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Commentary: Observations from a morning in court

Last week, I spent 3 ½ hours in a courtroom in the Milwaukee County Public Safety Building. I needn’t tell you cats how tedious – I mean thrilling – that was.

But I would like to relate a couple of experiences from that morning.

At one point, while I was waiting in line to get through security after returning from a cigarette break, I saw a man stopped because he had an iron in his backpack.

Others in line wondered aloud why a man would bring an iron to court. But having spent nine years as a criminal defense attorney, I knew: freshly-pressed clothing is not exactly a strong “suit” for most of the criminal defense bar. I knew that the fellow must be a defendant scheduled for trial. He figured he could duck into a bathroom before trial and press his attorney’s shirt for him.

But I didn’t write this column just to advise defense attorneys to take more care with their appearance. I have another experience to relate.

There was a fellow in court who apparently had been picked up on some charge and had arranged to pay a fine attorney a retainer at his next court appearance.

However, along with a sizable retainer, he allegedly also brought a marijuana pipe with him to the courthouse, and was arrested for it while going through security. Worst of all, the retainer money was confiscated pursuant to the drug forfeiture laws as illegal proceeds.

So now the defendant was in court, facing an additional charge of possession of drug paraphernalia and lacking the funds to hire the attorney to represent him on any of the charges.

How’s that for a double bogey? And I imagine the client was none too pleased with the situation either.

So, here’s my advice. Don’t wait until the court date to get your retainer from a prospective client. Arrange a meeting at a tavern the night before, and get your money then.

“But Mr. Ziemer,” you ask, “what if he has a bail condition or a condition of supervision that doesn’t allow him to enter taverns?”

No reason to worry: What do you think the ubiquitous Starbucks are for?

Sure, the price of a drink will be much higher than at the tavern, even though the Starbucks doesn’t have to contend with graft-grubbing aldermen, confiscatory sin taxes, Byzantine licensing schemes and state-mandated, multiple-tiered distribution networks. But it’s a small price to pay to keep your retainer from winding up subject to civil forfeiture proceedings.

You could even use the money for some quality dry-cleaning services.

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