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A couple years ago a dude hired me to deal with his misdemeanor district court weed possession case. It was not a high-stakes case in the sense that he was looking at a lot of time in jail or anything. In fact it was just a misdemeanor weed charge. But since he’d already been through the 90-96 marijuana diversion here in Raleigh, there wasn’t another bite at the apple and the DA wasn’t gonna budge. We had to try it.

 

Now, little bench trials are what you get in District Court in NC. We have a trial de novo system here which means that if you don’t like what happens at the bench trial, you can appeal it to Superior Court and have a trial with a jury. These bench trials are usually pretty quick. In fact it’s not uncommon to have a couple in the course of a morning, depending on the complexity of the case.

 

Boss Hogg

As fate would have it, there was one bench trial that went right before us, so we got to see it while we waited. I knew the attorney. Nice guy but not really much of a lawyer IMHO. Just a big blustery guy like Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard kinda thing. Kind of a loudmouth. But hey, some judges go for that kind of stuff and juries like the affability, I guess. So anyhow. We’re sitting there listening to this guy do his trial right up to the closing argument. Jesus Christ but it was like TV:

“Objection!” he shouts, pounding the table.  The judge overrules him.

“I demand a sidebar!” he screams. He marches up to the bench with the DA, and after about five minutes of hand waving and much animation he—all red-faced and sweaty—marches back to the table to sit with his client.

The trial resumes. Two minutes later there’s another: “Objection!” he shouts and bangs on the table.

“Overruled” Says the judge.

“Can I approach, Judge?” he asks, requesting another tét-a-tét.

The DA, who’s now visibly nearing the end of his patience, heaves a great sigh and rolls his eyes as he walks up to the bench with Boss Hogg. More hands flying. More facial animation. Another five minutes goes by and he marches back to the table. Sweatier this time. Like someone who’d been out doing some yard work. And on it goes. And on. And. on.

Two hours later, with more objections and fist pounding than I care to count, Boss Hogg gets to do his closing argument. “This is a travesty of justice your honor! I’ve never seen a more flagrant violation of my client’s constitutional rights! This is outrageous!” (I told you right? Just like TV.)

Well, long story short, DA said about two words, maybe three, in his close, and the judge thought about it for maybe a second and a half before finding the guy guilty. Ho hum. Fine. Costs. 60 days suspended, one year unsupervised probation. Cookie cutter. Boss Hogg is apoplectic. Veins bulge on his ridged and sweaty brow.

The judge, sensing his displeasure, asks if he wants to appeal.

“I’ll take that up with my client, sir!”

Boom. Case closed. I look around the courtroom. All eyes are on Boss Hogg lawyer as he marches officiously to the clerk’s desk to get the cost sheet, all the while telling his client in a loud voice how disappointed he is and so on and on. Jesus christ.  FInally over. I look at my client. He’s obviously been entertained by all this (as has everyone). Now it’s our turn.

 

The very best “lawyering” is—unlike on TV—the quiet kind

Now, not all lawyering is about objections and sidebars and fist-pounding and all that shit. In fact, the very best lawyering is the quiet kind, where you make your case and, like a kind of judo, maybe take advantage of a particular set of circumstances to get what you want. They don’t teach this in law school. In fact, they may not teach it anywhere other than in the crucible of dealing with people and cases and DAs and Judges and cops for years and years and years.

 

Some people have this mojo, and some don’t

I don’t mind saying, like Austin Powers, I got this mojo. I may not always be able to whip it out, but I got it. And it is precisely this magic juice that I was able to use on this particular day at this particular time with this particular defendant and this DA and so on. Here goes.

 

I walk up to the DA. “Hey man, good job.” I tell the DA, stroking his ego a bit. “You made him sweat that one, literally!”

DA chuckles.

“So listen. This is my guy, he’s worried that he’s gonna lose his job if he gets busted for this misdemeanor possession. He’s already been through 90-96 once. Can we do something? It’s a constructive possession case. There was one joint between two guys and the other guy already pled.”

DA looks a bit distracted and shuffles some papers around on the table. I wonder if he heard me. Then—here comes the mojo:

“Yeah gimme that file.” DA takes the file from me and marks a big VD (“voluntary dismissal”) on the front. I try not to be too pleased with myself, while still acknowledging the good turn.

“Thanks man! Now you can get back to Dukes of Hazzard” I say, motioning to a still-sweaty Boss Hogg who has returned now, with his client, and urgently needs to talk with the DA.

The DA groans and I take my leave and go tell my client the good news.

 

Like I say: Judo. But that ain’t the punch line of this story. You see, about six months later I see my client in court with new charges AFTER I had so deftly gotten the last ones dismissed. I walk over and inquire.

“Hey there! What happened? Anything I can help with?”

“Oh no he says. It’s all good. I got busted again for weed but I got a lawyer.” He points with his head over at fucking Boss Hogg who still looks fat and sweaty (maybe he’s always this way?).

“Him?” I say. “But damn dude, I got that case tossed last time. I could have helped you with this too.”

“Yeah” he says. “I really appreciate that Mr. McEnally. But that guy, I mean, he really fights hard!”

 

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