Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Perfect Puppy

It never ceases to amaze me how lucky I was to have picked such a perfect puppy. I must admit, I was frightened the first few weeks that I would not be able to handle such a bundle of energy. I actually picked her because she seemed so calm in relation to the other puppies who were whining and barking and jumping on the fence at the pound. She just sat quietly in the back of the group with her head cocked to one side. Now I know that this is her response to anything she's unsure of. Any strange sound or smell or anything she can't immediately determine whether to be frightened of she responds to by sitting. Her natural inclination generally is to play with anything or anyone available. She loves to fetch and any kind of tug game. She usually lets me win at tug. I can tell when she's not pulling as hard as she can, because she's quite strong and I wouldn't stand a chance! I think she lets me win partly because she is always mindful that I am the top dog, and partly because if I win I throw the thing for her to chase. We've never had a battle of wills, and she has never questioned that I am in charge. And, if I am not available for a game, she's quite content with chewing toys or shaking them or simply running laps around the house. She loves big floppy toys to shake. I've figured out why she de-stuffs all her stuffed toys. She doesn't eat the fluff, it's just easier to make the thing flop satisfactorily without stuffing.

She definitely has Aussie characteristics. I've even seen her doing the "Aussie stare" and creeping up on her toys at a crouch. She guards her "pack" against outsiders as well. She's usually very quiet, but she has two barks she does. One is a warning growl-bark to "intruders" (usually either her own reflection or Adagio coming in the dog-door while we are together in the other room). The other is a kind of barking howl. It's an alert to me that something is occurring. Usually, it's someone at the door or the neighborhood dogs are barking for some reason.

She's also much more into cuddling than Bo ever was. She follows me around the house and loves to curl up on the couch with me. And once the required face-licking is concluded, she'll usually fall asleep there. She really is the sweetest little dog. She definitely needs a buddy, though. She'll be more comfortable with a slightly bigger "pack" (or flock?) to look after. She'd also like to have someone to cuddle and play with when I'm busy but she wants to stay inside with me instead of going outside to find Adagio. But I do wonder if I'm going to be able to find a beastie as perfect as Betsy?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Spring and Things

I really have nothing substantive to report, but I'm in a really good mood. Maybe it's because of spring being nearly here. My socks of the every-other-month club yarn arrived, just when I had completely given up on them, and it is so pretty. And the pattern is pretty, too, but apparently very shiny. I am unable to get a picture of the pattern, and instead end up with a big glare. But it's a kind of zig-zaggy lace-type thing. I think the official name for the pattern is something like wandering vines, or ivy, or something. Whatever it's called, it looks very fun. I'll have to cast it on tonight.

I also got an email from my violin teacher that she wants me to play in a chamber group this summer. (To have performances where people have to buy tickets and everything!) I have been kind of in doldrums with orchestra lately, as we haven't played any "real" music since last summer. (I don't consider snippets of great orchestral works with silly words added to be real music.) This chamber music thing should be a blast. I know my violin teacher will pick good stuff to play.

I've also been watching chick flicks. Though not actual chick-flicks, my sister tells me, because none of them star Hugh Grant. More like Much Ado About Nothing and Pride and Prejudice. I think it must be my sister's fault anyway, as she's the one getting married, and getting me into this mood. It's fun and non-think-y, anyway. Just the thing for spring.

Betsy's doing splendid. She loves the warm weather, and we've been taking many more walks than we did when it was cold. I've got her on one of those no-pull harness things to try to convince her that we'll get there eventually, she doesn't need to pull me along like a horse-and-cart. She's in her class now for the Canine Good Citizen test, so she might one day get to have a title! Although I'm not sure whether the AKC gives official titles to mutts. It really doesn't make that big a difference to me, and I'm sure she could not care less. She just likes class. She made another friend, by the way. A highly peppy and playful 3-year-old Golden Retriever named Reggie. They get on great!
I was in such a good mood today that I went by the pet store and saw the cutest little 8 week-old Corgi, and was reminded that Betsy would love a buddy in a little while. But I'm certainly not going to pay $600, and Betsy's not quite ready yet: she's a little over 8 months old. (For you dog people out there, no, I don't know which kind of Corgi: it was the kind with a little tail stub.) I think I'll wait until Betsy does not want to eat everything anymore. When she's over a year, I'll start hitting the pound again. But she definitely should have a buddy of her very own. One that is allowed in my house, and isn't told to "go home" when I come back from work. I'll probably get another puppy, to ease the fitting-in process. Besides, she loves puppies. When there's a puppy at PetCo (where class is) she whines and whines, and wants to make friends.
The only really entertaining work news is that I got another competency guy. I've had this one before. Last time, he was a butterfly and Jesus Christ. (I'm not sure how the two mesh, but there you go.) This time, he needs his bail lowered because he is Medieval. An angel told him he wasn't very evil, just Medieval. He wanted to know why the judge couldn't set him bail commensurate with being only Medieval. (I suggested privately to the judge afterward that he set 3 chickens and a sheep for bail, which would have worked out fine, since he can post that. Ten percent would be like a part of a chicken, right?) Also, two of my competency guys are now cell mates. The good news is that they keep each other company, and both get along with each other, and neither are subjected to the mean-ness of the other inmates. The bad news (for me, anyway) is that they have a phone in the cell with unlimited legal calls, so they pass the phone back and forth to take turns talking to me indefinitely. Both are somewhat paranoid and need constant reassurance, and one has extremely poor memory as a result of traumatic brain injury. You would not believe how circular a conversation can be with these two guys! Especially when the guy not on the phone with me keeps shouting reminders for the other one to tell me stuff that he already told me. I still like them, though. They're a whole lot better clients than some of my "normal" ones!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Woes of Treatment Court

