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The Controlled Chaos that is a Court Trial

The Controlled Chaos that is a Court Trial

From the outside, court trials look very regimented. But anyone with inside knowledge knows it's more like controlled chaos. DUI attorney Jonathan Rands talks with KGMI's Dillon Honcoop about the realities of court trials.


Episode Transcript

Dillon
Well, our guest this hour on the Legal Docket is actually in the middle of a trial right now, believe it or not, local DUI attorney Jonathan Rands. Well, not right this moment.

Jonathan
It is Sunday. 

Dillon
Yeah, true. They give you Sunday's off? They give you yesterday off too? 

Jonathan
[laughing] Yeah.

Dillon
Actually, how does that work with the calendar?

Jonathan
Crazy.

Dillon
You had Friday off too, didn't you? 

Jonathan
With this particular judge, we don't have trial — well, generally speaking in Superior Court you don't have trials on Friday; it's a day off for everybody to catch up on things. But this particular judge also, this month has a regular calendar that he handles on Thursday, so we've been going to trial Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for what seems like forever, but I think it's only three weeks now.

Dillon
This puts us in an interesting situation here, on the program here, on a Sunday morning as you go back next week you have — do you know how much longer this will take?

Jonathan
I think another day or day and a half we will probably finish with the trial portion, meaning it'll go to the jury on Monday afternoon, but maybe not until Tuesday.

Dillon
So maybe tomorrow, may the day after we will see. This is all ongoing, but this puts us in a bit of a predicament because while there's no technical or legal prohibition on you sharing details from the trial, you're not comfortable talking about what specifically's been happening in the courtroom this past week

Jonathan
Yeah, I personally don't think that it's my position to relay that information until things are over with. But, is there any formal...? No, but I don't want to.

Dillon
And I've interviewed some attorney's like yourself during trials when they've talked about things. Other attorney's say "no thanks". Maybe it depends on what's going on — a lot of different factors. But for now, we aren't going to talk, and we've been chomping at the bit to talk about how this all came to be. How the case went, and now how the trial is going. Maybe next week we can talk about that or the week after? As soon as this all shakes out.

Jonathan
Well, I figured when it's shaken out I'd give you a call and we'd pick a time we could talk about it, whether it be on your morning show or whether you want to do a post-Thanksgiving ...

Dillon
Well, again, not to get into the details, but this is one of these things that's going to be in the news when the trial is over. We'll just leave it at that.

Again, Jonathan Rands, local DUI attorney in-studio this morning. What this has brought up, though, is something that we've covered on the program before, the art and science of jury trials. I think we just mentioned this, what last week or the week before as well, of making that decision, when people decide do they go for a jury trial? Do they try to settle or deal with just a judge, or different options that you can face. And so here you are. You called it, just before we started the segment, you said it's kind of like chaos, or controlled chaos.

Jonathan
Controlled chaos.

Dillon
Controlled chaos. I don't think of a courtroom like that. You know, it all looks so ... well, 

Dillon + Jonathan 
Controlled.

Dillon
From the outside, everything is set in stone as far as what you say and what you don't say. That's the way it appears to the uneducated eye. What do you mean by that? That it's controlled chaos.

Jonathan
Well, a trial, and actually really any courtroom hearing, is governed by rules. But more importantly in a trial, the rules are more extensive, more expansive, and the rules are there to set the boundaries if you will. But anytime you're dealing with a group of human actors — and I went from a bench trial, I think the week before this, where there was myself, a single prosecutor, and my client sitting next to me, and a single judge — that's a pretty small setting. And that trial was handled in the better part of a morning because things were relatively straight forward. But you move into a situation where you begin with four attorneys, simply because of the magnitude of the shear work that you're going to be doing, it really does make it easier when there are more than 30 witnesses to deal with.

Dillon
That's a lot of stuff.

Jonathan
And then you have sort of unknown start times, in terms of how long it takes somebody to come in and testify. But first of all, you've got to pick a jury. And when you pick a jury in Superior Court, we started with — I think the pool that came in was 63 people. So you have 63 people that you need to spend time discussing general life and who they are with. Generally get about an hour each side to do that. But before you even do that, so you walk into court ready to start jury selection at 9am, and you're handed 60-some-odd names knowing that they're eligible to vote; knowing they have an occupation or they're retired and what their spouse's occupation is. And that's all you know. 

