Thursday, March 10, 2011

War Stories

Earlier this week, I had the chance to grab a drink with Troy McKinney and a couple of other lawyers.  During the course of the evening, Troy and I started swapping some of our favorite War Stories that have come out of being in the Criminal Law arena, and it occurred to me that some of those lesser known stories don't get told enough.

In the midst of our jobs as prosecutors or defense attorneys, the subject matter can often be depressing, gory, and stressful.  We can have anyone from the Judge to the D.A. to our clients to the media breathing down our necks and second guessing our every moves.

But there are moments of levity and downright laugh-out-loud humor that happens every day in the courthouse as well, and those are what I define as a War Story.  One that is much more likely to have everyone laughing at your missteps than praising your successes.

Criminal lawyers have some of the best War Stories (with the possible exception of cops).  Face facts, if you're at a social event, how often do you see someone asking an accountant to tell them more about what he or she does every day?

So, in an effort to encourage the lesser known side of the courthouse, I'm encouraging you all to share your War Stories with the blog.  You can post them in the comments, or you can e-mail me off-list.  (NOTE:  If you e-mail me off list, I will gladly keep you anonymous if you want.  The point of this is to entertain. Just keep in mind that war stories are usually funnier when you know who is telling the story and the people involved.)

So, to start off, I'll tell one of my favorite War Stories, involving me and now-Judicial candidate Joe Vinas in a trial case.

Back then, I was the Misdemeanor Chief in County Court at Law # 5 under Judge Janice Law (which is a War Story all on its own).  Joe was a brand new Misdemeanor Three.  The policy then was that when a Misdemeanor Chief came back down from the Felony Division that they wanted them to try at least one jury trial so that their younger prosecutors could observe.

So I was lead counsel on a case with Joe as my second chair.

The facts of the case were that police had been called out to a domestic disturbance.  When they got to the home, the Defendant was in his bed, pretending to be asleep.  When the police went in and tried to wake him up, he reached toward a pistol, which the cops quickly knocked out of his reach.  He then began reaching for a freaking Bowie knife, which they also knocked out of his reach.  The Defendant then went reaching for (no joke) a tomahawk.

The police got all three weapons away from him and arrested him after a short struggle.

During the course of the trial, Joe and I were fascinated by the Bowie knife.  The police had tagged it into evidence, and during breaks in the trial, we played with it.  I mean, we played with it a lot.  We mimicked as if we were going to throw it.  We walked around the courtroom with it.  I think at one point, I even acted like I was shaving my face with it.

There was no harm in that, right?  It wasn't like it had been used in a murder or an assault case or anything like that.

So, Joe and I present our case, and the defense attorney, Frumencio Reyes, calls his client to the stand.  I can't remember the Defendant's name, but let's just say he was very much on the heavy side and not really all that into personal hygiene.

Through question and answer, his client begins calmly explaining each of the weapons that the police had recovered from him -- starting with the gun.

"That wasn't really a gun.  It used to be, but it was broken since the day I got it.  It was an antique and the kids played with it.  If you look in the barrel, there's a crayon stuck in it."

Sure enough, the gun was an antique, and you could see the red wax of a crayon jammed into the barrel.

So, Frumencio moved onto talking about the Bowie knife.

"Well yeah," the Defendant admitted.  "That's a real knife, but I didn't have it because I wanted it as a weapon."

"Then why did you have it in your bed?" Frumencio asked.

"Well," the Defendant said.  "I've got this really nasty rash on my leg, and when I go to bed, I just use the blade of that knife to scratch it."

Joe and I had to call a recess.  Moments later, we were in the men's room scrubbing down like we were preparing for surgery.

To this day, its probably a miracle that we didn't just vomit in the courtroom.

And neither Joe nor I have forgiven Frumencio to this day.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely cracking up at that story Murray! I can't believe I never heard it before!

John Jocher said...

This is just a quick funny story, but I was writing on poster board during a closing argument one time and a juror started pointing excitedly at the board. At first I was like "I get it, he did it and we're going to convict him for all the reasons I have up here," but the realized I'd misspelled something very obvious. Proud moment that was, everybody had a good laugh, especially the other jurors.

John Jocher

Anonymous said...

