‘Here I am (at court), to speak what I do know’

Today, I argued my first case beyond the immediate suburbs, as well as my first case in criminal court. Though the learning curve was steep, I was well-prepared, thanks to the diligent supervision of my Victim Rights Law Center supervisor and my education at BU Law.

New Bedford District Court, where I argued a few hours ago.

This was my first case before a district court. Previously, I have argued at the Brooke Courthouse in Suffolk County (housing and family courts) and the probate and family courts in Middlesex and Norfolk counties.

Today’s hearing concerned Massachusetts Criminal Procedure Rule 17(a)(2), which governs document production requests in criminal cases. A Rule 17 hearing is a rare opportunity for the victim of a crime to have an attorney advocate directly for their position — in this case, to limit the defense’s access to the victim’s (otherwise) private records.

The New Bedford District Court courtroom was extremely crowded, and very small. Picture a typical courtroom, with opposing parties seated next to each other. Not the case in New Bedford! The room is so narrow that the two tables are set up in single file. Parties arguing before the court had to stand in front of the tables and within two feet of the judge. Family members supporting parties or witnesses were kicked out to make room for people required to be present. Attorneys stood, leaning on the jury box to wait their turn.

In that stress-cultivating environment, I had an excellent final court experience in law school.

From the start, my appearance on behalf of the victim was unexpected. The judge noted, “You guys don’t usually show up!”

The defense attorney presented his argument. Then, I presented mine — or started to, only to be interrupted almost immediately by the judge. I could barely get out two sentences before her next question came. Fortunately, I had an answer every time. My supervisor had prepared me well. The defense attorney had a lot of yelling to do, once it was his turn to respond, which I took as a sign  that I was doing a good job.

I gave an impassioned defense but did not raise my voice to match his. Who wants to see a shouting match (other than on Court TV)? I was proud of my argument, and my supervisor seemed to think it went well, too.

Though the outcome will take weeks, I can use this experience now to reflect on how much progress I have made since starting law school.

I am the same woman who had tears in her eyes from performance anxiety while reciting a passage from Julius Caesar in front of her 10th-grade English class. I am the same woman, but I don’t have the same fears.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I have grown far more assertive and poised since then. I hesitate to say I am a “better” person, but I am certainly a better-prepared one (though maybe not quite ready to try Marc Antony’s funeral speech any time soon). The oral advocacy, negotiation, mediation, and black-letter law knowledge gained in law school prepared me for court today, but more importantly, this education has set me up for a more fulfilling, self-confident career and life. I graduate in about a month, and I feel ready to go forth and practice law. What a gift this experience has been!

One Comment

Kim posted on April 8, 2016 at 9:20 pm

What great strides you have made to make the world a better place. Thanks!

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