`Slanderous terminology' of the state's legal system

This Just In...

February 22, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

LONG HAS IT been stated that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Even more foolish is the non-lawyer who represents himself. Attorneys have made these assertions for decades, though it always struck me as a self-serving effort to keep the paying customers coming.

One might ask: Where is the proof that the man who represents himself in our complex legal system is foolish?


I got your proof right here.

I have an outrage-filled letter from a criminal defendant to Jennifer Loew (J-Loew to friends and newspaper columnists), an assistant state's attorney in Westminster, provincial capital of Carroll County. The letter, received Feb. 7, was mailed from a small town in West Virginia, the current home of the defendant, who was accused of burglary and trespass last year by his estranged wife.

The defendant's initial appearance in the case was Oct. 22.

His trial was set for Jan. 8. But a judge of the Carroll County Circuit Court granted him a postponement.

It should be noted that this defendant had not hired an attorney and had, at least for some interval, represented himself before the court.

Apparently, however, said defendant came to an awareness of his lack of qualifications to serve as defense counsel. Sometime this winter, he decided to hire a lawyer, and he asked the court for additional time to find one.

But J-Loew, the prosecutor assigned to the case, objected.

"The defendant has been given ample time to obtain counsel," she wrote the court. "The `Hicks' date is April 19, 2002."

"Hicks" date?

For those who do not know what that means, let this be a teachable moment.

"Hicks" refers to Maryland's version of a speedy-trial deadline, established 20 years ago in a case called State vs. Hicks. The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, said criminal cases should be brought to trial within 180 days of arraignment - unless defendants waived that right or judges found "good cause" because of "extraordinary" reasons.

A lot of people are familiar with "Hicks," though I dare say Maryland lawyers are more likely than the average citizen to have instant grasp of its meaning. Certainly most graduates of our fine law schools would not have had the reaction the fellow in West Virginia did.

"Ms. Loew," his angry letter began, "I felt compelled to write to you today to express my utter shock and dismay that someone in an office such as yours could stoop to such a level as to slur my character by referring to me with the outright slanderous terminology of being a `hick.'

"In your response to my request for postponement while seeking legal counsel, line item #5, states, `That the `Hicks' date is April 19, 2002.' How is it that as a representative of the State of Maryland, you feel compelled to hurt and humiliate me further?

"Your reference is outrageously inflammatory," the letter went on. "I am not a joke, Ms. Loew. Neither is anyone else that you may clump into your derogatory slang reference of as `hicks.' ... I have been demoralized by the state's attorney's office by being lumped into the stigma of being a country `hick' simply based on your assessment of what, Ms. Loew? What state I live in? I truly cannot understand what would ever compel you to say such a hurtful, damaging thing."

OK, so maybe that adage about a fool having himself for a lawyer is correct. Maybe the man doth protest too much.

But at least he's getting himself a for-real attorney. Let's give him credit for that - and for being able to express himself so well with one foot in his mouth.

And, while we're accentuating the positive, let's give high-fives to J-Loew. She wrote back a polite letter to explain the "Hicks" rule to the fellow down in West Virginia. She hasn't heard a reply, and I've a feeling she never will. But I can imagine the fellow's reaction when he read Loew's letter - something like, "Oh." And then, I'm sure, his anger diminished and his self-esteem soared.

An icy ultimatum

I have to cook a big Italian dinner for some people in Severna Park tonight, but I'm warning them here and now - please hook up a television set in the kitchen so I can watch the U.S.-Russian Olympic hockey game. And if you don't have cable - MSNBC or CNBC - please call Comcast this morning and get the cable guy out there, or run a tap off your neighbor's line. Are you kidding? It's the 22nd anniversary - to the day - of the Miracle on Ice, and I am not missing it or watching on tape delay. I am not going to miss the Americans as they battle those great Russian skaters and their hot goalie, Nickolai Harvey Bubbala. So, no TV, no spaghetti alla carbonara.

World-class embarrassment

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.