Every Lawyer Needs to Understand Trial

Lawyers are- In Trial… On Trial… Trying a Case… Going to Trial, Preparing for Trial, In the Middle of a Trial, Just Coming Off a Trial– or working very hard to assure that their clients never undergo such a painful experience.

Trial is, in the mind of the populace, what lawyers do. But most lawyers will never enter a courtroom.

What all lawyers must do, regardless of their specialty, is protect their clients from the danger of trial, while laying the groundwork for success should that endgame become necessary. Our common principles; integrity, the professional effort, applying law to fact, mean just as much to the transactional lawyer as they do to the litigator.

Cases are disputes that end up in a lawyer’s office. Usually they arise from conduct never touched by lawyers. Sometimes they arise despite the best efforts of a lawyer to avoid the conflict. No lawyer wants his/her client to end up with a case.

Trial is the end game of all cases. It is the application of evidence to law. It is the crucible where evidence and law and skill and personality are mixed and burnt down to yield a verdict- a judgment.

This article is not intended to be treatise on how to conduct a trial. It is written, rather, with the hope it will provide a framework on how to approach the task.

You are not a shark, or a tiger, or a wolverine.

You are a teacher-at every turn.

It is your job to make people understand. You need to insure that your client understands why his case is different than his story, his chances of success and what the world of trials will be like for him.

It is your job to teach the judge, at your first opportunity and at every opportunity that you are right about your case. He or she will make decisions based upon conclusions drawn, whether realized or not. Right from the first contact with the Judge or the staff attorney, you need to load in the quality of your case and your competence as Counsel.

It is your job to teach your opponent. Don’t be overly concerned about a strategy of secrecy. Convince your opponent that they will lose and you will win the case – more likely on the safer ground of mediation or a settlement conference.

And then you need to teach the jury.

It is a case, not a story

There are books written about the use of story telling in trial. It is, after all, the way we communicate and pass on history. It is an important tool, but it is death if you overly rely on it as a trial tactic. ‘My story against yours,’ allows for too many extraneous factors; like emotion and prejudice and inherent power, to taint the result. Contrary to popular myth, all but lawyers with the most powerful clients want intelligent juries. They want juries willing to do hard examination of fact and law, self examining of their prejudices, and then make the difficult decisions necessary to render just verdicts.

Clients come in and tell their story. They ask you, “Do I have a case?” The lawyer’s question should be, “Can we win at trial?” expanded to, “What will the admissible evidence be?” and to “What is the law that applies?”

That method of analysis is issue based, rather than story based. It needs to be done as a threshold in every case.

In every case, do an issue-based analysis.

Do a complete exploration of your client’s version, exhausting every possible fact or explanation or witness. Your questions are, What else? Who else?, until there are no more answers left. Ask each client, and each potential witness: “What will the other players in the case say good about you- say bad about you- tell me about the situation?”

You also need to prepare a timeline-immediately. People are not that smart and it is difficult to follow a complex presentation. However, they do respond to a framework. The chronological framework gives them a tool to organize their thinking.

(Remember, sadly, that the most common motivation left in America is self-interest. As a result we have trained ourselves to believe that it is OK to lie to forward our interests. And beware of a new and viral strain of this virus, the person who will make up any lie to fit a nugget of fact. They have no compunction to lie on such an outrageous level that they achieve Orwellian credibility because no one believes that they could make that stuff up.)

The next thing you need to do is understand the law of the case. That is easier than you would think. Trial is the end game. The jury finds the facts based upon the presentation of evidence and applies them to the law. They are the ones you have to convince. Where do they get their law? They get in through the jury instructions. A plain English recitation of all of the elements of the trial, from what the cause of action is to what rules the jury uses to reach a verdict.

Read the general jury instruction on such issues as credibility and burden of proof until you can recite them by rote. Read the case-specific jury instructions at the onset of each case and read them again until you thoroughly understand what you have to prove.

Determine what may or may not be admissible, and then apply that evidence to the law.

Make a determination about whether you can win at trial. Repeat the process on a regular bases as the case progresses over time. Cases are fluid and often do not end up where they began.

Integrity Wins Cases

Cases are settled favorably (or won at trial) because you have shown the Judge and the opposition (and the Jury) that your case is real. You should win. They will only believe you, however, if you present yourself and your case with integrity.

Integrity, in this context, means that you will stake out the furthest reasonable position for your client. You will make the professional effort to be fully prepared on each issue. If you say it, regarding law or fact, you say it because you believe it to be true.

People watch and listen. A lawyer might get away with a stretch here or an outright falsehood there (lawyers do lie). But over time, people will watch what you do. You will either build a reputation for integrity or not. In my opinion, you will win more cases based upon a well-earned reputation for credibility and reasonableness than you will on good facts.

How do I prepare?

One way to look at a human being’s level of intelligence is to consider on how many levels of abstraction they can think ahead. Chess players think 64 moves or levels ahead. Composer writes symphonies blending levels of instruments and rhythms and tones. Most of us cannot think past lunch.

