Monday, March 14, 2011

Telling George's Story

by Bobby Frederick, TLC 2009

I went to trial Monday in South Carolina, on charges of a chop shop violation (carries up to five years), and got a completely unexpected directed verdict of not guilty Tuesday afternoon.

In December of 09 my client George is riding with the Hell's Angels as a prospect (he is not "in" the club yet, and because of this incident he doesn't get in). A SLED agent, member of the anti-gang task force, pulls him over, tells him his VIN number doesn't look right, and then steals his motorcycle, leaving him on the side of the road.

In January 2010 George gets the agent's number from some higher-ups in the club, calls him and asks for his bike back. Instead, the agent meets with George, tells him he thinks that George's motorcycle frame is from a bike that was reported stolen in 06, and threatens to charge him with insurance fraud unless he becomes an informant for them. George tells them that isn't going to happen and continues to demand his bike back.

In April, George hires me to get his bike back; I call the agent and tell him if he doesn't give it back we are going to file suit. In May I send a letter to the agent explaining the forfeiture law and again telling him I am going to sue if he does not return the motorcycle. In June the agent gets a warrant signed for chop shop violation, an allegation that George altered, changed, etc. the VIN number on his motorcycle. Then they continue to try to get him to be an informant in exchange for dropping the case.

George built his motorcycle from the ground up - the frame is a blended harley davidson and steel stallion frame, with the VIN from the SS frame. He has receipts for every part on the bike, and when he built it the DMV sent an investigator who inspected the bike, took copies of all receipts, approved it, and issued a title.

George turned down an offer to plead to a fine. At trial their first witness is a national insurance crime bureau "expert" who testifies that there is a unique identification number stamped on the forks, that they connected to the VIN off the frame of the stolen motorcycle. But George inists that the number is on the triple tree, not the forks, it is just a part number, and the exact same number is stamped on tens of thousands of triple trees at the factory.

George has 4 triple trees in his truck that we bring in before cross, and I put them in front of the "expert" one at a time so he can read the part numbers which are all the same number. Then the expert insists that the number he was talking about is actually on the cylindrical portion of the forks, not the triple tree. Last bit of testimony before I sit down is an acknowledgement that he does not know what a triple tree is, that he does not know anything about motorcycle parts, and that he would not know a steel stallion frame if he saw one.

Next day the SLED agent testifies. During his testimony we take the jury outside to look at the motorcycle parked in front of the courthouse, and I have each of them get down on one knee, one at a time, and look under the faring where they see . . . a triple tree stamped with the exact number that the first "expert" told them is on the forks. He would not admit it, but it is a part number from the factory and it is not a unique number.

I told my client's story through the SLED agent. The night before, we used Maren's story-book cross and finding the witness' story method, which worked beautifully. I felt like I knew and understood the SLED agent, and I think the jury did as well before we were done. He also admits to the jury that he doesn't know anything about motorcycle parts.

Next witness is a surprise - the prosecutor subpoenaed the guy whose bike was stolen in 2006 (also a Hell's Angel). When I see him in the audience during a break I introduce myself, walk outside with him, and let him know that the prosecutor is trying to pin an insurance fraud on him. Then he tells that he is a motorcycle mechanic, certified and trained by harley davidson, with a degree in motorcycle mechanics, and has worked for HD for 25 years building motorcycles. I take him to lunch and go over the case with him.

Prosecutor calls him, asks him four or five questions, then gives up and sits down. I stand up, qualify him as an expert, and then he explains in detail to the jury how you build a custom motorcycle, what a triple tree is, how the same part number is stamped on hundreds to thousands of triple trees each day as they roll out of the factory, and how you get a custom built bike legal through the DMV.

Prosecutor puts in all of the DMV documents, without the records custodian (who I had subpoenaed and waiting in the audience), and without objection from me. He is thinking he will take the sting out of my case by admitting my evidence for me. Then he rests his case.

I argue with the judge for at least an hour and a half, for a directed verdict. He does everything he can to find some evidence that would survive directed verdict, and keeps asking the prosecutor what else can he put into evidence (really? after he's rested his case?). We have to go back and listen to the court reporter's tapes, because the judge "remembers" testimony that never happened. Finally he grants my motion, and then apologizes to the prosecutor for granting my motion.

