Sunday, May 27, 2018

Grace in the Strangest Place

One of the facts of life when you work as a criminal defense lawyer is that you are going to, quite often, be the object of anger from a large part of the general public and, especially, the family and friends of crime victims. Indeed, the title of this haphazard blog comes from a question, more an accusation really, that has been posed to me a few times. It comes with the turf, and you have to learn early to tune it out. I actually go further and embrace the feeling that everyone in that courtroom, at the very least, wants me to fail and often actively wishes harm upon me. It motivates me, to be candid. There is a not-insignificant part of me that, in some regard, relishes being hated. But that's a far deeper dive than I will impose on you right now. I have been threatened (both overtly and more discreetly), cursed, damned (lots of times) and glared at on a regular basis over the last twenty-plus years of working in the area of murder and mayhem. To be fair, if there's a Hell, the people who have urged that I go there and those who have advised that that is where I am destined to reside are likely correct, although I would disagree with their reasons. All of that was turned on it's head this past Friday afternoon in a way that I was not expecting.

I finished a fairly lengthy trial on Friday afternoon. My client was charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder arising out of two incidents roughly forty-eight hours apart. The case had attracted a fair amount of notoriety in part because a quadruple murder trial is pretty rare, but more because one of those killed was a young woman who had been a contestant on the reality TV show "America's Next Top Model".

My client's co-defendant had actually gone to trial and lost last year on these charges, and I had watched most of that trial. In almost all murder trials, one of the first witnesses will be a family member who identifies the decedent. It is often emotionally charged. At the trial last year, when the Assistant District Attorney was questioning this young woman's mother, she recounted how they had come to the U.S. in the 90's when the girl was an infant, fleeing the hideous war and genocide that was wracking that country and the surrounding areas of the former Yugoslavia. I am of Croatian descent and have Bosnian friends who fled to the U.S. under the same circumstances, so I was far more interested in this testimony than I would normally be. When the ADA asked the woman what her daughter's job was, she pointedly answered that she was a cashier at an eating establishment. No mention of a modeling career. When asked how long she had  been living where the incident took place (she was residing with her new boyfriend who, not coincidentally to the case, was a heroin dealer with lots of cash) the mother again made the point that her daughter had moved there from their home two weeks prior and over the objections to and without the permission of her parents (the young woman was 19 at the time).

Flash forward to our trial. The mother again testifies, still obviously torn up a the loss of her daughter three years ago. Again, she refuses to mention anything about modeling, again makes it clear that her daughter worked a job as a cashier, again makes it clear that her daughter moved over her objections and concerns. As the trial played out, she was there for every moment of the two weeks, often with tears in her eyes. And I never saw a glare towards me or my client. Not in the courtroom, not in the hallways. Even during the two long days of jury deliberations, when it was clear the jury was struggling in their decision. After over eight hours over two days, the jury came back at 4:00 p.m Friday with a verdict.  They acquitted my client in the incident involving one murder and one attempted murder, but convicted him of the three murders in the second incident, the one involving the woman's daughter. None of the family chose to speak at sentencing.

After court was adjourned, I took my time packing up my files and exhibits. I always shake hands with the prosecutors and thank the deputies, clerk, and court reporter. I spoke for a few moments with my client's family about issues like appeal and where and how he would make his way through the prison system. They thanked me and left. Eventually, I made my way out into the hallway and over toward the elevators and took a few minutes to check my messages and emails. When I looked up, the young woman's mother was walking up to me. She put out her hand, and I shook it. In heavily-accented and somewhat halting English, she told me that she understood what my job was and that she bore me no anger. There were tears in her eyes. I told her I was truly sorry for what had happened to her daughter and we found that (unsurprisingly, as the Bosnian community in Charlotte is fairly tight-knit) she knows the Bosnian friends I have. And I told her that I understood what she and her family had faced, and that they thought coming to America would save them from that horror, and how that must make all of this even harder. And she cried a little more and said "yes", and shook my hand again. And thanked me. And that's when I realized I had tears in my eyes too. I've been doing this a long time. That's the single most gracious encounter I've ever experienced. I cannot imagine having the strength to do it myself. I'll never forget it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Everything Matters

I finished a trial mid-morning on Friday. If your first question is, "Did I win?", the answer is, as always in criminal defense, dependent on your definition of "win". My client was not acquitted. He was sentenced to a rather lengthy term in prison. But I convinced the jury to find him guilty of a lesser charge, and I convinced the judge to impose the least amount of time possible. So, a win? Certainly not. But a loss? Not entirely. However, the result of the trial and the sometimes shifting definition of win and loss in criminal court is not the topic today. Rather, I want to talk about a lesson I've learned several times over the years, but which needs relearning (at least for me) again and again. The lesson, and therefore the title of this post, is that in trial (as with most things) everything matters.

