I was very fortunate early in my career to be able to study the trial practice in great detail under an outstanding law professor and trial advocate. During my second year at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, I registered for the Capital Case Clinic to gain some practical experience. I was a firm believer that book learning was good, but should be enhanced by exposure to the real-life practice of law. The Capital Case Clinic had three clients, all of whom had been charged with murder, and all of whom were subject to Lousiana’s very real death penalty.
Gerard Rault was the professor who led the Capital Case Clinic. Professor Rault knows the Rules of Evidence inside-and-out. Indeed, he wrote the book on Louisiana Evidence Law. The Rules of Evidence are the very foundation of trial advocacy. The smoothest, most persuasive attorney on the planet can not succeed unless he or she understands those rules and how to apply them. As I was to learn, Professor Rault understood those rules not only on an academic level, but he also knew how to apply them in a courtroom.
During my time in the clinic, we took on the case of Louisiana vs. G.G. . We came into the case very early in the process. G.G. was a young African-American resident of Tangipahoa Parish. Tangipahoa occupies much of the ground north of Lake Ponchartrain and south of the Mississippi/Louisiana border. In the 1980s Tangipahoa Parish was still primarily rural, and still had powerful memories of a painful racial history. G.G. had been accused of the first degree murder of a sheriff’s deputy. To make matters worse, the victim came from a town in Tangipahoa that was named after his family. To make matters worse, G.G. did actually kill the deputy (in self-defense). To say the least, G.G. was behind the eight ball.
Because the stakes were so high - G.G.’s life - we researched and filed every issue imaginable - motions to suppress, motion for change in venue, motion to dismiss, motion for defense witness immunity and yes, the old motion to re-arrange the court furniture. I did some legal research and writing. The court didn’t grant a single one of our motions. But I learned that when the stakes are high, the lawyer must leave no stone unturned.
As the trial approached, I took the initiative to research the jury pool. With one of my colleagues, I obtained a copy of the jury pool once it was published. We researched the jury pool in every way we could imagine. We used court records and the local library. We interviewed local people to learn about the jurors who might hold G.G.’s fate in their hands. Professor Rault used the data we gathered when he chose the jury.
The G.G. case is worth a dozen war stories, too many for the space dedicated to this blog. Suffice it to say that Professor Rault was brilliant during the trial. He combined his knowledge of the law, his conviction in what he was doing and a vast persuasive capacity, and the result showed: The Tangiaphoa Parish jury was hung. After declaring a mistrial, the court granted our motion to change venue to another parish. That jury believed that G.G. shot at the deputy after the deputy had fired at him. The re-trial resulted in a manslaughter verdict, which meant that G.G. would have to spend a long time in prison, but would be able to enjoy middle- and old-age in freedom. The manslaughter verdict was considered a major success considering how far beyond the eight ball G.G. was when the clinic took on the case.
I would like to imagine that G.G. has now paid his debt to society, and is enjoying his freedom far away from Tangipahoa Parish.