Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Winning, Losing, and Still Celebrating

This was a week of winning, losing, and still celebrating.

My win was a small one, but a great victory for the victim.

I'm not sure how, but my summer jobs rarely included selling lemonade. Though, for my audience, I used to be roustabout working on an oil rig once. I remember that job clearly, always coming home smelling of what you would recognize as diesel oil and a smudgy face. I was only 17 then, working on a scorched oil field. The only thing better about that job than this one is that it actually paid more than my summer job now. Lawyers just aren't in that great of a demand in Los Angeles. Too much supply. (Incidentally, I like how the word diesel sounds. My next cat will be a cat called Diesel.) In Korean it would sound like "Dee-juhl"

My summer jobs in law tend to be criminal in nature. This summer I work for the prosecutors. Please don't hiss or spit at me. I have been getting a lot of terrible feedback about it all.

However, it's not as bad as you think. I work for the juvenile prosecutors. The experience is a good one, as I am in court everyday! I see the machinery of law. The district attorneys have even had me write one significant motion for adult court. He used it almost all in full force and effect and won his hearing.

The district attorneys and the public defenders and the judges all have one goal in common for juvenile justice, and that is: "rehabilitation." We all want to make sure that these youths reform. The question is how to accomplish this. Everyone has a different perspective on this. The defenders want the juveniles to go home. The judges want to make sure that they really change. I think the prosecutors do too, except they do believe in having the youth pay for consequences for their actions. All in all, I'd rather be a prosecutor for juvenile justice than a public defender. We've already seen one kid shot by being sent back home to parents who have no control over their delinquent youth.

I suppose, a big part of why I like the prosecutor's office in juvenile is that they are training me in prosecuting sex criminals, rapists and the like. I had my first hearing, where the victim was abused sexually by the 16 year old jock. As a result, the victim had to relocate. I was able to win the hearing with help from the prosecutor, and get her financially compensated for all the Hell they went through. There was no better feeling to shake the hand of the victim's mother and smile and say, "I did my best." She smiled back and said, "I know you did."

Of course, the private attorney, who was most likely making $10,000-$15,000 USD on the case was angry and even yelled at me in the court, "He's just unreasonable!" Of course, I asked for the most amount of money I could. The attorney training me later said, "I wouldn't have asked for that much, but I'm glad you did. Shows how aggressive you are."

Onto losses now. I had my hearing. I was so confident, the night before, I would win my hearing against the City's motion to dismiss my case. The City had a pathetic brief with pathetic case law supporting them.

Everyone in the court room was interested when the speaker voice called out: "Paul Cook in pro versus the Mayor of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, the Chief of Police, and the City Council." The defendant attorney started his argument.

I said, "Your Honor, this is just a waste of everybody's time. Your time. My time. The defendant hasn't prepared a brief with only one case, and that case he cites cites only to dicta. [dicta means it's just words, not actual rule of law.]"

The judge then said, "How do you respond to that?"

And like an easy judo spar, I was putting tremendous pressure against the opponent. It was time for the "Coup de gras (finishing move)"

The judge then said, "You were very persuasive both in your brief and oral argument Mr. Cook. But judgment for the defendant. Demurrer sustained without leave to amend on all causes of action." I wish I could have said I was shocked, but something in my mind said, "Get him on record Paul. Get the judge on record. It's what you've learned working for the prosecutors."

So I did, "Your honor. May I ask for the reasoning behind this ruling?"

And he, not wanting to say the reason only said, "The statute lets me dismiss it."

I collected myself. Walked out. Two people in the courtroom thanked me. The defendant attorney shook my hand and said, "I wish I got your experience at your age. Good fight." He did respect me. I could tell, but I was then angry and in shock. I said, "Well, I suppose I'll see you at appeals."

I walked out of the court house. It was raining on a Los Angeles June day. June Gloom as they call it. I called my professor - no answer. I called my mentor. He just listened to my frustration.

I had a fix it ticket I got that morning, and it made me almost late to court. So, I went to see Father. I told him I had lost. He said, "I knew you would lose. You're taking on the City. You think you can win."

I explained, "Dad, my car needs to be fixed. I got a fix-it ticket. The brake lights aren't working." He went to work fixing it. I called my mentee, Sasha, and told him I had lost. He seemed surprised too.

It was raining on both of us. My father yelled at me, "Don't you have any sense of shame. Don't tell people you lost." This was the same father who was thrilled I won my prosecution hearing. It was then, I realized he operates from a different cultural value then me. Mine operates on transparency and getting the emotions out. He operates from honor and shame.

I drove to my Hollywood home in Julia, the 1967 mustang convertible. It was drizzling. I called my support networks. My lawyer, who's like an older sister just said, "Paul, it's hard. It's hard to fight injustice. You see how the system is now."

I called my trial teacher. I asked him, "How do you deal with losing?" I think the reason I was so angry was that in my opinion, this wasn't a 50/50% win lose case. This was really a 95% to 5% win/lose probability. And the judge wouldn't even tell me why he ruled the weight he did.

My trial teacher said, "Have you ever heard of a Martini? Because that's what I had to f)(*&)(*& drink when I lost my hearing yesterday." I felt worse for him. His hearing dealt with a special education teacher's assistant, who was laid off by Los Angeles Unified School District because the District lost the assistants paperwork. After they retrieved the paperwork, the LAUSD said that it was too late, he was fired. It's the way Cities and Governments are coping with the budget cut. Then I thought, well, that would be harder for me to tell a client who unjustly lost his or her job, I lost the case. Here, I don't have a real client - except me. He didn't give me a satisfactory answer on coping with losing. I put so much time in writing that brief. How could I have lost? He only said, "Get used to it. It happens."

Then, I had to deal with telling my sponsor the bad news. I met up with my mentor. We went through it together. This is how you deliver bad news, Paul. You start with the verdict. Then you go through the reasoning. Then you lay out the options. And you give your recommendation.

The next day, I call my sponsor. I tell him, "We lost. I don't know the reason why. I asked for it on record and the judge wouldn't give it. I think he doesn't want to deal with the politics of ruling against the City of Los Angeles. Our options are do nothing or appeal. I think an appeal is a good idea because I have a good chance of winning the Appeal."

Without a hesitation, he said, "Appeal it. You've already worked this hard. You wrote an excellent brief. You have great arguments. I know you did your best."

Hey that made me feel a lot better.

My professor called me the day before. She too was very comforting about the whole thing. She's also seasoned, so she expects these kind of rulings. Today, I called an attorney who was helping me with the project. He empathized with my loss and supported the appeals. I also recruited another professor, who supports the appeal.

I told myself, when I first lost, "When you win, you have friends. When you lose, you lose alone." (Spin off of a Korean proverb.) I now know that is not true. I lost, and I did not lose alone. I lost with a community who supported me to get back up and once again fight the good fight. The grief subsidized as I began my research for the appeals process. I was moving forward, I was going to fight my way up.

I saw my gym partner on Friday and we watched X-Men together (awesome movie by the way.) My gym partner Sean says, "Come on Paul. You'll have appellate experience. How many law students can say that?" Well that's true I thought.

And on Sunday, June 19th, I took a break from it all. I was celebrating me bday. The night before my mother and I marinated Korean bbq. We went out to the beach and 8 close friends came by. We charcoal cooked the bbq. One comment, a friend made was, "Wow, this is real food at the beach. not like hot dogs and hamburgers." The food cooked fast. We had a cheesecake for my bday. We drank yummy drinks as well. They sang me happy bday. And as the 9 of us watched the beach sunset, I knew I was a wealthy person.

I turned 21 that day. =)

And that's how my week went. Busy week, aye?

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