The Making of a Litigator

Fifty-five minutes.  That’s the amount of time that I spent on “jury duty” (excluding the fact that I had to get up early, drive downtown and find parking—which as it turns out, is not an issue IF you get there early).

I did have to go through the metal detector and (of course) I ‘dinged’ and so I had to then get wanded.  My laptop and purse went through the x-ray, but there wasn’t a line or even a crowd like I’m used to at the district or criminal court houses I’ve frequented before.  AND, I didn’t have to take off my shoes.   So that’s a plus.

There were 26 of us called and by show time, 24 were present and accounted for.  When I got there and signed in, I noticed that I was “Juror #24.”  At that moment, I knew I was off the hook.  The fact that I am nearly a law school grad, currently work for the DA in Tarrant County, and previously worked for the City of Austin was irrelevant.  Why?  This was a municipal trial requiring only a six person jury.  I was three rows back and knew even if both sides used all their peremptory challenges and there were a handful of additional legitimate challenges for cause, I was way too far back.  So I quickly lost interest. And, sure enough, we were released after a short voir dire.

About all I gleaned from the voir dire on the case was that it was for a speeding ticket and the cop showed up.  A lot of times the Defendants will play the odds that the cop won’t show up and then they can win by default.  Not this time.  As there were no other witnesses, it was he said/she said.  Also, Defendant was appearing pro se and the City was represented by counsel.

During my summer with the City we previously visited Muni court and watched other prosecutors handle speeding cases.  From that experience I know that the APD doesn’t use those old-fashioned radar guns that send out doppler waves to determine the speed of an object.  Instead they use a laser radar gun.  This allows the cop to point the laser at the exact license plate of the car they are trying to clock.  There is no “Maybe it wasn’t MY car speeding.”  Nope…these guns are calibrated before and after every shift so the officer knows they are in working order and they hit the intended target with pin point accuracy.  Although the judge said we could sit and watch the trial after we were dismissed from the panel, I pretty much knew how that was going down.

On one hand I thought of all the time, effort and money spent on a jury trial for this one little ‘ol speeding ticket, but then again, the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed in the United States Constitution and obviously the Founding Fathers thought it important enough to ensure that we Americans would always have this right.  So, more power to Ms. Defendant for making the state meet its burden and exercising her Constitutional right to a jury of her peers.   Besides, how else are new lawyers supposed to get trial experience?

Speaking of, my weeks at the DA’s office are swiftly coming to a close.  After this week, I have two more to go.  I met with the Deputy DA, Jack Strickland this week and we discussed what all I’d been doing since the last meeting and what else I had yet to do.  I asked about getting into a trial, or two, before leaving.  He suggested I try the Misdemeanor section if I really want to get into the courtroom.  So I emailed the division chief, Richard Alpert to see about making that happen.  Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, I continue to absorb as much as I can every day I’m there.  I have tremendous respect for the Tarrant County DA’s Office and all the attorneys who have shared their time and expertise with us over the course of the semester.  I am now a firm believer that law schools need to provide more clinic opportunities to their students.  Getting in, rolling up your sleeves and working a case is way more valuable than reading about it. Doing the work alongside a great attorney-mentor is even better and this has been my experience in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic.

My only regret is that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with one of my supervising attorneys, Christy Jack.   I spent that memorable day back in January when we had that bizarre death penalty voir dire and a few other hours here and there, but I have the distinct feeling that I missed out on a lot by not having her around.   My immediate opinion of her was that she is smart, articulate, and funny.  I soon learned that she is also a courtroom rockstar.  She’s been back almost two weeks from her marathon death penalty trial in Johnson County and the office dynamic is completely different.  There’s no doubt that she’s one of those people to whom others are drawn—a natural leader.

I did one assignment for her on that Johnson County case:  preparing a notebook of testimony offered by the Defense’s expert witness in other cases.   She asked me to go through the testimony and mark when the state made a “point” in the cross.  At first the assignment didn’t make complete sense to me and I asked questions which she patiently answered.  As I started reading the transcripts I saw what she was doing.  She was reviewing past cases and looking at what lines of cross examination worked and didn’t work on this witness.  She was de-constructing his testimony to construct her own cross.  It was brilliant; lots of work, but brilliant.  THAT is how you prepare a case.  I have no doubt she knew that witness inside and out by show time.   Seeing an established attorney put in this level of work on a case does wonders to inspire the others around to work just as hard.  I know I wanted my notebook to be flawless for her and she came back later and said that it had been very helpful.  Knowing that  your boss is putting in as many or more hours than you builds loyalty and support unlike anything else. It’s teaching by modeling.

I would love to learn to be a trial lawyer from Christy.   And if those defendants knew what they were up against, they’d take the offered pleas.  Seriously.   I know I sound like I’m just in awe of her, and well, I guess I am.  Being a DA is hard enough without adding law students to the mix and carving out the time and patience to explain with particularity what’s going on and what we can do to help.  I hope that I can take all of what I’ve learned this semester from this opportunity and make a positive contribution wherever I go.  Clearly, I have been working with the Dream Team.

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About LegalTrenches

I graduated law school in May 2012 and have been blogging about my experience as a non-traditional student since my 2L year. I live over 200 miles from my law school and so I commuted two round trips a week from the beginning. I put almost 1000 miles a week on my car. Law school is crazy. It's even crazier as a non-traditional commuter student, but I wouldn't have had it any other way! I blogged my way through bar prep and sat for the July 2012 Texas Bar exam. Hopefully some of my experiences will help out those taking the bar exam after me. On Nov. 1, 2012, I received my bar results and became an officially licensed Texas lawyer! Follow me as I transition into the legal world as a brand new baby lawyer. I'll try to keep it light and promise to keep it real.

Posted on April 12, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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