For Cuyahoga County public defenders, the words “client” and “crazy” are often synonymous. That notion was reaffirmed recently when attorney George George — yes, that’s his real name, not an ‘80s rock band -- was meeting with a mentally ill client accused of rape. The man began slicing his wrists with a jagged object.
Unfortunately, the meeting took place in a courthouse interview room, where the door is locked from outside. When George tried to call deputies on his cell phone, he realized he didn’t have the right number. So he banged frantically on the door window until he caught a passing deputy, who stormed in and disarmed the client of his weapon — a pencil whittled to a razor-sharp edge...
Welcome to the county courts, where such elemental things as providing safe places to meet with clients are even too much to handle.
Every public defender seems to have a horror story about the interview rooms. Lawyers who’ve been attacked have no way to contact help, so they’re forced to brawl with clients. Sometimes deputies forget about them for hours. One female defender even found herself trapped with a masturbating client.
So the county decided to install a state-of-the-art security system. Alas, this being Cuyahoga County, that meant a button lawyer could push in emergencies. But the system’s alarm bells were also rigged to ring in courtrooms. Judges – not exactly sympathetic types – weren’t happy about being disturbed by someone else’s danger. So some disabled the system, leaving lawyers right back where they started.
George believes there’s a simple remedy. “A telephone or something,” he says. “Or some kind of divider could work. It’s an antiquated system. I wish people would try to come up with a solution instead of just throwing up their hands and saying, ‘That’s the way it is.’”
Maybe in Zambia, pal. But around here, that’s just the way it is. – Gus Garcia-Roberts