Ray Cassar of The Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar PLC has handled many high-profile criminal cases. He recently answered some of the most pressing questions for criminal defense attorneys.
How does Governor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order affect your practice?
The executive order is geared toward maintaining social distancing. Most criminal attorneys generally have a smaller office with fewer employees. The health and well-being of my staff is very important. Nonessential staff have been told to stay home; however, because my office handles many felony cases, we need to have someone taking calls—especially to deal with those clients that are currently incarcerated. Section 4(b) of the executive order seems to allow a designated employee to conduct minimum basic operations. That is most likely going to be the main attorney who runs the office or someone they designate in the office. It is clear that the office should only be handling basic functions. The governor’s order will affect the criminal defense attorney more significantly since most of us meet with clients and go to court on a daily basis. For the most part, that is not happening because the courts are closed. Unlike a civil firm, there is only so much we can do to work remotely.
Do you have cases proceeding to trial? How is that going?
There are very few trials that are currently scheduled. We have no juries since this would go against social distancing. The courts are currently trying to come up with a resolution for incarcerated defendants. But even those cases are difficult since the court does not want to order people to appear for jury duty.
What are your biggest concerns about the courts’ emergency measures in response to COVID-19?
The courts have all taken emergency measures. All misdemeanor cases except domestic violence and assaultive crimes are being adjourned. Most cases are being adjourned without scheduling new dates. This will eventually create some problems once all of the pending cases are rescheduled. I think the courts are handling this fairly well. Chief Justice McCormack has been doing a very good job trying to keep the courts and attorneys up to date with changes to court proceedings.
What advice do you have for other criminal defense attorneys navigating client services during this pandemic?
The best advice that I could give to my fellow attorneys is not to panic. We can and will get through this challenge! Check your email regularly. If you can, set up remote capabilities to access your computer. If you are working from home, get dressed and out of your pajamas. Your mindset is important. Microsoft and others have good programs that allow you to access your computer remotely. Forward your office phones to your home or cell phone. Your clients will have many questions and concerns. Try to respond to them quickly so that they do not start to panic. A brief email or call to a worried client will ensure that you have that client later on. Finally, sharing a kind word with other attorneys and coworkers will help ease the stress we are all feeling.