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Florida v. Zimmerman: Another Trial of the Century

index1Orlando is the fun capitol of the United States; first Mickey and Minnie, then Harry Potter and now Nancy Grace et al. Orlando’s neighbor, Sanford, is now vying for its own national recognition as it hosts the next trial of this century, Florida v. Zimmerman.imagesgz Move over Jodie Arias and Amanda Knox. That whacky state that brought you hanging chads and Tot Mom now goes center stage once again as the trial enters its second week. The case is better known for the deceased than for the defendant.

index2CNN has marched out its cadre of Florida talking heads to bring us the play by play on a daily basis. If this jury weighs the evidence, and not the opinions of Grace and her cohorts, and acquits, then once again we will see the usual cast of legal pundits explaining to us how the jury got it wrong. Our view of the American jury trial will again be stained by the legal analysts who, if truth is known, haven’t really tried that many cases. We are offered the opinions of a score of pretty young faces who, collectively, have probably not tried, in the aggregate, the number of cases the actual litigators have. Despite this we will be barraged by second guessers and Monday morning legal quarterbacks.

I have tried my share of sensational cases. As any good litigator, if the result is not what I hoped I carry the losses with me, always wondering if I did all I could have done. I can’t imagine the additional pressure of being second-guessed on a nightly basis by lawyers with only passing familiarity with the case.

indextedTrial lawyers spend countless hours preparing: considering strategies, planning the cross examination of pivotal witnesses and preparing the defense. The late Theodore Koskoff of Bridgeport was one of the great trial lawyers of his or anyone’s generation. He preached that trial preparation was more perspiration than inspiration. A lawyer taking on the responsibility of defending a murder case has spent countless hours in review of the evidence and marshaling the assets of the defense.

I recently spent four days preparing the cross examination of the state’s main witness in a recent trial. The cross lasted about an hour. The trial lawyer needs to know the witness’ prior testimony or statements, and be prepared to challenge any answers that are inconsistent with the prior pronouncements. At the end of a 6 hour court day the competent trial lawyer is drained emotionally. I tell people that trying cases is like intellectual pick and shovel work. You hang on every word.

When you start your cross you are thinking several questions ahead of the witness, planning where you will go if the witness says this or the witness says that. After a long trial day I cannot imagine what it is like to go home and try to regroup for the next day while the talking heads, with minimal actual knowledge of the facts, are dissecting your performance, adding their “gotcha” type comments.

Could you imagine showing up for work the next day after being fileted by some know-it-all on TV about the quality of your work from the prior day. Television has its place in the courtroom in cases of national significance. It would be nice if they would just televise the trial and lose the color commentary.

Rich Meehan