Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Defending Yourself

I was in court yesterday for a preliminary hearing on a felony case and sat through two trials in which both criminal defendants were attempting to represent themselves. If it wasn't so sad it would have been funny to see them try to act like lawyers.

I've often commented that practice law consists of learning the "magic words." If you know the magic words, it's easy. If you don't, it's impossible.

Yesterday, one of the defendants was attempting to get photographs into evidence. He didn't know that you have to ask the witness if the photograph accurately depicts the conditions in the picture at the time it was taken. The judge tried to feed it to him, but he still couldn't get them admitted. He didn't know the magic words.

Both defendants lost. One was sentenced to 30 days, suspended. The other received a substantial fine. I thought both cases were winnable, if they had a lawyer.

I wasn't present in court when they were arraigned. I don't know if they chose to represent themselves or just fell into the crack of not being able to afford a lawyer while not qualifying for a public defender. If it's the latter, I don't feel sorry for them. There ought to be a crime called "Being Stupid." If it's the former, and they just fell in the crack in the system, then I do feel badly for them and point out that we really need to figure out how to provide lawyers for everyone who needs one.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Second Edition of Radio Show

Today being Thursday, I had the second edition of my WTNK radio show. It was very lively this week. I fielded questions on bankruptcy, child support, estate planning and (from a live caller) a question about breach of a contract for telephone services.

If it stays that lively, I think it may be successful.


Legal Research

When I got to the office this morning I found an e-mail message asking a question (I get a lot of those). The question dealt with some rights between parties that arise under one of the uniform state laws. Tennessee doesn't have any case law interpreting this particular provision.

Here's the catch - since it's a uniform state law there may be case law in other jurisdictions that would be persuasive authority. In order to know the answer, research must be done in all the states that have adopted that law.

Now most small firms who have Lexis or Westlaw accounts can only afford the package that includes their state and, perhaps, federal cases from their circuit. Only the big firms can afford all states or all federal. So, if a client comes to a little firm (which saves them money) and the little firm doesn't have access to the required database, can the little guy take the case?

In the case that was presented to me there is a large entity on the other side that would likely head to a big Nashville firm. Without doing the work up front to know I would run the risk of the big firm blowing the case out of the water simply because they can do more up front research.

Fortunately, I have access to more resources than most of the little guys, so it won't be a problem if I take this case. But this does illustrate a fundamental unfairness in the current system - which tilts the table against little firms and in favor of big firms. While the TBA and the ABA all profess their support of the sole practitioner, the rules make it ever more difficult for sole practitioners to survive.

On a final note, before I step off the soap box, since the law of all 50 states is now mostly uniform, why doesn't a license to practice in one state permit you to practice in another?


Friday, March 6, 2009

Morrow Murder Solicitation Case

The trial date has been set in the Lauren Morrow case. I will be trying that one in the Sumner County Criminal Court on June 22 and 23. Motions will be heard on April 24.

This is the interesting case of the young woman who allegedly attempted to hire someone to have her mother killed. The other two defendants accepted plea bargain deals, but Ms. Morrow prefers to go to trial. There are two motions to suppress evidence, a motion in limine and a motion to recuse the trial judge that will get argued first. If the recusal motion is granted, the trial date will likely get changed to accommodate the new judge.

It will certainly be an interesting case to try.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Radio Show

Today was the first show on WTNK. The topic was jury duty. We didn't have any callers (not surprising for a new show) but the conversation between me and the host was lively.

Jury duty was one of those topics that should be of interest to people, who are always wondering how to get out of it if called. I had to say that I was reluctant to provide them with a sure fire method of avoiding service since the system depends on people who are willing to serve. We mostly talked about how people get on the list and what the process for getting selected to actually hear a trial is like.

Next week, the topic will be employment law - since I have had a lot of employment law questions phoned into the office lately.

People who can't get WTNK over the air can listen on their web site (link above).