The Legal Advocate

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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Diversity in the Courtroom Part 4 – An Interview with Judge Harrell Part 2

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We are happy to bring you Part 2 in the interview series with Judge Alfred Harrell. If you missed Part 1 you can view it here: An Interview with Judge Harrell Part 1.

For February’s interview portion of our series on Diversity in the Courtroom, we had the privileged of welcoming Honorable Judge Alfred Harrell into studio71. Judge Harrell has been a cornerstone of the legal community in the Denver metropolitan area for the last 40 years. He is a sitting judge for the Denver County Court, and has held this appointment since 1985. Judge Harrell also comes from a family rich in Colorado legal history. 

 


To read more of the posts on the Diversity in the Courtroom series see:

 

We invite you to comment below with any thoughts or experiences you have regarding Diversity in the Courtroom.

Fifty Shades of Advocacy

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I admit it. I was hoping I would draw you in with the title of this post. I toyed with how I could tie the popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey, into an article on advocacy. The more I considered it the more I recognized there probably was nothing I could truly connect. Then I realized the connection was the error that many lawyers make when stretching to put a theme to their case.

So much of the current literature on trials talks about telling a story. The literature is right. Trials should tell your client’s story, explain the wrong that was done, and suggest how to make things right. That is not always easy.

Cases where there is real human suffering offer vehicles that pull on sympathies and offer obvious means to ease the pain. But not every case provides facts that make for these well-crafted case stories. Putting the sizzle into a dispute between two large corporations that will keep the attention of a jury may take creativity. Turning thousands of exhibits into must-read story details can challenge anyone faced with these types of cases.

This post will not attempt to teach you how to create an engaging case story. There are books that do a far better job in far more space than we can devote in this short piece. For those who have not studied any of these texts, I recommend you review one or two of your own selected choices.

What I do hope to impart is the avoidance of shortcuts that employ another’s story, parable, or allegory.  Why? Why shouldn’t someone take a popular story and adapt it to their client’s case? Perhaps the most simplistic answer is because every case is unique and your client’s story deserves to stand on its own. More importantly, the facts of your case do tell a story and should show how your client has been injured. Even if the client is a huge corporation there are individuals involved who can humanize the events and turn paper damages into real injury.  By sharing actual facts in a story the jury can relate to common experiences. An actual story humanizes your client and builds your credibility.

Perhaps the most important reason to not rely upon the ideas of others is that your opponent is most likely as clever as you. The story you bend to fit your case can also be turned on you. There is almost nothing worse than having your words turned back on yourself. Telling the true story of what happened to your client is the most direct way of preventing words being turned around.

When it comes to trials – tell your own story.

 


We invite you to comment below with your thoughts on this post.

Vivid Word Pictures

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Please comment below and let us know how you’ve used vivid word pictures in your practice.

Probably the Finest Pure Trial Movie Ever Made

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Photo Courtesy of IMDB

Photo Courtesy of IMDB

Professor Michael Asimow of UCLA Law School said that about the subject of this month’s review, Anatomy of a Murder. I might disagree a bit (I can make a strong argument for My Cousin Vinny), but I think any trial lawyer  who’s seen Anatomy of a Murder will put it right near the top of their list; it was Number 4 on the ABA’s list of 25 Greatest Legal Movies.  The reasons for that are many.

First of all, there’s the story.  Set in a small town in Northern Michigan,  it centers on an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) who’s accused of killing a tavern owner who allegedly raped the lieutenant’s seductive wife (the ever-fabulous Lee Remick.) The lieutenant is defended by the recently-ousted district attorney, played by Jimmy Stewart in one of his best ever performances.  The defense attorney, assisted by his older, hard-drinking lawyer buddy (Arthur O’Connell) comes up with a defense based on an old—and  real—Michigan precedent: “irresistible impulse.”

Interesting enough as it goes, but unlike much of what is claimed in the movies and on TV, Anatomy of a Murder actually is “based on a true story.”   The basis for the movie was a book of the same title, written by Justice John D. Voelker of the Michigan Supreme Court under a pseudonym. (The book is well worth reading, too.) The book, in turn, was based on an actual murder case where Justice Voelker acted as the defense lawyer.  The film was shot on location in the town where the actual murder happened – including in the tavern where the real killing took place.  A number of the jurors who sat on the real trial are members of the jury in the film.

The film is masterful in showing how lawyers put together a case and present it in court.  But it also contains some of the most close-to-the-line ethical issues ever put in a movie – especially the scene where Stewart and Gazzara discuss what defenses may be available.  When Mark Caldwell and I show that scene at programs, it’s almost always a 50/50 split between participants who see it as “ethical” versus “unethical.”

In addition to having some excellent examples of what goes on in a courtroom, the movie was ahead of it’s time for its forthright discussions of sexual assault.  Made in 1959, it caused some aggravation for what was seen (for the time) as “graphic” language, such as reference to a “sexual climax” and the use of the word “panties,” which the trial judge actually has to gently admonish the jury about.

A word about the trial judge.  He was portrayed by Joseph N. Welch, counsel for the Army in the Army-McCarthy hearings in the ‘50s.  He was a lawyer to be admired, the one who took on Joe McCarthy with the famous statement: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch makes a great judge here, but lawyers should revere him for his courage in real life, too.

Anatomy of a Murder was highly regarded in its time, and its stature has grown over the years. It was nominated for Best Picture, Stewart was nominated for Best Actor, and both O’Connell and George C. Scott were nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Scott plays a prosecutor from the state AG’s office with such oily fervor that you feel a little tainted just watching him.  But he gets what’s coming to him by asking a question on cross-examination that he doesn’t know the answer to.). There were other nominations for writing, editing, and cinematography.  Duke Ellington wrote the score and appears in a minor role.

I could go on.  But I’ll stop so you can go watch Anatomy of a Murder for yourself. Enjoy!

 


We invite you to comment below with your thoughts on Anatomy of a Murder or with your requests for a movie you’d like to have Judge McGahey review.

Diversity in the Courtroom Part 3 – An Interview with Judge Alfred Harrell Part 1

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For February’s interview portion of our series on Diversity in the Courtroom, we had the privileged of welcoming Honorable Judge Alfred Harrell into studio71. Judge Harrell has been a cornerstone of the legal community in the Denver metropolitan area for the last 40 years. He is a sitting judge for the Denver County Court, and has held this appointment since 1985. Judge Harrell also comes from a family rich in Colorado legal history. We hope that you enjoy Part 1 of this interview, and will check back next week for the Part 2 and conclusion of the interview with Judge Harrell.

 


To read more of the posts on the Diversity in the Courtroom series see:

 

We invite you to comment below with any thoughts or experiences you have regarding Diversity in the Courtroom.

NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system. NITA's Goals are to:
  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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