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One warm day last June, a middle-aged man in a thong was arrested for a rude display of himself on the beach, and unwittingly inspired a pair of Brooklyn Law School students to courtroom triumph six months later on a frigid January morning. “Well, it’s certainly an eye-opener,” said Mahmoud Rabah, 24, one of eight Brooklyn Law students selected each year for the campus Prosecutors Clinic. The two-semester clinic has operated for three years in conjunction with the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, which assigns one-on-one mentors to oversee the students handling all facets of federal misdemeanor cases that do not involve incarceration penalties. Speaking of the clinic, “It worked,” said Timothy E. Kelly, 23, a second-year student who partnered with Rabah, a third-year. Kelly and Rabah were not the only students to win on Wednesday morning. In a separate case involving the assault of a federal officer at a Veterans Administration hospital in Brooklyn, third-years Ilana Sussman, 23, and Jason Buskin, 28, also won the day for client U.S.A. Coached during weekly seminars at Brooklyn Law by practitioners not much older than themselves — Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carolyn Pokorny and Christina Dugger, both 34 — the students arrived in court on Wednesday loaded for bear: motions drafted; witnesses subpoenaed and prepared; direct, cross and re-direct examinations plotted; and defense objections anticipated. At preparatory clinic sessions, the only plausible defense for Thong Man, as students dubbed him, would be Pokorny’s suggestion, “He wore a thong, what’s so wrong?” After all, the scantily clad defendant merely flashed his wares upon an isolated section of Gateway National Recreation Area, in Queens, on a beach that had long been the informal preserve of muscular young males and their older admirers. But in the view of Magistrate Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky, plenty was wrong. In addition to a $100 fine the defendant refused to pay when originally cited by a park ranger on June 27, he was given one year’s probation. According to the ranger’s report, the defendant was taken into custody after refusing to identify himself, then “repeatedly [kicking] the cell wall.” “We were actually surprised by that,” said Rabah, referring to probation. “We were up against a private [defense] attorney who certainly knew the ropes. When we won, he was not pleased.” Likewise, Buskin and Sussman argued against a private defense lawyer in their assault case heard by Magistrate Judge Roann L. Mann. With Sussman nodding her agreement, Buskin said of their victory, “It’s good to know that after three years of law school we can go into a courtroom and go toe-to-toe with a private attorney.” DEFENSE CLINIC Stacy Caplow, a Brooklyn Law professor and director of the school’s clinical education, could not be more pleased. Three years ago, Caplow joined forces, as it were, with a longtime defense clinic at New York University School of Law, currently operated by David E. Patton, staff attorney for the trial division of the Southern District Federal Defenders Office, and David Klem of the Center for Appellate Litigation, a public defender organization for the state courts. “Very often, there was no lawyer on the [prosecution] end, and we thought it would be a good idea to work out an analog,” said Caplow. “So we negotiated with the Eastern District. Our students and theirs [at NYU] work their cases to the nth degree. It’s great lawyering, and the students love it.” What greatly helps, said Patton, is the closeness in age between the students and practitioner adjunct professors. “Sometimes, younger lawyers can relate to things [the students] know and don’t know,” said Patton, 33. “It wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t know certain things about trial lawyering. It’s easier for me to understand what [students] need to be told.” During a re-hash of Wednesday morning’s courtroom events, Pokorny and Dugger offered a stream of practical tips to the Brooklyn students flush with victory, and those hoping for the same in upcoming misdemeanor cases. “You’ve got to be confident,” said Dugger, assigned to the public integrity unit at the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office. “When judges sees that you know what you’re doing, they relax.” When a student practicing direct examination responded “Uh-huh” and “Okay” after each answer from her witness, Dugger was more explicit about being confident. “Don’t be uncomfortable with silence,” she said. “Just pause when you have to think about the next question. The courtroom is yours. People are watching you.” If the nervous “Okay” habit persists, suggested Pokorny, deputy chief of the narcotics division of the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, “Just write a big ‘OK’ at the top of your notes.” Generally speaking, Dugger said, “As a trial lawyer, you want to tell a story. You want to make a picture. And you want to tell your story more than once. “Be sure to ask lots of little detailed questions,” she added. “And slo-o-o-o-w it down when you get to the important parts of the story.” Pokorny asked Kelly and Rabah about their decision not to call their best witness to testify before Judge Pohorelsky in the Thong Man trial — a lifeguard who saw all, so to speak. Kelly feared the lifeguard might have been somewhat “over the top” as a witness, to which Rabah added, “His 82-year-old mother said not to testify because he’d be killed. I had to call her to assure her that he wasn’t in danger.” Dugger counseled, “Your impulse was good. Sometimes less is more.”

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