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State attorneys, public defenders learn the ropes

first_img State attorneys, public defenders learn the ropes Associate EditorStanding at center stage, Jonathan Bull moves away from the podium and projects his voice. He pretends it is a courtroom and he is defending Peter Randall on charges of selling “eight balls” of cocaine to “Stick,” an informant wearing a wire. He has 15 minutes to work his defense attorney magic and get his client off. A video camera rolls.Walking over to a chalkboard where a prosecutor had earlier scrawled G-U-I-L-T-Y in block letters, Bull draws a fat chalky line through that incriminating word, and says, “It’s a little bit too early for this.”He grabs the state’s evidence of a wad of 10 $20-dollar bills police seized from his client’s pants pocket, reminding the jury his client’s fingerprint was only on one $20 bill on the outside of the money roll, consistent with his version of being handed the cash later.“Wouldn’t a drug dealer count his money?” Bull asks, suggesting if his client was guilty, his fingerprint would have been found on each of the bills.But there is no jury in this mock trial of State v. Randall, just a trio of seasoned lawyers ready to jump in with their verdict on Bull’s trial advocacy skills. After that, Bull will participate in a one-on-one session with another trial lawyer to go over the closing argument videotape for another wave of critiquing.It is all part of an intensive week-long Gerald T. Bennett Prosecutor/Public Defender Trial Training Program, created by the late law professor known for narrowing the gap between legal theory and law practice when he taught his trial practice and criminal clinic course at UF for 30 years.“Like a potter creating a priceless piece of art, Jerry would mold students into being litigators — knowing when to gently massage the students with his kind words of encouragement and when to light the fire of the kiln under the students so that they would become strong and determined,” J. Patrick Shannon wrote in a tribute to Bennett published in the Florida Law Review. Bennett’s hands-on teaching philosophy is in full force at the training week held on campus in Gainesville, a partnership between the University of Florida Levin College of Law and the Criminal Law Section of The Florida Bar, which Bennett once chaired.About 70 young assistant public defenders and assistant state attorneys from all over the state, from circuits large and small, came for a grueling week in August to work on trial skills. Most have between six months and two years of trial experience, so they already have some context to work to polish and refine their skills. In two mock trials, professional actors from Gainesville’s Hippodrome State Theatre played the defendants and witnesses, and real fingerprint technicians and forensic psychologists took the stand as expert witnesses. The faculty is an impressive array of experienced trial lawyers, prosecutors, professors, and judges.It’s now time for Bull to hear what the faculty has to say about his closing argument.“Looking at that word ‘guilty’ with a cross through it the whole time is a lot more effective than erasing it,” tosses out one of the critiquing faculty members, Paul Zacks, chief assistant state attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County and chair-elect of the Criminal Law Section.“But I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘bias of cops,’” Zacks adds, explaining a lot of people on the jury believe police are honest and do the right thing and that could be a turn-off.Melanie Hines, chair of the Criminal Law Section, leans over to whisper: “He’s getting advice from a prosecutor on how to be a better defense lawyer. Isn’t that great?”This training program is unique in that it brings prosecutors and defense attorneys together to learn from each other.“If you want to be a good prosecutor, you’ve got to know how the defense thinks. And if you want to be a good defense attorney, you have to know how the prosecutor thinks,” Zacks said. “You don’t get that anywhere else.”When it was Hines’ turn to offer Bull some tips, she smiles when delivering a compliment: “You have lost your negative mannerisms, like ‘uh’ and ‘um.’” Then she doles out constructive criticism: “But look right at the jury and slow down. You said at one point, ‘If you can’t figure out who to believe, that’s reasonable doubt.’ If you had paused and looked at us and said it again, that’s your case. Well done!”A short time later, Bull returns from his video-critiquing session, and he sums up what he has learned to take back to his job as an assistant public defender in the 18th Judicial Circuit in Melbourne:“You know what? It’s a riot. As soon as I watched the video, the first thing I thought to myself: ‘OK, I’m going on the Atkins Diet. I’m running every morning.’“I learned not to slouch. Two, I learned not to drape over the podium. Three, I learned not to say, ‘um.’ Basically, I got a couple of ideas as far as different angles of attacking the state’s case I didn’t think about before. I got new takes on strategy, new takes on how to present a case and how to cross.”So you’re a better trial lawyer than you were just a week ago?“God, I hope so!”Not that he was bumbling around before he came to this intensive learning experience, having done 15 jury trials, including one felony, and getting 13 acquittals in his young legal career of about one year of trial experience.Hines remembers when she took the Bennett program training in 1983, the fifth year it had been offered. At that time, she had only tried a couple of cases as an intern and had been doing appeals for two years, and now she was an assistant public defender in the Second Judicial Circuit with virtually no trial experience.“When I came here, I had just been assigned to county court (as an assistant public defender). The first couple of days I was here, I thought, ‘I ought not to be trying cases. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I thought, ‘I am better off doing appeals, doing research and writing. I’m not cut out for this.’ By the end of the week, I went away thinking, ‘OK, there’s some hope.’”Hines went on to become statewide prosecutor in 1991, with the attorney general’s office, and served in that position until this year.This was her first time back at the training as an instructor and she was impressed by what she calls “the crown jewel of all the activities of the Criminal Law Section.”“This program has been in existence since 1979. So if we had about 70 students each time, the program has trained roughly 1,750 assistant state attorneys and public defenders in this state,” Hines said. “That’s an amazing amount.”It’s a risk-free atmosphere, where no client’s freedom is really on the line, where no boss is going to come down hard if things go wrong.