I do not know if this qualifies as a war story, but it is humor and involves a prosecutor who could not have foreseen the consequences of his earlier actions. Andy Tobias was one of the finest prosecutor in the HCDAO during the Vance-Holmes eras. Unfortunately,when he successfully presented evidence to revoke the probation of "A", as a young No.3 in the 180th District Court, it appears Andy was not financially prepared for consequences of that success. Several years after the revocation of "A" I was appointed to represent him in a federal post conviction writ of habeas corpus in which "A" asserted that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. Visiting A" at the Tennessee Colony unit, I was prepared, although somewhat reluctantly, to claim that "A's" revocation attorney had threatened him. In any event to advance "A's" argument that his attorney was unprepared for the MRP hearing and had a questionable relationship with the MRP complainant, I subpoenaed Andy. The federal writ hearing was in December. Unfortunately for Andy, however, he was placed in a witness room with the wife of "A" and his several children. Andy ultimately became their "benefactor" as during the course of the hearing and his "imprisonment" in the witness room the children wanted to know if daddy would be home for Christmas, what toys they would get without daddy home, and who had put daddy in prison. Although I think Andy actually only wound up buying the children a couple of Snicker bars and maybe some M&Ms (to this day he claims more) I would not have traded places with him on that day. If anyone was believed by a child to be a Scrooge, it was poor Andy. (parenthetically, the federal judge granted "A's" requested relief.
Calvin A. Hartmann

Anonymous said...

Another short one. Top three favorite responses to the juror information question on religion:

2. "druid"
1. "Jedi"

I loved the last one so much I used it myself when I was called in DC. What I didn't realize was that even though I was number thirty-something, in DC Superior Court they conduct INDIVIDUAL VOIR DIRE at the bench for every case. Luckily the Judge was amused.

-Eric M.-

Bert Graham said...

Ken Sparks (currently County Attorney in Colorado County) and I prosecuted in the 177th together back in the day. Ken asked me to act as demonstrator for jury. He marked bullet holes on me. He then offerred me into evidence. I objected but judge overuled saying I had no standing. Luckily judge allowed a photo substitute.

jigmeister said...

I once tried either an FSGI or Criminal Mischief pro-se case to a jury in JP court with a non-lawyer judge. The defendant had hit the complainant's car and driven up on the grass in the front yard leaving tire marks before fleeing. The complainant took several pictures. When the defendant was testifying, I asked him if he had driven to court and he of course answered yes, his truck was in the parking lot. I immediately asked for a jury view and we all adjourned to the parking lot to look at his dirty truck. Immediately noticing that the tread was similar, I marked SX-5 on a dirty spot and introduced his truck into evidence. I'm sure I didn't know any better. Fun times.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, a colleague told me the story of a civil Dram Shop deposition he attended. The driver defendant was a pretty young lady who had hit a pedestrian. A female lawyer asked the young defendant what she had drank at the bar, and she replied that she had drank a "Screaming Orgasm." The female attorney then asked: "Have you ever had a "Screaming Orgasm" before?" My friend couldn't recall her answer, but I'm sure inquiring minds would want to know.

Anonymous said...

This is a good post - I love these stories. And - I miss all my mentors. At a nearly 20 year employee, I am becoming one of the "old-timers."

Jason said...

One night I came up to a guy who ran out of gas on I-10. This was the day before my vacation so I wasn't looking to do much. This guy was nervous from the get go. He tells me he ran out of gas so I offer him a ride to the nearest gas station to get a gas can and a gallon to get him off the road. It was the easiest solution. He stutters his words and asks if I'd like to search his car out right out of the blue. I tell him it's not necessary I want to get him to the gas station so he can get on his way. He says okay and gets in the back seat of my patrol car. He then blurts out he is on parole for a drug case. I tell him that running out of gas will not violate his parole. He then says he has marijuana in his pocket and reaches in and takes out a sandwhich bag full of marijuana as well as a blunt (a cigar cut and filled with marijuana for anyone who ain't down). After shaking my head in disbelief I arrest him. He then demands to know why I arrested him and when I hold his dope in his face he says "that ain't my weed you planted that sh** on me! You a crooked mutha f***** trying to send me back!"