My client is getting his motorcycle back - the SLED agent agreed to personally deliver it to my office within 2 weeks.

Warrior wins DUI in the Badlands of New Mexico

written by James P. Moriarty

Peter J. Giovannini, TLC Class of 1997, recently had a good win DUI:

Client is a 26 year old kindergarten teacher with no criminal history. Dec. of 2009 had just left Bible study at approximately 8:10pm and was headed home on I-10 south of Las Cruces to Sunland Park, NM.

Was observed by sheriff's Lt. heading south and he clocked her on his radar as she passed him going 80 in a 70 mph. zone.

Turns on lights and siren and she immediately pulls over--albeit to the left shoulder of the interstate, whereupon his video dash cam is rolling and he stomps toward her car and says words to the effect of "pull over to the other side of the interstate--you are going to cause a crash!! She told him she had a stomach ache and she thought he said, "go...go...I said, go!!!! in a very authoritative voice. Explaining to me that she had had very positive experiences with law enforcement in the past, e.g., an officer rescued her when she locked her keys in her car and another time she had a blowout on a tire and the officer changed the tire and escorted her home. Plus, her cousins boyfriend was an officer and he was very nice. She explained that she thought this officer was escorting her home as well. Then she noticed another officer following the first one and both had their lights and siren on--client clocked at 50mph for 7 miles after the initial stop. Client then sees several police cars as she approaches an overpass and something blocking the interstate. She did not want to hit it and the other sheriff's were motioning her to stop. She brought her vehicle to a complete stop and several deputies ran up to her car and on audio, one officer says, "open the fuckin' door while another says, "put your hands up!" Both were pointing guns in her face. She was scared to open the door (which was unlocked) believing if she dropped her hands she would be shot.

The Lt. who initially pulled her over is seen stomping over to her vehicle and just as he arrives the first two goons pull her from her car and slam her down on the pavement face first (she was not resisting) while the video clearly shows the Lt. with his expandable baton doing an up-an-down striking motion several times as she is being extracted from the car. She testified that he hit her on the back of her legs several times and his explanation was that the motion seen on the video tape was him closing his baton with the help of the pavement.

Client was taken to sub-station and given fields and did a blow. Failed fields and blew 0.0 twice. Lt. then called in DRE officer and he did the standard 12-step test and concluded "driving while impaired". She admitted to both officers she was bi-polar and under a doctor's care and was taking prescribed meds. She even offered to call Walgreen's and did so to get the names of her meds for the officers. Client taken to a hospital for a blood draw. Sample sent to Albuq. and toxicology report came back with 3 of the meds "present" and the other two stating <0.10mg/l. Client could not afford an expert witness to explain the report so Peter cross examined the state's chemist and backed her into corners time and time again regarding the findings.

M.J. Keefe helped him prepare this case by doing re-enactments and role reversal with deputies, (actually had client present for one session), voir dire and some other lawyers who had been to Regionals. Also, he want to acknowledge that he owes a debt of gratitude to Kelli from Atlanta, Georgia for passing along some great DRE cross questions.

End result: Jurors out for less than 30-minutes with verdict of NOT GUILTY. Client was very worried that she would lose her kindergarten teaching job with conviction--she would also have her driver's license revoked for up to 1-yr and she would be required to install an inter-lock device on any vehicle she operated for 1-year.

NOTE: After verdict, asst. d.a. who tried the case came over and opened his file and laid it in front of him to show him he granted my request to Nolle the case about a year ago by showing him his memo to his supervisor.
Supervisor interlineated all over his memo how he could kick his ass and that it didn't matter how cops treated his client and that she was driving while impaired to the slightest degree, and that jury would convict her!

A personal note from Peter-


The New Rules in Trucking Discovery

Congratulations to Morgan Adams, who recently published an article, "The New Rules in Trucking Discovery" in the latest Trial magazine from AAJ. Download it here! You can read Morgan’s blog on trucking litigation here!

A confession but no body: Is that enough to convict?

Appealed by Deb Ellis, TLC Staffer

By JOY POWELL, Star Tribune

Somewhere at Pine Bend Landfill, under 30 feet of dirt and trash, police believe there lies the skeleton of a slain baby, but they can't recover it. In a rare verdict, the baby girl's mother was convicted in 2008 of a murder in which a body wasn't found.

