A small group of American attorneys recently flew across the Pacific Ocean to Guam, nearly 6,000 miles west of San Francisco. The American College of Trial Lawyers had been collaborating with an associate justice of Guam’s Supreme Court for nearly a year, laying the groundwork for the trip. On January 17, I joined 10 other Fellows from the College in Hagåtña, the capital city, to stage a three-day trial workshop.
You may be wondering, “Why Guam?” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction over the island, an unincorporated U.S. territory with a population of about 170,000. Guam has its own district court, similar to federal district courts in the U.S. It also has a Supreme Court that serves a similar function as state supreme courts.
The American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL) has a rich tradition of working to improve the standards of trial practice in the U.S. and abroad. It is a leading organization of trial lawyers in the U.S. and Canada, with less than 1 percent of attorneys in any state or province invited to become a Fellow. I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of Fellows who under the auspices of the ACTL hosted a similar workshop in 2015 in the Republic of Palau, another island in the Pacific Ocean. Associate Justice F. Philip Carbullido of the Supreme Court of Guam wanted the ACTL to come to his island as well to share best practices.
More than 100 attorneys, judges, and other members of the legal community participated in the three-day workshop in Guam, including some from the Philippines and other nearby islands. The first two days were shared solely with judges while the third day was for both judges and attorneys. We hosted sessions on Supreme Court review, managing a high-profile case, presenting expert testimony, and other topics.
I partnered with Douglas Kelley of Kelley, Wolter & Scott to detail how to prepare for criminal jury trials, including specific suggestions and a presentation about drug trial prosecutions and defense tactics. We explained how being truly prepared means knowing the facts, knowing the law, knowing your local rules, knowing your judge, knowing your opposition, and knowing how to communicate with your jury from the moment you enter the courtroom until the return of the verdict.
There is no such thing as a good courtroom presentation that “just happens.” We discussed how the best trial practitioners meticulously prepare for everything: understanding the law and facts, deciding what motions to file, thinking through the theme of the case, and planning out opening statements, witnesses to call, witness preparation, cross-examination, and closing arguments. We also described how to organize and develop a case, best practices for exhibit lists, and the critical importance of the story you tell in the closing argument.
It was a wonderful experience to collaborate with my fellow litigators and create bonds with members of a legal community half a world away from my home in North Carolina.
“I would like to thank our Fellows who devoted their time and efforts to this program, and all of whom traveled at their own expense to Guam to make this valuable program a success,” says ACTL President Samuel H. Franklin. “This is the second time recently our Fellows have invested to improve the standards of trial practice, part of our mission, by sharing with judges and lawyers in these distant jurisdictions. The College could not be more thankful and proud. Their service is part of what makes these Fellows the outstanding trial lawyers they are.”
As a sign of the legal community in Guam’s appreciation, Justice Carbullido has already planned to ask the ACTL to bring another workshop there in 2020. These two experiences have been incredibly enlightening and valuable for me personally and I plan to help in any way possible in future international legal presentations.