Tuesday, September 21, 2021

In praise of trial lawyers

By Michael Caruso

Unlike David, I'm not a naturally gifted trial lawyer. Any skill I've managed to acquire over the years is from watching and learning from my colleagues at the Federal Defender's office.  When I started, lawyers like Hector, Mary, Miguel, Joaquin, Manny, Omar, and Ken were my role models for how to try a case. And my current colleagues continue to inspire me with their grit, creativity, and ability. 

One cross-examination I saw when I was a young lawyer stands out in my memory. An assistant federal defender—Richard—was trying a case that lawyers sometimes call a "slow plea." A challenging case. 

As usual, the arresting agent wrote a report of his investigation. On direct, however, he testified to seemingly critical facts that were not in his report. When he had a chance to ask questions, Richard pressed him on these "new" facts. The agent, when confronted, responded that he had an exceptional memory and powers of recall. 

Richard reached the end of his questions. Despite his best efforts, the agent inflicted damage and Richard looked beaten. Gathering his notes, Richard turned to walk back to the table where his client sat. But, before he sat down, he returned to the lectern. 

He looked at the agent and asked: "What were the first three questions I asked you?" Richard let the "uh...." hang just long enough in the air before he sat down and said, "No further questions."

Richard's work left a lasting impression on me. His tenacity, inventiveness, and courage are all traits I've tried to emulate. 

This trial happened a very long time ago, and my memory may be faulty as to all of the circumstances. I would've double-checked with the transcript, but the jury found Richard's client not guilty, and no transcript was ordered.



Rumpole said...

Very very big gamble. But apparently well executed.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, Captain Obvious

Rumpole said...

What I love about DOM's blog is not only that my fans read this blog, but the high level of intelligent discussion and critique.

anonymous said...

Nice story. Is it true?

Michael Caruso said...


the trialmaster said...

The best trial lawyers come from the state courts.(DOM is an exception). Only because they have more trial experience than there federal Pds and Ausa's. It is not unusual in the old days to give one case to a jury to deliberate and pick another jury while the first jury was out. And a young lawyer just out of law school did not have to toll in JV or misdemeanor courts very long and could start trying murder and other serious cases within a year or less.

Anonymous said...

Having seen AFPDs and AUSAs who never practiced in state court, I will object to your blanket categorization. DOM is an excellent trial lawyer but not "the exception." I will say, however, that Richard was a former state PD who, I've heard, once tried 50 cases in a year.