After the trial was over, I spoke to several members of the jury. I don't always do that. Speaking with juries can sometimes be a frustrating and near-infuriating experience. But a good portion of the time, I learn some things in the dialogue. Such was the case this time. A couple of the jurors told me they were initially puzzled as the evidence started to come in. Why was there even a trial? The State had surveillance video, credible witness testimony, a lineup identification, and admissions by my client to police. But they told me they could tell I was taking the matter seriously, and not just phoning it in. One of the jurors said it was clear from my questioning that I was leading somewhere, even if they didn't see it at first. Another juror said the way I dressed, the way I spoke, even the way I buttoned my jacket whenever I stood told her that she should pay attention to what I said. The defense theory of the case was not that nothing happened, or even that it wasn't my guy. Rather, I was arguing that the client had not committed the crime charged. That the State was overcharging and overreaching, and that justice and the rule of law required them to not simply accept the charge in front of them. This is not usually a popular argument, but you have to work with what you have. As I said, it worked, at least to a degree. I had hoped to convince them of an even lesser charge but the judge had not permitted that charge to be considered. Once again, however, the point is that it was the little things that got me results, even down to dressing and conducting myself professionally. It wasn't that my arguments were so dazzling as to to be irresistible but more that attention to detail caused them to listen in the first place.

I've learned this lesson many times over the years, but it's easily forgotten. The ego becomes enamored of one's own perceived brilliance, and it becomes easy to convince yourself that all you need is for the jury to hear your scintillating arguments and all will be well.  But that arrogance can come through to a jury, and they simply won't listen to you, no matter how brilliant the argument. In some regards it's a humbling lesson. But it's also empowering. Taking care of detail got a result that simple argument may well not have. So, no matter how difficult or daunting the situation, focus on doing the little things right. Enough of the little things will often add up. Win? Maybe not. But not a loss. And that's something.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Long Overdue Thanks

A couple weeks ago, in my last post, I wrote about the two men who taught me about being a lawyer and their divergent fates. Subsequent to that post, I started seeing a prompt on Twitter about thanking someone, not a family member, who opened a door for you when they didn't have to. When I thought about it, there was only one answer for me to that prompt...the person without whom I'd probably be stuck being a lawyer who hated his job, wondering why he even became a lawyer. That person is Jean Lawson.

At some level, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer from back as far as 7th or 8th grade. I had flights of fancy occasionally when I saw myself pursuing another career, bu those always faded. Putting together arguments, analyzing and attacking opposing arguments, question and answer, these were always the things I loved. Indeed, in law school I initially struggled on exams that prized "issue spotting". I grabbed onto a position from the fact pattern and defended it. I was always better in class than I was in the blue book. The Socratic give-and-take with professors that most law students loathe was the only part I enjoyed. But when it came time to look for a job, opportunities to do criminal defense were not numerous. So I took a job with a small, general practice firm. Now, make no mistake, they were great to me and gave me more opportunities to actually get into a courtroom than most of my contemporaries at big firms. But it was still pretty infrequent. I started to gravitate to bankruptcy in the early to mid '90s, which was a booming field with a pretty fair amount of courtroom work. I started to establish a solid reputation as an excellent litigator but, truth be told, civil litigation was hopelessly boring. Interrogatories, document production and the entire civil discovery process was something I found mind-numbing. Trials were infrequent. And, ultimately, we were fighting about money, which bored me even more. So, I had been a lawyer for about nine years, I was a partner in a four-man firm, and I wasn't happy.