Young lawyers watch old lawyers operate smoothly in any situation and wonder how. Experience is an equal to intelligence as it allows you a higher point to jump off. You have seen the first 15 steps before, so it is easier to see the next.

So how does a lawyer overcome a lack of intelligence or experience? Through layered preparation. Do the analysis, set it aside and do it again. Do it with others. Each time you do it you will see more, understand more and your arguments and presentations will be more complete.

Has this ever worked in the real world?

I tried a murder case, by myself in Akron.

The allegation was that a young man murdered his girlfriend’s 2-year-old child by punching him in the stomach. The case was based upon expert testimony regarding the timing of the blow. If it was delivered the night before the baby died, the client was guilty.

I contacted James Patrick MD, the elected coroner from Toledo. He is a large, charismatic fellow, from Harvard Undergrad and Yale Med School (or Vice Versa).

We met 7 or 8 times as he taught me the science of immune cells and how they could be used to time insults to the body. He was convinced that the baby was injured days before. The client was not guilty.

My theory on direct examination, especially with experts is that it is a dance. The lawyer only leads imperceptibly, while the expert teaches the jury.

So we went to trial and it was a big deal. Packed courtroom. The elected County Coroner of Summit County testified for the state. Our current Chief Justice, then the elected prosecutor, presented for the state.

Dr. Patrick took the stand and I attempted to teach through him by gently leading through his presentation. Except to each of my questions he answered only yes or no. I tried to dance. He stood firm and I began to sweat. In desperation I said, “Dr., what do you want to tell the jury.” He got up, set up his presentation equipment and taught the jury, uninterrupted by anyone for more than an hour, exactly how and why the baby died. The client was acquitted on the first ballot and I had nothing to do with it.

But I did learn that while people might root for a fighter, they will listen to and believe a teacher.

“Every Lawyer Needs to Understand Trial” written by Jay Milano, will be published in the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Journal, November 2013 Edition. To view the actual article, please click here.

Jay Milano Named Top Rated Lawyer

Jay Milano first spoke in court during a murder trial and has practiced at that level of intensity for over 30 years. His clients include Snoop Dogg, Hell’s Angels, sports figures, doctors, judges, lawyers, and executives, as well as countless people who just needed help. He has tried to not-guilty verdicts cases involving death penalty, multiple homicides, and the “shaken baby” syndrome. He is nationally known as a defender of those falsely accused of sexual assault on children.

Mr. Milano led the exposure of sexual assaults and the cover-up by the Catholic Church and was featured on the Emmy-winning 60 Minutes report, “The Church on Trial.”

As his practice progressed, Mr. Milano became more focused on complex litigation, white-collar crime, and cases where law and science intersect. His method: fearless, aggressive and personal lawyering remains constant – regardless of whether a trial is called civil or criminal. His practice now includes significant malpractice, injury and defamation cases, many with Judgments exceeding $1 million.

He regularly represents professionals; doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers or judges on issues of professional conduct.

He has taught Trial Tactics at Cases Western Reserve School of Law for 20 years and teaches advanced tactics to practicing attorneys several times a year.

The Buzz on Ohio OVI Testing

“No person shall operate any vehicle… under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.”

Whether you call it OVI, DUI or just drunk driving, those words from the Ohio Revised Code put fear into the hearts of thousands of drivers throughout the State of Ohio who are accused of drunk driving every year. With mandatory jail sentences and fines that can be attached to drivers who previously had spotless records, drunk driving arrests have become a major issue throughout the state. It’s not just for driver’s who are completely intoxicated either. Just a few drinks can push you past the 0.08 blood alcohol limit in Ohio and before you know it an evening with friends can end up as a weekend in jail.

Throughout Cleveland and the surrounding communities police use a variety of methods to track down drunk drivers and then use several tests on the driver to determine if they are impaired. The primary method that officers use when they first pull someone over is the traditional slate of field sobriety tests. These tests measure a person’s coordination, balance and dexterity in an attempt to determine if the person is impaired.

Officers also use breathalyzer’s in the field and after arrests are made to determine how much someone has been drinking. Drivers in Ohio can refuse these tests, however, a refusal will automatically result in a license suspension by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The results from the field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer can all be challenged, however, and that’s why it is so important for defendants in OVI cases to seek out an attorney. Specifically, the results from breathalyzers need to be reviewed to determine if they are accurate and if proper guidelines were followed when the test was administered. The breathalyzers commonly used in Ohio have come under a massive wave of scrutiny over the last year and it is important to know how to use that scrutiny in each case.

With potential penalties that can include multiple months in jail and thousands of dollars in fines, defendants have to seek out every possible way to challenge the allegations against them. If you or anyone you know has been charged with a driving under the influence Contact us and let’s figure out what we can do to help.

Who is best qualified to be our next prosecutor?

