An inside look.
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In the earliest stages of a criminal case, defense attorneys and prosecutors will congregate in courtroom lobbies and attempt to resolve their cases. A handful of the prosecutors, Sean explained, were fishermen as well. Before discussing the merits of our pending cases — drug offenses, child pornography, domestic abuse — I began chatting with these men about where they had fished the weekend before, what lures they had used and how cold the water had been. We’d take out our phones to show one another pictures of fish we’d landed, and we’d congratulate or rib one another, call over other lawyers to admire the photographs of the mottled bodies quivering in our hands.
In retrospect, I understand the problems of privilege that came with this informal brotherhood — just pick up an issue of American Angler, tell me how many women or minorities you come across. A female defense attorney I worked with would often send me to negotiate with the prosecutors on behalf of our team. “Go talk dude to them,” she’d say.
The notion that a personal rapport between prosecutors and defense attorneys can affect the outcome of a client’s case — might in fact shape the rest of his life — is an uncomfortable one. It is, however, a reality. And it can be argued that a defense attorney is ethically obligated to nurture good relationships with prosecutors, as unpleasant as it can feel to do so. If two opposing attorneys get along, the negotiations tend to go better for the defendant. In a weak case, an afternoon fishing trip might be the difference between a conviction and a dismissal, between a misdemeanor and a felony, between a year of probation and a year of prison.