A Line Crossed

Death threats are part of the bargain. I accept that. Responding to them is always difficult. If you run, you are done. Fear will chase you away from every confrontation. I accept hatred and anger. I confront it with what courage I can muster.

But today, for the first time in my legal career, I went to the state police to complain. You see, a client's parents called. Their son, almost 40 years old, whom they fear and from whom they are now in hiding, called this morning. "Your life is in danger," I was told. When I asked what that meant, I was told he had relayed:"I should kill Pattis too." The client is in hiding now, trying to outrun a warrant.

I knew there was homicidal talk in the air last night. I took it seriously enough to keep a loaded gun at our bedside. Bumps in the night terrified. I wandered through the house twice making sure we were safe.

But abstract threats are part of the job. The people we confront, and sometimes the people we represent, are under enormous stress. We are expected to work miracles. Sometimes we can, but sometimes, and too often, the demons win. When they win, we look evil to those we have failed.

I have never gone to the police to complain about a client before. Today was the first time. I crossed a line I had hoped never to cross. As the weekend began, my client was in hiding, somewhere. On Friday evening, a new warrant for his arrest was signed; it came with a high bond. More charges were being piled on to his shoulders. I feared he would snap. When his parents came to see me the following day, I knew my fears were justified.

I will be moving to withdraw from his cases tomorrow. Much though I understand his terror and his rage, when it is directed toward me in ways that could carry potentially fatal consequences, I've done all I am willing to do.

I do not know where this man is just now. I've called the folks in my office to warn them to take care tomorrow morning. A man mad enough to kill is on the loose. He is wanted by the police. On Friday he was man for whom I had fought for many years and was still willing to fight. He is alone, scared and now enraged.

But I am a target of that rage now. In crossing that line, the client has lost my loyalty. For the first time ever, I sat in a police station and gave a statement all my own. I was now a potential victim seeking shelter in a place I have for many years attacked.

A line was crossed today. I feel diminished by crossing it. I am scared, too. But mostly, I am sad. I am also humbled with the realization that lawyers aren't really immune from the chaos around them. We are ambassadors for other people's troubles to be sure. But we have troubles all our own. Trouble found me this weekend, and I am glad to be alive to write about it. Somehow, I have a hard time accepting that someone out there might like to change all that, and soon.

Comments: (11)

  • It sounds petty but take care, Norm, and God prote...
    It sounds petty but take care, Norm, and God protect you and yours.
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 5:41 am by Ron Coleman
  • Norm, your post touches me. I do not do criminal ...
    Norm, your post touches me. I do not do criminal defense work, but I appreciate those who do. You may most times be defending the guilty, but to be honest, I fear them less than our own government.

