Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story" About Death Threats and Tests of Courage

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[The following fictionalized account is merely an illustration which is based upon a true story.  For instance, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty!]

You will never forget your first kiss, your first bike, or your first puppy.  Well, trust me, you will never forget your first death threat, either!  Let me tell you about my first one. 

I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor in another part of the state when I received my first death threat.  A fellow Assistant D.A. and I had begun an investigation of a top cop in one of the counties in that judicial circuit.  Simply put, we thought he was a crooked cop being paid off by drug dealers. And we were determined to prove it.  The problem was that he knew we were trying to prove it. 

My challenge was that, on a daily basis, I still had to interact with this alleged crooked cop.  We'll call him Bubba.  As the assigned prosecutor, I still had to handle all the criminal cases which Bubba's office had investigated.

Then, it happened.  One day, after court, Bubba asked me to stop by his office.  He invited me into a back office, offered a chair, and closed the door behind me.  At first, we made small talk -- about the weather and about the Georgia Bulldogs.  I felt extremely awkward and simply wanted to go.

Finally, I could tell Bubba was getting around to the point.  He prefaced his comments by reminding me about a recent death threat made against a popular local judge.  In short, a local narcotics officer had been tipped off by a snitch that a drug dealer had targeted the judge for a hit.  The story had fired up the local newspapers.  For several weeks, the death threat had been the hot topic at the local diners.

But Bubba had a different take on the story -- and a different message.  As he began his remarks, he looked straight at me -- no, it was more like straight through me.  I will never forget his icy glare.  Bubba first pointed out that he didn't put any stock in the death threat supposedly made against the judge.

Then, he added, "Rick, you don't have to worry about the death threats you hear about.  It's the threats you don't hear about that kill you.  If I ever want to kill somebody, I won't warn them about it.  I'll just get me a high powered rifle and blow their f_ _ _ing head off!"  That was it!  Understandably, I really don't remember any of our conversation after that!  But I got the point!  And I got out of there as soon as I could, while struggling to maintain my composure!

I learned a number of lessons from this stressful experience.  For instance, I learned that you can be courageous even while afraid.  I won't lie.  I was afraid.  I believed Bubba.  And after that day, I went on to endure other threats and harassment.  But the point is that I didn't back down from continuing the crooked cop investigation.  We never caught Bubba.  For me, Bubba will always be the big fish in my career that got away!  But I never quit doing what I thought was right.  I learned that the true test of courage lies in whether or not you persevere in spite of your fear.

I also learned, thanks to Bubba, that, generally, the most serious threats are the ones you never hear about.

Finally, I learned that, like your first kiss, your first bike, or your first puppy, you will never forget your first death threat, either!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A "Joke of the Day" About Lawyers!

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After some serious posts, maybe it is time for......A "Joke of the Day" about lawyers!  The following joke was told to one of my sons last week by his law professor!

Question:  What do you have with 100 lawyers buried up to their necks in sand?

Answer:  Not enough sand!

I hope your weekend is going great and that you are not up to your neck in sand!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What Do You Do When You Are Arrested? Shut Up, Lawyer Up, And Remember That Jail House Walls Have Ears!

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What would you do if you, or a family member, were arrested?  Here is my perspective.  For over 30 years, I have both prosecuted, as a former federal and state prosecutor, and defended, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, in both state and federal courts.  As a result, over the years, I have picked up a thing or two about how our criminal justice system really works. 

Trust me, getting arrested and dealing with jails and judges isn't all pretty! Hopefully, no one reading this blog will ever be arrested.  But have you ever considered exactly what you should do if the metal bracelets are ever placed on your wrists?  Here are just a few practical tips for you to consider:

1. SHUT UP AND LAWYER UP!  The first important tip for you to consider is the fact that, when you are arrested, under our Constitution, you have the right to remain silent and the right to consult with a criminal lawyer.  The point here is that, generally, you should consider exercising these important rights by shutting up and lawyering up!

2.  DON'T TALK WITH ANYONE IN JAIL:  Another tip for you to consider is the fact that jails are filled with rats and snitches!  In other words, you should avoid talking with any other inmates about your own criminal case!