I had met Jean Lawson in, probably, 1995 or so. But I had heard about her before that. And everything I heard was the same: one of the sharpest minds doing criminal defense work in Charlotte. One day in 1996, she called me on the phone. I remember the conversation as clearly today as the day it happened.
Jean: "So, I understand you're a pretty good trial lawyer"; Me: "Well, I like to think so, but I haven't actually tried many cases"; Jean: "Have you ever considered criminal law?"; Me: "Well, I actually clerked for a criminal defense firm in law school, but the firms I've worked for didn't do criminal defense."; Jean: "What would you think about sitting second chair with me on a murder case?"; Me: "Wow, well that sounds really interesting but wouldn't that be diving into the deep end of the pool pretty quickly?"; Jean (in a line that would make one of the only time I can remember her being wrong about a case and which would change my life): "Oh don't worry. This case will definitely plead and it will be a good case to learn on."; Me: "Well, if you're willing, I'm in."

And I was. And, as you've probably already gathered, the case didn't plead. It first went to the NC Court of Appeals on an interlocutory appeal, then back down to trial court, culminating in an 11 week capital murder trial. My first criminal jury trial. And I'm in there with giants: Jean and I representing one co-defendant, Paul Williams and Dolly Manion representing the other co-defendant, Gentry Caudill and David Wallace prosecuting, and the Hon. Jessie B. Caldwell presiding. It was epic. And Jean was the perfect partner. She taught me everything, was incredibly patient, and never treated me as anything but a peer. She insisted I handle as many witnesses as I wanted, gave me the room, space, and confidence to develop my own voice and personality in the courtroom and with the jury. During one break, I told her I wanted to go after a witness much more aggressively than we had discussed. Her response: "You're dangerous. I like that." Every issue under the sun came up in that trial: death-qualifying jurors, Batson challenges, jury views, witness competency, suppression hearings, you name it we had it, including the co-defendant cutting a deal and flipping on us in the 9th week of trial. We lost on guilt/innocence so, again, in my very first criminal jury trial of any kind, we were going to a death penalty phase. And Jean's confidence in me never wavered. She persuaded me to give the final argument in penalty phase. She would cover the law, I would cover the heart and emotion. That argument was simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating experience I have ever had as a lawyer.

After arguments were done and the jury was out deliberating on life or death, Judge Caldwell told me to stand up. Puzzled, I did so. It was clear he was angry about something but I had no idea why. He then demanded to know if I had argued to the jury that they could hang (not reach a decision) and that that would result in a life verdict. Such an argument is improper. I was panicked at first. I didn't think I had done so, but I don't use extensive notes in final argument, just an outline of topics to cover, so I wasn't positive. I glanced down at Jean and she was calmly writing on her legal pad in big letters: "Don't worry about this. Just tell him what you believe you said. It will be fine". I can't express how much that helped. Judge Caldwell is a brilliant mind with an occasionally volcanic temper. Without Jean's calm, I don't know how I would have fared. But I related to Judge Caldwell that I certainly intended to walk right up to the line of what was allowed but not to cross it, that I didn't recall that I did, but that I certainly was not going to question what he had heard. I assured him that, had I strayed, it was purely accidental. As the prosecution had not objected during my argument and did not have a clear recollection of me straying out of bounds, the issue went nowhere. Jean had taught me how to both stand my ground and be respectful of the Court at the same time, and it is a lesson that has paid dividends many times over the years. Thankfully, the jury came back before much longer with a life verdict.

When  that trial was over, I knew I could never go back to the practice I had before. I was hooked. This was who I was and where I needed to be. I gradually changed my practice, steadily taking on more and  more criminal matters. In 1999, I told my partners I wanted out. I was going on my own and focusing most of my time and energy on criminal law. Jean and I  worked two more capital cases together, one a truly horrific fact pattern that resulted in a trial that I saw Jean do some of the best lawyering I've ever seen to save another life. But I won't bore you with more war stories. We haven't worked together in years, but I know I can still call her anytime I need help. The point of this is to give thanks. I've become a fairly successful and, I like to think, respected criminal defense lawyer in this town. I love what I do. I can't conceive of doing anything else. But, to borrow a political phrase of a few years ago, I didn't build this. Jean Lawson opened a door for me. There are not enough words to convey what I owe her. Thanks Jean.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Tale of Two Lawyers. Well, Three, Actually.

During my last two years of law school, I clerked for a criminal defense firm in downtown Philadelphia. There were only two lawyers in the firm. They were both former public defenders in Philly. Our whole office was the two of them, me, and our legal secretary. We were right down the street from City Hall, where the Court of Common Pleas sat. We represented anybody and everybody. I loved working there.

