Now I’m Supposed To Be the Reasonable One?


Last Monday I went to federal court to help my friend (and fellow dinosaur) Norm pick a jury on a cocaine case. Before the jury panel was brought in, the judge handled some motions in limine. She became frustrated, first with the prosecutor and then with my friend because she thought that they should both have done more to prepare for trial. (Norm, like me, had spent a chunk of the last month in trial.)

I did my best to keep my head down and speak only when spoken to, but got dragged into a discussion about whether Norm should have done more to get a copy of the Government’s exhibit binder before trial. (Norm hadn’t been told that it was ready, and so he hadn’t sent someone to pick it up; her honor thought that he should have called to ask if it was ready; she asked me, and I told her candidly that, in every federal criminal case I had ever tried, the government had notified me that their exhibit binder was ready, and had often sent it over to me.)

After the hearing on the motions, the jury panel was brought in. Norm asked for a continuance because of some things that were left undone, and the judge granted it (conditioned on Norm paying $1400 to reimburse the court for the jury panel!). She reset the case until next Monday and, as we were all (Norm, his associate, me, and two prosecutors) packing up to go she said, “Mr. Bennett, you’re on this case now. I’m sorry if you’re not getting paid for it, but you made an appearance, and I want you to assist Norm.”

I tried a bank robbery case before this judge in 2001 (Norm’s brother sat second with me on that one) and, as I recall it, she threatened at some point to order me to do some sort of penance for something I said during closing argument (if I recall correctly, she took umbrage at my arguing, from the lack of any evidence that my client had ever even been in the town where the bank robbery occurred, that my client had never been in that town). In the end she didn’t, but I clearly recall that she thought I had gone overboard in my representation of my client. Since then I have appeared before her several times on cases that never went to trial, and I’m not certain that she remembers the zealousness of my trial advocacy.

But on Monday, when she ordered me onto the case and then softened the blow by saying, “I respect your opinion, and appreciate your input” or summat, what could I do but say “thank you, your honor,” and look at my calendar to figure out how to mollify my clients who will, for the third week in a month, not be getting my full attention because I’m in trial on something else?

So now I’m back into trial mode. Except that this time I’m supposed to be the adult supervision, the voice of reason, the chaperone.

The judge may be in for a surprise.

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