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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teachers of Advocacy: Asking those in your Community

This post is tangentially related to advocacy, insofar as sentence advocacy is a part of the criminal justice system in federal court. In my neck of the woods, we not only have the occasional corrupt governor, but we also have lesser public officials who regularly succumb to temptation and use their public offices as a means to help them commit crimes.

One such official is former Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin, who just received two consecutive life sentences for marijuana distribution and plotting to kill witnesses. The sentencing judge was the Honorable Phil Gilbert of the Southern District of Illinois in Benton, Illinois. The Washington Post has a great article describing the sentencing hearing and quoting Judge Gilbert's rather straightforward condemnation of the former sheriff. The article is available here.

Now--the advocacy connections.

First and foremost, if you share this with students, let them know that Raymond Martin is a classic example of how NOT to present one's self at a sentencing hearing. Witness preparation is important, and in a criminal case, getting a client to appear in the best light at a sentencing hearing after a contested case is no easy task.

Second, I enjoyed this article very much because I know the people in it, and it's nice to see them get some positive recognition on a national stage. Judge Gilbert regularly (and with supreme patience) serves as a trial judge for our basic and advanced trial advocacy courses at Southern Illinois University. Three of our trial advocacy adjunct professors are Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Benton branch office, and I know at least one of them was deeply involved in trying the Martin case. Without their service, my trial advocacy courses would lack life, vitality and reality.

The point is this: if you are a law professor teaching a trial advocacy course, reach out to the legal talent in your community. Their viewpoints and experience are priceless, and one thing I've learned over the years is that most people who try cases are natural teachers who want to help neophyte advocates get better. It's a wonderful experience for a student advocate to learn from the very best your area has to offer, and even in a remote place like Carbondale, Illinois, we have some exceptional resources available to us.

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