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Wayne Howell, PLLC
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Why I Became a Lawyer

In 1981 I was living in New Jersey, working nights at a General Motors factory and days as a mechanic, when I got called to jury duty.

Jury duty at that time meant reporting every day for two weeks and sitting around all day waiting to be called into a courtroom.  Working upwards of sixteen hours a day and sleeping four did not leave much time to follow the news.  I was a blank slate in that I had heard nothing about the pending case, so I was selected for the jury.

Then I heard the news -- I was on "The Great Mafia Trial"(Jersey, right?).  The trial ran for three months, with the jury sequestered in a hotel for the final three weeks or so(after a jury tampering incident).  There were four defendants -- the Capo, two senior made men and one younger wiseguy.  One of the senior made men was being tried for murder(an intra-mob hit).  The younger guy had thirty or so charges pending.  In this environment the most striking aspect was that with the millions of dollars that had been spent, only one of the eight attorneys involved turned out to be much of a lawyer.

The judge, who as a prosecutor was known for his tough stance on white collar crime, and who had been widely publicized for his willingness to take on The Mob -- was removed from office some years later and subsequently imprisoned for tax fraud after embezzling from his business partners.

The attorney for one of the senior defendants spent a lot of time trying to discredit the state police officer who identified his client from the recordings(the state had undercover witnesses who wore wires and had bugged the defendants' meeting place).  "You identify my client from the words he spoke, so what words were they and why do you say they were spoken by my client?"  This puzzling tack became clear when the recordings were played and most of the people in the courtroom were rolling on the floor.  The defendant had a very distinctive, very deep voice -- he was a real life Rocky!  Later in  the trial, we heard that the attorney himself was under indictment on drug charges.

The attorney for the Capo took his closing argument from his family's dinner table.  He became his grandmother, imploring us to have "just one more meatball".  No kidding.

The prosecution team consisted of three state's attorneys.  There was a well-dressed attorney who received so many objections during his opening statement that he sat mute for the rest of the trial.  The attorney who did most of the work was reputed to be sleeping with the female state's witness.  The lead attorney was busy working on parlaying his reputation as the Organized Crime Buster to running the state's casino commission.

The attorney defending against the murder charges was exceptional, but he needn't have been.  The prosecution's only evidence supporting the murder charge was the word of a mob informant turned state's witness with immunity and witness protection in exchange for testifying against his former associates.  Adding to this credibility problem was the fact that he had already been convicted of perjury for lying under oath in other related trials.

Ultimately all the defendants were convicted on conspiracy charges.  They almost weren't, because the charge was that they were "part of a nationwide, secret criminal organization known as "our thing" or "la cosa nostra". . . "  Well enough, but the prosecution team never presented any evidence regarding these assertions.  They were convicted on simple conspiracy charges because they were recorded running their bookie business("I got twenny dresses from da t'ird truck up nort") along with a few other obvious slipups.

I became certain that if this group of whom most were mediocre and a few were downright embarrassing could have successful careers as attorneys, so could I.

The greatest lesson I took from the experience became the basis for the first speech I give every new client.  The defendant accused of murder was acquitted in large part because from the thousands of hours of recordings, he never spoke a single complete sentence.  The younger defendant was convicted on all charges but one(as to that one charge he was clearly entrapped) and sentenced to many years in prison -- because he never stopped talking.

The speech goes like this:  This is my lawyer's card.  This is the back of my lawyer's card.  You can assume that on the back of every lawyer's card, printed in invisible ink, are the words "Shut Up".


Why I Became a Lawyer