I enjoyed writing the post about Phil Hubbart (and it was long overdue), so I decided to continue the series with another unforgettable character from my beginning days in the Metro Justice Building. I read in the DBR that Irwin Block has been given the 2011 David W. Dyer Professionalism Award. Irwin was admitted to the bar in 1950, and has practiced law for over 60 years. Irwin is the personification of professionalism. He was always a gentlemen no matter how heated the litigation, and at the Justice Building, things could heat up quickly.
When I started as an ingenue at the PD’s office, the criminal courts were populated with a wild-west posse of criminal lawyers. Lawyers with radically different personalities, styles and competency. Starting with Irwin, Bob Josefsberg, Phil “the ringmaster” Carlton, and down the scale to Damon Runyon, characters like Donald Frost, Gino Negretti, Tom Duff and “Mr. Poe–lock.” At times the courtroom resembled the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie. It was like working in an advocacy lab or a never-ending CLE program combined with a source of off-the-wall stories too bizarre to be fiction.
I soaked it all up, watching the calendar hearings every morning with all kinds of interesting motions and hearings. Imagination ran rampant. And then I’d watch the afternoon trials. Irwin was one of the preeminent criminal lawyers. I learned from watching him in action. Always over-prepared and performed in an exquisitely courtly manner. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him in the WFC federal tax trial in the late 70s where both our clients were acquitted, and watched him up close and personal. The entire trial was a learning experience with such greats as Bob Josefsberg, now federal judge Jose Martinez, and presided over by the incomparable Jose Gonzalez. It doesn’t get better than this.
Gonzalez is the model for the perfect federal judge. It was always a joy trying a case in his courtroom. No lawyer would ever do anything disrespectful there because they would be afraid to look diminished in his eyes. The only criticism of him I can mount is that he is a rabid Gator fan. His chambers was packed full of orange and blue paraphernalia. Enough to make a UM man vomit. But nobody is perfect, not even Gonzalez.
Irwin was meticulous. Every file in perfect order. He spoke in clear diction with praticed exposition. When he spoke, he inspired confidence. The preparation and grasp of the subject matter was obvious. And he never retreated from a position. He kept arguing it until the prosecutor conceded or the judge finally called a halt.
I took from him the necessity of mission clarity. How to defend your point of view with a take-no-prisoners rhetoric, yet with humility, not ego. This is a fine line to walk. Humility is a far more effective weapon more than hyperbole and rash over-the-top claims.
While I sat next to Irwin at the WFC trial, I studied his notes and files to see how he prepared for court each day. All were carefully ordered, neat, and ready to go. Once I tried a case against Caroline Heck Miller, now a Chief Assistant United States Attorney, and she, for direct examination, had every question charted out with all the possible answers, corroboration and exhibit numbers noted in different colored inks. Too much work for me. But Irwin was more flexible and I adopted this into my folder method (see my post on Cross).
One of many wonderful stories from that trial aptly illustrates these outsized personalities. Bob Josefsberg and Irwin drove to court together in Irwin’s brand new Cadillac. One day a juror passed in another lane, and Bob being Bob, sticks half his body out through the side window waving both arms while Irwin cringed low in his seat so the juror wouldn’t see him in an expensive car. Irwin mumbled about it under his breath all morning.
So congratulations to Irwin for an award well-deserved.