And then you begin the process of trying to just learn a little more about these people. And so, you've gone to places where you don't know a single person and then you have to start to get to know people. And what you're getting to know people for is not to make yourself more comfortable in a large room but in order to make your client comfortable, or to make sure that the people that are listening are going to be selected as jurors are appropriate for that task. And some people are very forthcoming, and some people aren't. Some people like to talk and other people don't. Some people like to share things that really would show that they shouldn't be there and they wanted to do that sooner than later because they don't want to be in jury selection anymore. And other people, it takes them some time, because, I don't know, we're humans. So you don't always come out of your shell, and you say, hi, tell me about yourself. They don't know what you want to know, so it's this interesting dynamic that is jury selection.

Dillon
I went through this last year; it's been about a year ago, I want to say, when I was summoned for jury duty and went through the beginning of the jury selection process. I was eliminated fairly late in the game. Didn't make the cut. From that perspective, you're trying to connect with people, trying to find out what's going on. I was really intimidated thinking, oh my gosh, you know, I was very interested in the process. I wanted to be a part of the process. I wasn't one of these people, and there were plenty in the room who were trying to think of something they could say to get them out. And that wasn't necessarily me at all. But I was still really intimidated.

One of you attorney people would ask me a really hard question and I would look stupid in front of everybody.

Jonathan
Well, no question is every asked, or designed to make you look stupid. It might make you feel that way, but we never want to make somebody look stupid. We're really just trying to find out as much about you as we possibly can. But at the same time, we're asking people questions that tend to reveal something about yourselves that you may not feel comfortable doing for no other reason than you're confronting something that you're not really liking. There's the question always thrown out there, can you be fair? I've never really liked that question. I don't want a fair jury. A person accused of a crime has a presumption of innocence. I want somebody to say, I'll be fair in a sense that I'll presume the person innocent, but that's not fair to the prosecutor's side, right?

Dillon
Right.

Jonathan
I mean, it's not a level playing field. But really what get's thrown around quite a bit, is can you be fair? or how do you feel about that particular instance you described in your life. You're really asking people to step forward and say, I've examined my feelings as close as I can and I'm not able to put that issue aside and sit on this case. Whatever case it is. Sometimes things just hit too close to home. And in the world of DUI defense, what I do, you'd be shocked and surprised of how many people have had somebody that they know or are acquainted with, that's not even necessarily convicted of DUI, but at a minimum been arrested for DUI, but it has happened or has been a part of so many people's lives. Then they have to start examining their feelings. And that's a really hard thing to do.

Dillon
If someone has been, or a family member or friend has been arrested for DUI, what does that say about them being ...?

Jonathan
It doesn't necessarily say anything about them, but you want to know if somebody says, yeah, my brother was arrested for DUI and he deserved it. Then you start wondering, well why? What makes the person feel that way? Or the opposite answer, he didn't deserve it at all. The police mistreated him and I've got some real poor feels about the police. That's something that the state prosecutors want to know. And it doesn't always necessarily work the way that you think it will. For instance, if there have been people that have made it onto a jury, in a case that I handled in years past, were actually arrested and prosecuted and convicted/charged with DUI, they had a very different perception of that process than I thought they would. 

Dillon
What did you think they would?

Jonathan
Well, I don't think that anybody enjoys that. 

Dillon
Right.

Jonathan
And I think that I think that everybody is treated and has the perspective that I do, which is that not in every case is the law and the procedure followed. And that's why we have pretrial things that we deal with. And I'm a lawyer and I have a particular viewpoint on how things get done because I see things being done, in my opinion, that are not necessarily 100% correct. But the average person that is not a lawyer and has gone through it doesn't necessarily know that. A lot of times people just say, the officer was doing his job and I deserved it.

Okay. That's one way to feel about it. But I think that, well, I've always thought that anybody that had gone through it would have not necessarily that type of point of view.

Dillon
Yeah? So that they might feel better afterward no matter the facts.

