For H.T. Smith, director of the trial advocacy program at the Florida International University College of Law, it’s all about gestures and long pauses when he’s addressing a jury.
Sedgwick partner Ramon Abadin’s trial secret: sit on the edge of your seat while the defense is speaking, ready to jump up, button your jacket and object in a second.
Ed Blumberg, a partner at Deutsch Blumberg in Miami, saves money by having a paralegal or staffer act as his unpaid jury consultant, taking notes and Googling potential jurors during voir dire.
And Jennifer Altman, a partner at Boies Schiller & Flexner in Miami, sits in on trials and jury selection of litigators she admires to study their techniques.
These are a few of the tips shared by some of Miami’s most celebrated plaintiffs and defense attorneys at a View From the Bench seminar Friday in Miami. A sold-out crowd of nearly 500 lawyers attended the Legends of the Courtroom seminar on openings, closings and jury selection.
Speakers exploring ethical issues in opening statements and closing arguments in commercial and personal injury cases included Abadin, Smith, Herman Russomanno of Russomanno & Borrello and Miami-Dade Circuit Judges Ronald Dresnick, Jacqueline Hogan Scola and Lisa Walsh.
The first three minutes of opening statements “set the stage,” Smith said. “What jurors first believe they believe for a long time.”
Russomanno, a trial lawyer for 37 years, noted he refrains from attacking opposing counsel or calling them liars.
“I say it’s a Pinnochio or a falsehood. I don’t say lie,” he said. “Don’t attack the other side because you’ll get into trouble, and don’t name a person. You could face recusal.”
Abadin advised young trial lawyers to acknowledge “problem documents” before the other side does.
“If you hide them, these guys will bring them out,” he said. “Usually, 15 documents are in play. I don’t want the other side to have any control of my bad documents.”
Dresnick encouraged lawyers to get more active, saying: “I don’t understand why lawyers don’t make more objections. I’ve seen cases lost because lawyers don’t make objections. I don’t think jurors mind if you object—they expect it.”
Altman, Blumberg, Aaron Podhurst of Podhurst Orseck in Miami and Miami-Dade Circuit Judges Jorge Cueto, Norma Lindsey and Peter Lopez participated in a panel on jury selection in personal injury and commercial cases.
Podhurst said he wouldn’t eliminate jurors for being black, Hispanic, Jewish or female but would eliminate jurors for being single if he had an all-single jury.
“A man who has worked all his life, who is married and has five children knows what it is to bring up a family,” he said. “Experience of life is brought to bear.”
Blumberg called juries “judges without robes” and encouraged lawyers to be “unfailingly polite.” To illustrate their importance, he frequently reminds jurors the right to a jury trial was included in the Declaration of Independence and how soldiers fought and died for that right on the beaches of Normandy.
Altman encouraged lawyers to be “approachable” and not condescending, noting most people consider lawyers “pedantic asses.”
“Be self-deprecating,” she said. “It makes you relatable to them.”
Panelists said they sometimes use jury experts for big cases, but the cost—$35,000 to $50,000—is prohibitive for smaller cases.
To save money, Blumberg has a paralegal or staffer take copious notes during jury selection and Google potential jurors to see if they have Facebook or Twitter accounts. He also attempts to discern whether prospective jurors have felony convictions in other states because if that information comes out after trial, it can be grounds for a new trial.
“The worst thing a lawyer can do is to fight with the jury,” he added.
A final panel, comprised of Judges Kevin Emas, Ivan Fernandez and Leslie Rothenberg of the Third District Court of Appeal, explored ethics in opening statements and closing arguments.