Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story:" My Big Trials and My Forrest Gump Moments

No doubt, you all have seen the Tom Hanks movie, Forrest Gump.  You will recall how, in the movie, it seemed that, because of fate, or due to a strange series of coincidences, Forrest Gump was always around major historical events and famous people, from Elvis, to J.F.K., to Nixon.  Sometimes, in my own life, it seems I have experienced some major "Gump moments," too.  Most of my "Gump moments" have involved being associated with some of the biggest criminal trials in recent Georgia history.  (Hopefully, my comparison to Gump's association with important people and events does not evoke any other comparisons to Gump himself!)
For example, when I was only  a kid, my parents took me to see the trial of infamous murderer A.C. "Cliff" Park, in Jefferson, Georgia.  This was my first courtroom experience and my first taste of what a mega-trial is like!  In one of the most notorius murder cases in Georgia history, Park was found guilty of hiring four men to dynamite the car of our local, (Jackson County), Solicitor General, Floyd Hoard.
Later, as a young attorney, I, once again, was in the right place at the right time.  I was hired, along with my law partner, to work with the D.A. in Valdosta, Georgia, as a special prosecutor, in the infamous murder trial of E.K. "Keller" Wilcox, Jr.  In a very high profile, extremely riveting trial, Wilcox was tried for murdering his secretary and burying her remains in a box which was not discovered until seven years later.  In that notorious Georgia murder case, which resulted in a conviction, the defendant was represented by famous Georgia trial lawyer Bobby Lee Cook.
Likewise, my career as a federal prosecutor involved some additional examples of being in the right place at the right time.  As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, located in Augusta, Georgia, I was in the right place to try some of the largest fraud and public corruption cases in Georgia history, including the largest home healthcare fraud case, (against executives of Augusta-based Healthmaster, Inc.), and the largest vote-buying case in U.S. history, (28 defendants, including the sheriff, from Dodge County were convicted of election fraud).  Finally, about five years ago, I was lead prosecutor in the high profile, federal trial and conviction of Senator Charles Walker, from Augusta, who was the highest ranking Georgia politician ever to be convicted.
Whether or not it was fate, or merely a series of strange coincidences, I have enjoyed being around each of these mega cases! As a trial lawyer, I also always look forward to my next big case and my next "Gump moment!"
How about you?  Even if you are not a criminal trial lawyer, have you, due to fate or coincidence, ever been around a major historical event or person?  What is your "Gump moment?"

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Next Great War: Over Girl Scout Cookies!

Have you heard about the next great war looming on the horizon?  No, it's not in the Middle East.  Instead, it might be in Hazlewood, Missouri.  And it might involve a girl's right to sell girl scout cookies in her own driveway!  As you may have read, Hazlewood officials are clamping down on two girl scouts (and their mother) who have been sellling girl scout cookies from a small stand in their driveway.  According to various news reports, an anonymous neighbor complained to city officials about the traffic and about the dogs barking at people who stopped to buy some cookies.  So, the city has sent a warning to the girls and their mother to cease and desist from further cookie sales, because it supposedly violates a city code against selling products from home.
A temporary truce has occurred in this case, because a good samaritan has reportedly bought out all the girls' cookies this year.  But the girls and their mother have indicated that they may continue their alleged "illicit cookie selling ring" next year!
What do you think about the city's actions in this case?  Personally, I believe the city's actions are outrageous!  In my opinion, the girls should be lauded, not castigated, for their charitable efforts.  Also, in my opinion, the Hazlewood officials should either modify their code, or modify their approach, about code enforcement in this case.  Hopefully, common sense will prevail and a truce declared in this looming cookie war.  And hopefully, next year, everyone in Hazlewood can openly buy some boxes of thin mints in peace!
What do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Barry Bonds, Perry Mason, and Cross-Examination

