurisdictions.
My client was a young man, mid-twenties and an absolute genius with the computers, a true savant. However, he did not have the common sense to pour water out of a boot. He was charged with being part of one of the infamous "Nigerian Scams." He was duped into believing that he could cash one of the scam artists' phony checks, keep a portion for himself as a handing fee and send the balance to Barrister Josiah at the special Lagos, Nigeria post office box. He didn't get far and wound up with a forgery charge.
His father brought him to court every time and provided me with copies of the email exchanges. The father explained that his son was so naive and unwise to the ways of the world that in response to an email from a Russian "girlfriend" that he had chatted with on the internet, his son went to the airport, sans luggage, wearing only a light windbreaker jacket, and carrying only $50 and attempted to buy a plane ticket to Moscow. . . in January.
I made my pitch to Mark, pointed out the young man and his father in the courtroom, and waited for Mark to respond with the requisite plea bargain dance of possibly reducing the charge to a misdemeanor, etc. Mark listened to me, looked at the documents, thought about it, and said, "Okay, I'll dismiss it." It took me a minute to collect my jaw from the floor. "Really?" I babbled befuddledly. Mark replied, "Sure, do you not want me to do it?" Then he explained why he took his action. I had presented some facts to support my argument, the fact that he had a very supportive parent carried significant weight with him, and he accepted my word that everything I presented was correct. [D.A.C. note: I remember this case now. The gentleman concerned truly was confused about why his actions were potentially a crime and was dismayed at being in trouble. I was confident he would not do anything like this again and as well as all the equitable arguments Bob has laid out, I really didn't think I could prove intent, and more importantly I didn't believe he did intend to defraud anyone.]
This story shows underscores several things. The most important is that in the dealings with the criminal justice system, an attorney's word is gold. If an attorney---prosecutor or defender---is untruthful or underhanded in even a small way, that person's career is very short and unsuccessful. That's what I like best about the practice of criminal law. Another thing is the fact that each of us was open minded and each of us sought a just and fair outcome. Mark didn't say, "your guy's guilty, don't give me any bleeding heart mess, plead it or try it." I did not say, "this is a bunch of bull pucky, bring in your cops and I kick your tail at trial." We were both open, honest, engaged in a respectful dialogue, and resolved the matter. Mark understood that fairness merited a dismissal and followed through. He was not concerned with covering his rear; just seeing that justice was done. And me? There was no judge solemnly reading the words "not guilty" off a jury's verdict form in a tense courtroom. There was no golden-throated oratory by me in an impassioned jury argument. Nothing glamorous. But my actions had made a difference in the life of a young man and his father. I am proud to be a lawyer, but I was especially proud that day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to get a job as an ADA

I received an email from a young lawyer who is soon going for an interview at a DA's office in another state. She asked if I could maybe provide some tips for her interview.

Be glad to. But as it turns out, someone else asked that question last year.

Here's what I said.

And to the young lady who asked the question: thanks for reading, and good luck in your interview!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And back to the homeland

Apparently I'm posting videos this week. Here's one from the (in-)famous Sun newspaper in England, who found CCTV footage of a gentleman who'd had a Pimms and lemonade too many at the posh Savoy Hotel in London.

Give him some credit: he didn't try and drive home.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tough in Texas? You betcha.

You probably suspect, if you're not from Texas, that justice here can be harsh and immediate. Hangings, firing squads, cactus insertions and the like.

Pretty much.

And not just for cowboy branding and cattle rustling.

Like a voice from the grave, one sinner fumed at the punishment she received for being kicked out of a movie theater here in Austin. An awesome movie theater, by the way, where everyone is told in no uncertain fashion not to talk or text during the movies.

Anyway, she did and got the boot. And then called them back to complain about the severity of the punishment. I post this because it's amusing, because people who live with their noses buried in their texting devices annoy me (even when they are not doing anything wrong), and in support of Alamo Drafthouse (where I'm taking my little girl for a treat this coming Friday).

(Warning: some bad language in the video.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

. . . back to coincidences.

Earlier in the week I posted about the concert I went to recently, featuring the band SKYROCKET and my new friend 'Rock Star' Johnny.

Well, a funny thing happened. I was standing there. . . no, wait, I was rocking out, when I heard a voice from behind me.

"Mr. Pryor? Mr. Pryor?"

I turned to see a young lady making her way towards me. I recognized her but for the life of me, I couldn't place her.

Now, you have to understand that when this happens to a prosecutor, the first thought tends to be, "Oh crap, was she/he a defendant who feels hard done by?"

So, my first thought was, "Oh crap, etc etc." But then I saw she was (a) smiling, and (b) not carrying a weapon.

Turns out the delightful young lady and her husband, right behind her, were related to the victim in my last murder case. They sat through the entire trial, hugged me afterwards, and thanked me at the time (killer convicted).

So there I was, at the concert of the son of a murder victim, being fed beers by the brother of a murder victim. And as grim as that sounds, we were all very happy to be together. I introduced Johnny to Monique and Xavier and it was like they were old friends.

Of course there's a cliche about good things coming out of bad but that's not what struck me at the time. It was the randomness of life that threw me into Johnny and Xavier, in the courtroom and that night. It was a joy to laugh and share a beer and music with them after the high stress of the cases we'd been involved in and it was a delight to be able to see them in these circumstances, to extend our brief relationship into the 'normal' world.

It's kind of a joke between myself and my wife that everywhere we go in Austin, to a street fair, the cinema, the mall, we run into someone I know from work. Is it coincidence? I always assume so but I'm wondering whether it's also a sign that the nasty undercurrent that runs beneath the still waters of our lives, that thing called crime, is more prevalent than we realize. When I was a civil attorney I wasn't always bumping into colleagues and professional acquaintances. But now I'm an ADA I am. So is that a measure of the level of crime in our community?

Could be. Or not. But I do know that seeing smile on the faces of those I've tried to serve in the courtroom and, yes, accepting the occasional brew from a grateful hand, remind me that coincidence or not, I am fortunate that my life has not been impacted by a crime committed against someone I love, and lucky, too, that I can do a little something to help bring a measure of peace to those who have suffered that kind of pain or loss.

Cool job I have.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ah, a man whose mouth runneth over. A Prince, no less.

As my colleagues, and long-suffering wife, will tell you, I sometimes speak before I think. Sometimes I think before I speak, but my thinking turns out to be different than other people's. I'm in Texas, of course, so my accent does buy me a little grace (heaven forfend when that grace wears out!), but it sure is nice to come across people who are similarly afflicted. Or afflicted so much worse.

Say hello to Prince Philip, the husband of my dear Queen. Sheesh, talk about long suffering. As Philip himself said, "Tolerance is the one essential ingredient ... You can take it from me that the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance."

Better believe it.

The Independent Newspaper in England noted his upcoming 90th birthday and put together 90 of his gaffes. I believe there was a LOT of whittling down.

Here they are.

I would love to pick my favorites but that might imply I somehow approved of his incredible cultural, social, and racial insensitivity and anachronisticness. I don't. But here are a couple that had me shaking my head in wonderment:

"How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?" Asked of a Scottish driving instructor in 1995.

"We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves." During a trip to Canada in 1976.

"Do you still throw spears at each other?" Prince Philip shocks Aboriginal leader William Brin at the Aboriginal Cultural Park in Queensland, 2002.

I know. Amazing. One has to assume he's trying to be funny. One has to assume that. . .