The two lawyers I worked for were polar opposites. One was tall, black, smooth, and urbane. We'll call him Greg. His father was a renowned photographer for Ebony magazine, who snapped an iconic photo of Coretta Scott King at MLK's funeral. When I was working there, his passion for being a trial lawyer seemed to have cooled somewhat. He was dabbling in managing and promoting music, and when he found out I could rattle off all the lyrics to "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he knew they had made a good choice in me.

The other lawyer was the reason I was working there in the first place. He was, in is own words, a "crooked-faced Irish kid". We'll call him Mike. Brash, a little loud, we had met when I was tending bar before I decided to go back to law school. But he was also incredibly well-read and fiercely proud of his Jesuit education. We struck up a friendship and he urged me to return to law school. When I did, he immediately offered me the opportunity to come work for them.

As I alluded to earlier, working there was glorious. We represented everybody: mobsters and drug dealers, petty thieves and murderers. I was tossed in head first, drafting memos, interviewing clients, tracking down witnesses. In my third year I routinely represented indigent misdemeanor clients. Working with Greg, I was meeting with local music producers and club DJs, trying to get new artists recorded and heard. Law school taught me how to go to law school; Mike and Greg taught me how to be a lawyer. (That tension between law school and work almost torpedoed my law degree as well, but that's another story for another day).

Mike was a trial lawyer. Period. Utterly fearless, possessed of a stamina and appetite for his work I have rarely seen. My last year, we undertook the capital defense of a black, male student at Lehigh Unversity charged with the rape and murder of a white, female Lehigh co-ed. Mike and I spent a night in a prison cell with our client, keeping him awake playing chess and talking about our families, in order for him to undergo a stress-related EEG. The trial was big news in the Lehigh Valley and tensions were beyond high. Mike never took a backward step. He fought every issue, every minute, every day. Every walk to the courtroom, every break, there were glares, insults, and threats of retaliatory violence. He never blinked.      We lost.        And the very next day he was back in the office working.

But he had his demons. As I mentioned, he was a hard drinker. He'd have occasional stretches of sobriety, but they never lasted. More than once, I had to have his back as we teetered on the edge of a bar fight, invariably outnumbered. And he was terrible with money. He got into cases for far too little money and, truth be told, probably couldn't afford to pay me or our great secretary Linda as much as he did.

They were great to me. Both of them. When an issue came up involving my Dad (again, another story for another day) Mike leaped in immediately to help. When my Dad died, Mike was there, tears in his eyes. "You're father was a great man", he told me. When I had the dust-up with my law school that I mentioned before, Greg, who was an alum of the same school, did not hesitate to throw his support behind me with the powers-that-be.

So. Two good men. Two lawyers. When I knew them well, one loved being a lawyer. Lived and breathed it. The other was more ambivalent. I graduated law school and Joni and I decided to move to Charlotte. I kept in contact for a time, with Mike more than Greg honestly. A few years after I moved, I heard that they had split and that Greg had been appointed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware. I was so happy for him. When I had seen Greg work, he was an excellent courtroom lawyer, and now it seemed clear that he was back in the law. A few years later, Bill Clinton appointed him to be a Federal District Court judge for the District of Delaware. He eventually became the Chief Judge and is now Senior Judge for the District. He was the first African-American to hold each of these posts in Delaware. By all I'd read and heard, he'd performed in each of these positions admirably. Clearly, whatever, ambivalence about the law might have once plagued him, he'd grown past it and fashioned a laudable record.

Mike continued to slug it out in the trenches. I would occasionally take note of a high profile case he would be involved in. I smiled a few years back when I heard that he had been threatened with contempt for refusing to back down from a judge in the midst of a heated motion hearing. But then, late last year, I heard something else. Mike had been indicted. Charges of money laundering and witness tampering in conjunction with a drug operation whose main architects he had represented. At first I was convinced it was a prosecutor with a grudge, trying to strike back at and silence a formidable foe. But as I read the indictment, I could see that he was in serious trouble and it was clear the government had some serious ammunition. He went to trial on it. I knew he would. There was no way in hell he was cooperating. I am certain the thought never entered his mind. And he lost. Sentencing lags behind trial in Federal court, sometimes by a couple months. I dreaded looking up what he'd get. Just the other day, I forced myself to do so and found out he'd been given forty-two months. He's at Fort Dix Correctional as I write this. I'm going to write to him. If he'll let me, I'd like to go see him. He had my back and my family's back for years. It's the least I can do.

