The Legal Advocate

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This month, NITA’s faculty will be talking about motions. Last week we heard from the Honorable Christina Habas. She gave us the advice on how to Offer Alternatives to the Court. Next, we heard from NITA faculty Andrew Schepard, the Max Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Law for Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Professor Schepard discussed five guidelines for answering hard questions at oral argument on motions. Up now is Judge McGahey with with three simple rules to follow when filing motions. And still to come later this month are other NITA faculty and their best practices when filing motions in NITA’s April content series.

Since I’m a trial court judge, my focus in these blog posts will be on motions practice from that perspective.  This post is about three simple rules that I outline at the beginning of my presentations on motions practice. These rules apply to both the written motions that you file and (if you’re lucky enough to get it) any oral argument on those motions.

Rule Number 1: The Ball Should Always Move Forward.  I’ve never understood why so many lawyers want to spend so much time complaining about all the awful things their opponent has done in this case. Please don’t spend time whining about how mistreated you’ve been! Unless the issue involves very specific (and very egregious) conduct, complaining about it doesn’t help me make a decision. And it really doesn’t help me if the fight is about what one lawyer has done to another lawyer.  This case is about your client; it’s not (as we were told as adolescents) about you.  Tell me what I me what I need to fix and why; take your ego out of this, please.

Rule Number 2: Know Your Audience.  I’ll be expanding on this in future posts, but here I’ll just remind you to have some idea who the judge is on your case.  What’s her reputation for dealing with the kind of motion you’re filing? Does he more often rule on the pleadings or does he allow oral argument?  If she or he allows argument, what’s likely to help you get that if you need it? How quickly can you expect a ruling?  Will it be written or oral? Are you asking for something well-supported by case law or are you trying to make new law?  Make sure you understand what the judge’s docket is like: crowded? mixed criminal and civil, or civil and domestic, or…..? If you practice in a jurisdiction where one judge handle the motions and another handles the trial, how does that affect you?

Rule Number 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.  This flows out of Rule Number 2, and is particularly aimed at younger lawyers.  Motions practice is frequently one of the ways we cut our lawyer teeth, both in the stuff we write and when we get to stand up in court and talk.  There’s nothing wrong with asking someone with more experience for their advice.  Certainly a partner who gave you an assignment is likely to have distinct ideas on what should happen; my partner and mentor, the late Bill DeMoulin, always told us: “The only dumb question you can ask is the question you ask too late.” But remember you can get help from other folks, too.  Ask your legal assistant if what you’ve written makes sense, if it sounds snarky, if it comes off as high-handed. If your significant other or friends will tolerate it, practice your delivery with them.  Those close to you know you better than anyone else and are more likely to catch distracting gestures or unpersuasive language. Once again, don’t let your ego overcome your common sense. As Jerry Facher (played by Robert Duvall) said in A Civil Action: “Now the single greatest liability a lawyer can have is pride. Pride… Pride has lost more cases than lousy evidence, idiot witnesses and a hanging judge all put together. There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.”

I’ll see you in court…….

Coming Home: Philadelphia Man Claims Innocence and Released after 40 Years in Prison

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According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer Daily News written on September 2nd, Tyrone Jones is released after spending 40 years in prison. he maintains his innocence in a crime he was arrested for at the age of 16. According to staff writer Samantha Melamed, Jones is the first Philadelphian released under a 2012 Supreme Court ruling against mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

NITA faculty member and attorney Hayes Hunt, is Jones’ attorney and expressed in the article that Jones maintained his innocence through the parole process and said many policymakers believed it was an impossible hurdle that they would never overcome. Hunt, who is an attorney at the law firm Cozen O’Connor which, with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, provided Jones with pro bono representation since 2009.

NITA would like to extend a congratulations to Hunt on this outstanding accomplishment as Jones is now able to reunite with his family after 40 years. To read the rest of Melamed’s article, please click here.

Welcome NITA’s NextGen Class of 2017

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NITA is thrilled to announce NITA’s Class of 2017 Next Generation (NextGen) faculty: Solomon Chang, of the San Diego Office of the Primary Public Defender; Allison Rocker, of the Denver District Attorney’s Office and the Rose Andom Center; and Moe Spencer of the Spencer Palace Law Office.

Our congratulations go out to Solomon, Allison, and Moe. We welcome you to the NITA family and look forward to hearing about your adventures as you travel from coast to coast in support of programs, mentor attendees through the rigors of NITA training become lifelong friends with your fellow faculty members.

Get a preview of Moe as an instructor in his webcast on killer opening statements. It airs this Thursday, January 19. Register now.

Solomon Chang
Solomon is an experienced trial attorney for the San Diego Office of the Public Defender. His practice focuses solely on representing individuals charged with the most serious criminal offenses. He has tried over forty cases to verdict, including homicide and child sexual assault cases.

Solomon’s unique skillset as a gifted advocate first became apparent while attending California Western School of Law. In his first year, he became the first student to win two separate advocacy competitions. In his second year, his trial team won first place in the American Association for Justice’s Student Trial Advocacy Competition. In his third year, Solomon worked abroad in Santiago, Chile, assisting in trial skills training for Chilean public defenders. At the time, Chile had just begun transitioning toward an adversarial criminal justice system modeled after the United States.

