From staying at the same Hartford, Connecticut, hotel the night before oral arguments, to hitting the sack by 10, and even playing “Never Surrender” on the way to court, attorneys who argue before the state Supreme Court say they have tried-and-true rituals they don’t dare disrupt in order to win their case.
The Connecticut Law Tribune spoke Wednesday to six attorneys with varied experiences before the state’s high court. Here are the rituals from attorneys such as Kelly Reardon, who has made one oral argument, to Wesley Horton, who holds the record by active Connecticut attorneys in private practice for appearing before the high court—130 times since 1973.
“Playing ‘Never Surrender’ gets me going. It gets me in a fighting mood. I will play the song over and over and over again.” — Kelly Reardon
The Night Before
For many attorneys, the ritual the night before the big appearance is the most important, because it gets them ready for the task of speaking before the justices the next day.
Michael Cacace of Stamford’s Cacace Tusch & Santagata always stays at Hartford’s Goodwin Hotel the night before. Cacace, who has appeared before the state’s high court seven times and won six of the cases, said he stays at the hotel because “it’s close to the court, quiet and there are no distractions. It’s not a noisy place and there are never any events going on there. It allows me to focus.”
For Proloy Das of Hartford’s Murtha Cullina, fish is always on the menu the night before. Being that he has appeared before the Supreme Court more than 20 times in his career, he’s eaten a lot of fish. And it does not matter what type of fish, as long as it’s fish.
“My father always described fish as brain food growing up,” Das said Wednesday. “And, so, it’s become a superstition to have fish, whether in a restaurant or at home.”
For Horton, a partner with Hartford’s Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque, his secret is never preparing after 5 p.m. the night before, and to get plenty of sleep—at least eight hours. Horton is rarely up past 10 p.m. the night before. Other attorneys differed with that approach, saying they spend much of the night before prepping.
“It’s essential to have a good night sleep before oral arguments because your mind has to react quickly to unexpected questions,” Horton said. “You just can’t do that if you are tired.”
In addition, Horton said, “A good meal is a must. I mean a real good meal. You do not want to go to bed without having a good meal.”
While Horton is well rested the night before, Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder’s Alinor Sterling is not.
“I have come to [be at] peace with the fact that I will not sleep very much, usually four hours, the night before,” Sterling said. “That’s because I will be keyed up for the arguments. There is a lot of energy I have the night before. Some people have it before the first day of school or before their wedding. I have it before appearing before the Connecticut Supreme Court.”
Sterling has appeared before the state’s high court at least six times during her 20-year career.
The Day Of
For several attorneys, it’s all about listening to the radio the day of, whether that be music or someone else’s oral arguments.
Reardon of New London-based The Reardon Law Firm, plays “Never Surrender” by Corey Hart to get her ready for oral arguments.
“I play music to pump me up before court, that includes any court,” said Reardon, whose sole appearance before the Supreme Court was in June 2016 in a medical malpractice case she ended up winning. “Playing ‘Never Surrender’ gets me going. It gets me in a fighting mood. I will play the song over and over and over again.”
Reardon has a 70-minute drive from her home in Stonington to Hartford, and the song will be playing for about the last 10 to 15 minutes until she gets to the courthouse, she said.
For his part, Das has made it a ritual to listen to U.S. Supreme Court arguments for his drive to the court. His favorite is Archibald Cox’s, representing the University of California in a reverse-discrimination case against Allan Bakke.
“His is the best oral argument ever presented, in my opinion,” Das said. “It just always puts me in the correct frame of mind. I listened to the Cox [argument] prior to my first Connecticut appellate argument in 2004. I won that case and I just stuck to listening to him.”
If you drove by Sterling on the day of her Supreme Court appearance, you’d have seen her talking to herself in her car.
“I speak my oral arguments to the windshield on the drive to court,” she said. “I want to hear the words out loud. It’s been very helpful to me.”
That 50-minute drive from her home in Branford to Hartford is all “about polishing the exact words. One of the things that can happen during oral arguments is you can use the wrong phrase and you can end up confusing the issue.”
At the oral arguments, Horton does something that not every attorney does: He has a colleague by his side every time.
“Many attorneys go solo and it’s a bad idea,” Horton said. “When you are making your argument … if you get in a jam or answer a question wrong, your partner can pass you notes. If one of the justices asks about a certain document and it’s not readily in hand, your partner can get you that document.”
In addition to listening to “Never Surrender,” Reardon also has a special item she brought with her during her appearance before the high court and during her appearances in other courts.
“I always have a good-luck charm that my grandfather gave to me,” she said. “It’s a watch chain that I carry in my pocket. It gives me some sense that my support system is there with me. It gives me comfort.”
Robinson & Cole’s Linda Morkan has won 45 of her 60 cases before the state’s high court.
Morkan said she does have one superstition each time prior to appearing before the state’s high court, but declined to divulge what that was. She does, though, “speak out loud [when prepping]. I will speak to the walls. I will speak in my car and anywhere else.”
On her secretive superstition, Morkan said, “It’s not a tip I can share with anyone else. It started as a comical thing, but it has helped me. It’s all about confidence and building confidence.”