When you combine a big-firm lawyer's attention to details and organizational skills in sifting through complex cases and a prosecutor's trial and people skills, "you're creating the perfect warrior," Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan says.
Hogan was speaking of a recent case in which Dechert partner Michael L. Kichline prosecuted an assault case pro bono for the prosecutor's office.
Hogan said he would like to see more pro bono work by big law firms for prosecutors' offices.
Hogan, who was at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Lamb McErlane, before running for district attorney, said he sees big firms that do pro bono work on the defense side, but many of his friends in Big Law are prosecution-minded.
"He was willing to take this time from his very busy practice to make a statement that the way he wants to use his skills to benefit his community is by helping the prosecution," Hogan said. Kichline lives in Chester County and was sworn in as a special prosecutor to handle a case arising out of Coatesville, Chester County.
The interests of the private and public sectors can intersect in the District Attorney's Office, Hogan said. A Blank Rome lawyer, second-year associate Mackenzie W. Smith, is working there for a year to gain trial experience, with half of her salary being paid by the firm and half by the prosecutor's office, Hogan said.
Kichline, who practices in the area of securities litigation, corporate governance litigation and complex commercial litigation, said he would recommend prosecuting a case as a pro bono opportunity.
It was a good opportunity to test his trial skills in a setting that he was not accustomed to and in which he would have to make very quick judgments, Kichline said.
One lesson Kichline said he learned was the "need for simplicity. As a trial lawyer we have to take complex cases and we have to try to make them simple for average people. Anytime you try a jury case you're talking to average people about a problem."
Kichline also said it was a good test of trial skills when there was not a long buildup of two or three years before the case went to trial, there was no discovery except for the alibi witnesses, and there were not "armies of paralegals and associates to work up cases."
In the civil arena, "by the time you get to trial, you know everything you could possibly know about the case," Kichline said.
Kichline said he initially approached Hogan about volunteering as a pro bono prosecutor because he just really likes trying cases.
While Kichline said he is a warrior in the courtroom, he is not a perfect warrior.
"I do bring a level of tenacity to my cases," Kichline said. "I'm very competitive. I enjoy a good fight and a good contest. If [Hogan] thinks I'm a warrior then that's a great compliment."
"When you think of the big-firm attorneys, they are million-dollar legal talent. They never get to use those skills at trial," Hogan said.
Jonathan "Alex" Shave, a police officer with the Coatesville Police Department who investigated the case Kichline prosecuted, said he was a little nervous about the outcome of the case because Kichline was new to prosecution, but that when he heard his opening statement he was "able to sit back and relax and know the case in Mike's hands was going to be a well-presented and well-articulated case."
Coatesville is "like a tough section of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh," Hogan said. It's a former steel town with a very high incidence of drug-dealing and violent crime, and it's the most violent place in Chester County, Hogan said.
In contrast, Kichline said he is used to dealing with executives, bankers and large financial institutions. Right now, he is defending former executives of Advanta Corp., he is doing work for Erie Insurance, and he is seeing an uptick in legal malpractice lawsuits and litigation against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and against officers and directors of banks taken over by the federal government.
Shave was dispatched October 2 after a 911 phone call, and when he arrived he found several people in the area and one young woman crying and with scrapes on her arms, knees, lips and forehead, the officer said.
The woman reported that she had been attacked by two other women, including having one of her assailants pull off the victim's own boot and hit her with it, Shave said.
There has been a buildup of antagonism on social media over a situation in which it was established that the defendant's brother was not the father of the victim's child, Shave said.
The victim had been walking home with two friends, and their statements were "literally almost identical," Shave said.
A day before the trial was supposed to start, the defense made a motion to be able to introduce an alibi witness different from the ones that had already been provided, Kichline and Shave said.
They had the opportunity to interview the alibi witness together, and "Mike was more of an investigator … than I was," Shave said.
From Shave's perspective, "she was lying through her teeth" on having been with the defendant at the time of the attack, the officer said.
"It was clear to me, as she was telling her side of the story, she just wasn't going to add up," Kichline said. "In the end they elected not going to call her."
The only defense witness was the defendant herself testifying to her own alibi, Kichline said.
Defendant Yaminah Williams was convicted of the misdemeanor of simple assault and the summary offense of disorderly conduct, but acquitted of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and conspiring to commit simple assault, theft and to receive stolen property, according to the court docket.
Defense counsel Steve E. Jarmon Jr. declined comment on the case.
Judge Ronald C. Nagle presided over the case.