Happy New Year! -- Another Year In The Trenches
The gods smiled on our clients in 2014, and for that reason alone, I will count the past year a success: On behalf of all five of the lawyers at the Pattis Law Firm, LLC, Happy New Year.
We represent people accused of serious crimes; we also represent folks in life-changing civil conflicts. We argue in state and federal appellate courts, try cases to courts and juries, and, as is the lot of criminal defense lawyers everywhere, engage in endless rounds of plea-bargaining. We’re not public defenders, we are a private firm, and we’re dedicated to high-quality representation at reasonable prices.
In 2014, we tried three murder cases: two resulted in outright acquittals, and one resulted in a mistrial, after the jury could not agree, and will be tried again in 2015. L.J., in New Haven, was found not guilty of murder, despite the testimony of two witnesses who said he had confessed to the crime. J. G., in New Britain, was found not guilty of murder, despite telling police he fired the shot which resulted in death. A jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in the case of D. R., despite the testimony of an accomplice who claimed he drove a car as Mr. R. shot and killed the decedent.
A federal jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in the federal narcotics and firearms possession case of R. J., in whose car and apartment were found significant quantities of cocaine and illegal guns. Mr. J.’s case will be retried in 2015.
A special thanks to each of the jurors in those cases: They paid attention to the jury instructions, and, when given reasons to doubt, refused to convict. Thanks as well to Jim Nugent, Brittany Paz, Fred O’Brien, Dan Erwin, and Heather Rolfes, the attorneys with whom I tried these cases.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave us reason to smile this year as well, ordering the release on bond after the trial court denied bond of a client in a white collar case involving several grandmothers. We argued the merits of the conviction late in 2014, and await a decision.
On the civil side, a federal jury gave L. P. some measure of relief in her claim that a private investigator she retained to investigate an auto accident involving her daughter took advantage of her. The action was what lawyers call a diversity action, pitting residents of different states against one another in federal court. After the trial judge refused to let jurors consider one of the claims, Ms. P. must decide whether to take an appeal to the Second Circuit, and to seek a new trial.
We tried court trials, as well, where judges, rather than juries, make decisions. One involve complex child custody issues, where a mother who had abandoned her children sought more time with her children. We represented the father, a former Wall Street lawyer, now stay-at-home dad, in his efforts to assure that the mother get more psychological help before spending more time with the kids. We're currently involved in several other divorce actions, one involving complex custody issues, another focused on division of a complex estate.
In another court trial, we tried a real estate case involving encroachment of boundary lines in a rural subdivision. It was the first real estate case we tried, and although we did not obtain substantial money damages, we did vindicate a matter of principle important to the child.
Two Fourth Amendment cases currently in litigation gave us reason for cheer. In one, we sued high-ranking Internal Revenue agents for the manner in which they conduct searches for documents – with overwhelming displays of force and SWAT-teams. Calling the searches “shock and awe” searches, we withstood a motion to dismiss in federal court. The case will either proceed to discovery or to immediate appeal. We’re hoping to make new law on such searches with this case.
In another, Dan Erwin, an associate in our firm, persuaded a state court judge to suppress evidence in a drug case. A drug-sniffing dog alerted outside the apartment of a client, and officers then got a warrant. The trial court was persuaded that the dog had invaded the curtilage of the home, despite the fact the dog was in a common area. Key to the ruling was the assertion that people of lesser means have expectations of privacy as robust as those of folks who live in detached homes. The case is now on appeal, and has the potential to reach the United States Supreme Court.
We also helped lawyers and other professionals in trouble with various licensing bodies, as well as police officers, and other public officials facing professional challenges.
On a personal note, I found new readers with my weekly columns in the Journal Register Company’s newspapers in Southern New England, and plugged away for my fifteenth year as a weekly columnist for the Connecticut Law Tribune. At year’s end, my fourth book, In the Trenches, was published; it’s a collection of essays. Writing about the law, and actual cases and controversies, remains a source of deep satisfaction.
At year's end, we closed our office in Bethany, and returned full-time to New Haven, where we'll be located just blocks from the state and federal courthouses. After 10 years as a country lawyer, I decided to once again locate within walking distance of a good coffee shop.
The past year was a busy one. We’re grateful to all the folks who trusted us with their lives and liberty. We’re looking forward to 2015.