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Prosecutor for a Day

I’m fast approaching my ten year anniversary of being admitted to practice in New York. This brings to mind one of my first adventures in being a lawyer at the first law firm I worked for as an associate. I had a lot of practical experience before being admitted, and the partner, out of necessity, had no problem in my handling any type of matter, from depositions, closings, and even trials, from the get go.

So maybe a few months after I was formally admitted, I was sent to Family Court to handle an emergency Order of Protection case. I was told that the husband had been arrested on a violation of a temporary order of protection, and that the case was going to be tried on an immediate basis. I arrived in court promptly at 9:00 a.m. to meet the client. By the time the husband was brought to court from jail, it was approximately 4:00 p.m. We went before the Judge, and having no experience in criminal matters, I asked that the defendant be held without bail. I immediately amended this to seeking that bail be set, when the Judge replied - ”I thought this was America.” The defendant didn’t have any money, so he was remanded back to jail, so that an attorney could be assigned. We were ordered to come back the next day.

I was told I had to be there at 10:00 a.m., and again had to wait most of the day for the defendant to be brought back from jail. After talking to my client for two days, I had enough ammunition to effectively cross-examine the defendant on the assault of my client and other issues. My client had a deformity of her leg, and walked with a cane. The defendant tried to testify that my client lunged at him from across the room, and he stepped out of the way, when she fell. He was caught in numerous other lies, and although the transcript probably shows my inexperience, I felt like Perry Mason, Jr. At one point the Judge admonished me that I knew better than to abuse the witness.

This was definitely a made for television experience, because during the direct of the defendant by his court appointed attorney, my client went ballistic, stood up, and started yelling at the defendant in a fugue state – saying “You are a f**ing liar” over and over. I then heard the Judge say “counsellor, control your client,” which was impossible in her state. He then cleared the courtroom to allow my client time to calm down.

The defendant’s attorney tried to use my client’s temper tantrum against her, but I think the judge saw how upset she was, and through cross-examination, that the defendant actually was a liar. The defendant was found guilty of committing an assault violation. I was disappointed that he wasn’t found to have committed a misdemeanor.

On the day of sentencing, I was involved with a motion in Surrogate’s Court (another story), and couldn’t be in Family Court. The partner went instead, and my client received her Order of Protection. I’ve never had the opportunity to act as a prosecutor again.

Cynthia M. Burke,