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Misdemeanor Attorneys Come to the SOG

Published for NC Criminal Law on September 19, 2017.

Last week we hosted nearly 30 mostly new attorneys for the Misdemeanor Defender program. The training takes place here every fall, and focuses on preparing attorneys for handling cases at the district court level. If you’d like to know more about our indigent defense education programs, jump to the end of this post to find out about available training materials and future trainings.

What we do at the Misdemeanor Defender Program. SOG faculty did a lot of heavy lifting at this course. Thanks to Shea Denning, the participants were treated to a thorough overview of driving while impaired, from the elements of the crime, to the Chapter 20 motions procedure, to sentencing in DWI cases. Jamie Markham brought the probation and sentencing knowledge as usual, and John Rubin covered suppression and pleadings. A big thank you to all of the SOG faculty involved last week. Other course topics included driving records, pretrial release advocacy, client interviewing, negotiation, various presentations on evidence, and district court ethics. The last day was devoted to trial advocacy skills, particularly in bench trials, where attendees are challenged to brainstorm a theory of the case and create and practice cross and direct examination questions. Between the presentations on substantive law and the skills workshops, it’s a great introduction to criminal law and trial practice in North Carolina’s district courts.

In addition to the SOG faculty, we rely on volunteer attorneys from the Office of Indigent Defense Services, public defender offices, and members of the private bar from around the state to provide the best educational experience that we can. Thanks to the following individuals, whose work on their presentations helped make the program a success: Susan Brooks, Jonathan Broun, Tucker Charns, Mani Dexter, Jon Donovan, Tom Maher, Michael Paduchowski, Toussaint Romain, and Elizabeth Hopkins Thomas. A number of other public defenders and private attorneys volunteer to assist with the small-group workshops, sharing their experience and skills. A special shout out to all the workshop leaders as well. All of the attorneys take time off of their busy schedules to assist with the training, and it is very much appreciated by us here at the SOG, as well as by the attendees. The training just wouldn’t be possible without all of the people that devote considerable amounts of their time and energy, and my sincere thanks to all of the speakers and volunteers.

There are a lot of people here at the SOG behind the scenes that make our trainings function smoothly that also deserve recognition. From the folks at Information Technology that deal with our audio and visual issues, to the people in Facilities that helped with building logistics (like raising and lowering the room temperature on demand), to the catering and cleaning staff: Your efforts helped make this training a success, and I appreciate all you do on a daily basis to assist the employees and visitors here on a daily basis. And of course, the program manager, Tanya Jisa, was instrumental in keeping everything organized and on track. Tanya is a wonderful program manager and I’m grateful to work with her. The whole Program Management division here does something similar for each and every training, so be sure to thank the program manager the next time you’re here for a course.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank the attendees. Lawyers new to practicing criminal law in NC came to Chapel Hill for three nights for the training. Many had just received notification from the Board of Law Examiners that they had passed the bar, and several had just received job offers (at least one received an offer during the middle of the program). I don’t know if this year’s attendees just happened to be a great batch, but they were uniformly engaged throughout the training, asking good questions and sharing their experiences from their varied districts. They were good sports in role-playing witnesses and opposing counsel in the workshops, which helps make the group exercises more fun and useful. I appreciate the enthusiasm that this group of lawyers brought to the training. They all set a high bar for future groups, and I am grateful for their interest and hard work.

Another special thanks to the kind folks at Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, commonly known as TROSA. The Durham-based rehabilitation facility hosted a group from the Misdemeanor Defender Program for a group discussion and tour. It was my second time visiting the main campus but no less interesting than my first time. The tours are guided by residents that have graduated from the cost-free program, and who share their stories of addiction and recovery. It is powerful stuff. Besides the obvious benefits of new lawyers being aware of this treatment option for their clients, it’s a lesson in humanity and resilience. We didn’t make it off the main campus this time, but TROSA at large includes a moving company, lawn care business, and thrift store, among other endeavors. These businesses are so successful that they do not advertise whatsoever and are very highly rated in terms of customer service and satisfaction. The businesses provide a forum in which residents of the program can learn employment and leadership skills. In addition to treatment, counseling and job skills, TROSA will assist residents in securing housing and a vehicle when graduating the program, and even has a staff position dedicated to helping residents take steps to obtain a driver’s license. The program boasts high success rates for residents that graduate the program, and has assisted people in overcoming addiction in a unique, comprehensive way for more than twenty years. I encourage anyone that isn’t familiar with TROSA to read more about it here, or to contact them for a visit. They were extremely helpful and accommodating.

Training materials and future trainings. Miss the training? Or just want a primer on some of the subjects we covered? We post to the IDS website all materials from our trainings here. You can find them under training materials by program for the complete materials, or find them by individual subject. Other great resources on that site include a brief and motions bank. The materials from the Misdemeanor Defender Program aren’t posted just quite yet but they will be available within a week or so.

Finally, attendees and others may be interested in the overall structure of our defense trainings. The programs are offered on a cycle: Misdemeanor Defender is in September, Felony Defender is offered in February, and Trial School is conducted each year in July. We are considering adding an Advanced Felony Defender Program, focusing on preparation to handle high-level felony cases. While each program is tailored to the specific group, there is a gold mine of information in each of them. If you’re interested in attending our programs, keep an eye out for the course announcements, or just check our indigent defense education course calendar, here. While we strive to keep the costs of attending our trainings as low as possible, IDS offers a limited number of scholarships to contract attorneys and private assigned counsel each year.

If you attended the training and enjoyed it, let us know through your evaluations or directly. If you have ideas for topics that should be included or any suggestions for defense education here at the SOG, let me know; we’re always looking for ways to improve. And if you haven’t been to one of our criminal law programs up here yet, consider enrolling next time. I guarantee that you’ll leave with something you didn’t know before.

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