Jackson v Birmingham Board of Education
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court decided a case where an Alabama high school girls basketball coach complained about unequal treatment of his team to the school board and was subsequently fired because of it. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the coach saying that Title IX prohibits retaliation. This was a big win for Title IX and for female athletes and coaches everywhere.
Roderick Jackson was hired at Ensley high school, in Birmingham, in 1999 and in 2000, he started to notice the discrepancies between the girls and boys teams in terms of equipment, gym space, and access to athletic training staff. He went to the school board to complain and was subsequently removed as basketball coach in May of 2001. He filed a lawsuit against the Birmingham Board of Education stating that his firing was in retaliation to his complaints about gender discrimination and therefore was a in violation of the a part of the 1972 Educational Acts: Title IX. The district court dismissed the case saying that Title IX does not prohibit retaliation and the appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision. It then went to the Supreme Court where they decided 5-4 in favor of Jackson.
Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The issue in this case is whether or not Title IX applies to retaliation.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion. The concurring Justices were: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. The Justices of the majority opinion held that retaliation was prohibited by Title IX.
O’Connor wrote: “Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX’s private cause of action. Retaliation is, by definition, an intentional act. It is a form of “discrimination” because the complainant is being subjected to differential treatment.”
They also held that: “Retaliation is discrimination “on the basis of sex” because it is an intentional response to the nature of the complaint: an allegation of sex discrimination. We conclude that when a funding recipient retaliates against a person because he complains of sex discrimination, this constitutes intentional “discrimination” “on the basis of sex,” in violation of Title IX.”
This means, in terms of Jackson, that the school board retaliated against him when they fired him.
O’Connor stated: “Retaliation for Jackson’s advocacy of the rights of the girls’ basketball team in this case is “discrimination” “on the basis of sex” and that “Congress enacted Title IX not only to prevent the use of federal dollars to support discriminatory practices, but also “to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.””
O’Connor and the concurring Justices felt that: “Reporting incidents of discrimination is integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished. Indeed, if retaliation were not prohibited, Title IX’s enforcement scheme would unravel.”
For these reasons, they decided in favor of Jackson and held that Title IX prohibits retaliation.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Scalia and Kennedy and Chief Justice Rehnquist. They felt like retaliation wasn’t covered under Title IX because:
“A claim of retaliation is not a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex”.
For Jackson, that meant that his claim was not covered under Title IX, according to the dissenting Justices because he was not actually discriminated against based on his sex.
Thomas wrote: “Because Jackson’s claim for retaliation is not a claim that his sex played a role in his adverse treatment, the statute’s plain terms do not encompass it” and “Retaliation cannot be said to be discrimination on the basis of anyone’s sex, because a retaliation claim may succeed where no sex discrimination ever took place”.
Thomas concluded his dissent by stating: “The question before us is only whether Title IX prohibits retaliation, not whether prohibiting it is good policy…I would hold that it does not encompass private actions for retaliation. I respectfully dissent.”
This case was clearly tough to make a decision on with a 5-4 vote. Retaliation is not specifically addressed in Title IX so that made it hard for the Justices to come to a unanimous decision. The 5 majority opinion Justices felt like retaliation was implied and that it fell under the category of discrimination on the basis of sex. The 4 dissenting Justices didn’t feel that way. They felt like Title IX was not enacted with retaliation in mind and that it didn’t fall under discrimination on the basis of sex.
This case is somewhat personal for me. As a former collegiate female athlete that comes from generations of female athletes, Title IX has always been an area of interest to me. I’ve always felt so thankful for the opportunities that myself and other female athletes have been given thanks to Title IX. Unlike the girls in Birmingham on Coach Jackson’s team, I have never personally felt second class to male athletes when I played. My high school, college, and AAU program were extremely committed to making sure that girls and boys were treated equally. I recognize that this isn’t the case everywhere so I am happy and proud that Coach Jackson stood up for his female athletes and fought for them.
When I read this case, I was shocked to see that this happened in the early 2000s. I had expected this to be from the 1980s or maybe the early 1990s when Title IX (enacted in 1972) was still somewhat recent. It is sad to me that female athletes in my generation faced that kind of discrimination, not that I am saying it is perfect now because it is still far from it, but at least it’s better. I am happy that the Supreme Court decided in favor of Coach Jackson and in support of female athletes everywhere.
