Sunday, April 01, 2007

So Close Yet So Far: The Postmortem of a Loss

When I woke up yesterday I was tired. It hadn't been a good night sleep. I was repeating in my head every highlight and misstep that we made. I should have objected here. Why didn't we question this. To rehabilitate or not rehabiliate... Needless to say, repeating three 3 hour trials in my head over the course of one nights sleep does not lend itself to solid REM sleep.

I woke up, had breakfast with one of our trial team coaches (a sitting trial judge), then checked out of the Palmer House Hilton. I did the best thing I could do to keep my brain from eating itself: I took my frustrations out on that little white ball. The only official act of this competition I had left to do was attend an awards banquet that night. Golf was the perfect exercise to get my head away from the trial.

Unfortunately, my head was right back in it when I arrived at the banquet that night. I was only there because there was going to be free food and more importantly, free booze. As soon as I get there, the beer starts flowing freely and just a short time later, the program begins.

Thanks for coming...blah blah blah...We hope you enjoyed the city...We are going to give everyone a memento...and the judges evaluations and scores of your rounds.

We get to find out right away what happened. This was totally unexpected. Our team gets called near the beginning and the two coaches attack the envelope containing the evaluations and scores like two starving piranha. The way that this competition worked was that there were three preliminary rounds. The top four teams advanced. Our defense team (my side) went twice and our prosecution team went once.

We had two evaluators and a judge [who also evaluates us] in our first round. One of the evaluators was a State's Attorney and the other was a former State's Attorney now doing MedMal. And the there's the Judge who I recognized as soon as the door to the courtroom opened. A chill went through my spine.

The Judge was one of the highest ranking members of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. He is a ferocious prosecutor. He has one speed in court: balls to the wall. Public Defenders despise him. Other State's Attorney's think his God in the courtroom [I think they are right]. I'd seen him in action last year while he impeached his own witness on re-direct. I'd seen him in action 3 days earlier when he came to my Monday night class and was the guest lecturer.

It went well for the two of us and we were pretty confident that we won the round. The scores that we received last night confirmed that we won by a hefty margin. The critiques were also quite lofty and if you allow me to brag a little: On the technical side of things, the Judge rated me the highest of the four attorneys in the Courtroom, gave me a perfect score, and voted to acquit our client.

I'm going to skip over the second round for now because I was not an attorney in the round, just a witness. Our third round was against a top law school from the South. While it was not prestigious enough to get Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court, it is regarded as an excellent school when it comes to National Trial Competitions. This team's lawyers and witnesses were classy. You couldn't not like them. My partner gave the best opening statement I've seen her do [the judge afterward, a sitting criminal courts judge, said in the critique session that he would have acquitted the case after her opening statement]. I was a little mentally asleep with foundation objections [this was an exhibit heavy case] that came in through their witness who I was going to cross examine. The witness I was crossing gave me everything and then some for my close. He also gift-wrapped the opportunity to spontaneously loop his loquacious shenanigans.

Our case in chief was spotless. The best we'd ever done. Our witnesses were crisp, convincing, and believable. We didn't have a single objection-sustained during our directs. For some reason this team decided that they were going to refresh recollection on cross examination instead of just impeaching the witness with a prior statement. All in all, our case went well. The closings however were where the fireworks began. Their closer was sharp and had an easy going [just a Southern gentleman] demeanor while giving their opening close. He was very good. And so was I. In fact, this delivery was the best I had ever done. I was able to deviate off the cuff to incorporate even more damning argument then I already had in the close [thank you to their witness who I cross examined]. I felt that I had the jury in the palm of my hand: they were leaning forward in their seats, eyes wide with interest, hanging on to my every word. It was a damn good close. My opponent delivered a damn good rebuttal close. Punch for punch. This one was going be close.

Back to the critiques: We won our third round by a larger margin than our first. My Partner and I both received outstanding scores from the judges and also, you know, an acquittal.

As I said earlier, the top four teams advance. Which basically means if you went undefeated you would get in. We lost our second round. We lost our second round by one-half of a point: 58 to 57.5

I do not know how we would have done had we made it to the semi-finals. But I know that if a judge had gone with his first instinct in our second round scoring, we would have won. But he crossed it out, changed his mind, and lowered our score. And that was that.

Two semesters of trial team are now complete. I have one national title to my name. I've learned so much, I've had a great experience, and I wouldn't give that up for anything. I can't wait until the real cases, the real jury trials, and the real clients begin.