A Class Act

"When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before."
    — Darrell K. Royal

Too few lawyers heed  Royal's admonition. Every dismissal becomes an excuse for a victory dance. They post to their blogs, tweet on twitter, have their buddies laud them on the listserves. Does it help get them business? Maybe so. But to their peers, it looks like they've never been there before.

There are wins worth bragging about. Hell, most wins are worth bragging about. The odds against us are steep, and when we get the neck of the accused out from under the boot of the state, that's a great thing. People should know about it, right? Sure, but at issue isn't the value of the win, but the character of the winner.

Acting like you've been there before shows style and grace.

There's this guy, Jeff Gamso. Jeff is a criminal-defense lawyer in Ohio, a former English professor. He's got this blog, Gamso—For The Defense. He writes well and passionately about criminal justice matters and the death penalty.

So when a regular reader sent me this story, about the Ohio Supreme Court tossing out (on separation-of-powers grounds) part of that state's sex-offender-registration statute that reclassified 26,000 sex offenders to more serious categories, I went to Jeff's blog to see what he had written about the win.

Nothing. Not a word. In July 2009 he mentioned in passing that he was "back from several days at a death penalty defense seminar and the preparation of a major brief on Ohio's sex offender law," but he hadn't patted himself on the back once.

Most lawyers will never get a statute held unconstitutional. If I ever do, you can bet I will let you know it. But Jeff shows us how a consummate pro does it. How it should be done.

Attaboy, Jeff. For the win, and for acting like you've been there before.

5 responses to “A Class Act”

  1. Damn, and I ended up mentioning it in a post I just put up.
    Not for me. For Ohio.

    So here’s the rest of the story. It was a major group effort. My name was on it, but every bit as much credit goes to Stephen Hardwick, Jay Macke, Jill Beeler, Brook Burns, and Tim Young (and I know I’m omitting a couple) from the Office of the Ohio Public Defender; to John Martin and Cullen Sweeney from the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s office, to Margie Slagle and David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, and to all amici and amicus counsel, especially the folks from the law firm of Jones Day who wrote a terrific amicus and held a valuable moot court.

    Couldn’t have done it without them.

    • Those of you who click over to the article will observe that Jeff’s mention of himself is limited to this aside: “(disclosure, I was counsel and did the oral argument in the first of that morning’s cases, State v. Bodyke).” He’s not kidding when he says, “not for me.”

      The “class act” ruling stands.

  2. I’d like to thank Mr. Gamso for what he managed to accomplish on behalf of all of the RSO’s out there who stand little chance at employment due to being reclassified as a violent offender when the Superior Court judge ruled them non-violent. The chances for finding employment, when people are afraid that you’ll attack the receptionist, are nil.

    There is no excuse for my offense. None. But, I hoped, that after telling the truth and doing my time, that I would have a shot at re-integration to society upon my release. The State of Virginia reclassifying me several years after my release had me in some dark Hell of despair. Thankfully, I have friends and family that have supported me. Otherwise, I would have been back in prison for being homeless or on the run. Now, I see the hope for some light at the end of the tunnel. So do 9,000 other offenders, in Virginia alone.

    Thank you again, Ric

  3. Way to go, Jeff. You done good, great good.

    My ears were burning a bit from this post, as I’ve recently posted to my blog about successes I’ve had in jury trials, although I had something more to say about the cases than just the fact that I won. In my case, it’s admittedly more difficult to act as if I’ve been there before because I haven’t. I’ve tried a total of 3 criminal cases before a jury. The first was the worst, the conviction of an innocent man followed by a scandalous aggravated sentence of 45 years. (You might rightly wonder what business I had trying a Class A felony as my first jury trial, although I did enlist the help of experienced co-counsel.) I’ve mentioned this loss in comments on various blogs and on my own blog, along with acknowledgment that I was ineffective at this man’s trial (though it’s hard to say whether my ineffectiveness was a greater contributory factor to this unjust conviction than unethical conduct by the prosecutors and multiple erroneous evidentiary rulings by the judge and the 100% white jury). You can bet I could barely contain myself when the court of appeals reversed this conviction, ruling that the trial court should have granted the pre-trial motion to dismiss by reason of collateral estoppel I filed on my client’s behalf. Was my desire to shout this from the rooftops all about me and my own vindication? I suppose it was in part, in that a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders in the realization that I wouldn’t have to live with the knowledge for the next 20+ years that a man was serving a prison sentence he might not be serving if I hadn’t been ineffective at his trial (so long as the supreme court doesn’t overturn the court of appeals’ reversal). But I think it was more about happiness for my client. It’s kind of two sides of the same coin, isn’t it, when an attorney is genuinely invested in the fate of those he represents?

    And yes, I also mentioned on my blog my two subsequent criminal jury trials, which both resulted in acquittals for my clients. As I said, I’d never been there before. It would have been unnatural not to say anything.

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