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
This is an important election coming for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. We will be conducting a contested election for a new county prosecutor for the first time in our lifetimes. Given all that we have seen in the past two years, unfathomable corruption, and a justice system so inbred that it has mutated beyond recognition, we need to pay very close attention. So, given that I have spent my whole life in that system, please allow me to impose upon you my opinion of who is best qualified to be our next prosecutor. 

In my opinion,
In order to understand how justice works in our county, you need to understand our history.

Our entire county, not just the courts, was dominated from the 1950's until the 1980's by John T. Corrigan. He was not always right, and his office got out of control as he got older, but he was a good man.

Ironically, he and my father fought cases with mutual respect for years and ended up in the Sandusky Veteran's home together, both enduring Alzheimer's, neither able to recognize the other.

During that time judges routinely came from the prosecutor's office. It was a strategy. If any judge fell into disfavor, an assistant was there to contest  the election. We also began the bizarre custom of electing Judges by last name (usually Irish, not that there is anything wrong with that) rather than an examination of their qualifications. John T loomed over it all.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones followed John T and the Justice Center lived in the Pax Stephanie. It was a time of reasoned and reasonable conflict.

Draw your own conclusions about Mr. Mason and what has happened to the County in recent years. But, in my opinion, we should all be ashamed of the job we let him do. It was almost like a Saturday Night Live Skit, with county cronies carrying out the furniture while the elected county prosecutor gave press conferences talking about how tough he was on crime.

What is most true to me about Cuyahoga County Criminal Justice is that it has evolved so far into its own world, it has become so ingrown, that it is a system in need of complete overhaul. We need a thoughtful approach to problem solving unencumbered by the past.

Now we have five Democrat candidates. Whoever wins the upcoming primary will no doubt  be the next prosecutor. This is Cuyahoga County and the chance of a Republican taking this position is so slim that none have yet filed.

So, in my opinion-

Subodh Chandra is the most thoughtful, and the best prepared of these candidates. He is well educated (Stanford, Yale Law), a former Law Director of the City of Cleveland, and a former assistant US attorney. His experience matches or exceeds all of the others. He is also a Justice Center outsider. Most important to me about his experience is the US attorney component. The Justice Department operates under strict rules for its prosecutors, built with checks and balances. On the other hand, in Cuyahoga County we have operated in a system so loose that almost anyone could have jumped on and taken it for a ride. The Tiki Hut and Hooker trial that will go on until after this election provides a clear view of how the county has operated. The only misleading aspect is that it appears what Dimora did was "small potatoes" compared to Russo looting the county property taxes for the benefit of his friends.

It is time for us, we here in Cuyahoga County, to look hard for an exceptional candidate to fill a difficult and complex job. To my mind, Subodh Chandra gives us the best chance to rebuild Criminal Justice in Cuyahoga County. That is surely something we need to do.


The Policeman Is Your Friend*, Homicide Case Dismissed

* Unless he thinks you are guilty.

“I am not a criminal-so what am I doing sitting here waiting for a criminal defense lawyer- Jay Milano?”

There sat the client and his wife on a bench outside of a courtroom.

They were young, good looking, hard working and had been trouble free. They were about to start their family. They had just received the news that she was pregnant. They looked much like they would have looked sitting and waiting for her OB/GYN- except they were surrounded by the usual suspects that haunt criminal courts.

They were frightened. They were also confused.

There had been an accident. A man had died. There had been two independent witnesses. Both had a clear view. Both said it was not the client’s fault.

Nevertheless, there they sat. He had been indicted for Vehicular Homicide. Vehicular Homicide means you killed a man with your car. It was your fault and the result of you breaking the law. The allegation alone changes your life.

This client was driving down a straight road in Lorain County. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. No drinking, no drugs. He was traveling within the speed limit, following a car but not tailgating. Traffic was average.

The road was a bit confusing because there was a cross road, but it did not pass straight through. It came in on his right and dead-ended. The left turn was a few hundred feet further on the left.

As they came to the road on the right, the car in front of him slowed down. It looked like it was trying to turn left, but had nowhere to go. It moved forward a bit, started to turn left, hesitated and then started to turn again.

Like a video game the scene in front of the client exploded. The turning car was struck head on and started to spin. The client tried to avoid it but was struck and ended up in a ditch.

Everyone seemed all right. The old man in the left turning car did not appear to be injured. As a matter of caution, he was taken to the hospital. The highway patrol came and took pictures and interviewed everyone. They exchanged insurance information. Bad day, but things happen.

The old man died at the hospital.

The client learned of the death when a highway patrol officer came to interview him. The client reported that it all happened very quickly. It appeared the car in front tried to turn, hesitated and was struck by an oncoming car. It began to spin. The client tried to avoid the car as it spun, but he hit it and went off the road. “Weren’t there witnesses?” he asked. He felt terrible, but it was not his fault.

That was it, he thought. It was over.