3.  REMEMBER THAT JAIL HOUSE WALLS HAVE EARS:  Finally, you should assume, or consider as fact, that jailers often monitor everything that goes on in their facilities.  For instance, you should be aware that, generally, jail house telephone calls are monitored and recorded.  As a criminal defense attorney, I have even actually experienced a case in which the government improperly listened to a tape recording of a telephone conversation between a lawyer and a client!  So, the bottom line is:  Remember that jail house walls have ears and that you should watch what you say on the telephone! 

Again, I hope you never go to jail!  But have you ever considered what you would do if you were arrested?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story" About My Investigation of Corruption in a South Georgia Prison Work Camp

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One of my proudest career accomplishments happened early in my career when I was a young Assistant D.A. in south Georgia.  It involved my investigation of fraud and corruption at one of the county prison camps, or "work farms."  The abuses--including thefts by guards and prisoner abuse--are too numerous to list here. 

For instance, prisoners told me about witnessing guards loading meat from the work camp kitchen into their car trunks.  Also, although money was budgeted for recreational items, there wasn't a single ball of any kind anywhere in the camp!  Where did all the money go?  Another abuse involved the camp's deplorable solitary confinement cell, which was called "the hole."  It was literally a hole dug into the ground, into which rain water, snakes and rats would venture and keep company with the unlucky prisoner confined there. 

What could I do?  Look, I was a tough young prosecutor.  I was no "bleeding heart!"  But, in my heart, I knew that the horrendous prison conditions and crimes were unconstitutional and flat wrong! 

Although I was just out of law school, and new on the job at the D.A.'s Office, I knew I must do something.  But I also soon learned that the local politicians were part of the problem and would not help.  Therefore, I decided that the best disinfectant would be to focus the news media spotlight and public scrutiny on the prison problems. 

So, with help from a cooperative criminal defense lawyer friend, we essentially utilized a preliminary hearing about a prisoner's escape case to expose the work camp abuses to the news media and public.  Over the course of several days, we produced witness after witness who testified about all the fraud and corruption at the work camp!  The lawyer for the local sheriff and county commissioners tried to intervene and stop the hearing.  But the magistrate judge, who seemed to enjoy the media attention, sustained my objection that the county's attorney had no standing to object!  The hearing continued until the public airing was complete.  The news media also helped with headline after headline about the prison problems.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending!  After this public exposure, the politicians could no longer hide! The politicians scurried like roaches under an overturned woodpile!  Several county commissioners finally got behind an effort to clean up the work camp.  A number of prison employees either retired or were fired.  Several more were prosecuted by me for theft.  The prison kitchen now had meat to serve!  Also "the hole" was eliminated!

So, now, I hope you can see why this investigation of public corruption is one of my proudest early career accomplishments! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story:" Strange Things I Have Seen in Georgia Courtrooms!

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Sometimes, as a former state and federal prosecutor, (and presently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I think I have "seen it all" in courtrooms around the State of Georgia!  Here is just a small sample:

1. I once tried a criminal case against a lawyer who wore a pea green leisure suit and gray hush puppies during the trial!

2. I once tried a criminal case in a Georgia courtroom which had brass spittoons strategically located around it!

3. I once tried a case against a lawyer who actually put those courtroom spittoons to good use during the trial!
What unusual things have you seen where you work?!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Criminal Justice Careers and Former Students

As you may know, we are the Goolsby Law Firm, LLC, Augusta, Georgia father and son criminal defense lawyers (and divorce attorneys).  Previously, I was also a federal prosecutor for over 20 years.  As an AUSA, I primarily prosecuted white collar crime and public corruption.  But there is also another aspect to my career as a criminal lawyer of which I am also very proud!  For many years, I have also taught criminal justice courses, part-time, at two local universities, (Brenau University and Augusta State).  I sometimes view my teaching gig as a "hobby that pays!"

I also derive a number of other benefits from teaching.  For instance, teaching as an adjunct college professor requires me to keep up with the latest criminal laws and policing trends.  Also, teaching, part-time, offers me an opportunity to engage in some lively discussions with bright college students about an array of issues related to criminal justice. 

Finally, I also enjoy teaching because I get to meet and interact with former students, following their graduation, as they enter the "real world" of ciminal justice, as attorneys, probation officers, juvenile court case workers, and law enforcement officers.  I cannot describe the pride I feel when I meet and work with my former criminal justice students!  Teaching is an occupation which keeps on giving!