Jonathan
Yeah. Some do and some don't. Then there's always these other questions about who's family, or who's closely affiliated with law enforcement. Or who's closely affiliated with law enforcement or the administration of justice, and that means courts. And then you learn — small community that we have — you learn how many people have border patrol brothers and sisters or aunts or uncles. Just the law enforcement in this community is fairly huge because we have that federal border there as well. And the courts employ a lot of people as well. So you learn a lot about a large group of people, and you'll never remember all their names unless you've got a photographic memory. 

But then you have to figure out, does that particular world view that they have and they live in, does it matter?

Dillon
What about someone who says, yeah, my uncle was killed by a drunk driver. 

Jonathan
That leads to more questions. Such as, you try to figure out if that ... First of all, what you really want is somebody that can really pay attention. And I think that the larger bias that you're trying to find out there is not necessarily the charge itself, but it's whether they're going to be thinking about that time of their lives that is a really really bad memory, and a tragic memory that they've lost somebody. And are they going to be able to sit there and not have that other stuff sort of cloud their mind, because really what we're looking for is people that, unfortunately, can sit all day. I mean you get to stand up and lawyers are constantly arguing about this or that, so there are breaks — you get up you walk out, you get up walk in — but ultimately you're there from 9am-4:30pm.

Dillon
Is that why the benches are so uncomfortable that they make you sit on? SoThat you don't get too comfy and nod off?

Jonathan
Well, the chairs that jurors end up actually sitting in are fairly comfortable. 

Dillon
Ok. Yeah, I did notice that when I was sitting in the uncomfortable benches being questioned during jury selection last year on jury duty. If you were seated, well those chairs looked a little more comfortable.

Jonathan
That was the promise land. You were going to get off that bench and you were going to get a cushy seat if you were selected, right?

Dillon
Woohoo.

Jonathan
The flip side of that is you're going to sit in that chair for as long as it takes to deal with the case. Sometimes that's, in this particular case, I think we're starting day seven on Monday. And eight hours a day, it's a long time to pay attention. It's a long time to not talk about something that's going on right in front of you. Jurors are not allowed to start deliberating or talk about things in any case until the case is closed. They're not allowed to surf the internet or talk about it with their friends. So it's kind of a strain on the average person who....

Dillon
In this current world, we're so used to, you know, sticking with something maybe for 30 seconds, moving on to the next thing, checking our phone, and watching tv, and driving somewhere, and talking to the kids, and you just go go go go. And here I have to look and listen and think about the same thing all day.

Jonathan
Uh huh.

Dillon
Oh man. 

Jonathan
And if you've got a medical issue? If you've got, last year I went through a pinched sciatica, I couldn't sit down for five minutes, let alone ...

Dillon
Yeah, that's not going to work.

Jonathan
So you really want to look at things really that I think come down to can you pay attention, and can you simply focus on the task at hand over a long period of time. We started this case we said to the jury, see all those days on the calendar? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And then the following week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And then the following week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. That's the time frame we think this might take. And when it came time to talk about who had that kind of commitment and that time available, it's tough. I mean, because you have to stop whatever you're doing and you get paid $10 a day. 

Dillon
Yeah. I remember in particular, small business owners who were in that pool with me when I was called for jury duty. They were really thinking, how am I going to run my business, you know? Other businesses it's like somebody else fills in or whatever. But especially if you're self-employed, or maybe you're sole-proprietor, you're the only person running the show, what are you going to do?

Jonathan
Well, you mention small business owner, I'm a solo practitioner, and my practice frequently has me in two or three different courts every single day. And when a trial gets scheduled, I try to anticipate how long it's going to be. And we talked about controlled chaos, and this is just step one, right? This is just the first morning / early afternoon of day one. Once you get through that procedure, then you have the task of organizing, ok, what witnesses are coming in what order. The state gets to call all their witnesses first. And they give you the list and you know generally what order, or at least as a professional courtesy they say, here's our names and this is the order we're going to do it.

Well, guess what, the next day, they say we've been having difficulty with our witness order so we're switching it up a little bit. And if you're doing something all by yourself, not a problem, you can move things around. But it is a problem if you're doing things all by yourself because maybe you've prepared and you didn't prepare for the other order. 

