Oklahoma Bound


I’ve been tossing and turning a lot lately, visions of wind-swept Oklahoma on my mind, and the twang of tough men and women staring me down, wondering who I am, and why they ought to listen to a word I have to say. You see, in a couple of weeks, I will be speaking at the 2011 Patrick A. Williams Criminal Defense Institute in Norman, Oklahoma.

Preparation goes something like this.

"I can’t sleep," I say as I gently nudge my wife, who is already fast asleep.

She is awake now. "Why? What’s wrong?," she asks.

"I can’t imagine what I am going to say in Oklahoma. There’s going to be a couple hundred criminal defense lawyers there. Some of the best lawyers in the United States live there. Garvin Isaacs and John Zelbst are there."

"You’ll do fine," my wife says, unhelpfully. She looks relieved and a little miffed. I woke her up for this? "Just be yourself."

Easy for her to say. She’s not making the trip.

I was of course thrilled when the invitation arrived. I get to open the two-day session with my take on why we need a trial lawyer on the Supreme Court. And I close the event with ruminations on whether good lawyers can also be good men. I even do a break out session on jury selection. But me? Oklahoma?

It turns out one of officers of the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association was fooling with the radio one night and caught me spouting off about something. One thing led to another, and I was tracked down. Beware the sound byte, a voice inside me cautions.

I’ve screwed around some with Power Point, preparing slides. I’ve read about some recent Oklahoma cases. I’ve even talked to a few folks down there to learn how jurors are selected, and what issues are on the minds of practitioners. An outsider’s perspective is sometimes helpful; sometimes not.

So off I go. Two weeks from tomorrow, in fact.

The last time I spoke at a state association meeting outside of my native Connecticut was before the Idaho Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Tony Serra was the main draw then. We stayed in Sun Valley for several days. I like the West, and the Southwest, too. The characters seem larger than life. But it is unnerving to be far from home, among strangers, talking about the law.

I used to have a thing for the West. For several years, I hung out a lot in Wyoming, walking in Gerry Spence’s shadow and staffing events at his Trial Lawyers College. But I got itchy feet there as I almost always do when I stay anywhere too long. A group formed, there were insiders and outsiders, and norms of conformity emerged. I needed out. So I left, burning bridges as I left. An act of grace seems not entirely to have erased all connection to Spence, however. He was gracious enough to write an introduction to a book I wrote coming out this week, Taking Back the Courts. It was a gift I did not deserve given how I treated the man, and I am grateful he took the time to review the book.

So I fiddle some with slides, and work on making sure I can fit all I want to say within the allotted 50 minutes I will have for each presentation. And I try not to imagine some mountain of a man come walking up to the podium to knock me into Texas. The truly good news, come tomorrow I will start picking a jury in a statutory rape case. Jury selection should take the rest of the week, taking my mind off the fear of Oklahoma, and replacing it with terror of trial.

If you’re out in Norman at the end of the month, the seminar is still accepting registrations. It takes place June 23 and June 24 at the NCED Conference Center and Hotel in Norman, Oklahoma. Drinks are on me.

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