Feb
22

My Mom Is The Prettiest and Bestest Mommy In The Whole Wide World

I don't think much of those who blog under a psuedonym and hide their identity. If you think it, own it, I say. But folks have their reasons for anonymity. Sometimes it is cowardice or fear of the consequences; sometimes it is a juvenile love of mystery. In Connecticut, a blog called A Public Defender intermittently yields opinion under the pseudonym "Gideon." I generally agree with what is written there, but not always, so I give Gideon a pass on his -- at least I think it's a he -- feet of clay.

But Gideon now blasts me as a cumbersome bloviater for calling for the abolition of individual sequestered voir dire. I suspect what has driven him over the edge is a piece I wrote published in The Hartford Courant this past weekend. The target audience for that essay was members of the Connecticut General Assembly.

It appears from the context of his writing that Gideon is a state employee. In other words, his practice is confined to the state courts. Thus, all he knows by experience is what he has done. And all he has done is trod the same well worn path of individual sequestered voir dire. He has no experience with group voir dire. He can be forgiven for thinking his mother is the prettiest, smartest and bestest woman in the whole wide world, but really, Gideon: Do you really think the quality of justice in the Connecticut state courts surpasses every other jurisdiction in the United States? What empirical evidence supports that?

It is true that some jurisdictions permit individual sequestered voir dire for good cause shown in capital cases. But no other jurisdiction requires the practice as a matter of right in all civil and criminal cases. Only Connecticut does that. Connecticut could, and should, abolish the practice of individual sequestered voir dire as a matter of right. Retaining the practice upon a showing of good cause is not inconsistent with that.

I genuinely admire and even envy public defenders. They get to do the sort of work I love to do without having to bow and scrape for a fee. But when I read a piece like Gideon's I am glad I escaped the monotony of the oxen yoked to a water wheel. When all you know is the same path, the same sights, the same sounds day in and day out, it is small wonder parochialism looks like reason.

You're wrong, Gideon, And what's worse, you toss pebbles behind the veil of a pseudonym. If I didn't like the general tone of your blog, I'd suggest a name change to Public Pretender. The Earth is not flat.

I hope the Connecticut General Assembly will ask the Progam Review and Investigation Committee to study the issue of voir dire reform. I know the Connecticut Bar Association is about to begin a study. I'll be sure to pass Gideon's piece along to both bodies. It is a good piece of parochial pleading. But it sheds little light on anything other than the prejudices of an anonymous and hide-bound dedication to custom for custom's sake. It is quaint, really, in an almost medieval sort of manner.
Comments (7)
Posted on February 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm by Rick Horowitz
Are you seriously trying to suggest that simply be...
Are you seriously trying to suggest that simply because you don't know his "real" name, this makes a difference?

I know your real name. I don't know his.

I know both of you equally as well.

Posted on February 25, 2010 at 9:53 am by Anonymous
Norm, you are so silly. Just because you talk back...
Norm, you are so silly. Just because you talk back to your mommy and wear a ponytail and sneakers doesn't make you tougher or a better writer than Gideon. Reading your columns lately, I think you might actually jealous of Gideon's mommy and wish you had one too.

Posted on February 25, 2010 at 2:34 am by Norm Pattis
You can't strike a pseudonym below the belt. Not u...
You can't strike a pseudonym below the belt. Not using his or her name to say what he really thinks? Isn't that the very definition of cowardice?

Posted on February 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm by Anonymous
Did it ever occur to you, Norm, that Gideon, as a ...
Did it ever occur to you, Norm, that Gideon, as a public employee, might require the veil of anonymity in order to state what he truly thinks without fear? I mean, I agree with you on the voir dire point, but your insinuation that the guy's a coward is unfounded and below the belt.

Posted on February 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm by Marcus L. Schantz
This is interesting. Here in Illinois, only recent...
This is interesting. Here in Illinois, only recent decisions from our high court have allowed attorneys to address the panel during voir dire.

There was quite a ruckus about the wording of the rule as it changed from the judge "may" allow questioning, to the judge "shall" allow questioning.

But the judge can limit scope. I did a jury last week and the judge told me I couldn't pre-try the case during voir dire so my questioning was limited to "where do you get your news from?"

Honestly though, I haven't been doing this long enough to really get a great topical voir dire. Right now I just make chit chat and see who will talk to me and try to read their body language to see if the like me. Anything beyond that is beyond my experience level.

I can't even imagine what individual voir dire is like. Sometimes we call someone in the panel to chambers alone to ask them something super specific, and it's usually about a past criminal matter the state has found.

Posted on February 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm by izaakschwaiger
I think Gideon's comment misses the point. You do...
I think Gideon's comment misses the point. You don't have to choose between individual sequestered voir dire and a thirty minute judge voir dire. Certainly there are other options, and they make up the lion's share of how business is done elsewhere. Some are good systems. All it seems are under threat of becoming marginalized. I suspect Gideon's fear of change is more a fear of the onset of a diminished voir dire in CT, and that is a reasonable fear.

Norm, until I started reading your blog, I had never heard of individualized voir dire as the rule. My first reaction was "Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have the tete-a-tete with every one of them?" My next reaction was "How the hell can you get a sense of jury dynamics without having jurors able to interact with each other in front of you? How can you get jurors to teach each other during voir dire?"

Don't you lose a lot by not getting a feel for the group as a whole? I can see pros and cons both ways, but I think I'd choose a good group voir dire any day of the week.

Posted on February 23, 2010 at 7:25 am by Anonymous
As someone who has practiced in Connecticut and el...
As someone who has practiced in Connecticut and elsewhere, I can vouch for the fact that Gideon really does, in fact, have the prettiest, bestest mommy ever. I choose Connecticut's process any day over one that allows the choosing of a 12-person jury in little over half an hour, where neither State nor defense counsel are permitted to utter a single word (other than to introduce themselves).

It is also worthy to note that one needn't have such experience to know that Connecticut's process is superior to its neighboring states. I mean, I'ven ever practiced under a system that refuses to allow jury trials at all, but I'm still pretty sure it's the better way to go.

We aren't all as lucky as you when it comes to anonymity, either. Though we may not need to bow and scrape for a fee, we must be careful about what we say in public forums.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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