18 SUPERLAWYERS.COM A T TORNEYS SELECTED TO SUPER LA WYERS WERE CHOSEN IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROCESS ON PAGE 32.
Q: What do you remember about your
A: I had been practicing law two weeks.
I got a phone call from the clerk in the
Middle District of Georgia, Macon office,
advising me that Judge Wilbur Owens,
who was the chief federal judge, had
appointed me to a bank robbery trial. I
thought I knew evidence and I thought
I knew procedure, but I’d never tried a
case before. The case didn’t turn out so
well because the fellow did rob the bank
and they had all the evidence they could
possibly need. They threw me in the water
and I didn’t drown. From there on, it was
one case after the other, each building
on the last one. And, ironically, Judge
Owens [was the one who] appointed me
to represent Walter Leroy Moody.
Q: If you could change one thing about
the criminal justice system, what would
A: It would be to bring in better-informed
jurors. The longer I stay in this business,
the more I realize how uninformed our
jury pools are. They apparently don’t
teach civics, or civic responsibility, in high
schools anymore. In fact, I know they
don’t. They try to cram a little bit of civics
into a history course. But people come
in so ill-informed about the role of a jury
and why a jury is important. The result
of that is that people who are entitled
to a fair trial—or in a civil context, to an
informed trial—don’t get either. That’s
very disturbing to me.
There are a lot of associations doing
all they can to educate jurors. I know in
Athens, Georgia, my firm has often hosted
the Citizens Court, or the Citizens Law
School, which is free to the public.
Q: Any examples of ill-informed jurors in
your cases? Was this during voir dire and
you were able to remove them?
A: You try to educate during voir dire.
But in superior court and the state courts
of Georgia it’s easier to educate people
during voir dire than it is in federal court,
where typically the judge does a voir dire,
and it’s very limited, very fast, and you
don’t really get a good sense of the jurors.
And they don’t really get a good sense of
why they’re there. I think that a good voir
dire is essential before you ask the jurors to
make decisions in a case.
What I’ve seen more recently is the
phenomena of jurors simply being
unable to make a decision. They don’t
know enough about the system. They
don’t have enough confidence in their
abilities to handle a question or an issue.
You spend time trying a case and they
simply are unable to reach a decision.
A criminal case, sometimes, that’s a
hallelujah moment. But it’s certainly not
in a civil case, where you spend a lot of
time and money getting a case ready and
what you get out of it is a confused juror
or juries and no decision, which is your
Q: Did you have a mentor starting out?
A: I had three people that I thought gave
me good advice. The first was a lawyer
named Nick Chilivis, who was a very
prominent lawyer in Athens; he has a law
firm in Buckhead now. Occasionally he
would slip in to watch me try a case, and
when there would be a break he might
make a suggestion to me, which I always
found helpful. I did work in Atlanta with a
lawyer named Joe Salem, who’s deceased,
and I certainly learned a lot from him.
Finally, my own partner, Jay Cook, who’s
in his 70s now, tried a lot of cases with me
and made a lot of suggestions that helped
me along the way.
At some point, you have to establish
your own identity. I tell all young lawyers
that you can’t really copy somebody else’s
style, but you can learn from other people.
As you learn, you eventually develop your
own courtroom identity.
Q: Any pieces of advice they gave that
A: They all had some of the same advice.
Number one, don’t let the judges rush
you when you’re trying a case. It’s your
case. It’s your shot at it. Take your time.
Present your case well.
Number two, it’s better to be a good
listener than a good talker. Either in trial
preparation or during the trial itself, pay
attention to what people are saying to
you. Really hear and understand what
they are saying.
Third, in the trial arena, the law is certainly
important, but the facts are the most
important thing in either a civil or criminal
case. The facts are going to win your case or
lose your case in most instances.
Those are, I think, the three biggest
things that I learned. This advice was
uniform and universal from these lawyers
and other good lawyers I’ve known over
Q: It’s interesting you mentioned Jay
Cook, since we contacted him for
suggestions for what to ask you. He
thought we should ask you how many
times you’ve been mistaken for Omar
A: [Laughs] I will say this. I was mistaken
a lot more often in my younger days than I
Q: He also thought we should ask you
about your nonexistent golf game.
A: Well, I consider myself a good athlete
but I struggle with golf. My son is an
outstanding golfer. I don’t know where
he got the gene from. And I took up golf
simply so that I could spend time walking
with my teenage son over many, many
golf courses and many, many miles. I love
the game for that reason and that reason
alone. It’s not because I’m a good golfer.
I’m a terrible golfer.
Q: Anything you’d like to talk about that I
A: Not really. The trials I enjoy the most
are where there’s a very good lawyer on
the other side of the case, both of us are
prepared and we do our best, and however
it comes out is how it comes out.
This interview was edited and condensed.