When I first started my career as a trial lawyer a great deal of my time was spent standing in court corridors or sitting in courtrooms waiting for my case to be called. I was the associate in a small busy firm of two partners. I had to handle cases they gave me as well as try to handle my own small business. I was what you would call a generalist or Jack of All Law Fields handling at that time the full gamut of legal matters in all state courts and administrative hearings.
I recall sitting in superior court one day waiting for my case to be called and realizing it was going to be one of those days I was going to have to be patient as well as aggravated. The reason for the need to be patient was that a large number of individuals had been indicted for drug crimes and the district attorney himself, the man who controlled the calling of the list of cases for the day, was present in court. These newly indicted cases were to be called first.
The DA was taking his opportunity to show he was a “law and order” type person. The large number of people indicted brought substantia media coverage. In those days there were newspaper reporters assigned to the court every day from the major newspapers who on this day were abetted by television and radio reporters. (Yes, people got much of their news from the radio back then.)
The aggravation was both due to having matters scheduled for trial, hearings or meetings elsewhere that I was going to miss. Remember there were no cell phones, no way to timely notify other courts or hearing officers I was tied up and would be late.
I sat up back watching the district attorney talking to others. The conversations involved much laughing. He wasn’t the shiniest marble in the box. He was a good athlete so the folk who voted for him must have thought if he were good in one thing he would be good at other things. A common misperception. Then again, most voters in those days had no idea what a district attorney did.
The judge sauntered onto the bench at the usual superior court start up time of 10:00 a.m. We stood, heard the “hear yees”, and sat. The judge nodded when the clerk asked if he could call the list. The DA with much aplomb stood up to enjoy his time in the spotlight. He said he was representing the Commonwealth on the first group of cases involving violations of the narcotics law. He asked that the many named defendants be arraigned.
Each name was called, each one approached the bar, some had attorneys with them, others would say their attorneys were busy elsewhere, and some needed attorneys appointed for them. When that time consuming process was completed each defendant waived the reading of the indictment and entered pleas of “not guilty”
The judge inquired whether bail would be required. The DA obviously would want bail on these violators of the narcotics law. That would give him the chance to spell out to the court in greater detail the offenses these culprits were being accused of committing.
I had been in and out of the courtroom during the preliminary affairs but made sure I returned to hear how the DA was able to break up this narcotic ring. Did he use undercover cops, informants, searches, etc?
I learned listening to him that all the defendants had been indicted for possessing the illegal drugs, a misdemeanor. The evidence for the charges came from the person who was selling them the drugs. In other words the guy who had committed the most serious crime, the felony, cooperated to get himself off the hook by squealing on his customers. Worse, the DA was strutting about acting very proud of his accomplishment.
I was angry that my day had been messed up by this charade. Never in my wildest dreams would I think this DA’s approach would be followed by prosecutors at the federal level. But it was. I’ll explain later.