The Phantom Defendant

     There’s nothing I like better than seeing a profound philosophical and/or logical question work its way into the legal system. It almost makes me want to be a judge so that I can rule on these things. (In fact, I’ve often wondered why no one has appointed me to a bench just so I can specialize in these issues.)
     Here’s the sort of question I’d love to deal with: Is it fair to hold a hearing on whether a kid is a habitual truant if he doesn’t show up in court?
     No, I didn’t just make that one up, delicious and imaginative as it may be. I’d love to take credit for it – and, heck, if you want to give me credit, I’ll take it – but it was the real issue before the Supreme Court of Kentucky in a case called Commonwealth of Kentucky v. B. J., a child under eighteen.
     Kid, allegedly, doesn’t show up for school and then he doesn’t show up for the hearing at which he was “adjudicated a habitual truant.”
     Is that fair? Does not showing up make you a truant?
     OK, maybe it does, but what about the right to be present at your criminal trial?
     Can the fact that you’re not there be used as evidence to prove you weren’t other places?
     Well, the Kentucky Court of Appeals said he did have a right to appear, so the adjudication was wrong but the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a split decision, reversed and said the kid waived his right to appear by, um, not appearing.
     Which, naturally, leaves us with the bottom line question: What exactly does calling someone a habitually truant mean if the guy doesn’t show up for whatever he’s supposed to show up for?
     Apparently in Kentucky it means if the kid is younger than 18, the parents could face fines or imprisonment.
     While the kid is off somewhere having a good laugh.
     Unless, of course, the parents don’t show up for court….
      
     BAR UPDATE. The January issue of the California Bar Journal had its usual quota of eye-catching items.
     First off, this sentence from an ethics column about how you could be disqualified from a case for inadvertently seeing privileged material: “You must be aware because, conceivably, another lawyer could put confidences in your mailbox, setting a trap.”
     Have you ever noticed that it’s the people who write about ethics who have the most devious minds?
     And then there was the report about the lawyer who got disciplined by the state bar for, apparently, doing a good job for his client.
     Really.
     It seems the guy didn’t file an opening brief in an appeal of death sentence conviction – for 10 years!
     Pause. Think.
     Yes, the client is still alive. A job well done.
     Finally, there was this sentence in another discipline report: “He met with the client several times, smoking marijuana in her presence.”
     This is a client who deserved what she got.
      
     DIRECT DEPOSIT. The following from a Los Angeles Superior Court complaint is not funny:
     “On or about August 28, 2006, at around 9:40 a.m., plaintiff was lawfully on the premises of US Bank in Santa Monica. She drove her care to the drive-up remote teller machine and proceeded to attempt to make a deposit. Plaintiff put her left hand into the machine window to deposit the bank’s carrier case into the machine. Suddenly the machine window closed and clamped around plaintiff’s left hand and would not release.”
     And you thought banks were only after your money.

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