Open Book
  • jimbrannon0

2021 was a challenging year for everyone including the Brannon Law Office. In April, 2021, a fire occurred at my residence which caused a number of dislocations and handicaps, followed by personal issues, all of which culminated in a September 3 move from a hotel room where I had been relocated for 4 months (due to the fire) a hospital room for cancer surgery.

Four rounds of chemotherapy are due to end soon with cautious optimism.

As a result, the Brannon Law Office is back to work on a full-time basis and that is cause enough for celebration, not to mention the end of scheduled chemotherapy.

This is all cause for a celebration and a heartfelt wish for everyone to enjoy a more productive and enjoyable 2022.

We are having a big party on Saturday, December 11 as an early welcome to 2022.

Everyone is invited!

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  • jimbrannon0

A few years ago, I defended a black man, who was charged with murder in connection with the death of a white woman.

I had won murder trials before, but on the morning of any serious trial… you first stand up to address the pool of possible jurors in jury selection….you get a little nervous.

As the Judge afforded me the opportunity to begin questioning of the jury pool numbering near a hundred, I slowly arose from the defense table and scanned the packed courtroom, all prospective jurors, a few of whom I knew and many I did not.

I knew I was prepared and I told myself, “I’ve done this literally scores of times successfully in the past. I’ll do okay.”

I laid my little yellow pages of metilicously prepared questions on the podium to begin the selection of jurors--questions I had spent hours preparing about their experiences with the law, knowledge of the case which had been on television and in the papers, and their feelings about legal principles such as reasonable doubt.

I first asked my client to stand so that I could introduce him to this crowd of near 100, twelve of whom would judge his life. And then, I felt a deep sinking feeling and a voice in my head told me that “I’ve got a big problem.”

You see my client was black. And he was dark. And he was big.

Of course, I knew those things before.

But in this moment, I looked first at the prosecutor table where two lawyers and their assistant were seated. They were white.

I then looked at the row of police officers numbering six, all of whom were white.

I look at the bailiffs standing beside the bench, two of them, both white.

I looked at the bench, the clerk and judge, all white except the black robe.

I looked out at this courtroom full of possible jurors and I recognized one gentleman seated on the back row who I attended high school with. I noticed him quickly because he was the only one who was not…. White.

My first thought was…. Robert Redford. You got it. Robert Redford in Legal Eagles. The opening statement when it was obvious that the whole jury was convinced of his client’s guilt, before they even heard the case. And Redford in distress said something to the effect of “why bother with this trial charade, lets just find him guilty and get on with the sentencing?”

Redford is interrupted by a juror who exclaims, “but isn’t the defendant supposed to get a fair trial?’

I was no Robert Redford, and my client was damn sure, no, Daryl Hanna.

But I thought of Redford’s juror that seemed so interested in a “fair trial.”

Having now abandoned my well prepared notes, I picked a young woman prospective juror, who I thought by appearance anyway, might be slightly timid in this environment.

Ms. Jones, I blurted, “How would you feel.” If you were on trial for your life, for killing a black person, and you are white skinned?”

“And your lawyer and his investigator are black.”

“These able prosecutors over here, they are black.”

“These six police officers trying to convict you, are black.”

“ The bailiffs here to keep the peace are all black.”

“The Clerk and the Judge overseeing the case are black.”

Oh, but this is a trial by a JURY!

And except for that one white spot, my friend, Mr. Henderson, in the back of the room, THEY are all black.”

“Ms Jones, how would that make you feel?”

“I would be scared to death,” she muttered.

I paced for a few moments nodding my head in agreement.

“How about you Miss Jackson?” “How would that make you feel, on trial for your life and EVERYONE who had anything to do with it, was ALL BLACK?”

I asked four or five more jurors the same question with the same response before I again paced for a few more moments, nodding my head in agreement.

It was very quiet.

I recognized as a juror… a high school teacher who I knew would be versed in such things as “social studies.”

“Mr. English!“ I asked. “What are we going to do about it? What can we do about it ?”

“Well, Mr. English said, we can make sure there is proof….proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

I was able to get a few other jurors who I knew from investigation were attuned to such things as the presumption of innocence.

This may be the only case I’ve seen where the jury presented most of the defense theories in the jury selection process.

In this case, a few days later, the jury acquitted my client of murder.

The import of this case, however, in terms of race and justice and the point of “black lives matter,” at least from my perspective, can be summed up, but asking yourself…. the same question I asked those jurors: “How would you feel?”

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One of the fascinating aspects of COVID-19 has been the advent of so many who became overnight experts on all things, medical and scientific. Most, likewise blessed with great confidence that they, and they alone, have all the correct answers, while those trained in science and medicine have almost universally admitted "they really don't know."

I suspect that we will get through this, either together, or not.

Perhaps the better question is whether we will learn something from the COVID-19 experience that helps make society all of its nuances.

There is cause for hope.

Will business, big and small, conclude that “telework” can actually enhance productivity, for example, when employees no longer lose two hours a day in smog causing commute?

Will our education system, while honoring the notion that there is no substitute for the in classroom teacher, immerse itself in the use of technological learning where possible; perhaps with savings in education costs. And, yes. A national commitment to insure that all students have access to internet and a laptop?

Will democracy be given an opportunity to march, or perhaps, “zoom” into public meetings encouraging access by a whole new generation of Americans, who will likely never attend a meeting of the 'town council,' held in a dingy meeting room or courthouse?

Will “tele-health” be permitted, where it can be done so safely; to be expanded and actually reduce the cost of providing health services?

Unlike those who became overnight Louis Pasteur's; I do not know the answer to those questions.

In any event, the questions would perhaps be outside the scope of a first post on a “law related” blog.

So, the question perhaps more properly posed here, should be whether the COVID-19 experience will have a lasting effect on the practice of law.

Truthfully, I don't know the answer to that question either.

But here is one vote for such change.

Federal courts have utilized electronic filing exclusively for years; state courts have likewise moved in that direction more recently. Technology has been used for such things as video appearances from a jail, video has been used in depositions for some time, but the conducting of business in a virtual setting is, for most, a COVID-19 first occurrence.

And, all in all, I don't think it has been a bad one.

But change is not without sadness. Like the failure of brick and mortar bookstores; the apple taken to the school teacher, or in my case, my first jury trial in the historic upstairs courtroom at the old Bourbon County Courthouse. And those things will hopefully never completely disappear.

Among the other things of which I know little, is the construction of video-conferencing software platforms.

But, what if those platforms could be perfected. And designed specifically for court systems with all their particularities, legal and otherwise.

Will there be a day in the not so distant future when some young kid will ask? “You mean you used to actually go to court in that building?”

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