Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Is Old City Hall, Day 2

As part of Osgoode's Intensive Program in Criminal Law, I'm spending my final term of law school at Old City Hall. Below are the events of my second day there. Go to the first day.

Today was a short day but a notable one: I observed my first judicial pretrial discussion. The discussion was in relation to two individuals accused of trafficking narcotics -- my bread and butter! I wasn't privy to the specifics (nor could I share them if I were) -- suffice to say that negligible amounts of narcotic were trafficked on a series of occasions.

Present at the pretrial were two defence lawyers, a federal Crown prosecutor, a police officer, Her Honour and myself. There wasn't room for all of us in the office sitting area, so Her Honour sat on the couch with the professionals and I occupied Her desk. Comments were made about my youthful appearance; this is a common occurrence for me and one I am assured I will relish in years to come. Drunk with the power that emanates from a judge's desk, I paid the jokes no heed.

It struck me during the discussion that the Crown is afforded a great deal, almost a quasi-judicial amount of deference. He delineated the facts, the case's strengths and weaknesses, the backgrounds of the accused and Her Majesty's expectations for sentencing. Presumably his assessments were fair, because defence counsel made no comment for their duration. They seemed more or less happy to let the Fed tell the story.

This is not to say that counsel weren't fearless advocates for their clients: the tone of the discussion was cordial but combative, the respective positions of the parties firm and well-articulated but open to debate. To wit --
DEFENCE COUNSEL: "I know what you're thinking, Your Honour: 'Thank God for conditional sentences', isn't that right?"
HER HONOUR: [sarcastic] "First thing that entered my mind."
FEDERAL CROWN: "... Oddly enough, not mine."
Har, har.

There is an element of social work to the profession of criminal law that is paid little attention by the public. Those embroiled in the justice system have no chance of emerging rehabilitated without the assistance of professionals on both sides of the bar, and those professionals, Crown and defence, take that obligation seriously. Defence counsel was frank -- almost too frank -- about his client's efforts to honour the conditions of his 'release' (under house arrest): "I like all my clients," he said, "but [this one] is frustrating. But he tries."

I was cut loose shortly after the pretrial. I might have spent the free time preparing an essay proposal, or readying my class seminar on wiretaps. Instead I strolled back across the street to Starbucks, where I got a coffee, took up a stool and read Robert Rotenberg's Old City Hall, in view of the building itself. The book rewarded me with a description of the building that might have been penned from the very spot where I was sitting:
The Hall covered a whole city block. Five stories high, it was a massive stone structure, asymmetrical in design, filled with curling cornices, rounded pillars, marble walls, smiling cherubs, overhanging gargoyles, and the big clock tower to the left side of the main entrance, which topped it off like a gigantic misplaced birthday candle. Above the arched front entryway, the words MUNICIPAL BUILDINGS hidden among a swirling band of curlicues and bows, denoted its initial use.

Observations, Day 2
  • Taped to the computer monitor on her desk, Her Honour has an inventory of items she must remember to ferry between home and the courtroom: pen, highlighter, computer, keys, pad, trial book, Code, glasses, BlackBerry (with a reminder to keep it set to vibrate -- it doesn't do to have one's phone go off in court, especially when one is the judge), iPod. The tools of the legal professional's trade. And an iPod.
  • Sometimes I picture the commission of the offences I'm reading about, and wonder whether I could have pulled them off where the accused persons failed. (They've always failed; that's why they're in court.) This happened often when I worked for the Feds in the summer, and even when I read cases in first year Crim, or Evidence, or Crim Pro, and it happens at Old City Hall. I wonder if other students and practitioners do this or if there's something the matter with me.

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