Friday, July 10, 2009

Some things I am learning

I haven't posted much about what I've been learning lately, but I just finished an externship with a judge here in Columbus and I learned a lot (about writing and how the courts work and, most importantly, that I have no desire to ever be a judge, clerk for a judge or even to litigate at all - it's just not my cup of tea, as it were).

Anyway, I wrote a (long) essay about my experience and something I learned about attorneys. There are some interesting stories in the essay and some of my thoughts about my education. It is long, but I think it is a good read, so enjoy:

When I was a cub newspaper reporter, I was invited to have lunch with the detectives from the local sheriff’s office. I rode to the “restaurant” – a bar/dive called Andy’s which offered delicious Greek fare in a dingy, dark, wood-paneled old house on the edge of a Wal-Mart shopping center parking lot – with my paper’s veteran court reporter and then walked in to meet the group of cops. The detectives and their lieutenant were very nice and we had a good meal and got to know each other better. That led to a better working relationship during the rest of my stay at the paper, but above all else in that meeting, one exchange stands out.

We were talking about a recent murder case the sheriff’s office was investigating and about my reports on it. The lieutenant made a comment about the motive, which hadn’t been reported yet, and I perked up. I said, “Have they released that information yet?” The wise, experienced lieutenant looked back and me and raised his eyebrow. At that moment I realized that the “they” to which I was referring was the lieutenant and detectives sitting around the table with me. Everyone smiled at me, and the lieutenant laughed and said, “You can’t turn it off, can you?”

I share that story because one of the most interesting things I witnessed in my externship was how the attorneys in the court “turned it off” (and back on) so quickly. I found fascinating their ability to do so, even if it was at a moment’s notice. My first experience with this was just after a recess on the second-to-last day of a lengthy medical malpractice wrongful death trial. I and my fellow extern had been watching the riveting testimony by the defense’s witnesses all day and had been impressed with the cross-examination of the plaintiff’s attorney – he was a master at using yes or no questions to get witnesses to paint themselves into a corner and then say something they would regret. It was interesting to watch his gaze and questioning pin physicians to the witness’ seat as he picked apart their testimony. Several times during the trial I had actually felt like squirming on my pew in the back of the courtroom because his questions were so barbed.

After a particularly long period of questioning an expert witness, the Judge called for a 15-minute recess. When it was time to start again, we externs were sitting in the courtroom and talking about what we’d been learning in the case. One of the plaintiff’s attorneys (who I later found out is the father of the cross-examiner) came over to us and asked us why we were sitting in on the case. We explained that we were externs for the Judge and that we were observing the trial. He also asked us where we go to school and when he found out we attend Moritz, he said his co-counsel (and son) had also attended Moritz.

The father called over the son and his eyes lit up when we told him we were Moritz students. He talked about how much he enjoyed studying here and about some of his favorite teachers. He asked about a couple we hadn’t heard of (must have retired before we got here) and then talked for a couple minutes about Dean Michaels’ appointment as dean of the law school this year. “I was in Michaels’ first criminal law class when he started at the school,” he said. “He’s a good teacher and a good guy.” His tone revealed that he had a high regard for Dean Michaels and was excited to see him become dean. He wished us luck with our studies and then stepped back behind the plaintiff’s desk and sat back down.

My first reaction was that he was nothing at all like I had expected, because all I’d seen of this attorney was him raking the defense’s witnesses over the coals. He was pleasant, smiley and had a kind demeanor; I’d be willing to bet the witnesses wouldn’t describe him like that, though. Just as I was thinking what a nice guy he was, he got the chance to cross-examine another witness and he burrowed into the witness’ testimony and slammed him for expressing a different opinion in court than he did in a deposition three years earlier. The prickly mask was back up and he was in full attorney mode just minutes after he was having a pleasant conversation about his alma mater.

The second example of attorneys flipping the switch was as I wandered around the courthouse one day, popping into courtrooms to see if anything interesting was going on. A defense attorney, while waiting for his client to be brought out in shackles, was talking to the judge about something definitely not court-related (I think it was about the judge’s staff eating a lot of candy, actually). Their conversation was obviously one between friendly colleagues, and both parties were joking and laughing. When the court’s officers brought in the accused, the attorney returned to his seat and waited for his client to shuffle into place next him.

Both stood and the judge started reading the charges explaining the defendant’s legal predicament. The attorney explained that his client had apologized for his wayward behavior and blamed it on drug use. The judge pointed out that this was the man’s third time being hauled in for drug offenses, and that the earlier punishments obviously hadn’t worked. The defendant tried to say something, but the judge curtly told him that he would be wise to keep his mouth shut. The attorney then explained that his client wanted to enter a plea agreement with the state that would put in on probation for three years and on house arrest for six months in lieu of going to prison for 18 months. The state agreed with this, but the judge was quite stern and reluctantly went along with it – although he did sentence the man to spend Dec. 23-27 in jail this year so that he could realize how lucky he was to not be in prison full-time. “I want you in jail on Christmas so you can know what you’d be missing if you weren’t on probation,” the judge said, later adding that if there was any drug or alcohol use during the probation, the man would get the entire 18 months in prison.