In a few days he got a letter from a lawyer for the deceased’s family telling him to notify his insurance company, that he had caused the death. The insurance company informed him that he might be charged in the accident. They told him they would defend him in a civil case, but not a criminal case.  They sent him the complete police report.

It was not over.

At this point, like most people, he thought that this would resolve itself. The police report had statements from two witnesses. They saw the accident exactly as he had seen it. The car tried to turn and was struck head on. The criminal part, he thought, would never happen. His insurance company would take care of the rest.

But he called and made an appointment. He thought it prudent to talk to a criminal defense lawyer since he was told he might be charged.

He came in with his wife. I reviewed the reports, told him that I would contact the Prosecutor’s Office and the Highway Patrol-just to make sure. I did. I got no answers except that the case was under investigation and they would let us know.

Three months passed, along with phone calls from the client and unanswered inquiries. Then he was indicted. He was charged with Vehicular Homicide. He was charged with causing the man’s death. It made no sense.

So there they were on a bench, in the hallway of the courthouse- him scared, her scared and pregnant.

Cases start with the Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer meeting to exchange information. I went, assuming that a close look at the witness statements would cause the Prosecutor to come to his senses.

The Prosecutor gave me the police reports to look over. There was a problem. There were pages missing. The only pages missing were the independent witness statements. The exact statements that exonerated the client were not there. They had not been presented to the grand jury that charged the client with a crime. They were not given to the Prosecutor.

There was no logical explanation that I could see. I believe to this day that the Policeman had taken sides. It is my opinion that someone deliberately withheld the witness statements.

Right or wrong or a coincidence, the only two independent witnesses were gone. If the client had not gotten the original police reports, then chances are no one would ever have known about them. They would have ceased to exist.

I pointed out to the Prosecutor that there were missing pages- very important pages. I showed them to him.  He shrugged it off and said he would look into it.  We were postponed a month. The clients were disappointed.

A month layer, same hallway, same bench, same scared client and his wife, her a little more pregnant.

The Prosecutor had no explanation. He had taken no action. He said that he and his colleagues would “round table” this case and likely dismiss it.

Hope. They were going to be reasonable. Despair, another delay. Being charged with a crime weighs more on you every day. You wake up in the middle of the night, and stay awake, thinking about nothing else.

A month later, same hallway, same bench, same scared client and his wife, her a little more pregnant.

This time we had a new Prosecutor.  The Highway patrolman was also there.  He sat down to explain to us how he knew what happened. He went through his version of the events and never mentioned the witnesses. The ones who said he was wrong. The ones who said the client was innocent. He walked out, cock sure that since he was a policemen, all would believe him.

The new prosecutor said she was concerned about the statements, but she had to look into it. Amazingly, she called to tell me that they were going to have an expert from the highway patrol examine the accident to see who was right. The argument became heated. She did not need an expert, that there were two eyewitnesses. The statements had been concealed. I did not dissuade her.

Two dynamics of criminal justice were at work here. First, once a charge is filed, it carries weight. It is very difficult to undo. A victim has been named. His family has rights and a very loud voice in court. To dismiss the case dishonors his death. Second, police and prosecutors work together every day. Prosecutors will do everything reasonably (and sometimes unreasonably) possible to protect their policemen.

A month later, same hallway, same bench, same scared client and his wife, her a little more pregnant.

This time a young highway patrolman came in and declared,  without any hesitation, that he knew who had caused the accident. It was the client.  He could tell by marks on the road that the witnesses were wrong. He was sure. It was astonishing that he dismissed the witnesses with such clarity. He had no real evidence. This young highway patrolman fully expected me to say “Yes, sir” and go out and tell the client that he and the witnesses were had met a greater force. He must surrender. He had better pled guilty.

Put it in writing, I said. Let us have an accident expert test your theory.

It is my opinion that this young highway patrolman who called himself an expert was willing to stretch his expertise (read the truth) to accommodate his friend (who, by this point, knew he had a major problem with hiding evidence).

Now we were set for Trial two months out. The wife would be seven months pregnant by then.

The Judge ordered the prosecutors to produce the young highway patrolman’s report. They never did. We let the Judge know two weeks before the trial that the State had not done what he told them to do.

Two days later, I got a phone call from the Prosecutor. The young highway patrolman would not put his opinion in writing. They would dismiss the case.

Three days later, as if another insult was necessary, we went back to Court. The clients sitting on the bench as they had done seven months before, she very pregnant, both of them very relieved.

The case was dismissed. It had been a year since it started.

My opinion: the original highway patrolmen took sides. He decided that it was the client’s fault and then, rather than investigating, just built a case. He did so even to the point of hiding evidence. His young buddy covered his ass as best he could, but in the end would not put himself on the line by joining in the lie.

People take criminal justice for granted. They assume the police are out to help them. If they just explain what happened, it will all be fine. Regularly people come to us in serious trouble, after having trusted their instincts or the policemen or an inexperienced or ineffective lawyer to “Straighten it out.”