There's no moral to this story. There's not some great philosophical insight. But two men who had a great impact on me and my career have come to two very different end points. People are not just one thing. They are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Life is complicated. There are good men who sit as judges. And there are good men who sit behind bars. You have to know their stories before you can decide. I felt the need to write this for a reason I can't even fully articulate. Maybe it's as simple as the old saying that we are neither as good as we are at our best, nor as bad as we are at our worst. But a good man is in prison. He did wrong. He made a terrible mistake. But it doesn't change the fact that he's a good man.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Compromise

There is much discussion in recent years bemoaning a lack of compromise in our public life, in particular in our politics. Respected voices on all sides of the political dynamic have counseled for decades, if not centuries, that compromise is both necessary and prudent. Edmund Burke, viewed by many as the founder of modern conservatism wrote: "All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter". Allow me to argue, at least as it relates to basic principles, that Mr. Burke vastly overstates his case.

Verdicts in criminal trials in most every jurisdiction I'm aware of need to be unanimous. That is, all of the jurors (usually 12) need to vote either "guilty" or "not guilty" for there to be a verdict. If unanimity is not achieved, a mistrial is declared and the case can either be retried or dismissed. In every jury selection I am involved in, I talk to the prospective jurors about the concept that it is imperative for each of them to make up their own minds individually. That, yes, they should listen to their fellow jurors carefully and test what they think and believe the evidence shows (or doesn't) versus what the other jurors think and believe. That they should do so with an open mind and not in an adversarial manner. But, that at the end of the day (or days) that each individual must make up their own mind. And that giving up what they believe in an effort to reach compromise or consensus would be wrong. That, in fact, is the law, at least here in North Carolina. I ask jurors if I have their assurance that they will make up their own mind and that they won't simply "go along to get along".

I had that discussion with the potential jurors in the case I was trying this past week. Those I pressed on the issue assured me that they understood the importance of the concept and firmly believed it and supported it. And then the rubber met the road. After all the evidence was in, we gave closing arguments. Closing and cross-examination are the things I do best at trial, and I nailed this one. It was a very difficult case from a defense perspective, but I had won an important evidentiary motion early in the case and closing clicked. After you do this for awhile, you know when it's good and when it's just OK, and when I sat down I knew this one was good. What on first glance looked like a case the State would easily win, was now a battle. The jury was out for over 5 hours, which is pretty lengthy for a breaking and entering and larceny case. Once the clock passed 4:30, I started to get tense. Every defense lawyer who has tried enough cases knows that the time in between 4:30 and 5:00 is a dangerous time. You are reaching the end of the day. If there's not a verdict by 5:00, the judge is going to send the jurors home and bring them back the next day. I've had juries come back literally at 5:00 on the nose with a guilty verdict. Sure enough, at 4:45, we got word that there was a verdict. I still had hopes that I had pulled out an acquittal, but "5:00 verdicts" are almost always guilty. The jury was brought in and the clerk began to read the verdict. On the charge of larceny after breaking and entering, "not guilty"! A brief moment of hope. And then, on the charges of breaking and entering and conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, "guilty". Son of a ..........! A compromise verdict. Without boring you with detail on the elements of the crimes and the law of acting in concert, suffice it to say there is no logical way for a jury to reach those verdicts. What had happened, clearly, was that the jury was split and, rather than come back the next day and continue deliberating and, maybe, never being able to reach a unanimous verdict. they compromised and rendered an inconsistent verdict (as a side note, inconsistent verdicts are not legally improper).

The problem, of course, is that the jurors weren't trying to decide where to go to lunch. They were debating about a person's freedom. There are times to compromise. Lots of times. Many times. Not just on inconsequential matters either. But there are times when the principle is more important. I have no wisdom on when that line is crossed between very important matters and matters of principle. All I know is, jury deliberations in a criminal case is one of those times. So, no, Mr. Burke, every virtue is not founded on compromise. Sometimes compromise is the absolute antithesis of virtue.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reefer Madness

Many of you, probably most of you, are aware of the protests and sporadic violence here in Charlotte surrounding the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. The issues raised by that incident and what has resulted from it are far, far too complex to deal with in one blog post. But, did you know that, according to police accounts, what first drew their attention to Mr. Scott was that he was smoking a marijuana blunt. Those officers were there to serve a warrant on another man. But Scott's rolling and smoking a blunt was enough to draw these officers' attention.

