For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 21

they are told to do so. " I turned my head slightly toward
Attorney Johnson in disbelief. We kept walking up to
the bench. The staffer became louder and louder. " I am
talking to you, do not come up here. Go sit over there,
that's where defendants sit. Can't you see the other
defendants sitting over there? " All along, the staffer
motioned in the direction of the defendants. We largely
ignored the court staffer and kept walking up to the
bench. The courtroom was packed to capacity. Everyone
in the courtroom seemed stunned. The staffer continued
unabated. Then the staff person turned in the direction
of the sheriff deputy as if he should intercept me.
We walked up to the bench and, as I have always done,
I politely asked the court reporter to enter my colleague's
appearance. In the process, the same staff person
roared again, " there is already an attorney Charles
Sunwabe on the case. " My response was instantaneous,
" Ma'am it is pronounced Sun-wa-be and I am Attorney
Sunwabe. I am not a criminal defendant. " My tone was
appropriately polite, considering the circumstances.
Before long, the staffer walked away from the bench. As
we left the courtroom, the staffer walked quickly passed
me and went to the bathroom. No apology. I reflected
on my own behavior and found nothing to apologize
for myself.
Attorney Johnson and I returned in the afternoon
and I conducted the preliminary hearing. I left the
courtroom that afternoon feeling despondent, dejected,
and excoriated. While driving home, I asked myself if
the entire legal career was worth the continued and
unrelenting humiliation. That evening, I placed a phone
call to Attorney Johnson, wondering if I had behaved
in any way, shape, or form that would have elicited
the response. As it turned out, Attorney Johnson was
also struggling to process our encounter. The next
morning, I called Attorney Schuchardt and told him I was
considering putting my law license in an inactive status.
We talked through the situation for about an hour
nonstop. The conversation concluded with Attorney
Schuchardt reminding me that " I was changing minds
in Western Pennsylvania. " He went on to tell me a story
about Gandhi as a lawyer in Apartheid South Africa.
After the latest episode, I employed a new strategy.
I began to exclusively focus my practice on family law.
This strategy seemed good to me because I have had
significant experience before the Family Division in
Allegheny County. I knew the judges and they had
gotten to know me. As far as criminal cases went,
involving preliminary hearings, I took fewer cases. This
continued until the summer of 2015 when my wife, a
physician, took a job at a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania.
We arrived in Erie County in July of 2015. Soon, I found
myself before the local President Judge in a juvenile
trial. The Honorable Judge was kind, welcoming, and
pleasant. He assured me that I was welcome and that he

was happy to have me in the county. A few days later, I
filed my first motion in a criminal case in the county. I
took a copy of my motion to the judge's chamber. His staff
was polite and seemed genuinely interested in getting to
know me. We talked briefly, I left and walked towards
the elevator. Just before I pushed the button, one of the
judge's staff members called my name. I turned around
and staff person said the " judge wants to talk to you. "
I panicked for a minute. My Beaver County experience
flashed before my eyes. I quickly reached in my pocket
to make sure that I had my driver's license and, most
importantly, my law license. I was good on both fronts.
Like the President Judge, this judge was remarkably
pleasant and, like his staff, he wanted me to feel
welcomed. We concluded our conversation with the
judge saying, " if you ever need anything, come and see
us. " I thanked the judge and his staff. That day, I left
the courthouse feeling excited! But my excitement was
short-lived.
In the fall of 2015, I made my first appearance before the
court on a Protection From Abuse matter. The courtroom
was packed. I looked around and could identify a few
attorneys that I knew. My client was an African American
man from Erie. He had lots of misgivings about the
court system and he was adamant that he did not trust
anyone in that courtroom. I assured him that he would
be treated fairly. His response was that I was naïve and
did not know Erie. As I had always done, I defended
the court, the judges, and assured him that we would
be treated fairly and based on the evidence presented
before the court.
On the day of the hearing, we arrived and waited
for the judge to take his seat on the bench. Our case
was the third case called. Once the case was called, I
approached the bench and announced myself: " may
it please the court, Charles Sunwabe for the Plaintiff. "
What happened next was out of this world. The judge
roared from the bench, " Charles Sun what? I need to
see your law license. " His voice was not pleasant. It
had the trappings of 'you are not welcome, how dare
you came to my courtroom' I was left in a temporary
state of paralysis, but I had to gain my composure and
comply with the judge's order. I turned to my left and
right almost wanting a fellow attorney in the courtroom
to say something to the judge. I desperately needed
an attorney to say " I know Attorney Sunwabe. " When
nobody did, I approached the judge and handed him my
driver's license along with my law license. All I heard in
response was, " I do not need your driver's license. " At this
point, I heard a voice calmly saying, " your Honor, I know
Attorney Sunwabe. I have covered his cases before the
Honorable Cunningham. " That voice was from a court
reporter-the only person in the courtroom who found
the courage to say something to the judge. One attorney
demonstrated his disappointment with a grimace. I went
on to present my case and we prevailed.

Vol. 5, Issue 4 l For The Defense

21



For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 8
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 9
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 10
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 11
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 12
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 13
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 14
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 15
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 16
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 17
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 18
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 19
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 20
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 21
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 22
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 23
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 24
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 25
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 26
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 27
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 28
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 29
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 30
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 31
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 32
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 33
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 34
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 35
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 36
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 37
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 38
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 39
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 40
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 41
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 42
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 43
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 44
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 45
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 46
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 47
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 48
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 49
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 50
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 51
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 52
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