Let’s Make a Deal

When I was a 27 year old State’s Attorney handling felony cases at 26th & California, we’d have maybe 20 to 30 cases on call every day. As defense attorneys stepped up when their case was called, they’d sometimes lean over and ask “can we work this out?” In other words, if a guy was brought out for a homicide in a bar fight, the defense would want to discuss the matter. Maybe reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter. Resulting in a lower sentence. And it was “let’s make a deal.” Negotiations were usually carried out in the judge’s chambers. Chatting. The judge’s office was small and defense counsel sat next to me – six feet from the judge who would lean back and say “what can we do, boys?” If we “reduced” a crime (murder to manslaughter), we would have to go downstairs for permission from higher ups in the SAO.

When I moved on from negotiating felony cases (sometimes life or death), I continued to negotiate. All the time. Meetings in person were usually held in a room – with opposing counsel sitting on the other side of a table. When I’d walk in – I would always plop down next to him (or her). They’d look over like – what the @^$@*X is he doing?? I’d say “easier to talk this way.” And I’d sometimes set a coffee cup or something in the center of the table and pause – counsel would look at me – and I’d say “that’s our problem.” Now the other side would look at me like I was demented – but I’d press on – “let’s think of that as our problem. How can we work together to resolve it?” And counsel would catch on. We’d discuss options. And nearly always resolve our differences. Coming to a solution. Let’s make a deal.

Statistically, cases filed in court are resolved 85 to 90% of the time. Why?? Because if you go to trial, there is a 100% chance that somebody’s gonna lose. And that loser could be you. Resolutions were often like drinking a warm Pepsi on a hot day. Not perfect – but satisfactory. For both sides. Let’s make a deal.

Look at the photos of negotiations going on with Vladimir Putin (a criminal who should be at 26th & California). There is a table as long as a football field with participants sitting at opposite ends. And I think to myself – if that was me going in to negotiate with Putin, I’d drag my chair over and sit next to him. And put my coffee cup in the middle of the table. . . . .

I’m Goin’ to Trial

When I was in the Felony Trial Division at 26th and California, every day was “Let’s Make a Deal.” Each courtroom had about 400 felony cases on call – with perhaps 20 coming up each day for status or trial. There was no way we could handle trials on all these cases so we played let’s make a deal. A killing that took place in a bar fight might be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter if the guy plead guilty. But go to trial for murder? You’re looking at 14 on the bottom (and in a few cases after 1976 – the death penalty). Let’s make a deal.   Most everyone did.  

Isaac R. was charged with armed robbery. He walked into a rental car agency at Wabash and Lake in Chicago swinging a sawed-off shotgun along his right leg.   A car hiker – sitting in a chair leaning against the wall – saw Isaac walking towards the glass-walled office. And he called the police. Isaac entered, raised the gun and the 7 women who were behind the counter all raised their hands.

Police arrived on the scene almost immediately and could see the goings-on through the glass walls. Guns drawn. Aimed. A Channel 7 news truck was driving by, saw the activity, stopped and began filming. When Isaac walked out, he was immediately arrested — on air — and taken into custody.

When his case came up, we assumed Isaac would plead guilty (can we please make a deal?) but he wanted a jury trial. And he wanted to represent himself — pro se.  A lawyer was assigned to sit with him and help.  My partner Al and I put on 6 of the 7 women as witnesses.  Two were nuns from a local order and two were teachers with second jobs.  Al and I wanted to put the Channel 7 video on but the judge asked –  smiling – “why?”  So we didn’t.  The jury was out for an hour and 20 minutes.  The reason it took so long was — the jury had lunch.  And Isaac (who had 3 other felony indictments pending) went away for a long, long time.   I hope he’s still there. . . . .