My last blog post was on the murder trial I just lost. That incident revolved around the sale of one ounce of marijuana. Four people were touched by that incident. One is dead, one is in prison for the rest of his life, one is in prison for the next 40 years, and one has four bullets in his body that will be there for the rest of his life. Because of one ounce of marijuana.

Marijuana has proven medical benefits for pain management, treatment of PTSD, nausea, glaucoma, and perhaps other conditions. But it is the dreaded "killer weed"; it is the feared "gateway drug". It ravages youth and turns them into drug fiends. So, for decades, the U.S. has engaged in prohibition. And, as with all prohibition, created a huge, profitable, and incredibly dangerous black market. That kills thousands. Oh no, not through use of the drug. There is not a single, documented case of anyone every dying from marijuana overdose (compare that to alcohol). Yet, once again, for all the talk about de-escalating the "war on drugs", the DEA refused to reschedule marijuana. It is still a Schedule I substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is like the supermax prison of controlled substances. It is supposed to be for drugs with a "high potential for abuse" with no "current accepted medical use"; drugs so dangerous even your doctor won't be able to help you if you come in contact with it. Which guarantees that, at least at the Federal level, complete prohibition will remain the order of the day. Which guarantees more violence. Which guarantees more dead bodies and bodies in prison forever. But not because of what the drug does, but because of how we treat it.

Colorado legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults. The doomsayers predicted the youth of Colorado would fall helplessly, en masse, to the evil weed. Statistics show otherwise and, in fact, teen use of marijuana in Colorado is slightly below the national average. Those who argue that marijuana is a gateway drug point to studies that show a correlation between marijuana use and other drug use. But those correlations exist with alcohol and tobacco as well. And the vast majority of marijuana users do not move on to other drugs.

Drug abuse, in all its forms, takes a huge toll on some people. Of that, there can be no doubt. But does that mean that treating use of the drug as criminal activity helps? Well, Portugal decided to see what would happen if you answered that question "no". And not just with marijuana but with ALL drugs. All drugs, in low-level quantities, were decriminalized in 2001. So there is a 15 year chunk of data to look at. I have a link to the study below, but the short answer is that drug use in Portugal has dropped significantly, such that it is one of the countries with the lowest prevalence of use of most formerly illegal substances. There is a catch, however. Portugal, at the same time, invested in serious treatment alternatives for those who have issues with drugs and alcohol.

So, just in Charlotte, just in my little world, the prohibition on marijuana demonstrably leads to death and destruction. The data that lifting that prohibition would help remedy some of that death and destruction seems promising. But we refuse to open our eyes and see.

If you are interested in reading further, these were sources for some of what you just read:
http://www.leafscience.com/2014/07/22/7-proven-medical-benefits-thc/
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/colorado-s-teen-marijuana-usage-dips-after-legalization/
http://reason.com/blog/2016/08/11/dea-rejects-marijuana-rescheduling-but-e
https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Portugal_Decriminalization_Feb2015.pdf

Friday, September 16, 2016

On the job...and on losing.

I've been asked in the past why I choose to do this for a living. For someone who talks as much as I do, I find it curiously hard to articulate exactly what it is. I can only somewhat describe it by using the words of others. Most often, I use a quote from the high-wire artist Karl "The Great" Wallenda: "Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting". There is also a passage in a poem by Robert Frost that resonates inside me as well:

Only where love and need are one
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever truly done
For Heaven and the future's sakes

It's days like today where you really get to find out if you're being honest with yourself. I lost today. After almost 5 hours of deliberation, a jury decided the State had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I lost a case I thought I had won. I lost a case that could have been won. And because I lost this case, a young man will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Why did I lose? I'm not really sure at this point. Many courtroom observers, including several with no need or inclination to curry favor with me said I tried an excellent case, that I "did all I could". But that can't be true. Because I lost. And if I'm going to keep doing this, I have to do better. I cannot lose cases that could have been won. I cannot accept that. Not when lives and futures are on the line.

There is no time to wallow. There may be time for a few drinks, but that's it. I know I am very good at this, but I'm still not good enough. "The game is play for mortal stakes". Those are still the stakes I have to play for--I cannot play a smaller game. But I cannot accept a loss. Cannot.