Saturday, September 4, 2010

Not Guilty

This week, I made my way through a stressful trial. The landmines I operated around had less to do with the facts of the case and more to do with the hostility of the Assistant State's Attorney handling the case. She shouted "object" like she had turrets syndrome and lacked self-control. For two straight days of trial, she screamed and glared at me. She objected during my opening statement, during both my cross-examination and my direct-examination of the witnesses, and during my closing argument. She remained ever vigilant, ever wrong as the judge constantly overruled her loud, attention-seeking objections.

At one point during my closing, I uttered the words: "David Markham and Avery Posey," when I heard her battle cry again: "objection." Honestly, she objected to me saying their names. I had said nothing but their names. When I got to the bench, she hooted out speculations about where I might be going with those names, the names of the two people who the police had arrested, informing the judge that he needed to set ground rules. The judge also felt browbeat, I think, and let her ramble for a while.

At one point, the judge said that he felt like we should all try to relax for a moment, take a breath, and try to make things less emotional. His efforts to calm her down failed.

She was abrasive. I was told by other people in the courtroom that she seemed so violently angry, that they felt like her head was about to pop off - geyser-style. Jerry, one of the other public defenders in my office, asked her the next day for her health insurance card. He told her that he was expecting a blood vessel to burst the way she was shouting in her closing argument. He said that she certainly wasn't going to be conscious to hand the information over to the ambulance people after her blood vessel popped, so she should at the very least give us an emergency contact.

For me, she made the trial difficult, because she constantly interrupted my flow. I felt bombarded by her visible hostility and disadvantaged by the difficulty of presenting a cohesive argument in the face of constant interruptions. She stressed me out, but, fortunately, was unable to make me lose my train of thought. Her barking complaints added to the pressure of the moment. I already was representing an individual in a trial in which his future relied on my ability to show flaws in the government's case or explain our defense to the charges against him. This ASA's attempts to bludgeon me with complaints lacked success. She personally attacked me in her closing argument with screams of "Ms. Righter" as she asserted that I was attempting to trick people and misstated what I'd said previously. Interrupting and abusing an opponent is not a fair strategy. Ridiculing him or her and distorting his or her words is wrong. I felt emotionally drained. I wish I could attach an audio clip so that you could listen to the venom in her tone and recognize that I'm not exaggerating.

The jury's verdict: NOT GUILTY. Maybe her ill-temper backfired on her. At least the jury understood that just because she spoke the loudest, didn't mean that she made sense.

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