David Feige

David Feige

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 8 1997 3:30 AM

David Feige

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       It is a rainy day in Harlem, and I am in the office for the first time in five days. Because the office is uptown on 125th Street and the court is downtown on Centre Street, I wind up dividing my time between court days and office days. I come to work in jeans and a floppy sweater hoping to write some motions and return some phone calls. Unfortunately, my team is on intake today; any case that walks in or calls in goes to one of the eight people on my team.
       The morning goes by smoothly. I get a long letter from a client on Rikers who needs to get into a drug program in order to avoid going to prison. I put in a call to the assistant district attorney on the case. He explains that while he is in favor of having the guy get into the drug program, he is only allowed to consent to a placement made through his office. Unfortunately, the budget for the placement coordinator in his office may have been cut, which means that placement--and treatment--may no longer be possible. I tell him my social workers can place the guy in exactly the same programs as the ones approved by his office. He tells me he won't consent. I call the placement coordinator of his program and leave another message. She hasn't returned my previous four calls.
       It is still pouring so I run across the street to Mity Fine for some home cooking. Back at my office, I am just polishing off lunch when the phone rings. The woman calling is distraught; her brother and son were just arrested on a shooting. I find out where they are being held and call the precinct. It is a murder case. The assigned detective is Jones. I get him on the phone and invoke my client's rights (I'm representing the brother). I tell him that K. is represented and to cease any questioning and inform me if there are going to be any identification procedures. The DT knows the drill. While I'm still on the phone with him, my phone goes crazy--five calls in less than two minutes. Two of the calls are from relatives of other people arrested in connection with the murder. I explain that we will not be able to take their cases since we already represent one of the defendants but that I will invoke rights on their behalf. I do. I arrange to have my client's family come down to the office immediately.
       Ten minutes later I am in the van headed for the 24th precinct. Detective Jones is pleasant and professional. He shows me to my client, who is in the squad-room cell, and he gives us some space. I don't talk about the case--plenty of time for that later in more private quarters. Instead, I calm him down and explain central booking, arraignment, bail, and other facts of life in the criminal-justice system. I do the same with the other two, but I don't discuss anything about the case itself lest I be removed for a conflict of interest. One kid is in the small room next to the cell--he seems to have been heavily questioned by the detectives. He is shaken and confused. I try to calm him down, too, though I can't let him talk about the case either. The third guy is downstairs in the main cell--a smelly, charred, filthy cage without benches that you'd expect to find in a Burmese prison camp, not Upper Manhattan. Third guy has been shot, and his bandage shows signs of being bled through. He is in a lot of pain, and I assure him I'll try to get everybody downtown fast.
       It is 5:00 already and I call from the pay phone outside the precinct and relay everything back to the office. David, my team leader, is already sitting down with the families to explain what they can expect. I head back to the office.
       After a quick case conference, Sylvia--my investigator--and I head out to the scene. We ask people hanging around if they heard about the shooting, and get some good information. Near the spot where we are told the murder victim, a teen-ager, died, we find a small shrine. It is made of votive candles and flowers arranged beneath a small picture of a kid who looks no older than 15. A baseball hat and other small personal items are there too, along with some graffiti. It's not really legible--the dead kid's street name or tag appears to have been something like Sky.
       Weeping near the shrine is an eyewitness. We have a brief conversation. We'll have to speak again at length. There is also a self-styled minister who seems to have a good relationship with the residents. I give him my card and ask him to call me tomorrow. He points out the dead kid's family walking up the block toward the shrine. Though I'd like to talk to them, I decide that now is not the best time.
       It is nearing 7:30 and I am getting cold. Sylvia drops me off at home. I manage 10 minutes of quiet time before the pager goes off. NDS has a lawyer on call 24 hours a day, and today is my day. The first call is a live one--a first-degree rape. The arrest was less than two hours ago. I start the whole procedure again. This time the detectives are from the sex-crimes unit, and less pleasant. I invoke rights with them and arrange to have them page me if a lineup is going to occur. I talk to some colleagues about the investigation in the murder case and start dinner. It is nearing 9:00.
       10:10 p.m. My pager just went off. They are going to do a lineup on the rape case. I gotta go up to the Two-Eight.
       11:50 p.m. Just rumbled home from the precinct in a gypsy cab. My kid was picked in a bad lineup. The detectives did a good job of keeping me away from the fillers, I think because they suspected that this was not the world's fairest lineup. To compensate for the fact that my client had huge bushy hair while most of the other fillers had shaved heads, they put silly hairpieces over everyone's head, which hid nothing. My kid was five years younger, six inches shorter, and 30 pounds lighter than the closest filler.
       I spoke to the family across the street from the precinct, got contact numbers, and told them I would call in plenty of time for them to be present at his arraignment. I like my client's mother. She is sweet and feisty.
       12:30 a.m. A narcotics case comes in. I invoke and get some information from the sergeant at the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit. It is not worth a precinct run.
       It is 1:00 a.m. and I need to sleep.

David Feige is a criminal-defense lawyer at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, where he represents indigent defendants in serious felony cases.