Today I saw something that irked me. It was a little thing, but it bothered me, even after I worked out good pleas for two clients, then got a not guilty on a DUI (including all the moving violations too) for a very nice client, and walked out of the courthouse on a Friday afternoon to warm weather, buds on the trees and a perfect blue sky, and the hope that spring had finally arrived.
Yet, this one thing really bugged me. And what is the point of having a blog if you can’t kvetch now and then?
Before I get started, a disclaimer. This post is for the attorneys who read this blog. I know there are quite a few. The general public probably won’t be too interested.
Anyway, here it is: I was watching the end of a trial today. It had begun the other day and all I saw was a Motion for a Directed Finding which became closing arguments. Essentially, the police had charged a woman with concealing evidence of a homicide.
The judge began to state his findings. All in all, he spoke for about eight or nine minutes. After about three, it was pretty obvious that he was going to find the defendant not guilty.
When I say “obvious,” I mean that it would be obvious to any experienced attorney that the judge was explaining that the evidence was not sufficient to prove the charge alleged. It probably wouldn’t be so obvious to the average person, let alone the nervous defendant sitting in court with her future on the line.
So, at this very moment that it became obvious that the judge was going to find his client “not guilty,” the defense attorney turned to his client, with a big grin, and handed her a CBR form and a pen.
(To those not in the know, a “CBR” is a “cash bond refund to attorney” form which means that the defendant is agreeing to have the balance of his or her bond sent to his or her attorney.)
Did I mention that the judge was not done explaining what he was going to do? Or that he would not say the magic words “not guilty” for another five minutes or so?
So why did this irk me?
Here is this attorney’s client, worried about what will happen to her, and listening intently to everything the judge is saying, while her attorney is thinking about getting paid. It is not a professional way to present oneself.
Possibly, the attorney realized that the case was about to be over, and there would be no more continuances for post trial motions or sentencing, so the time was ripe to take care of the bond refund. He could not contain himself and wait a few minutes until the judge had made his ruling official and his client could breathe a sigh of relief.
It also made me wonder whether the attorney had an arrangement to get a bonus if there was a not guilty. Contingency fees are not allowed in criminal cases by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. 1.5(d)(2). I hope this was not the case, but when you do something like that, it makes people think. Why wouldn’t the attorney have the client sign the CBR form at the beginning of the representation, instead of at the end? It is simple business sense to have the client sign the form at the beginning of the representation, when the client is eager to be represented and is looking for a way to pay for an attorney’s services, rather than to wait until the case is over, all the work has been done and the client has less of an incentive to tender over his or her bond money. It is also ethically responsible to make sure that the client understands and consents to the fee at the beginning of the representation.
Even if this was totally above-board, it was just tacky.