But fortunately, I have co-counsel on this case and we sort of have said what each of us is going to do. But I came to court one day expecting a particular series, and then they said because of work schedule — and there's nothing wrong with it by any means for anybody to switch their order around, but there's a component of chaos there for you to have to control. On a moment's notice, you have to be ready to pivot from, oh, I was ready for this particular person, but now it's not my person, it's co-counsel's person and you're ready to go, right? And that all leads up to it as well.

Dillon
We're late for a quick timeout. Local DUI attorney Jonathan Rands in-studio with us this half hour here on the Legal Docket on KGMI News Talk 790. His practice is in Fairhaven. His phone number is (360) 306-8136. And I'll share that number again in a few minutes on the Legal Docket. Also his website jrandslaw.com. More with Jonathan as well as again that contact info for him straight ahead as we continue on KGMI News Talk 790. 

-- Break --

Dillon
We're back and we're continuing talking about the controlled chaos that a jury trial is with local DUI attorney Jonathan Rands. We've talked about now the chaos of the first day and maybe a little bit of the second day.

You're in the middle of a jury trial right now. We aren't sharing any of the specifics of that case until it's over. So we'll look forward to hearing about that from you in coming weeks here on the program. But in the meantime, you're talking about this process, this crazy process of justice, of a jury of your peers. What other, I mean as far as controlled chaos, you've talked about jury selection, you've talked about them possibly switching up orders of what's happening in a given segment or day. What else do you face?

Jonathan
Well, anytime you're interjecting a human component to it, how about people that you expect are going to be there at a certain time and something's happened in their lives, and they're not there at that time. Now you've got to be ready to go with something else. I can tell you from the defense side of things, you have a certain number of people that you're anticipating working with and maybe they come from Seattle, maybe they come from British Columbia, maybe they come from somewhere else in the county and you're ready for them at 9 o'clock and you get a call at 8:30 that says, I really hate to tell you this, but I've got to take my kid to the doctor for an ear infections — life just gets in the way. So you've got to have a plan and then a contingency plan and then a contingency plan planned. 

[laughing]

You really just have to be ok with things not going schedule-wise according to plan because it happens. In this particular case, I had a weird medical emergency where in the middle of trial towards the end of the day, I got a nosebleed out of nowhere. Never had it before. But I couldn't just sit where I was and drip all over the table.

Dillon
No kidding! Suddenly real practical life stuff is in the way.

Jonathan
And so what I had to do was get up and walk out with really not much of an explanation because of what I had to do. Fortunately, co-counsel saw what had happened and said, I don't know if he'll be back or not, but let me go check on him.

Dillon
Crazy.

Jonathan
That was at 3:45 in the day and it just became a matter of, well, I guess we'll just start again tomorrow because stuff happens.

Dillon
You were planning to have that nosebleed. It was part of your strategy, wasn't it?

Jonathan
No, I don't know where it came from — out of the blue.

Dillon
Crazy.

Jonathan
I got through the next couple of days without one, and I got through the beginning of the trial without one, so where it came from, I don't know, but we can address that one later as well. [chuckles]

Dillon
Well, hopefully, your doctor may address ...

Jonathan
It wasn't anything violent in the courtroom. I was just sitting there, and apparently my blood pressure when too high.

Dillon
Someone clocked you right in the —

Jonathan Rands, local DUI attorney, look forward to hearing the details and everything once this trial is over and once the news breaks with what the verdict is, and all of that. And then we can hash and rehash what went on through this jury trial that you're involved with right now. Thanks, though, for giving us some of the background without getting into the case details today. We appreciate it.

Jonathan
Thanks for having me. You have a good Thanksgiving. 

Dillon
Absolutely. Number two for you because you're half Canadian, half American essentially. 

Jonathan
Yeah, but I didn't go up to Canada and do any festivities.

Dillon
I celebrate both. My wife's Canadian. 

(360) 306-8136 is the phone number. Again, (360) 306-8136 to reach Jonathan Rands' practice in Fairhaven. Also the website, jrandslaw.com. That's all one word — jrandslaw. Rands is spelled r-a-n-d-s, very simply. jrandslaw.com check it out online. Jonathan thanks so much.

Jonathan
Thanks for having me.


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