“Several have stood up and said, ‘Let me try something different. I don’t think I would ever do this in the courtroom, but let me try this.’ They did and got positive feedback, so they may in fact be trying that in the courtroom next month,” Hines says.Claire Luten, chair of the steering committee for the program, a former Sixth Circuit judge, assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, and private defense counsel, said the students learn there is no one right way to try a case, that there are different styles that may be equally effective.“Your style is as individual as you are. It’s so good for these kids to see that any number of styles work,” Luten says.The students learn what doesn’t work — with criticism packaged in kind words.“None of the instructors are the type who are ugly, vicious, mean, and nasty,” Luten says with a chuckle. “They may be in their real life, but they aren’t here right now. While we may tell you that you are doing something wrong, we are going to try to put it in the most constructive fashion.”At the Bailey Courtroom, 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert J. Simms is gentle and reassuring when he critiques Steve Fraser, an assistant public defender in Orlando’s Ninth Circuit.“Steve, you may be the first person to read your closing argument, but you did it OK,” Simms said. “We always say, ‘Don’t read.. . commit it to memory.’ I would try to get away from it. Jennifer will tell you she wants to take your notes away from you.”“Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!” interjects Jennifer Zedalis, director of the Trial Practice Program and legal skills professor at UF.“Steve, lose reading the jury instructions,” Zedalis says. “When you did get off to using real language, it was real good. That’s what I want you to dwell on.. . . I want you to reach out and grab the jury with the facts of the case.”During a break, Fraser, who has about a year of trial experience, said it has been day-in-day-out work, preparing before and after class for every stage of the mock trial.“I’m learning how I can improve my style, in delivering my message, communicating better with the jury.”When the seasoned lawyers told him to stop reading, Fraser admits, “It’s scary. But there are different styles in the courtroom. My style is a reader. I just have to improve my style as a reader.”The video session, though, revealed something he can do little about:“I see I’m getting bald in the back,” Fraser says with a laugh.“Terrified” is the word Zacks uses to describe how he felt during his first trial decades ago and he remembers the tendency for young lawyers to write down every word.“It’s a script, for fear you might forget something. What you learn, as you go along, is that actually is distracting, because you’re not getting any eye contact. You’re not listening to responses. If you have a witness on the stand, you are not listening if you are trying to read your next question. You might miss something big and important,” Zacks teaches.Kevin Cobbin, an assistant public defender from Jacksonville with only two months of trial experience, dramatically waved a frying pan around during his closing argument in an attempted murder case. He said the training has been invaluable.“You never get a chance to do a trial, and as soon as you sit down, get critiqued about it, hear what you did wrong, hear what you did right, and see it on tape. As soon as you’re done speaking, someone is telling you: ‘Here’s how to make it better.’ From that very minute. It’s all good criticism, from people who are the best in the business,” Cobbin said.The learning isn’t all one-sided.Lewis Buzzell III, a mentor/supervisor in county court with the Jacksonville public defender office, was once a student at the Bennett training and has been teaching here since 1986.“I often see my own sins mirrored in the students,” Buzzell says, sitting at a video terminal waiting for a student to arrive with her tape. “It’s a good refresher for me to come back here and see how different people handle different problems. Some of my own bad habits I see are in direct examination, asking a really convoluted question that makes no sense. Probably the most common one is resorting to a legal shorthand, when you start using these stilted words. ‘Did you have occasion to.. . ?’ ‘Did anything unusual happen?’ ‘Well, nothing much; I just shot the s— out of my husband.’ Things like that.“Or people who say ‘OK’ after someone answers a question, every time. Leaning on the podium. Waving things around in the air. Things people do when they are nervous and excited and they don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s hard work for everybody. In fact, the nearest analogy I can make to it, it’s like being in a long trial.”Long days turned into long nights for Shannon Gridley-Hetz, an assistant state attorney in Orlando who is still nursing her 10-month old daughter, Isabella. Her mom stayed with Isabella at the hotel during the day while Gridley-Hetz honed her trial skills.“It’s a great program. I learned so much,” said Gridley-Hetz, with 23 trials under her belt in two years as a prosecutor.“Toward the end of the program, I came across as clearer and more confident. So often we go to trial and none of our superiors are in the courtroom. Or sometimes, they won’t be as honest. This was a very humbling experience. You got more negative feedback than positive.”But that’s not to say the participants didn’t have fun.“One of the lawyers here said, ‘The first person to use the phrase ‘Kurdish rebels’ in their closing, I’ll buy them a beer,’” recalls Zacks. “One of the kids got up there and stuck it in the middle of his closing, right in context. It was hilarious!”While Zacks will go home exhausted, he said he also feels energized.“It’s a lot of work, but you really feel like you’ve done something. These young lawyers really grow. Even in the context of the week that we’ve been here, we have seen such remarkable strides from some of these young lawyers. Just remarkable!” State attorneys, public defenders learn the ropes September 1, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular Newslast_img read more

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Spurs boss reluctant to sell Pienaar

first_imgTottenham manager Harry Redknapp says he does not want Steven Pienaar to leave White Hart Lane.Pienaar is one of a number of midfielders QPR have considered as a possible signing following the news that Alejandro Faurlin is likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.But despite the South African being on the fringes of the Spurs side, Rangers have been told that Pienaar is not currently available.AdChoices广告Redknapp said: “I wouldn’t want him to go. I’d rather have players like that in the squad.”Follow West London Sport on TwitterFind us on Facebooklast_img read more

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