I’m sure it would have been unprofessional for the judge and attorney to have been laughing and joking (about candy!) in the courtroom while the client was there, but it was impressive how the court a defendant sees and the court others see is so different. All this is because the attorneys and judge change their actions, words and demeanor so quickly.

The last impressive interchange took less than two minutes. I was sitting in Judge Reece’s conference room waiting to speak with the staff attorney one morning when a prosecutor and defense attorney walked in for a status conference. The conference room table is covered with magazines and Ohio Bar Association publications, and when the attorneys walked in, the defense picked up one of the magazines and started looking through it while the prosecutor opened her notebook. “Can you believe this picture?” asked the defense, pointing to an art magazine’s photo of six small Chinese girls laying next to each other in a bed, nestled on pillows under a quilt and each holding an assault rifle over the covers. They two attorneys chatted briefly about the art and then spent no more than 30 seconds doing business for the status conference.

They were talking about a vandalism and destruction of public property case. The defense said, “So, we’d like probation on this.” The prosecutor’s body language showed that probation alone wasn’t going to cut it, “OK, but I think community service would help this plea.” “Sounds fair, write it up and I’ll get it signed,” the defense replied. And that was it. They went back to small talk about such topics as lunch and Monday morning blahs.

Each of these situations was impressive to me because these attorneys obviously have the ability to “turn it off” when they can and re-engage when needed. I think it comes from a sense of comfort and experience in a court setting, but also from years of experience. It is almost like me being able to causally slip in and out of proper speech and goofy colloquialism, because I have mastered the proper speech already. At this point in my legal career, I don’t feel comfortable enough with my legal skills to turn my mind away from that focus when I am in a legal setting. I’m sure it will come with time, and hopefully someday I’ll impress some young law student with my ability to slide back and forth between business and leisure.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sewing Projects

I am not the best sewer. I know how to and I can do the basics, but reading patterns is not my forte. So I decided to tackle this head on and try and see if I could figure it out or if I need to take a sewing class. I decided to take on two projects this week. The first was an apron and the second was a skirt. I went to walmart and bought some cheap $1.50 a yard fabric for both projects. I figured if neither of these worked out, I would only be out a few dollars.

I started with the apron, because I knew it would be straightforward and very easy. I cut out the fabric and got started on the sewing. It wasn't long into it that I bagged the directions and did things my own way.
The apron turned out really well! If I make another one like that, I will make it just a little longer, but I definetly liked my way better than the instructions. After tackleing the apron, I got started on the skirt. Again I cut it out and got started on sewing, and again it wasn't too far into it that I used the instructions more as guidelines than as an actual how to.

I think the skirt turned out really well too! I had some problems with the zipper, but apparently most people do! I would definetly make this pattern again. Jordan helped me with the hem(since it is hard to hem something on yourself) and I need to go fix it a little, but all in all it worked out great! I talked to one of the ladies in my ward and she said she would help me out with my next sewing project, which will be a lot of help when it comes to zippers and hems! All in all, I think I am like my sisters when it comes to patterns. They are great guidelines, but they don't have to be followed to the T. You can do things your own way sometimes and it is ok. Thanks again to my mom for answering the phone every time I called to answer all my questions!

Independence Day (Sort of)

In Columbus, the big Independence Day celebration happened on July 3rd this year. I don't know if it is like that every year, or just this year. Red, White and Boom is a whole day event, with a parade, tons of vendors, other activities and of course, FIREWORKS! Jordan and I decided to spend a good part of the evening downtown for it. Unfortunately, our camera batteries were very low on power, so we couldn't document it with too many pictures, but we did have a great time!

We started off the day at the parade. This is us just before the parade started.

Mario Lopez was in the parade, which was really weird. He was too busy texting ro twittering to wave most of the time, but here is one shot where he is actually paying attention to what is going on.

After the parade, Jordan, Clara and I walked around downtown and tried out the food at some of the vendors. Clara was very into people watching. At about 9 o'clock, we headed back out of the crowd so we could watch the fireworks from a place that was less congested with people, and so we could easily walk home afterwards. We found some grass to lay out our blanket on and sat and waited for the fireworks to start. As always in the Sorensen tradition, I brought along some rice crispy treats to enjoy with the fireworks! Clara loved the rice crispy treats (of course!) and was a little scared of the fireworks at first, but warmed up to them very quickly!

She wouldn't even take her eyes off of them for a picture! The fireworks were amazing, and we all had a great time! We walked home afterwards ( we live about a mile from downtown). Clara fell asleep the last five minutes of the walk and slept VERY well that night!

One funny thing that happened while we walking around was we found a knife on the ground. It looked like a kitchen knife that someone may have lost with their picnic stuff, but we didn't want to leave it there, so we picked it up and took it to the first police officer we saw. They were bicycle cops, and int he middle of a huge crowd, so they told us to find a trash can because they couldn't do anything with it right then. So we took it with us and kept walking. As we got out of the crowd, we saw another set of police officers, so I took the knife back out and started walking towards the officers with it. One of the officers saw me, and got a startled look on his face and started getting the other officers attention and said to him "Hey, that girl walking towards us has a knife, man, she has a knife!" I explained to them what happened and they took it from me and said they would take care of it. I just thought it was funny how startled the officer was!