Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heart Attack Ensues (Part 2 of My First Trial)

I met with my trial mentor a second time. This time, I was more emotionally prepared. And he seemed much less intimidating. I really hope no one mentioned that he scared the crap out of me last time. That would be slightly embarrassing.

We talked about the case and divvied up the work. He asked me what parts of the trial I wanted to do. The honest-to-goodness truth was that I wanted to do none of it. Just the thought of having to perform in front of a jury under another attorney's watchful eye makes me want to melt into a puddle and disappear from earth's surface. I really wanted to run away. This whole thing is so far beyond my comfort zone. Why is my profession so damn scary?!

Against my deepest wishes, I'm doing the opening statement and the first closing statement. I've been instructed to prepare my opening statement so that I can practice in front of my mentor. Ok, except...hello! I don't know what an opening statement is! I've never even seen one (except for TV). I'm told I need a good hook to keep the jury interested. Ugh. Is it too late to go to art school?

I'm also direct examining three witnesses and cross examining one defense witness. I'm less worried about these tasks. I've examined witnesses on the stand before. I'm not familiar with it but I know I can do it when I have to.

Today, we were scheduled to meet with several witness. These are witnesses we will be calling. They also happen to be police officers. And I've decided that I could never make it as a criminal attorney. See, I have this thing for police officers. Much like a suit is to most people, a police uniform is to me. Put any man in a police uniform and he instantly gains ten points on the attractiveness scale. It must have something to do with having physical power, authority, and the duty to uphold the law.......I'm stopping now before I travel beyond a PG rating.

I was totally not stressed about this meeting. I've never been in a prosecutorial interview before but my mentor would be there to take the lead. I planned to ride shotgun and take really good notes. AND THEN a (metaphorical) peanut butter and jelly sandwich hit my face. As soon as I got to the office, I received a phone call from a pleasant lady telling me that my mentor would be running late and that I was to start without him and he would join at the very end. "Ok," I managed to squeak out in a terrified voice.

I gave myself a huge prep talk. "You can do this! You're an attorney! You're important! You're smart! You can ask a few simple questions." I spent an hour preparing for the meeting by reading every single document related to the case. I took two pages worth of barely adequate notes on what I should ask. I was appalled to know that I didn't even know the basics. Do I interview them all at once or separately? What does a prosecutor call a police officer? Do I record the interview? Do I reveal facts that are non-related to their testimony?

I arrived at the conference room ten minutes early and just sat at the desk looking into space. My mind wondered from "What the hell am I doing?" to "It's just an informal interview, no biggie." Looking back, I'm pretty sure I over-reacted to the entire thing. I mean it WAS just an interview. But it doesn't take much to get me out of my comfort zone (said the homebody introvert who prefers the selfservice check-out line because she doesn't have to tell a checker how her day is going).

I sat there at that conference table having a mini heart attack and bracing for what I was sure was going to be an awkward meeting. I checked my phone nervously about 30 times in 15 minutes. I watched the wall clock tick towards my impending torture session. I put on a smile. A big smile. This is what I do when I'm nervous. When your nerves fail, smile at people and they may just take pity on you.

But no one showed. Ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Every time I heard footsteps my heart quickened. But the footsteps always kept walking right on by. Then twenty minutes passed. Suddenly a frame graced the doorway. This is it, showtime! I braced myself.

But who was it? None other than my mentor. I was SO happy to see him that I could have attacked him with a giant hug (probably best I didn't since this is an assault case). He saved me! I invisibly let out a giant sigh. All the tension flowed from my body. Right at that moment, I was the happiest human on earth. I was happier than a catch-and-release halibut, bracing for death only to feel the cool, familiar water splash against its scales.

Finally, the law enforcement witnesses arrived. And it went so smoothly. Very smoothly (except for the occasional drop of drool that escaped my mouth). And it was fun. And I learned a lot. And that was the meanest joke anyone had ever unintentionally played on me.

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