My attorney, Dan, wanted the jury to understand who I was. At this point in our one and a half year relationship, I knew that Dan knew who I was. He knew I was innocent and that made this case so hard for him. I was struggling all the time, but my struggle was to get the truth to people that would help decide the case. I watched Dan struggle for different reasons. Dan had been a prosecutor and he knew what an uphill battle I was in. Knowing that if I were found guilty there was a very real possibility that I would not be with my kids bothered Dan. Dan was doing everything in his power to show the jury who I was and ….who I was not. I was a wife, mother of 3, trust department professional, and well educated. I was not a criminal.
We were all gathered at the defense table when Dan stood and turned to the judge and said the defense calls….my name. I literally took a small skip in my step as I hurried to the witness chair. I’m not sure that anyone noticed, but I know I did it because of how incredibly ready I was to tell everyone what the truth was. I had to be careful because I was over-ripe and I didn’t want that to translate into cockiness or arrogance. I sat down on the perch, took a quick gaze at my new view, and smiled nervously.
State your name for the court. And with that request, I was on.
Dan took the jury through some of my childhood, education, getting married, and having kids, all along saying that I took classes and more responsibilities to further my career as most people would expect. I studied for and obtained various securities licenses, insurance licenses, real estate licenses, and other training as I thought it would add to my expertise and helpfulness for my clients. Ironically, I became a securities arbitrator to settle industry disputes among professionals and clients.
Dan and I created a rhythm of questions and answers that felt like a “this is your life” episode. It felt crazy to me to be on display selling my life to the jury as though I was asking them to believe that I am who I am.
After carefully laying out the foundation of my life – childhood, family, education, the mood shifted and we began to discuss my professional life. My role as an administrator of a venture capital fund is what the case involved and that is what the jury should be most interested in, but we were describing how I arrived professionally. First, there were nearly six years at a credit union with no complaints from any clients and the accolades from the president and board of the credit union. Next, there were a few years at a major brokerage house, again, many of the same clients and no complaints. At last, there was the company that I worked for when the charges were brought forth, Mayflower. Again, no complaints from any of my customers. I often worked with securities attorneys and consultants to file regulatory documents on behalf of the firm.
The focus would continue to be on my work at Mayflower, a small boutique firm that did venture capital work and consulting. Dan got directly to the question that needed to be asked. Did I conspire with others to take investor’s money? I looked right at the jury and answered… I hadn’t. Never considered it. It’s just not who I am. I had my own money and family and friend’s money invested in the same account like everyone else.
There, I said it. I was confident and said it right to the jury’s “face”. I hoped and prayed that they felt it and knew it as I meant it.
Part of my defense was “reliance”. Reliance is the complete dependence on an expert to carry out part of your responsibilities. In this case, reliance on the attorney and the accountant to do what their expertise said I should do. The way I understood it, if I told the “expert” every relevant piece of information regarding an issue and they told me what I should do and I did it, that was reliance. If any of those pieces didn’t fit together, I couldn’t claim reliance. I talked to the attorney multiple times a day nearly every day. I told Dan that I would have been able to tell when the attorney or I was on vacation because those were the only times we didn’t talk. Likewise, the accountant was a CPA and his office was next to mine. We talked every day he was there. Reliance – yes, I think it was absolutely correct.
This case was about a high-risk venture capital investment. Dan asked me questions about my few investors. The line of questioning was about having my parents and two close friends invested in the venture capital fund. Those were the only investors I had in the Fund – my closest people. I was personally invested in it too. I put my money where my mouth was. I believed in the Fund. I was loudly thinking and hoping that the jury had to be asking themselves why would this well-educated woman invest in a Fund and put her closest relationships at risk for what the Government has said is a scheme.
Another line of questioning in my testimony was my role in the Fund. I was clearly defined as the administrator. I talked to investors, but I talked with them about their paperwork. I didn’t know them or their investment objectives. I was well-qualified to review their extensive paperwork and make sure that they were well suited for the investment based on their answers. If they answered questions in a way that was questionable or unsuitable, I talked with them or the attorney for guidance. I did serve as a back-up to the accountant for wiring funds to investment companies if the accountant was unavailable. As it turned out, the accountant was unavailable more than I would have expected, so I regularly wired out funds based on the fund committee’s voting.
One of the things that bothered me about testifying was that the Government said that I was too smart to stay. I was told that being “that smart” in this case could work against you. Smart people don’t get in these situations is what I had been told. My response is that smart people rely on experts and I had no reason to question others that I worked with. If there came a time when I needed to speak up, I wasn’t afraid to do so.
The Government presumed that I knew things that I didn’t during my tenure with Mayflower. They thought I knew who the owner of the broker-dealer, Stan, was in terms of his character and his business deals. I didn’t. I didn’t see Stan much. I wasn’t involved in his business deals and I couldn’t imagine that Stan’s character could put me in the position that I was.
I say this because in our society we literally judged by the company we keep. It’s unfortunate, but a reality. Call it human nature. While in my nativity, I thought I had the option to stand on my own merit, our “world” makes many assumptions that can condemn you even when you have nothing you are guilty of. This is still a tough lesson for me and one that I may struggle forever to accept.
In my lifetime, I have worked with people who are homeless to meeting a couple of Supreme Court Justices. Does that say something about my character? Some of the best people I have ever met are people that spent decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They are clear about what is important, humble, and have no bitterness.
My community at this time was Dan and me. We were on a mission to tell the truth no matter who believed us. I had been waiting what felt like forever to testify and I was ready. If I never uttered another word after my testimony, I had to get this out. I had to be heard by people that could decide my future.
I watched Dan wrestle with my case. As I grew to understand the criminal justice system, I learned that most defendants are guilty. It’s the attorney’s responsibility to have the defendant accept responsibility and mitigate the damages as much as reasonable. What does a criminal defense attorney do when they know that their client is innocent? I think they get upset that the system gives them very little means to prove their innocence.
Testifying was liberating even if I would never know what the jury thought. I still had the truth and I told it to the best of my ability. I was at peace with that.
Do you keep busy or do you handle the things that are most important?