Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story" About Tolerating Stress And An Intolerable Judge

"The not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity." (Erich Fromm)

No doubt, all trial lawyers have war stories to tell about how, at some point in their careers, a fire-breathing judge has given them fits during a trial. Fortunately, for me, most of the Georgia judges I have appeared before have been polite and professional.  However, I will never forget one exception -- a cantankerous old judge who appeared to hate all prosecutors and all police officers, along with any lawyer who appeared in court against one of his favorite attorneys!  Here is my "war story" from my prosecution days about dealing with this judge and about what I learned from a stressful courtroom experience.

This experience occurred early in my career, when I was a young assistant district attorney.  I was trying my second rape case. Even on a good day, I still got the nervous "heebie-jeebies" whenever I appeared in court. The defendant in this case was represented by an experienced trial attorney who was one of the judge's best friends and "favorite son" in that community.  At least, it seemed that way to me!  Sometimes, when you are in such a courtroom, it seems like you can almost smell the "home cooking." In short, you feel like the visiting team and the home-town referee is favoring the home town team.  And I could tell that day that I wasn't invited to this special, "lovey-dovey" feast between the judge and his fair-haired son!

After jury selection, we routinely called our witnesses up front to be sworn in and "sequestered" in the witness room, in accordance with the rule of sequestration.  I informed the judge that I had routinely put our G.B.I. laboratory witness "on call."  In other words, I had decided to allow my expert witness to continue to work at the lab until just before I needed him to testify. After all, the lab wasn't too far down the street.  

I had no idea that this routine decision would set off the judge's fuse against me!  Here is what happened!

Just before I was supposed to make my opening statement to the jury, the judge called me and the defense lawyer up to the bench.  Then, without any warning or justification, the judge became as red as a ripe beet. While shaking his extended finger at my face, he shouted at me, "If your expert witness walks into my courtroom, in violation of the rule of sequestration, I am gonna lock you up!"  Then, he tersely added, "Now, make your opening statement!"

I did as I was told. I made my opening statement! Fortunately, because I was so focused on the important  task at hand, I managed not to become too rattled by the judge's threat. I stayed focused and won my case! 

But you can bet your bottom dollar that I kept nervously looking over my shoulder throughout that trial and made sure that my lab witness didn't waltze into the courtroom!

I also learned some valuable lessons from this dreadful experience. For instance, I learned that being a trial lawyer involves learning how to deal with stress and how to tolerate insecurity. With a tough old judge breathing down my neck, there was no way I was ever going to relax, or feel secure. But the key is that I persevered and managed to handle the stress.  In other words, I learned that, as a trial lawyer, you may not feel warm and fuzzy in the courtroom, particularly when a judge is spittin' fire at you, but you can still learn to deal with the insecurity, and tolerate it, in order to win your case!

I might not have enjoyed the home cooking, or the stressful experience, but victory makes a sweet dessert!

Monday, June 18, 2012

DOJ Strikes Out at Second Roger Clemens Trial

[Photo of Roger Clemens from wikipedia]
It appears that, following the not guilty verdict in the John Edwards trial, the Department of Justice has struck out yet again in another high profile criminal trial. This time, it is the Roger Clemens trial. 

Today, various news reports indicate that Clemens, the former professional baseball pitcher, has been found not guilty on all counts by a federal jury in Washington.  As you will recall, Clemens was charged with allegedly lying to Congress in 2008 about his alleged lack of steroid use while a pitcher. You may also recall that an earlier trial of Clemens, last year, ended in a mistrial, after government prosecutors offered inadmissible testimony.

Now, following two trials, and following the expenditure of millions in taxpayers' dollars, another high profile defendant has been acquitted.  As a former federal prosecutor, and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I don't know exactly where the government went wrong, but it surely is a shame to see such a waste of scarce tax dollars on criminal cases which probably should never have been brought in the first place! Don't you agree?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ponzi Scheme Nets 110 Year Sentence for Allen Stanford

[Allen Stanford Mug Shot from wikipedia]
Did you hear the news about the sentencing yesterday of Defendant R. Allen Stanford in a Houston federal court?  He was sentenced to serve a whopping 110 years in federal prison!  

In March, a jury reportedly convicted Stanford on thirteen counts of mail and wire fraud for his role in a massive $7 billion ponzi scheme.  According to government prosecutors, Stanford treated investors "like road kill" in an international investment fraud scheme, whose scope was apparently exceeded only by the ponzi scam of investment fraud "king," Bernie Madoff. According to news reports, Stanford's criminal defense lawyers plan an appeal.

Stanford's 110 year sentence was surpassed by Madoff's 150 year sentence.  But is there really a difference?  

As a former federal prosecutor, (and currently as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney), I am reminded of a story once told by a judge about another sentencing.  The judge had sentenced a bank robber to serve 77 years in prison.  The defendant told the judge, "But I can't make 77 years!"  The judge replied, "Well, just make it the best you can!"

Well, I guess Mr. Stanford, like Mr. Madoff, will just have to make it the best he can, too.  What do you think?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Georgia Tax Returns Face New Identity Fraud Screening System

[Photo of GA State Prison from Wikipedia]
As a former federal prosecutor, and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I have handled many cases involving identity fraud. The State of Georgia, like many states, has had a serious problem with fraudulent income tax returns being submitted for tax refunds by con artists using identities of innocent victims.  According to various news reports, the State detected approximately 29,000 fraudulent tax returns in 2009, 52,000 such returns in 2010, and the number has swelled to approximately 100,000 bogus tax returns for 2011. 

But, apparently, help is on the way for the Georgia Department of Revenue in preventing tax refunds from being sent to identity thieves!  According to news reports, the State of Georgia has recently implemented a new computer screening system which will better detect fraudulent tax returns. For instance, the new screening system has better access to millions of legitimate addresses and can apparently better detect bogus addresses.

We can only hope it helps!  Identity theft affects us all, including all of us, as taxpayers, and also all those identity theft victims out there who were expecting quick tax refunds!