Right now we represent a professional woman who thought she could explain away sloppy paperwork. She got charged with 6 felonies. A friend walked into our house, unannounced, a few weeks ago, desperate for information because her son’s lawyer would not talk to her. Had he done his job, the young man may never have been charged.

Criminal justice is hard. And it is counter-intuitive. It is not something you can do yourself.


PS The baby will soon be born. I will keep you apprised.

If anything comes up, for you or someone close to you, anything for which you might need a lawyer, just call. If it is not a problem, I’ll tell you. I am not in the business of scaring people. If there is a real problem, we will put it behind you.

How to Win Cases – Part I

Jay Milano, criminal defense, malpractice, and personal injury lawyer and law professor in Cleveland, Ohio teaches how to win cases.

Unless there is a vigorous objection, this is the first of a series of columns on trial practice. They will all be by me. In fact, we are already looking for authors qualified on the topic (read, willing to write).

Jimmy Buffet introduces one of his songs as a “love song from a different point of view.” This will be trial tactics from a different point of view, an attempt to cover ground not well trod. (The fact that the song is entitled “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” should not be held against the County Bar).

Any analysis should start with a baseline. In this case we should look at the core principals of effective trial work. They are, I believe:

  1. Credibility,
  2. Integrity,
  3. Education,
  4. Control,
  5. Creativity, and
  6. Simplicity.

Before you dismiss this assessment as too basic, stop and think of how many lawyers you know who don’t hit 2 of the 5 on a daily basis.

1. Credibility

Each year I have at least one law student tell me that it is okay to assist the client in manufacturing a story that will help them to win. Too often we see practicing lawyers who follow that creed. We live in a country where “plausible deniability” and “spin” are considered art forms. Try to practice that way and you will kill your clients and kill your practice.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing more important to the success of your practice. The Justice Center and the Federal Building are very small towns. You get caught hedging even once and people will know. One way to think of credibility is as your duty to tomorrow’s client.

Credibility is also bound up with the concept of how you present your claims. We have all seen lawyers who make outrageous demands in an effort to bluster their way to victory. It is a very shortsighted strategy. Stake out the furthest reasonable position and hold it.

2. Integrity

Integrity is close in concept to credibility, but the difference is operative. For this purpose, integrity means the willingness to do the work necessary to complete the task. No one is going to do you any favors, certainly not someone in a more powerful position than you. The only way that you will succeed over time is to do the work on each case. That means digging in and reading the statutes and rules before all else. As an aside, if you want to understand a new concept, look at the jury instructions.

3. Education

We must stop considering ourselves as warriors and start to look at ourselves as teachers. It is the job of the trial lawyer to educate: first ourselves, then our clients, then our opponents, then the judge, and finally the jury. Do not expect anyone to understand your case. Take the time to explain. Pretrials are for educating the judge as to your point of view. Settlement conferences are for educating your opponents. Office meetings are for educating your clients. Educating ourselves is a continuous process.

4. Control

Here comes the first internal contradiction. To be a good trial lawyer, you need to be a teacher. Control is about the wars we fight.

You need to control yourself. First, look at the practice as an intellectual exercise. A lawyer cannot afford the luxury of recreational anger. (I did not make that up, but cannot remember the name of the lawyer from whom I heard it many years ago.) If you are dealing with a jerk of an opponent, play above or below him. Do not engage, as you will lose focus.

You need to control the situation. Form the issues in discussions. Be the person in the courtroom to whom the jury looks for the right answer. Be the person to whom the judge looks for guidance. Do that by being prepared for the questions. Read the rules and statutes and the cases. If there is one common complaint among judges, it is unprepared lawyers. Knowledge is control.

5. Creativity

The finest compliment you can hear is: “We have never done it that way, but it sounds fair, let’s do it.”

Do not copy and here is why. You need to understand why you are doing something before you can learn it. Why am I asking this question? Why do these facts fit my case? Why did the court rule the way it did? What is the logic? We spend too much time calling each other to ask for a copy of a complaint or interrogatories or a motion. You do not need to reinvent each time you undertake a task, but you do need to know what you are trying to do before you blindly follow.

6. Simplicity

In many ways this is the most important principal. What if the way to measure intelligence is to determine at how many levels of abstraction a person can think. Chess players think many moves ahead, contemplating all of the possibilities. Most of us cannot think past lunch. Jurors may be smarter than lawyers, but in the context of a trial, will hold to the most basic and easily understood principals. Do not get lost in the upper tiers of argument.

We have set the baseline. Nowhere to go from here, but up. See you in the next issue.

Law and Fact
The Journal of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association
April 2003

How to Win Cases – Part II

Jay Milano, criminal defense, malpractice, and personal injury lawyer and law professor in Cleveland, Ohio teaches how to win cases.

What makes trial exciting is the heat. Cross-examination is the crucible which, when used correctly, will burn away the mistakes and the shadings and the lies, and leave the truth.