As most of you are probably aware, the perjury trial of baseball home run king Barry Bonds is presently underway in Los Angeles.  Simply put, the focus of the criminal trial is whether or not Bonds committed perjury before a federal grand jury in 2003 concerning his alleged use of steroids.  Presently, according to news reports, Bonds' criminal defense attorney is cross-examining a key prosecution witness against the baseball star.
Reading about the Bonds case reminded me of the old Perry Mason t.v. program, which starred Raymond Burr.  In Perry Mason, cross-examination always appeared easy!  Ole' Perry always seemed to get the state's star witness to admit that they were the real murderer, just after the last t.v. commercial!
However, trust me, in a real courtroom, cross-examination isn't so easy.  As a former prosecutor and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney, I am generally content if I can lay down a bunt single or two, during cross-examination, let alone hit a homerun, like Bonds.  It will be interesting to see if Bonds' criminal lawyer can swing for the fences in this case!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Policing Trends, Stolen Mowers, and Phoning It In

You might wonder why there is a photograph of a lawn mower in a post dealing with white collar crime!  I will explain it in a moment. 
First, let's discuss some of the trends in law enforcement.  As a former state and federal prosecutor, (and currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney), I never cease to be amazed at the changes I see in our criminal justice system!  Some of the new trends sound good and others not so good.  For instance, we have discussed before some of the "up and coming" sentencing changes, with a greater emphasis on alternatives to imprisonment.  In other words, most states facing budget shortfalls, including Georgia, are facing the harsh reality that they simply cannot afford to lock up everybody and throw away the key! 
But today, I want to talk a little bit about another trend, i.e. a change in the manner in which crime reporting will be dealt with by our local sheriff's department.  Today, the Augusta Chronicle has reported that the Augusta-Richmond County Sheriff's Department will no longer send a deputy out to your home to take a report on every theft, (or other minor), offense.  Instead, deputies will simply take such reports over the telephone and report to the scene of the crime only if absolutely necessary.  The newspaper also reports that this new crime reporting method follows the trend in other states, some of which even mandate online crime reporting for non-violent offenses.
What do you think about this new trend of "phoning it in?"  I don't like it!  I realize that, with tight police budgets, it appears to be more efficient to prioritize crimes and methods of crime reporting.  However, on the other hand, this new trend flies in the face of the last "new trend," called community policing, in which police departments were encouraged to be more attentive to citizens' needs.  Look, I don't know about you, but if somebody steals my lawn mower tonight, as a taxpayer and a crime victim, I want a deputy dispatched to the scene of the crime! And I want 'em there now and with sirens blaring!  And here's another idea -- I want the police to actually try to catch the lawn mower thief!  How about that idea for the next new policing trend?!
What do you think? 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rules, Extortion, Child Molestation, and How Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

As a former prosecutor and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney, I have learned that there are some basic, common sense rules we all should follow, as citizens.  For instance, it should go without saying that one of the first actions a crime victim, (or family member), should take is to contact law enforcement and report the crime.  In addition, generally, you should never attempt to take the law into your own hands.  Also, as a rule, you should never attempt to "settle up" with the alleged criminal.  Finally, you should never, ever attempt to extort money from the accused, in exchange for not reporting the crime to the police.  Put more simply, this final rule illustrates the old adage that two wrongs never make a right!  If you don't believe it, then please listen to what just happened to a Morgan County, Georgia woman when she failed to follow the rules.
According to various news reports, a Morgan County woman has been charged today with theft by extortion, in connection with money payments which she allegedly demanded from a Morgan County middle school teacher who had allegedly sexually abused a child for whom she is the guardian.  In other words, according to a G.B.I. agent, the child's guardian essentially "settled up" with the teacher concerning the alleged child abuse, by demanding money in exchange for not notifying the authorities.  Of course, both parties are presumed innocent and entitled to their respective days in court.
What do you think about this "alleged" sordid mess?  Just look at all the trouble you can get into by violating the rules!  Can you imagine any parent accepting money for not reporting the abuse of their child?  Something may not make sense about this news report!  But it always makes sense that two wrongs never make a right!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lindsay Lohan: To Leak Or Not To Leak? To Deal Or Not To Deal?

