righteous rage

At the risk of writing a carrie-bradshaw-but-criminal-defense-attorney-carrie-bradshaw-post, I’m going to address an issue unrelated to the law itself. That is reconciling the rage, and actions that flow from that rage, and (let’s be honest, actions that flow from rage when you have an impulse control issue), with the obligation expectation to be professional.

Sometimes I get very very very angry in this work. And then I react. And then I feel guilty and obsess over how I over reacted, or was an asshole, or could have obtained the same result in a much more pleasant way that did not burn a bridge. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never 422’d anyone. I’ve never cussed out opposing counsel or a judge or a client. So, I have that going for me. But, I have written some fiery emails. I have threatened to go to the press and followed through. Spoiler alert: the press doesn’t give a shit. I have threatened to go to the bar (which I’ve had to do 1 time in 10 years). I have threatened to go to a supervisor, which I do now before going to Xavier Becerra himself, which I also did. (Btw, going to the supervisor an Becerra, in either order, worked, both times.) I have cried after hearings. I’ve held back tears during hearings. I can’t remember if I’ve cried during a hearing but I wouldn’t put it past me. I’ve made mistakes and got mad at the other person without realizing actually I was the one in the wrong. I get mad when the AG or DA doesn’t realize my client is a human being with a family and write an email I later regret. And then I obsess over whether one day that email will come back to bite me. Nothing too bad. Just something along the lines of “it would be nice if you remembered that my client is a human being.”

Invariably, I later regret how I handled the situation. I process it. I promise myself next time I’ll pause before sending. Next time I’ll run it by someone else. Next time if going about it in this manner, does not serve an intentional tactical purpose to benefit my client, I’ll just let it go.

And then next time i fall back into the same chain.

I wonder if all attorneys feel like this. Of course it isn’t unique to regret saying things you don’t mean or that you overreacted. But it just seems sometimes that other attorneys get fiery too and they just own it. Like it doesn’t even occur to them that they should wrestle with their heart over whether they could have been more professional.

I recently read that anger stems from entitlement. It stems from feeling entitled to have others treat you the way you expect, and, if they don’t, feeling entitled to have them make you feel better. If they don’t make you feel better, some folks have ways of coping with that rage in a healthy way. But other folks cope through lashing out. Because those folks cannot get past the part that the opposing party owes them something. The opposing party, therefore, deserves their rage.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am entitled, and lashing out is just a symptom of my inability to get past that part. I act entitled in my personal life for sure. But I also act entitled to justice. Entitled to my client’s liberty. Entitled to a trial lawyer answering my emails. Entitled to a prosecutor recognizing it is important that my client be released now because he has the credit, instead of having to wait 90 days in COVID infested prison merely because we need the paperwork to process for reasons that have nothing to do with his case. Entitled to have the AG understand before emailing me that an argument is unnecessary that it might just be necessary because black lives matter. Entitled to have the AG understand that I, and certainly my client and her family, want the court to hear in the tone of my voice that black lives matter when I describe the injustice that happened to my client.

Perhaps the rage really is stems from my belief that I, and my clients, and all human beings, are entitled to these things. It is Righteous Entitlement. Which, I suppose, makes the rage equally righteous. But, I promise, I’m working on it.

Published by Jenny Brandt

About Me: sociology, african american studies, chicano/a studies, critical race studies, and criminal law scholar. public school kid from kindergarten-J.D. Former public defender. I am a post-conviction guru. Appeals. Sentencing. Withdraw Pleas. Habeas. Published author in the Criminal Law Bulletin and California Defender. "I do it for the joy it brings, because I'm a joyful girl, because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world." Why I started JJC: My PD buddy suggested it. What and who JJC is inspired by: public defenders I have worked for, with, and next to. my clients who have battled things no one should and are still here. innocence and guilt and everything in between. My coworkers, who fight just as hard as the PDs I love, for many of the same reasons. My husband who was once voted "most Christ like" (every Jewish girl's dream). My Corgi who loves everyone. The constitution. Tabloids. My mom, for giving me a voice. My dad, for teaching me what to say. My brother, for teaching me how to say it.

2 thoughts on “righteous rage

  1. If i could not run i would be dead or in custody. there is nothing like a good run and sweat and screaming at passing birds who are obviously saying WTF’s with him? I have slowed so much that my kids and now even my grandkids say i run at the speed of an angry turtle. But i think its when you do something for YOURSELF which no one can take away (tho 2 deputies tried to spoil a run a few years ago because they said i was too close to the RR tracks and luckily i had gotten my screams out and all i could do was huff and puff and they did not arrest me for huffing and puffing.) when i can’t run, i will swim, if i can’t swim i will walk and then crawl. the point is MOVING gets rid of anger. It is really hard to STEW when you are moving.

    1. You are the best! Yes, I also love to run. In fact, I run interval sprints uphill for 20 seconds, jog back down for 1 minute, and repeat, because it makes me test my will and I am so focused on “when are these 20 seconds going to be up” and “I hope the minute isn’t up” that I truly forget everything. I also do a lot of yoga. And I also played soccer 3 x a week until covid. You’re 100% right! move. right. through.

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