Waterloo PD Ride Along- Meet Officer Jeremy Nicholls
On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of riding along with Waterloo Police Officer Jeremy Nicholls for two and a half hours. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I walked into the Police Station but luckily, Waterloo Mayor, Quentin Hart pointed me in the right direction. I met with the second watch commander, Lieutenant McClelland who then introduced me to Officer Nichols and we went on our way.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Officer Nicholls was a really laid back guy and very easy to talk to, in fact he told me to call him Jeremy. Jeremy was working the “downtown beat and he explained to me that Waterloo is divided into three sections (east, west, and downtown) for the officers and that they use phonetics to easily identify themselves on the radio. For example: the phonetic for the west side is William, east side is Edward, and downtown is Ocean (although Jeremy had no idea why they picked ocean for downtown). So when Officer Nicholls radioed in, he identified himself as “Ocean-1”. Officer Nicholls is one of the newer officers on the force, having been an officer for not even two years yet (1 year and 8 months) and he works the second shift, which is from 3pm to 11pm.
An interesting piece of information that I learned is that the warmer it is outside, the more calls they get. He said, in the summer, they can get up to 20 calls a person/day in the summer but in the winter, it might only be 5. When we started to drive around Waterloo, I asked Officer Nicholls if there was a plan or if he had to do something specifically and he said: “we’re pretty independent in terms of where we go and what we are doing unless we are working an active case or we get a call from dispatch”. He also said: “the main thing is to always be out and about, be a presence”. So that’s what we did, we were driving around our area until we either saw something or got a call from dispatch. Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into our ride, we had to go back to the station to change cars because one of the brake lights was out in the car we started in. Jeremy complained that he hated changing cars.
After we changed cars, we didn’t have to wait long before we got a call from dispatch. The call said that someone had hit a parked car, there was an unknown injury, and that there was a huge crowd of people around. By default, two officers (the closest two) respond to the scene. Because of the unknown injury, fire and rescue also responded to the scene. Unfortunately, whoever made the call didn’t give the correct address to dispatch so we ended up not where we were supposed to be. We finally got the right address and we sped off. Officer Nicholls explained that one of the most frustrating things for officers is trying to get around traffic. He ended up turning on the lights and after the call was done, I asked him why he decided to use the lights and he responded: “It’s always a situational thing. You have to think about if it’s worth the risk to potentially endanger lives when you turn on emergency lights”. We got to the scene to find the damaged cars and the crowd of people. Turns out, the guy driving the van, who didn’t speak any English, stopped in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. Someone behind him got very impatient and angry so the van driver peeled out as fast as he could. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have complete control and he hit a parked car. Once everything was figured out, the other officer handled the insurance information exchange and we left the scene.
Not too long after, we got called to another car accident. As we pulled up, it looked to be pretty bad. One of the cars had the front driver’s side headlight and bumper completely crushed. As it turns out, that was from another accident and the driver just hadn’t got it fixed yet. The current accident, he just bumped into the car in front of him but didn’t cause any damage. Officer Nicholls told me: “One of the first things we do in an accident is run everybody’s information to see if there are any outstanding warrants on them or anything like that”. After running the two drivers’ information it was revealed that neither driver had up to date insurance which is a $400 fine normally but doubles if you’re in an accident. Jeremy decided not to give either of them a ticket because no one was hurt in the accident and there wasn’t really any damage.
We kind of had a little bit of down time after that so Jeremy showed me all of the different programs on his computer. He said that the computer is an absolute necessity. It gives him the call in writing, tells you where the call is coming from, has an IM feature so the officers can communicate with each other if there is information that needs to be shared but they don’t want to use the radio in case someone else scans the signal and listens in. The computer also has a status monitor so everyone knows where everyone else is, a GPS program, and it runs plates and IDs. He also explained the main radio channels. Channel 1 is everyone else except Waterloo PD, so like the sheriff’s office and state troopers. Channel 2 is Waterloo PD. Channel 3 is information and Channel 4 is a private channel. During this little lull, Officer Nicholls and I talked a lot about Waterloo. I told him that my dad grew up in Waterloo and that my Grandpa was a Waterloo Police Officer and he told me that he grew up in a military family but spent most of his time in Waterloo after his father retired. He told me that: “the hardest thing during training was learning all the streets and how to get around town”. I laughed at that but believe it to be true. Waterloo is confusing if you haven’t spent a lot of time there. We also talked about the reputation of Waterloo and the misconceptions. A lot of people think that the East side is way worse than the West side but in truth, the sector that gets the most calls is W-10, on the west side. We drove through this sector and Jeremy said that it’s where the most gang activity happens. We drove by one house and he told me to look for the bullet holes in the walls and front door. I swear there must have been 50 or more. Then we turned the corner and were in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, which seems crazy. Most of those homes were beautiful but for sale very cheap because people don’t want to live that close to the gang neighborhood. Unfortunately, Jeremy said that: “Waterloo gets a bad rep all together not just from people, but other police officers, they just think it’s a war zone”. He went on to say: “Most of what we do is the boring stuff. We go most of our shifts with nothing exciting to talk about and a bunch of reports to write but there are those nights were things get crazy”.
