Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Truths of the Criminal Justice System

22 years in the Criminal Justice world, i have learned: 

1) Not all guilty men are convicted, and not all innocent men walk.
2) Some of the real criminals are not the ones who are facing charges, but rather are sitting on the bench. 
3) Within each defendant, there is a Cop dying for a chance to prove himself.
4) Within each Cop, there is a criminal one step away from reality.
5) Cops are the greatest party animals. 
6) Drug addicts and Alcoholics are the sweetest and most misunderstood creatures on earth. 
7) The most hateful and judgmental people are religious people, often rationalizing their judgments on Religion & God.
8) There is a reason we have two words for Law and Justice. Because one is NOT the other. The merging of the two becomes EQUITY, and we dont have courts of Equity!
9) The more handsome or prettier the defendant, the better the justice they get.
10) A Black Man will never get the justice that a White Man gets. 
11) Black Jurors have more sympathy for the White defendants than White Jurors have for Black Defendants.

12) Justice CAN and IS bought on a daily basis.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Law School Graduation Speech 6/10/1991

I was given the very coveted honor of delivering my Law School graduation class' Commencement Speech. UWLA School of Law Class of 1991


I have dreamed of this moment since I was 12 years old.  The winds of revolution were blowing and with it, millions of Iranians took to the streets yelling freedom. 

It was an illusion.  It was a lie.  As I stepped into the airplane forever leaving my homeland, I saw the multitude of nameless faces with fists raised in the air, demanding, chanting freedom. 

I realized then, that liberty cannot be gained and sustained without law, order and justice.  I vowed to myself that the law would be my profession.

We stand before you today to accept the responsibility to uphold and honor the legacy that our forefathers left us in 1776.  What they fought and died for must be preserved. 

There are those among us who may become scholars, or judges, or teachers.  Some will defend, others will prosecute.  Some are motivated by  ambition, others by the pursuit of financial gains, and yet others seek intellectual challenges.  However, as divergent as our paths may become, the one thing we have in common is the like demand for freedom.  The right to breathe freely.

This is not only an ethical duty that we should assume.  We should never forget those who are not entitled to the inalienable rights that we enjoy. 

Those same liberties that are ours as a matter of right in this country, such as the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association; are considered crimes the penalties for which range from long prison terms to the death sentence in many other countries. 

We should not forget the plight of the Kurds, nor the Chinese students in Tiannenmen Square.  We should remain cognizant of the uprisings in the Baltic States, in Ethiopia and the Eastern Block countries.

You may ask why? Why should we worry about what happens to some desolate farmer in Iran? 

It is incumbent upon us to uphold the law and justice in this great land of ours.  So we may keep open our doors to those desolate souls that want to live and die free.  Only because these United States of America have stood for the beacon of light, the signal of hope and the symbol of liberty for those of us who were cruelly subjugated to oppression, tyranny and despotism.

The strength of a free society rests in how it deals with its weakest links.  I came seeking liberty and freedom. I have been  afforded the opportunity to become the provider. 

And as the purveyors of the law, we bear the obligation to fight for what is just and honorable, vigilant against intolerance and bigotry.

So we remain free to pray as we please and to vote as we please.  So we are tried before a just and fair tribunal, so we may have our voice heard, no matter how socially or financially insignificant we may be. 

I left what was my home, because my life as Jew was not safe.  This is now my home.  This is now my land.  I am so very proud to stand here today.  I am so very proud to accept this honor. 

June 10, 1991
UWLA, School of Law Graduation Speech
University of West LA, School of Law.


Epilogue:  While i started out law school at McGeorge School of Law, i dropped out a month before the end of my 2nd year for Medical reasons.  I was told by Dean Gordon Schaber, upon my request for a leave of absence:  "Can't you read the writing on the wall?  Can't you see the law is NOT for you?  You'll never pass the Bar.  No one will ever give you a job.  You will never make it as an attorney"

Well, I went back to law school at UWLA, School of Law's evening program,  after Justice Bernard Jefferson convinced me that the legal field needed women like me.  He also helped me get a job at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office as a full time certified law clerk. And the rest is history, or better yet, my story.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Vertical Horizons: A medical student's battle with Heroin.

The solitude of evening has finally arrived. The staff has left for the evening. The phones are switched over to the answering service. And, for a while, my world has paused. The lights in my office are off. I am staring at the lights that flicker from here to the end of the horizon. Life seems at times suspended here, on the twenty second floor. As the CD changer flips back and forth between Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen and Kitaro, I come back to reality only to drift away again. I am tired and my soul hurts. Sometimes, I wish I could take an enormous brush and paint the world with peace and calm.

You see, the life of a criminal defense attorney is saturated with unhappy stories and frequently tragic endings. My client was just raped in a California state prison. We both knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. We just hoped it would be later. Fate wasn't kind to him. He was no kinder to himself than fate.

He is, or I should say, he used to be gorgeous. Salt and pepper hair, tall, handsome, and well-spoken. He used to be a medical student at one of the nation's most prestigious medical schools. He was popular, friendly, warm and sunny, with a smile that could win you over.

He was a creature of the night. He'd done the scene, the clubs, the raves, the underground. He'd smoked a joint here and there, popped a "lude", done some "shrooms" and "mesc". By his own definition, he'd sucked the juice out of life. Then, one fateful night he met the cleanest high of them all. He met his true love: Heroin. And little by little, it sucked the life out of him.

