SIXTEEN YEARS AGO HE STOOD BEFORE THE JUDGE AS A CONVICTED DRUG DEALER, NOW HE STANDS BEFORE THE SAME JUDGE TO BE SWORN IN AS AN ATTORNEY.
Being a criminal defense attorney in Orange County can be tough and demanding work. I know that every one of my clients is a unique individual and I can only be their advocate when I understand how they landed on the other side of my desk. A proper defense requires that I learn about my client’s personal story, which often includes getting to know my clients’ families too. While I celebrate the victories with my clients, sometimes the outcome is less than what we hoped for. Even though this is part of the business, I am still disappointed and feel the pain along with the client whom I have gotten to know as an individual, someone who is more than an accused criminal in front of the judge’s bench. That is why the following story is so instructive and affirming of my attitude as a criminal defense attorney.
Sixteen years ago 27-year-old Ed Martell stood before Judge Bruce Morrow in his Michigan courtroom and pleaded guilty to selling and manufacturing crack cocaine. The defendant faced a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Having grown up in challenging circumstances — the son of a single mother living in low-income housing and relying on government assistance – Mr. Martell entered the world of drug dealing at a young age. By 13 years old, he received his first felony conviction, followed by another two years later. He dropped out of high school to continue his drug trafficking career. Mr. Martell estimated that he had stood before at least 20 judges before his encounter with Judge Morrow.
But Judge Morrow didn’t sentence Mr. Martell to 20 years in prison; he didn’t even sentence Mr. Martell to prison at all. Instead, Judge Morrow saw the defendant before him as a unique individual with potential. The judge sentenced Mr. Martell to three years’ probation and then gave him a lecture that changed Mr. Martell’s life. The judge challenged Mr. Martell to find the greatness within him and let this convicted drug dealer know that he should keep in touch.
Wow! Most people would have written off Mr. Martell as a career criminal, and a lot of judges would come to the same conclusion. The judge’s words resonate with my attitude towards my clients: “Everybody deserves to be treated with a great sense of humanity and importance.” Now, I don’t fool myself or my clients – judges usually don’t identify the defendants before them as someone who has great potential that just needs to be nurtured. Most judges aren’t going to tell defendants to keep in touch and let them know how they are progressing. However, many judges do recognize that defendants can be rehabilitated and often deserve another chance. It is my job to advocate for that.
The Ed Martell story has a happy ending. Mr. Martell did keep in touch with Judge Morrow and the judge was true to his words: he encouraged Mr. Martell as he enrolled in community college leading to his eventual enrollment in law school on a full scholarship. This year, sixteen years after standing before Judge Morrow as a convicted criminal, Mr. Martell stood before Judge Morrow to get sworn in as Michigan’s newest attorney. Attorney Martell learned a lot from Judge Morrow, but the judge learned too from this relationship. The lesson for us all is that people often make bad choices but that is not necessarily indicative of who they are. Criminal defendants are individuals who can change if given the right encouragement and support. As Judge Morrow said: “Love changes people.”
Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg advocates for each of his clients as a unique individual. He is available for a complimentary review and consultation of your case. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.