By Carmen J. Gentile
When first admitted to the bar in 1983, as a fledgling lawyer my two objectives were to gain experience as quickly as possible and with some financial reward. I thought placing myself on the court-appointed list to receive assignments to represent indigent clients was a good start.
This would be an excellent opportunity to gain courtroom skills. Plus, a fairly decent hourly fee would help pay the library, rent and electricity bills for the office.
After learning to defend misdemeanors and other minor crimes in the small town courts, the time had arrived to advance to my first court-appointed felony matter. That first assignment involved a very young woman accused of grand theft.
I now had to learn about indictments and the laws relating to serious felonies.
The young woman was always surrounded by a very large and supportive group of family and friends at all court appearances. This overwhelming personal support had been foreign to me previously when representing indigent clients. Up to that point I had always dealt with angry or incorrigible accused individuals who had little if any personal support and who, basically, had to go it alone.
In my dealings with this young woman she was always very quiet, polite and respectful. Her family members acted similarly toward me. Always a “Good morning, Mr. Gentile” and, most remarkably, “We have great confidence in you. Our daughter is innocent and we pray for you every day so that you may be guided by the Lord to bring her justice.”
The effect on me, a young and inexperienced attorney who was handling his first felony case, was to make me somewhat uncomfortable and anxious, since I now felt required to not only do my best but to succeed and have her totally vindicated.
Inspired by the enormous amount of personal support for this young woman, I began to diligently research the law and draft a dismissal motion on any grounds I could muster. I could not find anything solidly legal to argue on her behalf, but I was determined.
I drafted the best legal arguments that I could, but felt insecure in my belief that these arguments would succeed. My worst fear was the possible disappointment of her family, who had placed so much confidence in me and who had given me so much encouragement.
The judge had a reputation for toughness, which made my hope for success wane even more. The confidential law clerk, who worked hand-in-hand with the judge, had a reputation for reasonableness. He had the task of reviewing all submissions to the judge before they went to the judge’s desk.
After reviewing my submission, he called me into chambers and said, “It appears the district attorney may have exceeded speedy trial time limits.” This was an issue I missed due to my inexperience. He was also kind enough to refrain from commenting on the lack of merit to the legal arguments that I raised in my papers. He then advised the judge to dismiss the indictment, and the indictment was dismissed.
When telling my client and her family the good news, it seemed as if they all had anticipated the favorable result. Her dad just smiled and said softly, “Mr. Gentile, we all prayed for you every day and knew the Lord would allow the truth to prevail.”
Was it divine intervention? A wise and fair law clerk? Pure serendipity? I’ll let all of you decide for yourselves.