After graduation, the school brought Solomon on as an adjunct professor to teach Trial Advocacy. He also began coaching competitive mock trial teams. His students have consistently won regional and national competitions.

Solomon’s passion for advocacy and teaching soon caught the eyes of his supervisors at the Public Defender’s office. He now assists with training and development for new attorney hires. In 2015, Solomon attended NITA Teacher Training in New York and was subsequently asked to teach at the NITA Pacific Regional Trial Skills Program in San Diego. His natural ability to assist students in honing their trial skills while using the NITA method ultimately led him to his nomination as one of this year’s NextGen rising stars.

Solomon received his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005.

Allison Rocker
Allison Rocker was sharing a meal with a Bedouin tribe in a crowded grass and mud hut on the outskirts of a Moroccan desert when she decided that she wanted to be a prosecutor.

With over a decade of experience in motions and trial practice, Allison thrives as a public speaker and mentor. Her passion is ending violence against women and children, as well as the fair treatment of all those involved in the criminal justice system.

A Colorado native, Allison grew up skiing, hiking, and wanting to be outdoors as much as possible. Her undergraduate career started at the University of Oregon but, after eight months of solid rain, she decided to transfer to CU–Boulder. A combination of life experiences as well as advice she received from a mentor while attending the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law generated a growing interest in the criminal field.

The majority of her career has been focused on crimes against women and children. She is currently a Senior Deputy at the Denver District Attorney’s Office and the Domestic Violence Prosecution Specialist at the Rose Andom Center—a collaborative center that houses both community organizations and government agencies that work together to end domestic violence. She has taught different aspects of trial practice to law enforcement, lawyers, interns, and advocates from around the state and outside of Colorado.

Prior to trial, she usually practices her opening and closing arguments in front of her dog, Kalla, who tends to provide very little in the way of feedback.

Moe Spencer
Merwin Moe Spencer is the principal attorney of Spencer Palace Law Office in Everett, Washington. Moe was brought up in the West Indies on the island of Trinidad and Tobago before moving to Texas as a child. During college, Moe went abroad for two years and lived in Cannes, France, where he studied art and languages before moving on to studying public policy at Oxford University in England. Moe earned his B.A. from Rice University in 1997, and began work as a high-tech programmer and software trainer for startups.

Moe attended the University of Oregon School of Law in Eugene from 2002 to 2005. He was president of the Black Law Student Association and a member of both the Street Law Club and the Criminal Defense Clinic. While in law school, Moe worked as a public defender in Lane County and at Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland as a summer associate, where he worked on class actions suits, toxic torts, mediations, business litigation and arbitrations, and trial work. He later clerked for the Honorable Chief Presiding Judge Ancer L. Haggerty of the U.S. Federal District Court of Oregon in Portland, preparing summary judgments motions and writing opinions for the judge on Title VII discrimination, Social Security benefits, and personal jurisdiction issues. He received his J.D. in 2005.

After law school, Moe was the Assistant to the Secretary of State of Oregon, Bill Bradbury before becoming the State Director of Government and Legal Relations for the American Cancer Society (ACS), where he lobbied and helped pass bills in the Oregon legislature in Salem on cancer issues for two years. Moe then went back into law practicing as a criminal defense, family, and trial attorney in eastern Washington for the Davidson Law Firm in Pasco.
Moe trained with Gerry Spence in Wyoming at his Trial Lawyer’s College in 2007 and attended National Criminal Defense College at Mercer Law School in Macon, Georgia, in 2012.

Now having his own firm, Moe has completed over forty trials to verdict in both federal and state courts and now focuses on representing marijuana growers and processors, as well as speaking nationally at colleges and universities and writing on Washington State’s marijuana laws and social justice issues (including medicinal versus recreational use, state versus federal, edibles and oils packaging, child protection and juvenile marijuana issues).

Moe takes on select cases dealing with civil rights, protest law, criminal law, murder cases, sex cases, defending termination of parental rights, juvenile and restorative justice law, expungement of past criminal records, marijuana law, and contracts and LFOs (legal financial obligation of court fees) write-offs. Moe is represented by Kirkland Production for his speaking engagements.

Gary S. Gildin named dean of Dickinson Law

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NITA would like to congratulate Gary S. Gildin on the appointment as dean of Dickinson Law by the Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Gildin is not only a professor of law, but he is also an author to multiple NITA publications including Stucky v. Conlee and Trial Advocacy Basics, Second Edition. Gildin has also taught at NITA’s ACLU public service program for many years. To read The Sentinel’s article on Gildin and his many accomplishments at Penn State, please click here.

2016 Industry Icon Awards

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The 2016 Industry Icon Awards on November 16th in Philadelphia will showcase an elite group of honorees including NITA’s very own, Joanne Epps. Not only has Epps been a NITA faculty member for over 50 programs, but she is first and foremost the Provost & Executive Vice President of Temple University Beasley School of Law. NITA would like to congratulate Epps on this high achievement as an inductee in this year’s Business Hall of Fame Winners. For more information preceding the event please click here and read The Philadelphia Inquirer’s article on all event details.

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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