David Pomerantz, in the article preceding, treats the subject of expert cross-examination with depth and precision. As is the nature of this series, let’s divide out a single point. In this piece we will look at how to cross-examine a “target witness” (usually an expert) through an “innocent” witness.

Of the five constructs on which this series is premised (Credibility, Integrity,  Education, Control, and Creativity) control applies most directly to cross-examination. We have all heard, and believe to our bones, that control in cross is manifested by the closed-end question. That is absolutely true. (Of course there are times when you have been so effective that you invite an expansive response, either because you know the answer helps rather than hurts, or because you have progressed to a point where the answer makes no difference.)

That concept of control applies, as do almost all strategies of cross-examination, when directly confronting a witness. Isn’t it true doctor…? Isn’t it true officer…? Isn’t it true sir…? This is the form that we have all used.

We want to look at control from a different…and maybe more creative…point of view. Think now about the idea of using one witness to cross-examine another. What if you could control your “target” witness through the testimony of an “innocent”? Here is how you would do it.

Begin with the premise that one method of effective cross is to move from the general to the specific. Again, we are working with an expert or professional witness. Your strategy is to have them agree to general relevant principles first and then move to the specifics of your case. You apply the general constructs to what happened or what they did. Think in terms of the way a shark hunts, circling its prey more closely with each pass, bumping occasionally to check for reaction. You are circling by means of generally accepted ideas. Your bump as cross-examiner is the mildly pointed questions early on to gauge the reaction of the witness to confrontation. The kill occurs if you can show the disparity between the general principles and the specifics of the witness’s testimony.

I will use a criminal case as an example. Generally there will be a detective sitting at the trial table for the entire proceeding. It is his case and he is very experienced. It is unlikely that you will be able to “break” him. It is far more likely that he will break you. He generally testifies last to clean up.

But what if your general questions are asked of a preliminary “innocent” witness? A uniformed policeman is a good example. Early in the case, a uniformed officer will testify. Usually the first on any scene, she provides background information and any evidence which she might have gathered. Under the standard model there will be few if any questions.

However, under this model you want to use the “innocent” to lay the foundation of general principles that will underlie your point. Let’s assume you have a case where no fingerprints were taken. The “innocent” will gladly tell you about how easily prints are taken and how infallible they are and how they solve cases. The target then sits and squirms knowing that eventually he will have to answer for why he did not do what that nice young woman in uniform told the jury was appropriate.

You have laid the foundation of general principles upon which you will cross-examine the target without yet having asked him a question. He has had no ability to see you coming and to shade his response.

Please don’t limit this technique to criminal cases. Physicians will opine on general principles as well. Use your opponent’s expert to acknowledge literature upon which your expert relies. Emergency room doctors make excellent “innocents.”

The point of this piece: 1) determine first what your issues are, and then 2) look to who might give you the evidence to support your position. Look outside the obvious. Be creative while strengthening the ability to maintain control.

Law and Fact
The Journal of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association
July 2003

How to Win Cases – Part III

Jay Milano, criminal defense, malpractice, and personal injury lawyer and law professor in Cleveland, Ohio teaches how to win cases.

“There are no rules in a knife fight.” — Butch Cassidy

Many lawyers, good ones, view dealing with the media as a knife fight. They don’t trust reporters or their editors and feel that even if they win, they will come out bloody. As a result, they take the gentlemanly way out and utter “no comment” at every opportunity. They may be right.

But then again, a competent lawyer should at least think through the options before deciding on a course of action. In fact, there are some rules in the “battle” between lawyers and reporters:

Rule 1: As in all situations, your ethical duty comes first.

Read the disciplinary rules (DR7-107). Given the amount of pretrial comment that goes on, and assuming that you are on solid ground with your statements, you should be able to comply quite easily. Remember, however, that the world tends to dump on the less powerful.

Rule 2: Determine what you want to say before you get near the interview.

The camera (even a reporter’s notebook) acts as an aphrodisiac. Once you get a whiff, you might not be able to stop. You will end up talking until drool runs down the corner of your mouth. Nothing you cared about will get in the story. As a result, it is imperative that you plan in advance exactly what points you want to make. First decide if there are any broad issues of interest to the public, outside of, but related to, your case. There may be a pattern of abuse or a law that needs to be changed. Next, determine the single case-related fact most important to your reason for giving the interview. Move down through your points in descending order of importance. The longer the interview, the more points you can make. If you are trying to get a message out over time, repeat it word for word each chance you get. It will take time to register with the public, but it will.

Rule 3: Consider your media and then fashion your quotes to fit.

For TV you get 10 seconds, maybe 20, to get your point across. In print count on 2 sentences. Before the interview think of how you can fit your thoughts into that framework. Speak English. Sound intelligent. Sound profound. Sound uplifting. Sound plain-spoken. Just don’t sound like a lawyer.

Rule 4: No matter what they ask – follow Rules 2 and 3.

