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A Jury Super Bowl Caution

On a Monday morning after the Super Bowl, it just feels like I need to start the blog with a coffee reference.

coffee pot


Last week, I had some comments on my Random Blog. Several asked why I was so random. My answer was that I just couldn’t help it!

For today, I will get right to the point; with the blog,  a legal topic and with it brief! (yep… see what I did there!)

On Thursday, the Aaron Hernandez murder trial commenced. On Friday as the second day was wrapping up, the Judge cautioned the jurors about discussing the trial over the weekend. (ABC News) Then she gave the jurors a stern warning, “I am not going to forbid you from watching this Super Bowl on Sunday, if that’s something really important to you”.

The judge continued, “But I am going to ask you to be especially vigilant. If you’re watching the game with friends or family or any third party, just have your antenna — just be really, really vigilant. You have to avoid anything that has anything to do with this case or Mr. Hernandez,” she said. “If you hear that word, you got to walk out of the room, distance yourself, immediately stop people, and if his name or this case is mentioned on the television screen or computer, just walk away.”

Former New England Patriots football player, Aaron Hernandez is accused of killing Odin Lloyd on June 17. 2012. With the New England Patriots playing this game during the middle of this trial, it would not be that unusual for something to be mentioned about the trial.

The Judge wanted to take every precaution to make sure that the jurors and alterantes (18 total) are not influenced by something that might be mentioned.  I’m sure that she does not want something to cause a mistrial because of the Super Bowl.

Just one final note on the Super Bowl. I admit it, it pains me that the Patriots won. This morning, I could not watch ESPN. Just couldn’t. As for Hernandez, I wonder if he was rooting for or against his old team.

And for pic o’ day:


The Kobe Lesson

The Sunday night NFL football game has the New England Patriots traveling to Indianapolis to play the Colts. It’s popular to pick the Patriots to win because people  (and I mean “people” as in ESPN  “every second Patriots Network”) say that Tom Brady with his three Super Bowl rings, is the golden boy and will lead the Patriots to victory.

If you are a Patriots fan, you recall the glory days of their three Super Bowl victories. You realize that they have won 5 straight games.

If you aren’t a Patriots fan, then you recall that they got caught cheating for all three of those Super Bowl win years; that the NFL destroyed the cheating tapes before the public could see how much they cheated, and that you notice that no one ever talks about the cheating or that the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl without cheating.

In fact, you also pick the Colts to win on Sunday night because, since 2009 Brady is 3-11 on the road against teams with a winning record. What do you think? Do I sound like a Patriots fan? It’s how you look at it.

I admit it, I just enjoyed writing those last paragraphs. But, I realize that this is not a football pick em column. Instead, I want to segue from the Patriot success/failure thinking to NBA basketball and Kobe Bryant .

This past week, Kobe Bryant just set the NBA record for most missed field goals (shots) in a career. He passed former Boston Celtic great John Havlicek.

Now, it’s real easy to focus on all those misses. Or, to focus on what it also might mean. To focus on the negative would be to think that he just shoots too much or that he sure did miss a lot.

If you are looking for the positive for Kobe, then it means that he is not afraid of failure. It also means that he has been able to play a long time. Just staying at it! And that his team has always counted on him to shoot. And you might also think that Kobe’s Los Angeles teams have won five NBA championships.

Have you ever heard someone say, “he is so lucky” or “I wish I could get those breaks”. Yes, it’s either thinking like that or thinking that life is a moveable feast.

And for pic o’ day, it’s real easy to feel like this by the end of the week!

I am done

Court Decorum and Tommy B.

     I had just started my first legal job. A clerk for a law firm. It was my second year of law school, which meant that I would probably be doing more busy work than legal work. It didn’t matter;  I couldn’t believe that I was working for a law firm.

     The senior partner of the firm summoned me to his office. I was excited for my first real  project.  He started out by telling me that he had just gotten a traffic ticket and he wanted me to go down to court “and handle it for him”. A bit of a lump appeared in my throat because I was not yet licensed to practice law and could not represent him. He said to just let the judge know that I was there, not as a lawyer, but just “to help him with his traffic ticket”, as his law clerk.

     I guess that was my “first case”. I showed up a bit nervous; Almost more so than if it was my own ticket.  This Court was there to specifically handle traffic violations. The court bailiff came out and announced “All rise, the Honorable Judge (whatever his name was) is now in session”. I felt like I was in the Big Show.

     When the Judge came out and sat on the bench, he looked back at a packed “standing room only” courtroom. Then, he laid eyes on a man that had come to court with curlers in his hair….. That’s right, they were pink curlers.

     The Judge called to the man, “Sir, what are you wearing in my courtroom?” The man looked confused and just stared back at the Judge. “Sir, what are you wearing in that head?” The man finally said, “Uh, what do you mean?” The Judge then went on to say, “I don’t allow that in my Courtroom. Go home, take those out of your hair and come back”.

