Criminal Court Tour

Posted: July 14, 2009 in Justice

Had a very interesting day getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. This massive structure is the largest criminal courts building in the nation, and as such is able to house every stage of the process (including housing 600+ inmates).

Judge David Wesley is a friend of Public Counsel, and he was gracious enough to take half a day out of his busy schedule to show us around.
* We began the day watching him in action in his own courtroom where he cleared his calendar through disposing of a couple of pre-trial motions (both involved a bombing at UCLA).
* From there, he actually locked us up for a bit to show us that part of the process. There weren’t only bars, but also thick metal mesh to protect the lawyers from being attacked by their clients through the bars (he said years ago both bailiffs and attorneys went to clip-on ties to prevent injury there!).
* From there, we went down to the garage where we saw a couple of busloads of prisoners arriving. Judge Wesley said the buses start coming and going at 6am and go until 8pm each night. Two arrived, and one was preparing to leave in just the few minutes we were there.
* Next, we watched arraignments taking place, which although it looked chaotic, Judge Wesley later told us that was a finely choregraphed process. We also overheard a Public Defender interacting with his client, which was an eye-opening experience all by itself.
* Next, we watched a preliminary hearing where a LAPD officer was being grilled by a defense attorney.
* Finally, we ended up in an actual trial – and a death penalty trial at that – in Judge Kennedy’s courtroom. We were going to go to famed Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom next door, but he was giving jury instructions at the time. The trial we witnessed seemed so laid back that we would never have guessed it was a death penalty case without being told. Later, one of our fellow clerks found an article about the case (you can read about it HERE).

At the conclusion of our tour, Judge Wesley hosted a lengthy Q & A session for us in his courtroom. Unfortunately we all started getting hungry and had to go; otherwise, I could have stayed there all day listening to his stories.

It was a fun day, probably my favorite outside event of my summer internship. But the summer isn’t over just yet!

  1. coolhandandrew says:

    I’ve been in a criminal courtroom two or three times for pre-trial matters, and it’s always seemed chaotic compared to the civil courtroom. The place is full of people. The judge is calling folks up for hearings, while attorneys are scrambling around trying to find their clients or speak to a prosecutor. You half expect to see a guy walking around selling peanuts or cold beer.

    Glad you enjoyed your visit to the courtroom. I look forward to hearing about when you get to argue your first motion.

  2. alsturgeon says:

    Thanks, Andy. I’m looking forward to that, too!

    BTW, any advice you have for me would be greatly appreciated. Turns out that my focus (career-wise) has become representing plaintiffs in civil litigation, something I think you may know a little bit about. 🙂

    Seriously, when you have the time, any pearls of wisdom would be valuable!

  3. coolhandandrew says:

    The best advice I’ve ever received is “ask forgiveness early.” That goes for your boss, your client, opposing counsel, the judge, whoever. Most people understand that practicing law is hard and that you are human and will make mistakes. What people don’t like is you raising the issue of your mistakes on the eve of trial or some other such inconvenient time.

    Call your client the day the judge grants their motion for summary judgment. Tell your boss as soon as you realize that you overlooked a case that you should have cited in your response. They’ll probably be a little upset, but they’ll appreciate your integrity, and, assuming you don’t screw up ALL the time, they’ll come to view you as someone they can trust, and that’s way more valuable than any level of expertise or networking savvy or whatever.

    So, there’s pearl number one. If I find some more lying around, I’ll pass them along.

  4. alsturgeon says:

    Thanks, Andy. Sounds like good advice to me. And, if you find any more pearls, always feel free to send them my way!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s