I blogged some time ago about the mental health court a judge was intending to start. Well, it has been started, more or less. The basic premise of the thing (contrary to my suggestion) is to make the mental health court a "special condition" of probation, similar to drug court. The participants are required to come to court weekly, attend individual and group counseling sessions throughout the week, show proof of taking medication as prescribed, do community service or keep a job if able to, and take drug tests. Initially, they are required to see a psychiatrist who would (hopefully) prescribe medication and/or adjust it as needed. As we initially had no (read "zero") funding from any source for this program, we began with five participants. Of the five participants, three were "non compliant" with the program. Two went to a 28 day drug treatment facility, and one disappeared before he actually began the program and is pending probation violation procedures.

Now, warning bells should go off. If 60% of the participants cannot "make it" in this program, there is either something wrong with the screening process to admit them into the program, or something wrong with the program itself. There are a couple reasons I see for what is going on. First, the most successful of those in the program (the 2 who both showed up and didn't end up in drug treatment) have traumatic brain injury, as opposed to an illness related to brain chemistry such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which can be treated with medication. The only reason the two of them could not make it in regular probation is that they have memory and cognitive problems and just cannot process how to show up once a month at probation. These people do not need their medications monitored, etc. Further more, we (the committee) had decided at the beginning that a mental health court would not be of assistance to people with such a disability. They probably could make it through the program fine, but the program would not help them.

The people the program is intended to help are those other three people, two of whom are bipolar and one is schizophrenic. They get into trouble because they either self-medicate (usually with meth), or steal (for the thrill when they're manic, because they believe the things to be theirs, or because they can't hold a job due to their disability), or both. So, the program intended to help the mentally ill get back on track with their meds and housing and SSI is turning out to be simply drug court with extra conditions. The irony is that the service provider is the same as for drug court. My question: Why not just put them in drug court, since that's what's happening anyway? The personnel involved are exactly the same, it's just the participants that are different. This way, the federal grant we just got can be used for a diversionary type of program, which is much more acutely needed anyway.

Here's what I think a mental health court should look like: When a criminal defendant is transferred to district court "on competency," they might be referred to mental health court, especially if they are only facing charges for resisting an officer or battery on an officer. (Many of my competency clients have the police called on them because they are acting strange or creeping people out, the cops show up and they freak out.) If it is decided that such a defendant would be fine if properly treated, they would start the program. Their criminal case would be dismissed without prejudice. They would get a caseworker (which we do have available) to help them apply for SSI and set up housing. They would see a doctor to give prescriptions and monitor the meds and check in with someone to be sure they're on their meds. They would only have to give drug tests after they're meds are fully adjusted and have been allowed to take effect (say a couple or 3 months). Only then would they be punished for using meth or other drugs. The program would last 6 months to a year, and if they completed, their criminal case would remain dismissed. If not, it would be refiled, and we would deal with the competency issue at that point. The incentive to the client would be that they wouldn't have to sit in jail for 3 to 9 months waiting for evaluations or risk a 9 month trip to the state hospital to be treated to competence. (i.e. forcefully medicated) (Note: SSI is discontinued if a person is incarcerated for more than 30 days. Thus, if they had SSI before their arrest, they no longer have it when they're finally released.) The incentive for everyone else would be that we would save the county money by not having them in jail, we would save the state money by not sending them to the hospital, and (with any luck) we would help them break the cycle of committing new crimes as soon as they get released from jail on the old ones. If a defendant is found incompetent, the cases are ultimately dismissed anyway, except for the most heinous.

I mean, it makes no sense for my little competency guys to keep getting arrested, their cases (mostly misdemeanors, property crimes, or tangling with police or jail guards) dismissed once they're found incompetent, released from jail, then arrested again for the same or similar charges with no treatment in the interim. The best example I have of this is my guy that steals cars. He's clearly schizophrenic: he has auditory hallucinations (apparently quite a benevolent person, as my guy laughs a lot when listening to the voice). His cases (he stole 2 cars the same day) got dismissed when he was found incompetent and not dangerous (mandated by statute). Six hours after his release from jail, he stole another car, led the cops on a chase, and returned the car to the police parking lot. He also was arrested for the charge of "pedestrians in roadway," because he was apparently caught when whe was walking down the middle of the road, talking to his invisible friend after dumping the car. He has not been on meds since 2004, when he was committed to the state hospital. Now, there are two solutions to this: Either we can get the cops to quit arresting him no matter how many cars he steals, or we can give him an incentive to take his meds, and adjust them if they make him too listless (his problem with taking them is he doesn't like being sleepy all the time.)

