After 24 years of practicing criminal law, lawyer James Diamond wanted to sharpen his legal advocacy, research and writing skills. So he did some thinking outside of the box.
He moved to Arizona and spent the last year studying tribal law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. Diamond earned 26 credits in Indian Law and human rights advocacy. Once he finishes his dissertation, he will earn a doctorate in law, or an S.J.D.
"I wanted to take an opportunity to rejuvenate my interest in legal scholarship. After 24 years of practicing, we could all use a boost and renew the excitement and vitality in the practice of law," said Diamond, who has handled many high profile criminal defense cases. Early in his career, Diamond worked as prosecutor in the Danbury judicial district.
During the last school year, Diamond said the courses he took inspired him to become admitted to practice in the tribal court. "I was fascinated by the subject because it combines advocacy, policy, history, politics and law all in one," Diamond said. "I decided it was a good time to reenergize my batteries."
On July 11, he was sworn into The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. He's already been admitted to the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court in Arizona.
"The focus of my practice is and is always going to be criminal law, I've been doing it 24 years," Diamond said. "Now I am adding another specialty to my practice area."
Diamond, who recently joined the firm of Cacace Tusch & Santagata in Stamford, said that the idea to study Indian Law came to him initially while in Arizona looking at a place to invest in real estate. He went to visit the law school. "It interested me from a point of view of politics and law and advocacy," Diamond said.
Last year was a good time to take a break because the practice of law seemed to slow down somewhat, he said.
"Starting in about 2010 the number of criminal defendants who could afford to pay private criminal defense attorneys dropped and this affected the fees of criminal defense lawyers throughout the state," he said. "Lawyers practicing other kinds of law also started trying to dabble in criminal defense as well. The trend was still apparent in the summer of 2012 when I decided to return to school to pursue advanced graduate level legal education."
Diamond said that some of his classmates had law degrees, while others were getting their degree. "I found I got as much out of them as they got out of me," Diamond said, regarding the law students.
One of Diamond's professors in Arizona agreed.
"I would have to say that our program benefitted as much from having Jim here, as Jim benefited from our program," said Robert A. Williams, Jr., the E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and Professor of American Indian Studies in the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the law school.
"I taught Jim in two courses, Federal Indian Law and Critical Race Theory. Having Jim here with his unique professional and life experiences was oftentimes like having another faculty member in the class. His enthusiasm in class and his passion for the subject made him stand out and it was clear to me he was relishing every minute of the experience. You could tell he thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with his younger classmates and with a new area of law," Williams said.
While in Arizona, Diamond took part in a clinic that had him working on an appeal with the Navajo Supreme Court. He also did research on the relationships between the United States Attorney's office and the Indian tribes, how they work together in criminal cases and on how to improve that relationship. He spent time meeting with tribal prosecutors and U.S. Attorneys.
"It's a growing area of law," Diamond said. "Even though Indian law is over 200 years old, it's still in its infancy," Diamond said. "It's fascinating."
While Diamond was away for the 9-month program, he had colleagues covering his cases. He spent some time talking to clients and taking phone calls and returned for occasional court appearance. But for the most part, he focused on his studies.
"It was really nice to take 9 months and commit myself to legal scholarship," Diamond said.
"My doctorate dissertation is in comparing the way crime victims are treated and the definition of crime victims in federal, state and tribal court systems," Diamond said.
Andrew Houlding, Chair of the Connecticut Bar Association's Indian Law Committee, said that he hasn't heard of anyone doing anything like Diamond has done before.
"It's pretty unusual, absolutely," Houlding said. "But you know I give him all kinds of credit for doing something like that. It's always good to learn new things."
Houlding said while there are many lawyers who are admitted to practice Indian law in the state, only about 30 or so, including him, practice regularly.
"I'm not sure how he would turn that into a career move," Houlding said. "Certainly there are many tribes in the country that have legal system that are pretty well developed. In Connecticut, it's a limited universe."
Houlding said one area of tribal law that is expanding, which Diamond could use his training for, is in academia.