With all the ranting and raving by and for actor Charlie Sheen, perhaps you had forgotten all about the troubles and travails of actress Lindsay Lohan!  But now, Ms. Lohan is back in the picture!  You may recall that she faces a felony charge for allegedly stealing a necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store.  Ms. Lohan and her attorney maintain that this was just a big mistake and point out that the necklace was quickly returned.  Well, now, according to various news reports, the actress has allegedly refused a plea bargain deal which might have resulted in jail time for the alleged theft.  I have a couple of reactions, as a criminal attorney, to this news report and talk about plea bargaining.
First of all, as a former federal prosecutor and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney, I am appalled that private discussions about potential plea bargains are being leaked and aired in the news media!  This is outrageous and unfair to Ms. Lohan and to any other criminal defendant who is in her position!
And second, this case also illustrates the important point that, in our criminal justice system, each defendant should be the one to decide whether or not to accept a plea bargain, or whether to go to trial.  In other words, it is not up to a criminal lawyer, or anyone in the news media, to decide whether to accept a deal.  Of course, let me emphasize that, in this case, there is absolutely no indication that anyone is pressuring Lohan to cop a plea.  But I simply wanted to make a point that, in my experience, in other criminal cases, I have heard of criminal lawyers who will "lean on" their clients to accept a deal.  As a criminal defense lawyer, I find this practice to be appalling!  I would never push a client to plead guilty to anything!  And in this case, only Ms. Lohan, after consulting with her criminal defense attorney, should decide whether to "deal or no deal."   Don't you agree?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chirac, Public Corruption Charges, and Continuances

As you know, we, at The Goolsby Law Firm, LLC, are father and son criminal defense attorneys, (and divorce lawyers), who practice law together in Augusta, Georgia.  As you may also know, I am a former federal prosecutor who has handled a large number of fraud and corruption cases.  Also, in this blog, I generally enjoy writing posts dealing with white collar crime.  Most posts deal with crime issues in the State of Georgia and elsewhere in the United States.
However, today, I wanted to be less parochial and talk a little bit about the upcoming public corruption trial of former French President Jacques Chirac.  According to various news reports, the trial of Chirac, which was scheduled to begin today in Paris, has, once again, been continued.  I guess trial delays are common throughout the world!  Chirac faces trial on corruption charges stemming from alleged embezzlement and conflicts of interest while he served as Mayor of Paris from 1977-1995.  The allegations include stealing money and payments to friends for alleged fictitious work, all while Chirac served as Mayor.  In other words, all the alleged criminal activity occurred many years ago, before he became President in 1995.
Mr. Chirac has consistently maintained his innocence of all the charges and reportedly remains a popular public figure in his country.  Here's hoping that he will soon have his day in court and that justice will prevail!  As my late father might have concluded, upon landing at the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, "Vive La France!"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blagojevich, Retrials, and Yesterday's Oatmeal

As a former federal prosecutor, I hated hung juries and having to retry a case!  I have always said that having to retry a criminal case is almost as bad as having to eat yesterday's oatmeal.  While the oatmeal might not have been too tasty the day before, it is downright awful tasting today!
But it seems that the federal prosecutors preparing for the retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich are at least trying to make his re-trial a little less onerous this time around.  According to various news reports, the government has dropped a number of charges, including the complex RICO charge, in order to streamline their case and to make it more palatable to a jury.
In other news, this week, the federal judge presiding over this case has also decided not to reveal the names of jurors who will be selected in the trial, slated to begin April 20th, until after the trial is over.  So, it appears that all the parties in that case are trying to learn from the last trial, which ended in a hung jury on most counts of the indictment.
Perhaps if the judge really wanted to shake things up and streamline the upcoming trial, he would announce that all the jurors and parties will be required to eat yesterday's oatmeal unitil the trial is over!  That would speed things up, wouldn't it!?