Sunday, January 15, 2006

Verdict-A Prequel

The first case I tried to a jury was a resounding loss.

I was a prosecutor in a large Western state, where hunting was, with fishing, almost the official state religion. I had been in the prosecutor's office about a week when my boss threw a file on my desk one Monday evening.

"Good luck," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"You're trying your first case tomorrow morning. Good luck. You'll need it. I might come over and watch." He suppressed a snicker as he walked out the door.

That evening I poured over the file, prepared questions for jury selection and my witnesses, and tried very hard to act stoic with my fellow prosecutors--many of whom were friends, drinking buddies, and/or fellow hockey players--when they came in to see my trial preparations were going. Around midnight, I went home, and ended up sleeping about 2-3 hours.

The next day I pretended to be a trial lawyer. The day was more or less a blur. I recall distinctly that the case involved a glorified poaching violation and the defendant was fairly sympathetic. I very distinctly recall that as I stood to ask questions of the potential jurors, my voice cracked, my palms were sweaty, and my considerable pride took a beating. I was so rattled by the process that I waived my right to kick any of the potential jurors off the panel with peremptory challenges. The jury thus ended up being six hunting, fishing, gun-toting men who had no interest in convicting some poor schlep for a poaching violation. I could have kicked three of them off the panel, but I was afraid.

The jury was "out" for five minutes. Not guilty. Not just no, but hell no.

I walked back to the office 0-1 as a prosecutor and resolved not to let that happen again--not "losing" again, that is part of the drill if you go to trial--but not to let fear interfere with my being a lawyer.

I went home, shut the shades of my apartment, laid on my bed, and thought for several hours about failure.

[The first part of this series can be found here].