Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dick Wolf Lied to Me

I grew up on Law & Order. Lenny Briscoe was the first TV cop I ever liked, and to this day, watching the old reruns, I still love him. Jack McCoy, while a sleazy, had a good heart and I was pleased to see him work his way up through three elected DAs and then becoming the boss himself.

Everything I learned about the justice system, I first learned from Law & Order. The guilty were usually punished, and those who were innocent were quickly cleared. The District Attorney's office, first and foremost, could not pursue cases without probable cause. Also, they were competent.

I always knew that Law & Order was TV and fundamental elements of the process were changed to make the show more dramatic. But still, with 456 shows over 20 seasons, one would assume that it wasn't completely made up; there had to be some truth to the stories.

Recently, a long-time friend was accused of a horrible crime. I have known her for over seven years and cannot believe that she committed the crime of which she is accused. As such, I am no longer a passive observer of our justice system.

After the arrest, I went to the arraignment, hoping to--as I had been told since I was 10--show her that I was there to support her. The lawyers were there, but my friend was not. She joined the proceedings via closed-circuit TV. She did not know who had attended the arraignment until she was told once bail was posted.

After the arraignment in late August, her next court date was in early October. This was the preliminary hearing, where the district attorney laid out their case. This was when I realized that real life was not like I had always been told it was on TV.

The assistant attorney assigned was no Claire Kincaid. She was not an Abby Carmichael, or Jaimee Ross.... I would have even been happy with a Serena Southerlyn. But no. She was not articulate, not polished; she was not even that organized. The State's case boiled down to "she had the opportunity to do it and no one else has said they did it." But, despite the lack of evidence, the case was bound over for trial.

Unfortunately--unlike what Dick Wolf told me all those years--this is a long and arduous process. One month later, at the beginning of November, my friend pleaded not guilty to all charges. This was when the DA amended the charges to include a charge that boiled down to "she may not have done it, but she knew what was going on" (Connie Rubirosa would have probably charged her with "conspiracy").

At the end of November, her lawyer (who I have much respect for... I could see him going toe to toe with Ben Stone) filed a motion to dismiss because the state only had circumstantial evidence. A hearing was scheduled for December 9. The assistant district attorney--who had been given notice at the beginning of November that he would be preparing a motion to dismiss--asked for, and was granted, a continuance to come up with her answer. I can emapthize with that; She would have only had 10 days to prepare for the hearing and Canyon County Idaho is having budget issues and I'm sure the DA's office--what with the county prosecutor having been accused of embezzlement this year--is rather swamped.

However, that is no excuse for not having filed her response, or sent the paperwork to my friend's lawyer. She had still not done her job--the job I pay her to do--in the extra two weeks, complaining of too much work to do.

Turns out, she also was supposed to file updated paperwork regarding the new charges back in November. Fortunately, the judge had some choice words for her, and her wasting the court's time. Adam Schiff, even Arthur Branch, would have even more choice words, but I think the county Prosecutor's Office is rather busy with the possible prosecution of their previous boss.

So, the case has been extended once again. Jack and Claire would have never allowed this to go on this long--the only things that have actually happened between the middle of August and the end of December is the arrest, arraignment, and pleading. The alleged event happened back in late January, 2011. I don't remember any of Dick Wolf's stories spanning an entire year.

As both a journalist and a writer of fiction, I know that sometimes the truth needs to be "spruced up" a little to make it a bit more palatable when telling a story. This is why historical fiction sells so much better than history books themselves. But, just like when you learn that there is no Santa Claus, or when your favorite athlete is accused of taking steroids, it is still a let-down.


  1. Sadly, the court system is generally very overburdened and often does not produce the swift justice we would wish for ourselves and others. Add to this the legal manuevering to postpone a case's forward movement that sometimes occurs on the part of both prosecutors and defense attorneys and things can become sluggish to say the least. Even in the juvenile court, where I've spent a little time, one of the most difficult things can be setting the date for the next hearing. Simply trying to reconcile the schedules of the attorneys and the court was often challenging, bumping the next hearing date out and adding to the length of the overall process.
    However long this process takes for your friend, I hope the result is that the truth is revealed in such a clear way that all those most concerned recognize it.

  2. Sadly, law school ruined Law and Order for me. For so many reasons. Justice is never a swift thing, which is ridiculous. The DA's office can not be that busy. Their office would not even handle the prosecution of their old boss. They would have to conflict themselves out.

    I wanted to be a prosecutor up until just before my 3rd year of law school, I saw a really good friend accused of an unspeakable crime. A crime I knew there was NO WAY he did. The ADA had reports that had shown that the "victim" had made the same accusations against other men. The truth was that the child victim was extremely mentally ill. But the ADA knew that she could keep evidence out of the trial using Rape Shield and Hippa rules and laws. A year later, a career ruined, a year spent having neighbors run from him and call him awful names -- and charges were dismissed. Oh, did I mention he spent 50K on legal fees?????

    So yes, the justice system is not speedy and rarely "fair." Probable cause is a buzz word, which means very little. A grand jury? The joke is that a prosecutor could get an indictment for a ham sandwich. The reason why the rich often get off is because they can afford a crack legal team that is not over worked and underpaid.

    Law & Order, in my opinion, did the US a disservice in that it made the law appear to be rosy. It's not. It's dirty and often corrupt.

  3. Yeah, our "former prosecutor," as the news always calls Bujak, isn't being prosecuted for embezzlement, as far as I know. The investigation was done by a special investigator from a non-neighboring county prosecutor. However, our ADAs are still very busy, regardless. We have a high rate of misdemeanors and minor felanies (lots of drugs and theft, very few rapes and murders, at least here in Canyon County).

    Oh, and after having submitted my name as a witness back in early December (and a trial date set for April 10-12), I still haven't received a call or subpoena to talk to someone from the prosecutor's office.