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It’s hard to believe that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has much time for cracking jokes these days, with his dual roles as the top federal prosecutor in Chicago and the special prosecutor on a CIA leak investigation. Still, he was getting a lot of laughs on Monday with a sometimes serious, sometimes satirical speech to lawyers and law students at a Northwestern University School of Law criminal law program. His tips for today’s prosecutors were laced with experiences in dealing with mobsters, terrorists and drug dealers both in Chicago and New York. As a friend told Fitzgerald early on behind a closed door, remember that your reputation with other lawyers and judges is set quickly. If you’re thorough, honest and candid, you’ll carry that reputation. For instance, if you’re struggling with whether to disclose something to the defense, there’s a good chance you should. It will be better for it to come out before the trial ends than after. “Unless there’s a very good reason, when in doubt, disclose,” Fitzgerald said. Second, don’t say anything to a witness that you don’t want repeated in open court or reported on the front page of The New York Times. This point was driven home for Fitzgerald in one case with the surprise revelation that someone had taped his video conferences with the FBI agents and an al-Queda terrorist who was serving as a witness in a case against other terrorists who bombed two embassies in Africa in 1998. He was forced to turn the tapes over to the defense after all four defendants were convicted. Third, it’s OK to lose. Prosecutors should look at the number of cases lost by defense attorneys and be inspired because prosecutors at least have the choice whether to bring a case. Fitzgerald recounted one case he lost in which an alleged drug dealer was not only acquitted, but a year later listed Fitzgerald’s name as a reference when an assistant district attorney wanted to use the former defendant as a witness on a store robbery. Fourth, be prepared for the unexpected at trial. Fitzgerald explained the delicacy with which he placed one murderous mobster on the stand as a witness after creating a list of the man’s more than 30 slayings so that the jury would know his background ahead of time. Still, Fitzgerald had to pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary when the witness started remembering additional killings during testimony.

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