Patrick Fitzgerald spoke to a group of students in Chicago last week, and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune tagged along to see what he had to say. Lucky for us. He doesn’t talk about the CIA leak case, but the reporter does glean a few tidbits that I thought might be of interest to our readers:
But he did answer questions about the challenge of seating a jury in a high-profile case and what he thought about the lengthiness of some federal prosecution cases, although in general terms.
Fitzgerald said prosecutors don’t want uninformed jurors.
"If you can find someone in New York who doesn’t know anything about the World Trade Center bombing, that’s probably the last person you want on your jury. They’ve been living under a rock," he said.
"What you have to do is find someone who can put aside what they’ve heard from the media and recognize that cases are tried in the courtroom."
As an attorney who has spent a lot of her career doing trial work, I can tell you that this is exactly the right attitude to have. Especially for a prosecutor like Fitz who is used to trying complex cases, you want a juror with a brain, who isn’t afraid to use it, to question things they are told, to probe beyond the spin and the perspectives and get to the meat of the facts and the evidence — and who will listen with an open mind and watch with very sharp eyes what goes on from the witness stand.
It is telling that Fitz does not want jurors who are slightly dull, and who can easily be led around by some song and dance routine in the courtroom but, instead, wants the same sort of probing mind that he also brings to the table. Good on him. And he wants an honest win — one that the jurors think through and decide on their own two feet, not a manipulated win through trickery and smoke and mirrors that a tap dancing trial attorney might be able to pull out with a less-attentive group.
Fitz goes on to discuss the ethics or lack thereof of tacking on extra charges that some prosecutors do. (For the record, Fitz is against that, and says that it is unethical and unwise to charge anything but what you can make stick with your evidence. Complete agreement from me on that as well. Overcharging is not only unethical, but it makes you look like a jerk to the jury once they hear all the evidence at trial.)
And then the reporter goes into a little personal tidbit that I found illuminating about Pat Fitzgerald:
At the start of his career, Fitzgerald said he wasn’t sure the "sacrifice" aspects of being a prosecutor suited him–or his student loans.
"I had an image of public service as being a whole bunch of Mother Teresas out there. I’m glad they’re out there, [but] let somebody else do it," Fitzgerald said. "The sense was that public service was for me the thing I’m going to do if I came back in the middle of my life with a trust fund."
Fitzgerald said he worked three years in private practice and lived frugally so he could pay off his student loans and take a job in public service.
"The truth is people don’t realize how rewarding public service is, in a way that’s just not taxable," he said.
As someone who is still paying off her student loans from law school, I can attest to the smallness of pay that you recieve in public service (my last year as an assistant prosecutor paid me far less than $40,000 per year). But it is worth its weight in the long hours and crappy pay with that one case every now and then where you feel you can make a huge difference for the greater good of your community: saving a small child from a horribly abusive situation, sending a violent predator to jail before they can do further harm, helping a juvenile to realize that she has potential and can choose a better path.
In Fitz’s case, the stakes are so much higher: massive political corruption, terrorism, mafia racketeering, Presidential advisors and high level political payback. But it was telling to me that Fitz would use his time with these students not to brag about himself, but to teach them the value of putting others first and of paying off your debts rather than living extravagantly, so that you could put yourself in a position to serve others.
He’s an Irishman after me own heart, he is. Sometimes you just have to read a little character tidbit like this and smile. I bet his parents were awfully proud of their boy.
I don’t mean this to be some sort of hero-worshippy blather — but it struck me that we don’t hear enough of this sort of heartfelt, true speech about real, honest values that people in the news have actually lived (not just the crap they spew that you know they don’t mean, but really, honestly lived day in and day out) nearly often enough. And I wanted to bring it to everyone else’s attention on a day when we need a little ray of sunshine.
(I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find the comment that brought this article to my attention. Whomever it was that posted this link, thanks so much. If someone finds the comment, let me know — I want to give credit where it is surely due.)