As a criminal defense lawyer, I spend a lot of time with prosecutors. Without a doubt, they see the world differently than I do. They say “guilty,” I say “not guilty.” They focus on the illegality, selfishness, and, sometimes, brutality of a person’s conduct while I highlight the potential for redemption. We are just wired differently.
While our meetings don’t usually roll into drinks and dinner at the end of the day, our encounters are more cordial and professional than abrasive and harsh. We may not always agree or enjoy the results of our discussions, but we usually treat each other with respect. Others handle these relationships differently, but that’s my approach.
For years, I faced a local prosecutor with a big, engaging, funny personality. She was loud, sometimes profane, and often self-deprecating. By the time I knew her, she was an incredibly effective lawyer, and we has some pretty contentious courtroom battles.
I thought about her recently as I read the newspaper. So much seems to be spiraling out of control these days, whether caused by political, social, or medical strife. Everyone has an opinion, usually firm and assured ones, and we hear commentary from all angles.
I remember a story the prosecutor told about a case she tried early in her career. In those days, cases were lined up for trial during a term of court. When one case ended, another started. She was young, new, and relatively inexperienced when she was assigned a case against a pro se litigant. That’s right, she had to prosecute a man who served as his own lawyer. Not only did the man act as he own lawyer, he won his own case.
The prosecutor explained that she could hear the chuckles of the defense lawyers in the room. The gallery enjoyed the comeuppance of the young, brash prosecutor.
As she turned to walk from the courtroom, near tears, an older, more experience lawyer with a big reputation stopped her. “You have nothing to be ashamed of” he said. “You presented the evidence fairly.“ He told her how impressed he was with her skills and expected her to do well.
Most important, he assured her that it took no courage to sit, watch, and criticize.
Now, I am not one to encourage prosecutors. Their immense power is too often abused.
But, the old lawyer’s point seems relevant today. Whatever we think or however we feel about the decisions that are affecting our everyday lives during these difficult times, we really can’t afford to sit things out.
Most of us can’t cure the health crisis, bring kids back to school safely, or solve the rising economic problems. But, we can do our part.
People continue to face astronomical odds against the power of the state and federal governments. And, we will continue to use our training, experience, and resources to confront that power everyday.
We represent people accused of criminal offenses and professional misconduct who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best possible results and back to leading productive lives.
Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.
P.S. I once asked the old lawyer if he regretted encouraging the prosecutor. He did not remember the discussion, but said the prosecutor would not have backed down anyway.