    I know that when you defend the rights of even the most indefensible, you are also defending MY rights. Without you and those men and women like you, we would all be defenseless to the whims of the state and our Constitutionally guaranteed rights would be meaningless.
    Keep up the good fight and don't let this get to you.
    God bless,
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 5:44 am by Lee Keller King
  • Norm: I was very much enjoying the thought of you...
    Norm: I was very much enjoying the thought of you and your wife enjoying the long weekend in your garden. And I am sorry to hear that something like this has suddenly intruded on this peace.
    I've read that criminal defense lawyers are far more at risk than either judges or prosecutors. Many defendants seem to understand that these people are just doing their jobs, and then direct their anger and frustration at the one person who truly has their back. It is every criminal defense lawyer's nightmare, and I am sorry that you are now experiencing it first-hand.
    Maybe your wife was right. Maybe it is time to take off for the Cape a littie bit early this year. In the meantime, stay safe.
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 6:29 am by Jamison
  • J
    Feces occur
    Feces occur
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 6:32 am by Norm Pattis
  • Pattis should consider himself fortunate that he i...
    Pattis should consider himself fortunate that he is so well-positioned as to be able to report a death threat, and have it taken seriously. I am one who has received several death threats (I'm not counting the times there have been attempts to run me off the road or menacing encounters including minor assaults with strangers). The source of these death threats was undoubtedly agents of the state of Connecticut, namely persons associated with state's attorneys and corporate attorneys accomplices with them in working to put me off--i. e., frighten me, terrorize me--from my ongoing and widening exposures of interrelated crimes and corruption throughout the public and private sectors of the state legal system.
    One incident was a dead crow placed near my car where I could not possibly miss coming upon it. When I called the local police department one time to make a complaint, I was met with hysteria. This followed earlier contacts with the Bridgeport office of the FBI where I was asked where I lived, which I guess was the qualification for making a complaint (about a different matter).
    Pattis should consider himself fortunate that he is so well-positioned as to be able to report a death threat. My adaptation to getting death threats was to develop a mentality and follow behavior recommended for business travelers in foreign countries (e. g., Mexico, Iraq) where they would be targeted for kidnapping or assassination by terrorists. We'd like to hear more about Pattis's adaptation, especially the circumstances as or when he would able to tell these.
    Welcome to the club, Norm. The only other activist I felt I could relate much to was Curtis Slewa of the Guardian Angels, who has also gotten death threats. But now you know what some of us face.
    Here is something from a list of hopes I have been working out and waiting to post somewhere. Thinking about Obama as the president who was elected into office largely on the basis of his notion of the "audacity of hope" prompted me to write it and others in the list: I hope agents of the state of Connecticut do not kill me as they have threatened to do as part of their state-sponsored domestic terrorism because I filed a criminal complaint against lawyers at a statewide corporate law firm for stealing thousands of dollars of medical films of mine meant for an operation on my neck.
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 7:49 am by Henry Berry
  • My guess is, it's an idle threat. Judges are more ...
    My guess is, it's an idle threat. Judges are more often targets than attorneys, I think. That is why they are so anonymous and so difficult to locate. I saw my own trial judge in the bank one day. She recognized me, shielded her face and exited ASAP. She was AFRAID of me, and she demonstrated her fear in no uncertain terms. What a total coward and evil human being she is. Her name has been posted by me and easily discovered.
    It hurts me to think that you felt so compelled to cross that line, because I do sincerely believe that the police can be neither trusted nor relied upon, certainly not in the nutty state. We live in a 'police state' where the police look out for themselves and their brethren first. Police service is all about RETIREMENT, unfortunately, usually in a warm sunny place not too far from a swimming pool or the ocean. That is NOT what public service is all about, in spite of the PR and the outrageous rhetoric we are fed thru the telly and the milquetoast press which is CT.
    My own multiple disappointing experiences in New Haven need not be related at this time. I have been treated well and appropriately in other more suburban jurisdictions and even in downtown New York City where the cops were Johnny-on-the-spot and acted professionally and appropriately. God bless NYPD, for the most part,... I hope.
    The problem is that it's pot-luck, and you never know whether you're going to get a 'good cop' or a 'bad cop' responding to your call?
    Keep your chin up, your gun loaded, and your sense of humor. If you are afraid, you're beat. If you are not afraid, your chances are infinitely better. In one of the worst neighborhoods in CT, I learned I had nothing to fear but Law Enforcement itself. Trust it. That is affirmative, and YOU know it.
    Between your wife performing guard duty and your dogs, you should be OK. See you on Cape. Bring cash!?! CT judges and prosecutors, not welcome. Stay home! You do not deserve to vacation in one of the nation's best natural treasures.
    As for the couch, my own opinion is that there are too many psychotherapists and psychiatrists; and not enough carpenters, plumbers, electricians, stone masons and interior decorators, if you catch my drift. Whatever floats your boat! Watch out for that nasty Identification/Dependency (?) Syndrome where you idolize/rely on your therapist for every twist and turn in your daily life. He is neither your master nor your maker.
    Too many attorneys too! Not enough good ones. Ha!
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 1:10 pm by William Doriss
  • Dude - WTF? I mean, I don't know which way to look...
    Dude - WTF? I mean, I don't know which way to look on this post. Be safe.
    Posted on May 31, 2010 at 2:10 pm by mirriam
  • Apropos of this essay, I think, is this timely con...
    Apropos of this essay, I think, is this timely contribution to the debate by Richard Cohen, WaPo:
    Posted on June 1, 2010 at 1:46 am by William Doriss
  • Yow. Stay safe.
    Yow. Stay safe.
    Posted on June 1, 2010 at 7:41 am by Joel Rosenberg
  • Lemme try this again: yuck. And stay safe.
    Lemme try this again: yuck. And stay safe.
    Posted on June 1, 2010 at 9:33 am by Joel Rosenberg
  • I am happy you are safe... not like the children t...
    I am happy you are safe... not like the children this guy sexually assaulted! You have no idea the rage in your ex-client. You owe the "neighbor" an apology from a previous blog. Our street is much safer with the delusional, psychopath in jail.
    Posted on June 6, 2010 at 12:59 am by Anonymous

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