It doesn't end there....

He then fakes a heart attack so an ambulance picks him up and takes him to the ER. There he pleads with every nurse and doctor to help him because I'm crooked and trying to get him sent back to prison.

It doesn't end there....

After a couple of hours in the ER I transport him to the jail where fakes another heart attack. The jailers bring a gurney out and load him. His condition then changes, he says his body is paralyzed but he can sure argue his arrest. He eventually pled out. I was kinda hoping to go to trial on that one.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Got this one from a prosecutor who wanted to remain anonymous:

"my second trial ever as a new misdemeanor prosecutor was a DWI. The critique from my chief of my first trial was to “own the courtroom” and move around it more. So, taking her advice, during final arguments I vehemently argued that the defendant had OBVIOUSLY lost the normal use of his physical faculties because he COULDN’T EVEN WALK A STRAIGHT LINE! As I move my arms in an expressive gesture, my toe caught on the carpet, and I fell to the floor in a heap—totally on my hands and knees. The jury all jumped up from their chairs to see me lying there. I remember thinking, “laugh or cry—should I laugh or cry?” Then I (not even a tiny bit gracefully) got back on my feet and started cracking up laughing. The jury all did the same. In fact, one juror did not stop laughing the whole rest of my (very sincere) argument. For years, I was teased and ribbed about my graceless moment. And yes—the verdict was guilty!"

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I was speaking with Glenn Dodson, a Spanish translator in the courthouse, who had had a partial leg amputation years ago. He did not have on his prosthetic, as he usually does, and was explaining to me that his old one had broke after years of wear and tear and he was having a new one made. During this time he was on crutches and had his pant leg pinned up. During our conversation, Roland Moore, not knowing Glenn was an amputee, walked up to us with a shocked look on his face. Roland said “Glenn, my God, what happened to your leg!?” Glenn calmly stated “I broke it.” Roland responded “And they cut it off?!” 

Anonymous said...

THE REAL WAR STORY-The Veterans Court in spite of good efforts of Judge Carter and Pat McCann and others is being managed by someone who is not sympathetic to the needs of veterans who get in trouble.Linking a crime to some post -traumatic status is almost impossible to do. Any one who has served in the military should be treated with dignity and respect.Many veterans chose not to discuss their inner feeling about their service and are treated poorly when the lawyer trys to get them in the program.Good idea ,but an insensitive person is in charge.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:34:

Read the legislation creating the Veterans Court. The Vet HAS to have a condition related to the offense to qualify for admission to the court. Just because you wore a uniform at one time doesn't mean you automatically get in. That is called following the law.

Anonymous said...

Following the law doesnt mean to be rude and disrepectable to veterans.It also means using good sense.You might want to ask some veterans and get someone who works in Veterans court that has common sense.

Anonymous said...

Go to Pages 32 - 34 re: Judge Joe Kegans and my first day as a new #3.

Larry Standley
former - #3, #2, & Chief in 230th

Anonymous said...

Beth Shipley and I tried a felony assault on a peace officer one time. The defendant claimed after her bar fight and arrest that she accidentally sat on top of a mound of fire ants. She claimed she attacked the cop in an effort to get the fire ants off of her. We dubbed her defense "the ant bite defense." The defense attorney was a civil attorney, a friend of the defendant's, who had never tried a case before. As I was doing voir dire, Beth was checking the jury's criminal history, which is common practice since some jurors can be disqualified if they've been arrested for certain things. The defense attorney seemed rattled because he was very mistrustful of us and didn't know what was going on. So eventually he walked up to Beth and quietly asked her what she was doing and she quietly told him. He then yelled at the top of his lungs so everyone in the courtroom could hear, "She's running the jury's criminal history!!!!!! She's running their criminal history!!!!!" He was sure we should be in trouble for that and that everyone needed to be aware of what we were doing. Judge Keel handled his outburst well. But even though she told him we'd done nothing wrong, it was an awkward voir dire. That was one long trial...

Amanda Peters

Tracy P.I. said...

lmao! So funny stories :)

Bartender Cabbie said...

Pretty funny. Looks like some of you have a sense of humor after all. I never believed that "all" lawyers are scumbags. I am in the minority though I suspect.