Here's my main point (finally). We don't need "drug court plus" (as I've taken to calling it). We need some way to help my guy with the car problem to stay on his meds so he will quit stealing cars!

End of sermon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Show Must Go On

It has always worked this way: I'll go months without having any trials, or even any trials set, and then suddenly, I have tons! By this time tomorrow, I will have had three trials in two weeks. The way our judges calendar things, usually about one in three trials set actually "go," so you do the math. In addition to being in court constantly, I have three of the neediest clients in the office. They're really sweet, and very incompetent, but they tend to leave about ten messages a day on my voicemail, each. And when they happen to catch me in the office, I'm on the phone with them for a half hour. This is when "Evercom," the jail phone system, cuts them off. Usually, when a client is on the phone with me for that long, I can do something else, while still following what they are saying. But with them, it takes all my focus to figure out what they are talking about.

For example, one of them told me today that his mother is a blackmailer. I'm quite sure he's got no clue what the word means, but I finally figured out what he meant by it. He thinks his mother is preventing him from "being a man" by paying his bills and taking care of his trailer. He just doesn't want to be taken care of in this fashion, because he is a grown-up. His schizophrenia apparently only started manifesting a year or two ago, and he has not figured out that he is just not like everyone else. He wants to work and to drive and to pay his own bills, thank you very much! The problem arises when he comes into contact with law enforcement and ends up in jail because he's scared of them, calls them terrorists, and fights with them. It's hard to hold down a job when you're in jail that often!

Meanwhile, I have been having last-minute plea hearings, trials where the client doesn't show up, trials that get continued at the last minute, and actual trials. My trials actually haven't been that crazy. No interpreters going on strike, or ADAs going completely crazy during closings, or anything. My one last Wednesday was fairly straight forward: possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. (Here, that carries up to 9 years, plus any habitual offender time.) It looked like it would be a decent case, at first. My guy was the driver and only occupant in a car, registered to someone else, and in a fanny pack on the floor was 27 grams of meth, scales, empty baggies, syringes, etc. In addition, there was a purse with a glass pipe. No identifying documents were found in either. (My guy and the registered owner of the car were both male, and thus unlikely to be caught dead with a purse!) My guy had an empty plastic baggie in his pocket, that was not tested for the presence of controlled substances. (He was arrested for misdemeanor DWI, and pulled over for expired tags.) The problem was that the baggie in his pocket had a "brand" on it: a symbol usually used to distinguish a particular dealer. Empty baggies in the bag with the 27 grams of meth had the same symbol. Surprise! I kept the jury out for a couple hours debating it, though! And we have a couple appeal-able issues.

My trial this past Tuesday was just confusing. It was an embezzlement case, where my client was alleged to have stolen $1000 dollars from the deposit at her job in a convenience store. I have never heard of a place that handles cash with such shoddy cash control policies! (And I have worked at several.) No one double-counts the money! Ever! Not the registers, and not the daily deposits. Once the "drawers" (registers) have over a certain amount, they are totaled, balanced, and the money is put in a cash bag, and dropped into a safe. Every morning, the prior day's cash bags are re-counted, totaled, and entered into a computer manually by a manager (in this case, my client). Later in the morning, the same person who did the computer entries re-counts the money, prepares a deposit slip for the bank, and takes it to the bank. The sum total of the State's case against my client was that the computer entry for a particular day's total exceeded the same day's deposit slip total by $1000, and my client was the one to do the deposit that day. The other manager testified that there had "never" been a disparity between the computer print-out and the deposit slip before. And that my client had worked there a year. Now, if I were going to embezzle money, I certainly wouldn't start with $1000! And I would certainly not do it in such an obvious way, when I was the one creating the disparity between the amount of money deposited and what the computer print-out says that I should deposit, when I controlled what the computer said! It makes no sense! The jury came back after an hour with a whole list of questions: Was there a camera on the drop box (no), who had access to the key for the drop box (everyone) what are the cash control procedures, etc. Twenty minutes later, they came back guilty, but with three or four jurors looking seriously disgruntled. I have never seen jurors look so angry coming back with a verdict before! A couple, especially, looked extremely irate. Anyway, very strange. And for once, likely to get overturned on "sufficiency of evidence," since there was nothing more than a manually entered computer total to show the extra $1000 ever existed!

Anyway, this is quite long enough, and I have trial again tomorrow: possession of meth again. My guy's girlfriend says it was hers. Great if they believe her. Horrible if they don't, since my guy's looking at the possibility of 8 years of mandatory habitual offender time if they convict. Well, the show must go on!