After over a year, the inevitable took place. I was going to trial. You prepare for it for what seems like forever, but the day before it begins you can’t imagine that you are ready or that it is actually happening. The problem is that you will never be ready. It seemed like I was preparing to do more than go to trial.
I was preparing to be believed.
Truth in hand and boxes of compelling evidence, I was trying to keep things simple, yet thorough, informative, but not overwhelming. It felt like doing the impossible.
I had to wear something that made me look innocent, but still be “me”. Smile and look friendly, a juror might think you aren’t taking the case seriously. Never look up and the jurors may think that you are avoiding contact because you have something to hide. I had to be incredibly appropriate about everything I did, said, the way I looked. I was being judged from the moment I walked in the room. All of these appearances shouldn’t matter, but that’s not reality.
There is something overwhelming about seeing a courtroom assembled to hear my case. Each person had a role to fill in the courtroom. The judge gives instructions on how the case proceeds and referees the prosecutors and defense attorneys. The prosecutors have a wealth of resources ready to go at a wave of their hand. The jury looks lost and doesn’t really know how important independent thinking and active listening is to the success of a trial, even if they have been told multiple times. The visitors are restless supporters and others that overflow from the defense and prosecutors’ tables. The bailiffs observe and are ready to intervene but relax with this group.
As I proceeded into the courtroom, the well used, hinged wooden door separated the action from the observers. It swung open and we turned left. The prosecutors quickly followed and turned right.
Innocent until proven guilty, I whispered to no one….
As the prosecutors opening remarks began it was clear that their initial tactic was for us to drink from a firehose.
Objections immediately began with Crawford v. Washington regarding hearsay statements being admitted to the trial. After a torrid description of the firm and fund I used to work for, the prosecutor started to describe me. Lifted from some securities industry applications, the prosecutor explained the depth of my education, training, and career as if to say, “she knew better”. Then, the prosecutor revealed what every juror would want to know, my motivation for committing the alleged crime. She had a “quiet greed”, he began to weave his story.
This is from the trial transcript as the prosecutor is speaking about me:
SHE HAD HER OWN LEVEL OF GREED. IT WAS A LITTLE QUIETER GREED, AND THE EVIDENCE WILL SHOW IT WAS A LITTLE SOFTER GREED. IT WAS A GREED OF A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS WOMAN WHO HAD TWO UNDERGRADUATE DEGREES AND AN MBA DEGREE, AND SHE HELD FIVE OR SIX SECURITIES LICENSES. IT WAS THE SOFT GREED OF WANTING TO BE SUCCESSFUL, OF WANTING TO MAKE SOMETHING WORK. IT WAS THE SOFT GREED ALSO OF HAVING HER OWN INTEREST IN ALL OF THESE COMPANIES AND THE SUB-PORTFOLIO COMPANIES. SHE WAS INVESTED IN THE SUCCESS OF THIS CONSPIRACY.
To me, the prosecutor described most every business person. You get a good education, work hard, and are dedicated with the understanding that it will likely lead to some degree of success. The prosecutor stopped short of saying that I actually put my own money in the very Fund that was the focus of the case.
Day one was scary, but finally over. Who knew how many more days we would have to endure? When Court adjourned Dan and I made the short walk from the Federal building to his office and collapsed on his couch/chairs. It was sheer mental and emotional exhaustion, yet no time to rest. We quickly reviewed what went right, what went wrong, and strategy for the next day. Each day became an event. I have never felt any adrenaline like it.
Stepping into a courtroom where you are the defendant changes you. It’s hard to articulate how. Innocent until proven guilty is not even close to the feeling I had. I think that has to be similar for most anyone that sits on the left side of the courtroom. You know that you are being judged about everything. Whatever happens, it’s your fault, even if it isn’t, that’s the sensation.
You hear prosecutors, the judge, jurors talk about you as though either you aren’t there or they don’t know you at all. You have become invisible. My attorney speaks for me at every opportunity as though I am mute. He recognizes my intelligence but he fears that I might not manage the tension between truth, justice, and courtroom decorum to his standards and to my detriment.
There is a constant wonderment by the prosecution as to whether I will take the stand in my own defense. I would hear the prosecutor’s snide remarks carefully dropped to coax some rebuttal. I don’t have to testify, but will I take the risk? You almost felt dared into doing it.
Dan, my attorney, asked me from nearly day one, you have two decisions to make. Testify or not testify. Guilty or not guilty. I decided and that never changed.
The illusion that I don’t have to prove my innocence is just that, a facade. You have to prove everything and even if you do it perfectly, it is always made very clear that the jury may or may not believe you. Why a juror/jury believes you or doesn’t believe you is elusive and daunting.
A juror’s decision could have nothing to do with the facts of the case, unfortunately.
A juror’s decision could have nothing to do with the law, unfortunately.
A juror’s decision could have nothing to do with me, unfortunately.
I will never know what jurors did or did not believe and what mattered to them that made their decision.
Can they relate to you? What has been their experience with the justice system? Does one person lead the jury and everyone else just goes along with what one person says? The questions that you pummel yourself with as a defendant that is trying to be understood are endless and futile.
All I can do is do my best and that has to be enough.
I felt the audience in the courtroom behind me. There were a few people from work, friends, family that came in and out of the courtroom that I couldn’t spend much time acknowledging. My husband could not be in the courtroom in the event that he may be called as a witness, he could not have been a part of the trial to that point. His Dad, my father-in-law, was faithfully in the courtroom every day, all day. He was front row as my silent but an ever-present cheerleader. My mother-in-law could not handle watching the antics of the prosecutors and stayed away.
My Mother was going to be a witness because she was an investor, so she couldn’t be in the courtroom until it was time to testify. My boss, a couple of friends, and other potential witnesses were all on call as the trial moved along.
It was humbling to listen to the prosecutors say things that weren’t true. I was sorry that my friends and family had to hear that.
How do you prepare for something beyond your realm of possibilities?