Building a Team

May 30, 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Miami Heat Photo“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

Litigation is a team sport. In sports we know one star player is not enough to win. Even the great Lebron James can’t win without a team supporting him. Lebron left Cleveland to join a team because he learned the hard way he couldn’t win alone. His individual greatness led to multiple MVP awards but never a championship. It takes a team to win a championship. Dan Marino was a brilliant quarterback, the best passer of his generation, yet the Dolphins never had the right players to work with him and Marino never won a championship.

So it is not surprising that the prosecution has beefed up its DSK trial team. In addition to the original prosecutor, John “Artie” McConnell, the DA has added Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, recently appointed chief of the newly formed Hate Crimes Unit, and assistant District Attorney Ann Prunty.

The maid has also escalated her team, adding Norman Siegel, the ex-top gun at the NYCLU, and former federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson, who went after NYPD cops in the Abner Louima case. They join Jeffrey Shapiro, one of New York’s premier personal injury lawyers. Dreams of a huge damage verdict dance like sugar plums in their heads.

At Black Srebnick we take cases seriously and assign a team of lawyers and support staff to work them. In my experience, the only chance against a well-financed government prosecution is to out work them by a factor of 5.  They have all the advantages. An unlimited budget, sophisticated crime labs, national computer networks, the FBI, DEA, ATF, CIA, NSA, and a thousand local police departments. They use the grand jury subpoena power to force witnesses to talk to them. They obtain search warrants for evidence. Agents and police exercise their muscle to intimidate suspects and witnesses. We don’t have many of those resources, so the defense has to outwork and out think them.

The size of the litigation team depends on the case. In small uncomplicated cases, one defense lawyer may be enough, but in any case with many moving parts, only a team can win. The type of cases we take on requires a team effort. There are many jobs to do: coordinate discovery, and document production. Supervise the investigation. Draft and argue pre-trial motions and evidentiary hearings. Prepare witness examinations. Prepare the client to testify. Prepare to cross examination prosecution witnesses. And there are many more necessary jobs depending on the individual case facts.

The trial needs a team even more so. The trial lawyers are in court all day reacting to the testimony and witnesses. There are trial motions, jury instructions, issuing subpoenas, a thousand things going on. The in-court lawyers have to focus on witness objections and the ebb and flow of the testimony. The staff has the responsibility of such things as exhibits, the electronic presentations, and scheduling of defense witnesses. Judges don’t care about our problems; they only care about their schedule. There will be no sympathy for lack of preparation or coordination. During the trial, things have to be at our fingertips because in a courtroom, five seconds of dead silence is an eternity. Be ready or lose it.

And DSK? Let’s hope his lawyer is back from vacation soon. They did send a 3-page letter to the DA complaining of leaks, which was then leaked to the press.