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It started like so many cases that come through the D.C. Superior Court. On a Saturday morning earlier this month, a homeless man appeared before a judge for an arraignment on charges of unlawful entry, bail violation, and failure to appear for a status hearing.

The defendant, Alfred Postell, appeared confused. When the court clerk informed him of his right to remain silent, he responded, “I’m a lawyer,” according to the court transcript, to which the clerk replied, “Okay.” A minute later came the following exchange:

THE DEPUTY CLERK: Okay, I need a Gerstein for the—both matters, unlawful entry and the Bail Reform Act.


THE DEPUTY CLERK: I didn’t say drug. I said unlawful entry.

MR. POSTELL: I’m a lawyer.



A court employee, who was not authorized to speak on the record and asked to remain anonymous, says in an email that while Postell was clearly not in a perfect mental state, something about him seemed different from other homeless defendants with mental illnesses:

Although this man is in serious mental decline, I noticed that there was something unusual about him. The tone of his voice is unlike our other intakes in that he is oddly professorial. Postell’s answers are somewhat scrambled: to a question he might respond with something completely irrelevant:  “The food truck that came to the Law Firm had sandwiches, twinkies, hard boiled eggs, tuna fish. This was at 8th and M.” or the like. Even so, he has an especially articulate delivery.

The mystery was soon explained. As the judge, Thomas Motley, weighed whether Postell posed a flight risk and should be held in jail, Postell again cut in, claiming that he used to practice law before the Superior Court. He added that he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979.

Motley surprised the courtroom with his response. “Mr. Postell, so did I,” he said. “I remember you.”

The judge paused, then added, “But I have no choice in the matter.”

The case remains open.

Image via Harvard Law School