Soon, he was kicked out of school. With no job, no qualifications and student loans in repayment, he started liquidating assets. So he says. I think he started liquidating because he had an expensive lover. The condo, the BMW, the trinkets, stereo, etc. Little by little, there was nothing left. When you run out of money, you beg. When you're a junkie, stealing becomes easy.

Sometimes, when you are too impatient to beg and too tired to steal, you'll even sell your body.
His friend called me. He'd been caught for burglary and grand theft. His friend had bailed him out. He had to go back to court and kept begging me to keep him out. Said he'd die on the inside. I told him if he kept it up he'd die on the outside. I fought with the district attorney, used every procedural and substantive tactic that I knew, begged and pleaded for my client. Finally, the charges were reduced, and he got off lightly.

It wasn't long after that when my answering service paged me at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and said Jimmy (not his true name) had called from the West Valley jail. It was raining and cold. I was tired. My client needed me. I slipped my jeans on, threw on a jacket and drove down the deserted path which had become so familiar to my car. More often than not, the cops let you visit your client immediately. Sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, when they see you are a woman attorney, they harass you a little bit. And when they feel they have proven their manhood, they allow you to see your client.

Jimmy sat waiting behind the glass partition. His head and hands were weakly resting against the glass which separated us. As I walked in, he gently lifted his head. His hands slid slowly down the glass leaving a wet trail behind. Sweat rolled down his eyebrows. His throat and neck were damp with perspiration. He was wearing a T-shirt also damp with perspiration. The tracks on the inside of this arms were more marked than ever. This time, I could clearly see the brand new tracks on the back of his hands.

The brown circles under his eyes had grown larger, and the sparkle of life dimmer. A grin, maybe even a smirk took shape on his trembling lips. As he slowly nodded up and down to acknowledge my presence, he closed his eyes. He spoke slowly, faintly. "They picked me up ... I don't know why... I told them everything. I want to come out... Please, Ms. Kamran, please bring me out ... Call your bail bondsman ... Get me out ... Get me out ... Please help me. I promise I'll clean up. I promise I'll do what the judge orders. I gotta smoke ... Get me out. Can you get me out."

The list of charges filed against him included no less than three felonies and several misdemeanors. He'd confessed. There had been witnesses. He was even on video tape. He couldn't afford to go to trial and lose. The jury is not very sympathetic and understanding around Los Angeles. They are even less sympathetic to foreigners who have "invaded" their land and are committing crimes in their communities. Remember, to them, we are not Whites. We are camel jockeys who practice terrorism as a hobby. If convicted of the charges, the judge could have sent him to state prison where he'd be kissing "Bubba" for a long time to come. I got him a deal: less than one year in county jail and by the time the case was done, he was practically out on time served.

I met him by Men's Central Jail on Bauchet Street when he was released. I told him to stay in touch with me on a weekly basis. I asked him to call me if he got in trouble. I warned him about the consequences of his habit. I said "Jimmy, I can't call your parents in Iran telling them to send me money to bury you. If you insist on killing yourself, please make the arrangements and save me the difficult task of telling your parents why you had to die."

He's learned his lesson and served his time, I thought naively. He knows the consequences of a probation violation. He has had time to clean up. His system is clean. He's not going to go back.
Life went on as it usually does. Winter had melted into spring and the trees were in full bloom. I dropped him off wishing never to see him again. Unlike other attorneys, a criminal defense attorney hopes she'll never see her client again. My hopes were in vain. Before long, I got a collect call from San Diego. He'd been picked up on new drug charges. With a probation violation and a brand new case, the judge shipped him off to state prison for nine years.

Sitting here on a calm and quiet evening, I can see the Santa Monica Bay on my horizon. And I wonder how far Jimmy's horizon stretches beyond those barbed wires and the grey skies. He told me once, if he laid flat on his back and stared at the sky, he could see the end of the universe. 

And that is his horizon. 
I guess, in the world of the convicted, the horizon spreads vertically.

Alaleh Kamran
Century City
April 7, 1999

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Heroin and Meth

Breaks my heart.. he is barely 20.. arrested again for Heroin and Meth. Again. His mom sits in my office, not knowing what else to do. Dad tells me that he will kill the motherfucker that introduced his son to Heroin, he will kill him.

I look at the dad... stare him in the eyes and i know he is serious. i recognize the look. It is the look that a man dons when he has lost all that was worth living for. It is the look of a man whose only reason for living is the revenge for the death of the one they love.

My client calls from jail... Collect. Mom and Dad hold their breath while i talk to him. Do they think i can solve their issues here and now? do they think i am some kind of miracle worker? How can i fight Heroin? How can i win over Meth? What kind i possibly do or say to change anything?

He is going thru withdrawals.... stomach pains, diarrhea, joint pains, nausea, vomiting, shakes, sweating, runny nose, agitation, fear, .... The cops left him in the cell, by himself. What can they do? what can anyone do while someone is going thru detox.

I listen, we talk, we discuss plans of what may or may not happen in Court. I hang up. Give mom and dad the phone numbers that they need to deal with Co-dependency. Mom looks at me,... she wells up. i look at her, i well up too.... She says: "my son is your son"... i get up from my desk, hug her and tell her: "your son is my son, help me help him"...

My sons are home, safe. And may God keep them so, from bad friends, from bad choices, from bad events. May God save them all... May no parent mourn for a child lost to drugs...

I need to go home and smell my children....

Signing off

Lecturer, Radio Host, Citizen Journalist, Blogger.
June 9, 2013