Now, in a highly unusual appeal to the state Supreme Court, the mother's attorney argues that Samantha Heiges of Burnsville was wrongfully convicted because state law says a person cannot be convicted solely on a confession; there must be separate evidence.

Attorney Deborah Ellis says not only is there no body, but nobody has been able to prove the infant, named Sydney, was born alive, and if she was, how she died. She also contends that three "confessions" to police and two friends should not have been used to corroborate one another.

Finish reading the article here!

My Take on the Florida Seminar

By Alice Harris

When I learned that TLC was having a conference in Florida, I was immediately interested. Jim Jenkins and Chris Klotz, both TLC graduates, had spoken highly of TLC's impact on their professional and personal lives and earlier recommended I apply for the 3-week TLC college. However, I was having a hard time justifying to myself spending the money and time, so I had not applied. Now, there was a chance to see what this TLC stuff was about without a major investment!

This conference was not only unlike any conference I had every attended, it was simply like nothing I had ever experienced. Not once was I bored and sleepy and longing for the merciful end of a session. Not once did my mind wander to the cases I was working on, or what I was missing at home, or how much my back hurt or what I might have for lunch. I will admit that I occasionally wondered how this related to closing argument, but I put my doubts on the shelf and was too busy "being there" to worry about it. Having been forewarned by Jim and Chris, and by reading a bit about TLC and some of the materials on line, I made a conscious decision to keep an open mind and to participate and engage as fully as I could manage. My modus operandi was, "What have I got to lose?"

What can I say about Josh? First, that I had no concept of what an acting coach does; that I thought "acting" would just make a lawyer seem unbelievable; that this presence, apparently an artistic genius, was from some other, ethereal, place and could not be of any use to lawyers ? who use intellect and reason and facts. Yes. That?s what I was thinking. I could not have been more wrong. What brilliance he showed. What patience and determination and kindness and humility he showed, as he brought out abilities that seemed impossible to reach and to unleash.

What can I say about the TLC techniques? We have to "know the facts of the case" to be successful at trial. We have to have a "theme" or a "theory." But what do we have to get to the facts and develop the theme? We criminal defense lawyers get police reports, probable cause affidavits, laboratory reports, and sworn witness statements. I take depositions, apparently so people can repeat to me what they?ve already reported. These traditional methods of acquiring knowledge of the case are not enough. The TLC approach is making me see that if I rely on those things for the story, I am only scratching the surface. I think TLC techniques can help me mine deep into the ground.

What can I say about the Florida conference? It was cold. The accommodations were basic. The food was mundane. There was no luxury there except the very best kind - the intense and unique luxury of being in the presence of brilliance and kindness and good people seeking to improve. I'll be back.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ridgefield man awarded $1.5 million in accident suit

Case tried by TLC Staffer, Antonio Ponvert

from the Danbury News-Times

DANBURY -- Dennis Janson of Ridgefield, an acoustic engineer, studio designer and architect, won $1.5 million in a personal injury case Friday -- primarily because of hearing loss he suffered when, according to his complaint, the tire on his Jeep Wrangler exploded in 2007 while Janson knelt near it.

Antonio Ponvert III, Janson's lawyer, said the award is one of the largest for a personal injury suit ever meted out at Danbury Superior Court.

He said his client, while still able to work as an acoustic engineer and studio designer, is "unable to enjoy life the way he used to" because of his hearing loss and the tinnitus -- constant ringing in his ears.

Read more here!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jude Basile named 2010 California Central Coast Trial Lawyer of the Year

TLC President Jude Basile was named the California Central Coast Trial Lawyer of the year once again! He also received the award in 2002 and 2008.

from the SLO County Bar Bulletin
online at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Legend of Reginald Burks

by Cheryl Carpenter, TLC Staffer

I wanted to share the Ambrose Law Group's (Dan, Bill and Aida) new website about their recent murder acquittal. I've never seen a website like this. It's completely dedicated to discovering the story of Reginald's case until the 12 minute not guilty. It includes everything in between including the middle of the night work sessions. Dan even brought his video camera to Detroit Metro Airport to capture the first meeting of his blood spatter expert, Joe Slemko. I particularly like Dan's aha moment when he discovered that this wasn't a case of self-defense but rather some other dude did it. It's inspiring to me. Check it out.