Slush Piles and Jailhouse Lawyers

slushpileThere are a lot of myths – in and out of prison – about the ubiquitous ‘jailhouse’ or ‘prison’ lawyer. Those inmates that really do have all the time in the world to dedicate to a case and think outside the box. The ‘box’ here being reality.

Lawyers in prison are exceeded in number only by Navy SEALs – a troubling statistical anomaly hopefully attributable to the fact it’s nearly impossible to run a background check on someone while imprisoned.  Once or twice the subsets cross over and the inmate with a decent commissary account can hire a genuine SEAL attorney.

Jailhouse lawyers, particularly in the Federal system, ply their trade in the law library ten hours a day. Men self-taught in the mechanics of the law with exactly the same chance of concisely stating a case as the proverbial infinite number of chimps sitting at an infinite number of typewriters have of producing Hamlet and Moby Dick on the same day.

TV and movie portrayals to the contrary, jailhouse lawyers are remarkably ineffective in all but one regard: they systematically, relentlessly, quite successfully, jam the courts with all manner of drivel.

Case in point, FMC Devens, an inmate named Thornton and a jailhouse lawyer I’ll call Haffenreffer (for now). Thornton was in for trading in child porn, CDs, the works, his private sting on behalf of the FBI having gone spectacularly wrong (in his version).

His very public arrest and subsequent publicity throughout the greater Albany area resulted in the termination of his country club membership. He wanted back in, was scarily unconcerned that he would be shunned, asked me to whip up a nice, quick, lawsuit.

heffenrefferI refused, he turned to Haffenreffer, a former Master of the Universe who added law school to his CV on the bus to federal prison. Haffenreffer promised winning results. By this I mean he guaranteed wins. Said guarantees probably had something to do with the fact he was on a country-wide tour of federal prisons to keep him safe.

The tome Haffenreffer produced began with a brief review of the Magna Carta and an analysis of its influence on English Common Law, the Declaration of Independence and on and on and on.

It had to be 100 pages, single spaced but interspersed with ALL CAPS and BOLDFACE where appropriate.

It had, of course, no chance. What it did do, however, was help clog the courts. Jam up the works along with the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other ridiculous, filed-for-the-fiftieth-time-because-the-last-no-was-better-than-the-previous-no response. Briefs, motions, complaints, requests for injunctions, stuff in Latin long forgotten in regular practice but resurrected by prison lawyers.

I was reminded of all this while writing the proposal for my prison narrative. Haffenreffer was in my notes, and the publishing industry more than resembles the state of the courts. Just saying.

Dogs in Coats

Running by the Farmington River this afternoon, among dogs in coats and people in sparkling new running shoes and clothes, a few things popped in now that 2014 is out of its misery.

  • Any year that takes Tony Gwynn, Robin Williams, Jann Hooks,$Elizabeth Pena, Harold Ramis, & Philip Seymour Hoffman way too early wasn’t really intent on playing fair from the get go.

  • hqdefaultThe NYPD ends the year with a slow-down and the overall crime rate plummets. At a time when the police union is renegotiating its contract. Brilliant strategy, could end up reminding people of the Great Elevator Operator Strike of 1972.

  • This year finally impressed upon me the truism that anyone who responds to a question with, “Look, it’s been working this way for twenty years . . . ” is not worth listening to.

  • The U.S. discovered the Islamic Statekh-five . . . an entity that has arisen countless times since the Koran was written. ISIS is hardly something new, despite what Congress, the State Department, President and political pundits . . . nothing’s a secret if Charleton Heston has already made a movie about it – a war Churchill fought in – right?

  • MLB Photos ArchiveBaseball appointed a special committee to look at Hall of Fame candidates from the 60s and 70s who didn’t get in. In doing so, Major League baseball was basically admitting that,hey, the HOF voting process was (is) not only antiquated but the enfranchised included drunks, wife beaters, outright conmen, and, worse of the worse, ink-stained keeper of the keys wonks who could agree on only one thing – Babe Ruth was not a first ballot hall of famer. So what happened? The new guys didn’t vote anyone in. Tony Oliva not a HOFer? Louis Tiant? Minnie Minoso? Richie Allen? Get voters with a clue, please.

  • Softbank is releasing a robot that can read450086876 human emotions next month. They look cute, seem smart, responsive, would probably be really cool to have if they had fur and were warm blooded. Developed and marketed by people who have never seen a science fiction movie . . . ever. I’m not interested and I recognize that my reluctance will not be noted after the apocalypse when a handful of human survivors serve their robotic masters.

  • 018-marlon-brando-theredlistThe NY Times has been all over the mess that is Rikers Island. Mess probably not being the right term for something international civil and prisoner rights organizations would be looking into if it wasn’t in the United States. They’ve focused on the head of the Corrections Officers Union as the chief problem – a guy whose friends call him a bully. He has a propensity for showing up at the homes of his political opponents carrying sidearms (the plural is not a misprint). He claims he’s not trying to intimidate, he’s just being a peace officer. “I’m the union head… and a peace officer,” I can hear him explaining to Kurtz. To which the Kurtz in my head answers, “You’re neither . . . you’re a glorified babysitter with the morals of an underfed weasel . . . ” It gets worse.

  •  My theory that the root of the world’s problems gunnyisn’t race, economics, or a host of other likely candidates but bullies bullying the bullies that bully the regular folk gets stronger every day.  Unfortunately, I think I’ll be able to prove it this year.