PRINT PAGEJurors Critiquing Trial Lawyers

Written by Roy Black

Photo of Jury Box

Here are some useful quotes from jurors in the MS-13 gang trial in San Francisco federal court as published in The Recorder. Forget the trial advocacy books, and seminar speakers and take note of what the ultimate consumer says about your product. These are the people we are speaking to and we better take their criticisms to heart. Perhaps it is time to re-think those cliches and boilerplate final arguments and use something original and personal to connect.

“A federal jury on Tuesday convicted six of seven MS-13 gang members in a giant racketeering case. And after five months of trial, 150 witnesses and more than 400 exhibits, jurors also rendered their verdicts on the lawyers.”

“We saw some good lawyering, we saw some bad lawyering,” a chatty, spiked-haired man said, kicking off an informal session between nine jurors and lawyers and federal agents who gathered in the courtroom where San Francisco federal Judge William Alsup held the trial.  A prosecutor’s swagger and a defense attorney’s dramatic closings won high marks. Jurors didn’t like when defense counsel fumbled with technology or gave repetitive presentations.”

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“But with the tough work behind them, jurors had fun commenting on Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen’s “pimp walk,” dogging the stubble that showed upon the prosecutor’s face toward the end of trial, and talking a little sports with Department of Justice gang prosecutor Theryn Gibbons, a former Yale soccer player.”

“Two male jurors joked that Frentzen’s way of introducing himself to witnesses — “Hi, I’m Wil Frentzen, I work for the government” — will be their new pickup line. (Frentzen left as soon as court let out). Defense counsel responded that they had joked about adopting their own Frentzen-like line of, “Hi, I’m Randy Sue Pollock, I work for MS-13.”

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John Philipsborn secured the other defense victory of the day, with his client, Jonathan Cruz Ramirez, beating one of the murder counts, though he still faces a mandatory life term.

“Philipsborn did a bang-up job,” the spikey haired juror said, noting the lawyer’s dramatic closings, complete with whispers, made for some courtroom drama. However, another juror, a man with an English accent, disagreed: “It didn’t make a difference, actually.”

Jurors wanted to know why defense counsel couldn’t make their clients behave better, noting that two defendants chatted during the trial. They also complained that defendants would stare — even glare — at jurors who sat opposite them in the courthouse’s high security courtroom. Then there was the time one defendant showed up with eyebrows shaved into three parts, which a juror took as a sign of intimidation.

“Every single one of us got an ‘I’ll kill you if I see you on the street'” look, said a white-haired middle-aged female juror.

One juror had raised safety concerns with the court early on, and reiterated today that he had been unclear on courthouse security measures, and wondered if jurors would run into the defendants in the hallways. While the court assuaged his fears, the man said, “I don’t think I’ll be going to the Mission for a few months.”

That same juror, a Hispanic man, praised defense attorney Martin Sabelli for his closing arguments.

“I wanted to say thank you to him for not reminding us of our duty,” the juror said. He was critical of Kourosh “Ken” Behazadi, who represented one of the convicted defendants, saying the attorney “scolded us” during closings.

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