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Thursday, March 4, 2010
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Letter to the Editor: Keenan teaches that best response to attack is to rise above it
Letter Deck

I am writing in response to the March 1 article, “Defense uses 'Reptile' strategy against Keenan.”
As noted in the article, I was in the audience during closing arguments, along with a number of my fellow trial lawyers. “It was like there was a Georgia Trial Lawyers Association convention behind Keenan,” one of the defense attorneys quipped.
We decided to attend the trial, partly to show respect and support for our friend Don Keenan, but mostly to learn from one of the most accomplished trial attorneys in the country. We were not disappointed.
From the beginning of closing arguments, we learned that Don had undertaken a case with extremely difficult liability facts involving the death of a young, Hispanic teenager gunned down at a local movie theater. By my count, 15 of the victim's family members were in the courtroom, sitting silently as defense counsel argued that the young man was “probably” involved in gang activity and was “likely” the victim of a targeted crime.
Then the arguments got interesting.
For the next 45 minutes or so, defense counsel for the security company argued that, when Don rose to deliver his final argument, he would try to deliberately “manipulate” the jury with “tools from his trial lawyer bag of tricks.”
Defense counsel quoted President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said “there is no worse man” than the lawyer who “stirs up unnecessary litigation.” Defense counsel jabbed his finger at the much older lawyer, who sat quietly next to the victim's mother, flanked by brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, all grieving over their loss. Sarcasm dripped from counsel's voice as he waived Don's trial manual—calling it “The Reptile Book”—in the air like it was pornography, wondering aloud if “a big alligator” might jump out of a closet and “scare ya.” (Counsel did not mention that every penny of profit earned from book sales goes directly to support The Keenan's Kids Foundation.)
As I sat in the audience watching this unfold, I wondered what the jury must be thinking about our profession and the role lawyers play in our civil justice system.
When defense counsel finally sat down, we spectators held our collective breaths as we waited for the veteran trial lawyer to defend his honor and come charging out of the pen full of righteous indignation.
Instead, Don rose slowly from his seat and walked over to the jury. In a soft, even voice, he reminded the jurors that this was a case about the death of a teenager who did not deserve to die in the parking lot of a movie theater. Don told the jurors he believed the theater owners and security company had some responsibility. He told the jurors that he would never speak poorly of opposing counsel (drawing the starkest of contrasts imaginable), but he respectfully disagreed with their view of the evidence. He reviewed the evidence with the jury, discussed the life of the deceased teenager and quietly sat down. While the jury showed respect for the case and deliberated almost four hours, they ultimately decided the evidence did not support a verdict for the plaintiff.
We lawyers who had come to the courthouse that morning to learn got what we were looking for. We learned that the most powerful, dignified response to personal attacks in the courtroom is not to respond in kind (my natural inclination), but rather to rise above the fray and remind the jury that the case is about the parties—not the lawyers. We also learned a new respect for a veteran trial lawyer who, at the risk of failure, embarrassment and ridicule, was willing to take a tough case to trial when many lawyers of his age and with his lifetime record of success would be sitting back and relaxing. A lot of good lessons learned from a morning spent in trial.

Lloyd N. Bell, Special to the Daily Report

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