TV has to fill the box everyday. They need words and pictures. A newspaper story needs words. If they are there talking to you, they want you. Say what you need to say, regardless of the questions that are asked. The reporter will then fashion their story around you. You can control what is printed or televised by what you are willing to say. You can devise and string quotes to write their whole story. If you are doing a print press release, consider including only the quotes that you want printed.

Rule 5: Everything is on the record.

You cannot take anything back. Set the ground rules first. Here is a loose interpretation of reporters’ rules:

On the Record: Everything you say is fair game until you say otherwise.

Off the Record: You will not be quoted by name, but you may be quoted in such a way that you should not be able to be identified.

Background: The item cannot be used without separate confirmation. You will not be quoted.

Rule 6: Establish a relationship with the reporter based on credibility and trust.

This is not about reporters using you or you using them. Your ability to function effectively in this arena will come only by being credible over time.

Rule 7: Think simply. Speak plainly. Act decisively.

Law and Fact
The Journal of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association
October 2003

How to Win Cases – Part IV

Jay Milano, criminal defense, malpractice, and personal injury lawyer and law professor in Cleveland, Ohio teaches how to win cases.

Fifteen years ago Milliard Farmer, a legendary death penalty lawyer, came to Ohio and spoke. He decried the loss of civil confrontation within the courts. He told us that lawyers were becoming afraid to speak their minds, and that justice would pay a price. We were too worried, he said, about our practices to let the bench know when we thought they were wrong. He talked about a spiral where lawyers became more timid and judges less accustomed to open discourse. I don’t know if he was right, but:

I am afraid to write this column.
I am afraid to say that I am afraid to write this column.
Lean over close so I can whisper to you.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, more surely injects fear into the heart of a solo or small firm lawyer than the thought of the suspension of his license.

Even a six-month suspension kills a practice. You must cease work on all cases, notify your clients, and close your office. No income, no realistic ability to find other meaningful employment: you will have to start over. You are publicly and privately disgraced. Your family knows, your kids know, your friends know, their friends know. You dread the most cordial “How are you?” You are unable to pay your employees. They are out of work.

Mark Gardner was suspended for six months for saying bad things about a Court of Appeals. He said them in a brief to that Court. Among other things he stated the the court had a “prosecutorial bent.” The Supreme Court considered it “an unfounded attack against the integrity of the judiciary.” By all accounts Mr. Gardner acted out of character.

It is not that Mr. Gardner was sanctioned. It is the severity of the sanction. He could have been found in contempt with a finite sanction such as a fine or even cooling his heels in jail to consider his intemperance. He could have been reprimanded, as the hearing panel suggested. He could have been suspended with the suspension stayed, as the board of commissioners recommended. Instead, he was suspended from the practice of law. That is a life-changing punishment.

Now, how many of you lawyers will ever say anything critical, even remotely critical, of a judge or tribunal? Who will split the hairs of what is or is not appropriate if the consequence for the first offense is so grave.

I believe that the majority of lawyers will remain silent. I also believe that if that happens, the integrity of justice will be compromised. Lawyers need the ability to speak their mind. Again, it is not total freedom to deride the judiciary with impunity that is important. It is that the punishment fit the crime.

By the way, after you have read Gardner, read Office of the Disciplinary Counsel v. Wrenn, (2003) 99 Ohio State 3d 222. It was decided one month before Mr. Gardner’s case. In that case, Mr. Wrenn, a prosecutor, withheld exculpatory evidence, including DNA testing, from both the opposing attorney and the court. The Court stated at 225:

Respondent breached his duties as an officer of the court and his public responsibility as an assistant prosecutor. He had ethical and legal obligations to disclose discoverable information that was relevant, exculpatory, and not privileged and he failed to do so on more than one occasion. We do not accept respondent’s assertion that it was an innocent misrepresentation. When the court inquired about the DNA test results at the pretrial, respondent failed to disclose that he had knowledge that testing was complete and the results were favorable to Derr [the Defendant].

Respondent’s failure to disclose the information before the first plea was inexcusable and undermined the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Mr. Wren received a 6 month suspension, stayed.

Read both cases. Make an independent decision as to whether they are different enough to warrant so great a disparity in punishment.

Call me. We will talk about it – in private.

Law and Fact
The Journal of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association
January 2004

How to Win Cases – Part V

Jay Milano, criminal defense, malpractice, and personal injury lawyer and law professor in Cleveland, Ohio teaches how to win cases.

All lawyers, and most other Americans, know about Gerry Spence. He is the long-haired, fringed suede, book writing, TV commentating, trial lawyer. Some, myself included, believe him to be the best of us at understanding and then teaching juries. On the other hand some, myself included, fear he has passed over into the stage of his career that Dick Feagler once described as, “Old lawyers do not retire, they turn into caricatures of themselves.”

So what?

