A Covid-19 Special Episode. Courthouses are schedule to begin reopening on June 1, 2020 in NC. The coronavirus pandemic has presented tremendous obstacles for our society and for our court systems. As the courthouses reopen, there will be many changes, many new challenges, and a lot of trial by error. Many key players in the criminal justice system (judges, jurors, prosecutors, clerks, bailiffs, defense lawyers, and clients) will experience frustration and anxiety in dealing with these changes and challenges. However, these challenges give the criminal defense bar the opportunity to be the shining light of compassion and patience following the darkness of this disease. Let’s use this opportunity to showcase our character and change the public perception of our profession.
Episode 8 Transcript
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the NC DWI Guy Podcast. Today, May the 29th of 2020, we sit here on the last day, that business day that courts are scheduled to be closed due to COVID-19. On Monday courts in North Carolina will begin to reopen. It’s going to look different in every County. It’s going to probably look different day to day within each County. But a new day is coming for the North Carolina court system and for North Carolina attorneys. COVID-19 has brought tremendous challenges to us as a society, nationally, at the state level, at the local level, it’s brought tremendous challenges.
There’s been silver lining to some of those challenges. For instance, this podcast was born in the free time that otherwise would have been spent in the courtroom due to courts being closed. And as we move forward into a new day, into a new mindset of how we go forward with the court system, it’s time I think, to reflect for a little bit about what we want to do with that new opportunity. Part of the reason for this podcast is to change the public perception of criminal defense attorneys at the statewide level and beyond. To showcase who we are as a group.
The reputation of criminal defense lawyers, in my opinion, does not match the character of the tremendous attorneys that fight day in and day out for their clients in the courtroom. There have been a few but seldom opportunities for me to be in the courtroom in the last few months. But there have been countless efforts being made by our judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, clerks, bailiffs, to make sure that people’s rights have been protected during this epidemic. Justice hasn’t been done every day, and in some places there has been a falling short of what should have been done in response to this crisis.
But by and large, the legal community has responded in the right way. Again, from the judges all the way down to the bailiffs, every person in the courtroom has gone out of their way to make sure people’s rights were protected. By and large, the legal community has responded in a very applaudable way. I’d like to forecast what the opportunity looks like for the criminal defense bar coming out of this pandemic. We’re still in the thick of things. But as courts begin to reopen, we have the opportunity to showcase who we are as lawyers. We have the opportunity to show our caring and compassionate side and change the public perception of the bar in the eyes of the public.
There is a speech in The Lord of the Rings, Two Towers movie given by Sam Gamgee, Frodo Baggins’ sidekick. And Frodo clearly under the weight of carrying the ring, clearly under the stress of there being no end in sight, and the mission that he has been tasked with seeming impossible [inaudible 00:05:05] to faithful Sam and says, “I can’t do this, Sam.” And Sam responds in this way. “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.” And Frodo asks, “What are we holding on to, Sam?” And Sam responds, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” We are the fighters in the courtroom. We are fighters for justice, protectors of the constitution, defenders of people’s rights. There is good in this world and it is worth fighting for. And that should be at the center of our personal character and at the center of us as a criminal defense bar coming out of COVID-19. When this new day in the courthouse comes, we must remember that there is good in this world and it’s worth fighting for, and to play our part in that fight.
Every courthouse is reopening differently. Every courtroom is going to be run differently. But we have the opportunity to showcase our caring and compassionate side during the next couple of months. The amount of anxiety and stress of all of the players in the courtroom, judges, prosecutors, clerks, bailiffs, how are we going to safely get people into the courtroom? How are we going to be able to handle the backlog of cases that have been set up? How are we going to be able to call cases in an inappropriate manner? How are we going to deal with people that didn’t get notified about their court date? How are we going to possibly get back to a stage where we can try cases both by judges and by juries? These are all going to be points of anxiety. And in most of our communications with judges and prosecutors, these underlying concerns may not even come out, but they are there.
And we have the ability as we get back into the courtroom, to show grace and caring and humor to the people that we get to interact with on a day to day basis, including each other, including other members of the criminal defense bar. We have the ability to showcase our caring and compassionate side, that we’re in this together. Instead of getting irked by the process that we’re dealing with, by a lengthy amount of time spent in court doing something that would have maybe, before this pandemic taken 10 minutes, is now taking an hour. Instead of venting those frustrations at the other members in the courtroom who are dealing with the same problem, the same set of circumstances, we can showcase how wonderful our character is as a criminal defense bar.
We can ease the anxiety and concern of our clients who have been waiting for two and a half months to figure out, what is going to happen with their case. When is their case going to be heard? When are they going to be able to get resolution? When is their trial going to happen? We can spend time showcasing that we understand the anxiety that this situation has layered on top of an already difficult position of being charged with a crime. We have the ability to change people’s lives one day at a time. And so, I encourage all of you listening to, starting Monday, starting on June the 1st. I encourage everybody to remember that as we go back into the courtroom, to remember that we want to accept on our shoulders, the criminal defense bar wants to accept on its shoulders, the grace and compassion and care that we know we can shoulder.
We get to shine the brightest when in darkness. Because of our clients being in a constant state of darkness and us being able to give them hope, to give them light, we have it built into our DNA to find the silver lining in a difficult, stressful, fear provoking situation. Let’s showcase our compassion. Let’s showcase our humor. Let’s showcase our humility coming out of this. We don’t have all the answers. We’re not going to have all the answers. It’s going to be a learning process as we move through the courts reopening, but let’s be a solid pillar for people to trust. People in the courtroom, judges, prosecutors, clerks, bailiffs. And most importantly, let’s be that pillar to our clients. And one day at a time, one relationship at a time, one interaction at a time, we will change the public perception of the criminal defense bar for the better. Looking forward to Monday and looking forward to talking with you all next time.