My First Trial: Murder 1

Trial Notes: The Apex Of Criminal Defense: Murder 1

Starting from the Top: By Accident


Dateline: 1999. Many many trials ago, fresh into practice, the ink on my bar card was still damp. The wise “old guy” in my office, Efrem Agranoff (dec.), who later became a mentor and dear dear friend, told me to get to know another attorney in town named Royce. Royce was and still is the very definition of “class.” He’s a maverick, not a “Politician” type of maverick, the type that would never claim to be such, and would likely argue with anyone who claimed that he was. But he is.

I remember approaching Royce in the hallway of the court. Court had just let out, and I recognized him from the long grey ponytail that made him our sort of local Jerry Spence. “Excuse me” I quietly muttered in my “new kid on the block” sort of voice. Before I was even able to get it out, Royce was shaking my hand, welcoming me to the practice of law, and had somehow already learned my name. I was flattered. I went on to say that I was a young lawyer, looking to watch and maybe help out with some trials, that if he had anything that I could help out on, I’d do it for free, just to get the experience. What I really meant, I wanted to get the experience of working with a guy like Royce. By the end of the day, Royce had me signed up to assist him in a first degree murder trial, which was starting in several months. The case involved a cult, the prophet Elijah, conspiracy theory and porn. With all the excitement, I nearly wet myself!

The project started with me meeting with the client who at the time, was locked up in jail. When I first met our client, I knew immediately why Royce had mentioned that we might be raising the insanity defense. This guy was NUTS! My job for the next several months was meeting with this client on a near daily basis, and working out how, why, and exactly to what extent he was in fact nuts. Following that, Royce mentioned that he may want me to do the direct examination at trial, seeing as how I knew the client better than anyone, and to cross examine the states expert claiming that my client was not insane. Again, I thought, does Royce know I’ve never done a trial, much less one involving cults, porn, conspiracy and death?  He knew.

On the eve of 9/11, the trial began. Ultimately, the jury hung, which is the subject of a book yet to be written. During this time, and for years following, Royce taught me how to be a lawyer, a trial lawyer, a damn good trial lawyer! At the same time, never forgetting to maintain a sense of humor, a sense of self, and remembering why I wanted to become a lawyer in the first place. When I write that book to be named later, I believe I’ll start Chapter 1 dedicated to Royce entitled “A Class Act.” And oh yeah, the note above, well that came in one morning during trial as I argued that our client was insane. Little did I know at the time, Royce had worked late one evening, “preparing some trial notes.”

This note is one of my favorite things. I’m thankful to Royce, and the mentors that I’ve been fortunate to have in my career. Any success I have in law is in part, a tribute to their efforts and belief in me. Efrem, Royce, Don, Pete, Ken and Brian. Thanks.

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