I am leaving Jlongtin Law
For the last five years, I have been an associate at JLongtin Law. I have seen the firm grow, and shrink, and grow again. I have been a part of the changes that took us from being a general service criminal defense firm, to a firm with a dedicated practice focused on helping those with mental health issues who have been entrapped by our criminal justice system. There have been new websites, new laws, and new staff. However, in five years, I can tell you that the one thing that has not changed is the firm’s commitment to doing good, hard work.
When I began this work, five years ago, mental health was a known issue, but just starting to be the focus of criminal justice reform. Since then, Colorado has tackled mental health in new ways, both good and bad. The Colorado Supreme Court has rolled back mental health defenses, creating more narrow exceptions and higher risks for people who may be seeking to introduce their mental health into issue at a trial. However, the courts, and the legislature, have also taken substantial steps forward on issues of competency and treatment before trial, requiring both more understanding from courts and better services from the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Nevertheless, at the same time, the treatment of cases by the prosecutors of Colorado has not changed much at all. While some district attorney’s remain sensitive to the issues that mental health can lead to in a person's life, these are the same prosecutors who would have done so a decade ago. Many remain intentionally ignorant of the issue. I have had district attorney’s tell me that mental illness is nothing more than an excuse for people to do drugs and alcohol. Others have argued against reducing bail for a suicidal client, and then asked to introduce evidence of that clients in custody suicide attempt as evidence of a guilty conscious at trial. After these conversations, these in court slights, I would have to walk with my client and try to explain why what we had said meant too little.
Then the phone calls come. A client with the rope in their hand calling to say goodbye. The family of a client calling to say he had been found in rural Colorado, the gun still in his hand. The client and friend who checked himself out of the hospital and showed up at our office because he didn’t want to die alone.
We work hard for our clients, but sometimes, that isn’t enough, and honestly, that is when things get harder. There is a lot of trauma that our clients have been through, and are going through, and we take so much of that on. It is good work; necessary work. But after five years, I realized my ability to do that work with the zeal you need, was waning. I was – am – emotionally exhausted and don’t have the energy I need to be the advocate I expect myself to be. So, after five years, I am walking away. It’s not because I don’t love my clients, or this work. It is because I love them enough to walk away before I become jaded because this work requires good, hard work to do it right.