Gerry Spence once defended a young man named Escabel, charged with murder. The defense was insanity, except Spence had no psychiatrist willing to opine that Mr. Escabel was insane. He did, however, prove insanity and win an acquittal using the cross examination of the State’s psychiatrist.

Like I said, you’re not Gerry Spence, so go hire yourself an expert.

The following rules apply to both criminal and civil cases, admittedly in differing degrees:

1. Always have an expert in science or other appropriate cases, either to prove your case or to act as a counter-weight.

Though this seems axiomatic in civil cases, we have had defense lawyers proceed without one, usually to a generous settlement.

In criminal cases, too often because of lack of resources, defense experts are absent, usually leading to jail time. A clear example in DUI cases is the need for an expert to teach the jury field sobriety tests are unreliable. Juries, even with proper cross, are seeing the tests are infallible.

2. Credibility. Your credibility is what wins cases. Your expert’s credibility will do likewise for you.

All of us can spot a hooker in a Las Vegas lounge. What makes you think your opponent…or more important, the jury…is any less skilled in this arena.

3. Develop a list of experts from whom you can obtain preliminary opinions.

They do not have to be used as trial experts. They are not necessary in all cases. They may, however, save money and a trip down a blind and expensive alley.

By the way, under all circumstances, get to an expert early. It is a most common complaint among them that they are called by lawyers two weeks before trial.

4. Get the CV, then ask your expert such questions as:

“How often have you testified?”

“Have you been attacked?”

“How might you be attacked?”

“Do you have transcripts?”

“What lawyers have you worked with and may I call them?”

Don’t be afraid to ask “the doctor” questions about himself.

5. You teach the jury, the expert teaches you.

Clients expect us to already know the science that proves their case. Experience teaches us some, but it is impossible to be an expert in all areas in which you might try a case.

Simplistically speaking, science is based upon peer review literature. That means that it has been tested by the scientific community. Get the literature from your expert, whether it be a test-book or articles. Learn the science. Use your expert as your tutor.

6. As you receive the information on your opponents case, use the expert to point out the errors so that you can prepare the cross.

Conversely, determine from your expert how his opinion will be attacked and build defenses to the attack into your direct.

7. Cross an expert from the general to the specific.

The more dramatic of us consider this as cross examination using the method which a shark uses to hunt. Circle the expert with general and irrefutable principles related to his testimony. Bump him once in awhile with pointed questions, just to see how he reacts. Move your circles closer with more detailed cross based upon the science which you have learned. Of course, you will control him by using closed-end questions.

You need to be persistent. We are all used to nodding in awe as doctors make and explain decisions about our lives in language we don’t understand. Learn the language and don’t let him off the hook.

In the end, for the last question, maybe once in a career, you will have placed their expert in such a position that you can ask the open-ended question. Most likely it will be something like, “Doctor, we’ve agreed that the June article in the Journal of the American Medical Association presents the latest data on this issue. You have it in front of you. Now please read to the jury the section that supports your position.”

Ask the question and if you are sure you are right, sit down in one of the chairs in front of the bar and wait for an answer that will never come.

8. The direct of your expert is different.

It is a dance, as is all direct examination. You lead, the witness follows.

  • Don’t go through the CV in the order it is written. Use things your expert has done as a jump-off point into your case.
  • The magic phrase is, “Doctor, what is the significance of…?” It allows them to talk forever.
  • During your direct, build in defenses to the cross. Set up the scenario that you anticipate and let the expert explain during his direct.
  • Most important, although said before, find an expert who is a teacher. Let them teach the jury.

Spence tried and won Escabel without an expert. The flip side of the coin happened to me in a case where a young man was accused of murdering a baby by punching him so hard that he ruptured his intestines. Our expert was a Harvard educated, elected county coroner. He was convinced that the science proved the young man innocent. I traveled the hundred miles to see him over and over so that he could teach me the science and we could then dance in the courtroom.

The trial came and he was called. I tried to use all of the rules above. During his testimony, however, each question I asked him brought only a curt yes or no. We weren’t dancing; he wasn’t teaching, and I was sweating. Finally, after about 15 minutes of this torture, panic set in and I asked him the only question that I could think of:

“Doctor, would you like to explain to the jury what happened here?”

“Thank you, Jay.”

He proceeded to set up his projector and spent almost two hours teaching a fascinated jury just how this child died and how it was not the fault of the young man on trial. I sat and watched the whole thing. When next I spoke I knew I had to say something brilliant, which was “Thank you, Doctor.”

The jury acquitted on the first ballot.

I haven’t spoken to Dr. James Patrick of Toledo in a few years. I hope he is well. Most of what you have read, I learned from him. Much more than the ideas about how to use experts, he taught me (more by example than by lecture) the core concepts which underlie this entire series.

Your credibility, your case’s credibility, and your expert’s credibility are your sword and shield in trial.

That war metaphor notwithstanding, an effective lawyer is a teacher first and a warrior second.

Law and Fact
The Journal of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association
April 2004