     That was my first experience with Court Decorum. It goes to the topic of what is appropriate to wear in a courtroom.

     When I discuss what a client should wear in a courtroom, I usually want them to dress appropriately for them. What I mean is that I want them to be comfortable and look like they are taking court seriously. I don’t want them to feel like they have to wear a suit, or heels, if that’s something that they never wear. Of course, I don’t expect that I should have to say that they shouldn’t come in curlers or a shower cap.

    Many times, there are local rules that say something like “The dignity of the Court is to be respected and maintained at all times. Attire for counsel and spectators should be restrained and appropriate”.

    Initially, I thought I would come up with a” top ten” of things not to wear in Court. You know, like no zebra outfits and no hats with feathers. Then, I realized that maybe I should just post a video of what not to look like. So, at the bottom is a video of Tom Brady. He is dancing and his hair….. well, you’ll see. 

     I know, it’s a cheap shot at poor Tom. However, let me do it. It’s some revenge on the Patriots, as a Colts’ fan and he does show poor dancing and bad decorum! Maybe he would pass in Court but just not on “Dancing With The Stars”.

     One final note, I did “make an appearance for my law employer”. The judge laughed when I told him I was there as a law clerk and not really as a lawyer.  So, when I went back to the office, my boss asked, “How did it go?”.  I told him, “I have some good news and some bad news.” My boss looked up expectantly.”  The Judge agreed to dismiss your ticket, but he told me that he is requiring you to write a 200 word essay on “why I was speeding”.

     My boss started to say something that sounded like it was going to be my assignment. So, I added the next part of the Judge’s instruction.  I quickly said, “The Judge also added that I wasn’t allowed to do your essay”.  My first “not really client”. A win with a deferred finding of a book report assignment.

Opinion and Evidence

If you're a football fan, you probably have now seen the repercussion heard around the world, as a result of the decision of a Coach from New England. Bill Belichick, unaffectionately known by those not NE Patriot fans, as "Coach Cheat" or "Bill Billicheat", for his infamous videos and improper taping of opposing team signals a few years back, that was deemed to be breaking NFL rules. Anyway, he made a controversial decision, in the Patriots/Colts game, last night. Since I am a Colts fan, I can't get enough of it.

It was the Coach's decision to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards for a first, instead of punting away. His decision was to try to end the game with a first down instead of giving the ball back to Peyton Manning and the Colts, somewhere about 70 yards down the field. If you're not a football fan, give me a chance to tie this to the law. I promise, it's coming in a couple of paragraphs!  

The Patriots didn't get the first down. The Colts got the ball back and marched 28 yards for a game winning 35-34 touchdown. As a result, every sportswriter with any pen or keypad access, immediately expressed an opinion.(Here are just a few). All these were opinions. The evidence was a loss for the Patriots.

Wikipedia tells us that an opinion is a belief that cannot be proved with evidence. That's all relevant to  with what happens in a jury trial. Many times, I will tell the jury that, in considering the evidence, they don't have to leave their common sense at the front door. However, I also remind them of the "Lady Justice" figurine that hangs or sits in many courtrooms. In front of her is the scales of justice and she holds those, while wearing a blindfold. It's a reminder that justice is blind.

Last night's football game was lost on an opinion. Prior evidence of probability and outcome were thrown out the window. Because it still involved a game of football, it wasn't quite as serious as the Courtroom, where jurors are asked to take an oath to listen to the evidence and to apply the law. Bias and prejudice are to have no place in the evidence. Instead, each juror is to be like "Lady Justice" in weighing the evidence.

In these difficult times, it would be understandable for a juror to say that they can't consider the pain of a person in a car crash. Perhaps, as a juror, they have sat all day in a hard chair and, in fact, they have also had prior back issues. In some instances, some jurors have suffered more than those bringing the claims. Many times, the case is before the jury because someone has not accepted responsibility, or more practically, an insurance company has offered little money for the resolution of the claim.

In the state of Virginia, a civil jury is 7 people. In South Carolina, a civil jury is 12. In our hormone therapy trials in Pennsylvania, the jury is usually 12, as well. In Virginia and South Carolina, the verdict must be unanimous. In Pennsylvania, only 10 out of 12 have to agree.

The end to this blog is that opinion has no place, really, in deciding a case. That's not to say that someone can't apply their opinion to the credibility of the evidence. However, a juror takes an oath to put that opinion aside and look at the evidence through the looking glass of the law. One jury instruction specifically spells out that sympathy has no place in a verdict. The comfort in the application of the law is that my client can simply ask for accountability and what the law requires to be paid. 

I sure enjoyed that Colts' win last night. Of course, I have no sympathy for Coach Belichick's choice to go for it. Now, his team is held accountable with a loss and those are the rules. I also ask the jury to hold the defendant accountable according to the rules. Good jurors are able to put their opinions aside, even when they may disagree with the law of that case, and apply the law, according to their oath as a juror.  

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