Last week, Martinson & Beason attorney Caleb Ballew negotiated a favorable settlement for a young client who had been accused of a violent crime. While television programs would have us believe the relationship between criminal defense attorneys and the district attorney’s office is adversarial and strained, this is not the case in real life (at least in Madison County, Alabama, that is).
Caleb and I walked to the Courthouse and climbed the stairs to the District Attorney’s Office for what I expected to be a formal and formulaic case negotiation. Instead, it quickly became clear that both attorneys were interested in serving the best interests of their clients and would accomplish this through amicable negotiation and finding common ground on the case.
The issues were quickly boiled down and defense attorney and ADA alike had a symmetrical understanding of the facts of the case. They explained that while they represented opposite sides, they often work together to achieve a settlement that is fair and just for all parties. Throughout the meeting, the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial.
Without getting too much into the facts of the case, the charges arose from a dispute over an allegedly stolen cell phone. When the Defendant went to retrieve the phone which he believed was rightfully his, the confrontation soon turned violent, with gunfire exchanged between the parties. The key issues concerned whether the defendant fired in self-defense and whether reasonable doubt existed in whose bullet actually struck the victim.
As it turns out, both the defendant (Caleb’s client) and the victim were firing at each other using the same caliber weapon. Whether the victim’s accidentally shot himself via a ricocheted bullet, or was in fact shot by the defendant, created reasonable doubt, so said Caleb. The Assistant DA, though he may not have agreed entirely, ultimately recognized the risk that there was reasonable doubt in the mind of a jury. He also found merit in the self-defense claim. This led to a compromise: the defendant would be processed as a youthful offender and would plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge. Interestingly, the defendant has a desire to serve the country in the military. If he does enlist, the DA’s office agreed to end probation early. These terms later would be memorialized in a carefully worded settlement agreement.
The negotiation and compromise between the District Attorney’s office and Martinson & Beason attorney Caleb Ballew serves as an important reminder of quality relationships in the practice of law. Even though Caleb and the Assistant District Attorney were technically adversaries, it was clear they were friends and interested in reaching a deal that best fit the facts and circumstances of the case. I walked away with a lesson in treating fellow members of the bar with respect and courtesy, and the positive results that stem from such action. While law school is informative on the black letter law, it takes real world experience to fully grasp the intangible lessons that don’t come from statutes or casebooks.