Our third and final call during our time together came when another officer spotted someone parking in a car without license plates. Officer Nicholls was the next closest officer so he responded as well. When we got there, the other officer was getting ready to search the car. This is legal because of the no plates and no insurance. Instead of towing the car, they were doing an “impound in place”. That gave them a reason to search the car. Also, the guy had narcotics priors. The car search revealed two baggies of marijuana and a pipe that the guy didn’t tell them about when they asked before doing the inventory search, so the officers arrested him. Officer Nicholls cuffed him and put him in the other officer’s car. Then, they had a conversation that led to the guy who was arrested making a deal to give up his dealer so the officers could bust someone higher up. They went back to the station and that ended my ride.
This was a very eye opening experience for me and I enjoyed my time. I asked Jeremy why he decided to become a cop and he said: “I was on the fence in terms of college because I wanted to study law but when I was 18, I took a ride along with someone in the gang unit and I got hooked. I loved the excitement and freedom”. In his short time as a Waterloo Police Officer, Officer Nicholls has worked on homicides, shootings, and stabbings but remains extremely passionate about what he does. He told me that he wished more people did ride alongs, especially our generation because: “most of the time when people do a ride a long, they see what it’s really like and it changes their opinions”. I agree and I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of Waterloo’s finest.
Texas v Johnson
In breaking news, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in the case of Texas v Johnson that flag burning is protected under the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution. During the Republican National Convention of 1984 which was being held in Dallas, Texas, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American Flag outside of the convention center in protest of President Reagan’s policies and the Reagan administration in general. No one was injured during the incident but there were several people who witnessed the event who were extremely offended by the flag burning. In the original trial, Johnson was “convicted of desecration of a venerated object in violation of a Texas statute, and a state court of appeals affirmed” but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision saying that flag burning was protected by the First Amendment as an expression of free speech (symbolic speech). The State’s position was that the American flag is a symbol of national unity that needs to be preserved and that burning one could be seen as a threat to peace.
This case went to the Supreme Court and Justice Brennan delivered the opinion. To open, he stated: “After publicly burning an American flag as a means of political protest, Gregory Lee Johnson was convicted of desecrating a flag in violation of Texas law. This case presents the question whether his conviction is consistent with the First Amendment. We hold that it is not”. In this majority opinion, it was made clear that while the First Amendment specifically says “speech”, the courts recognize that this does not only mean written or spoken words. Justice Brennan notes: “If we were to hold that a State may forbid flag burning wherever it is likely to endanger the flag’s symbolic role, but allow it wherever burning a flag promotes that role, we would be saying that when it comes to impairing the flag’s physical integrity, the flag itself may be used as a symbol only in one direction. We would be permitting a State to “prescribe what shall be orthodox” by saying that one may burn the flag to convey one’s attitude toward it and its referents only if one does not endanger the flag’s representation of nationhood and national unity. We never before have held that the Government may ensure that a symbol be used to express only one view of that symbol or its referents”. This is an important key as to why the Supreme Court decided the way that they did. It is important to note, however, that just because the Supreme Court decided in favor of Johnson, does not mean that the American flag holds less meaning to them or that they condone this type of behavior. In fact, Justice Brennan states: “We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag’s deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today. Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism such as Johnson’s is a sign and source of our strength. Indeed, one of the proudest images of our flag, the one immortalized in our own national anthem, is of the bombardment it survived at Fort McHenry. It is the Nation’s resilience, not its rigidity, that Texas sees reflected in the flag — and it is that resilience that we reassert today. The way to preserve the flag’s special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong”. The majority opinion concludes with an affirmed decision of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because “The State’s interest in preventing breaches of the peace does not support his conviction, because Johnson’s conduct did not threaten to disturb the peace. Nor does the State’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity justify his criminal conviction for engaging in political expression”.
The concurring opinion, written by Justice Kennedy asserts the fact this case “illustrates better than most that the judicial power is often difficult in its exercise” and “the hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right [p421] in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases”. Justice Kennedy agrees with the majority opinion because Johnson’s actions were “speech” and protected by the Constitution.
Four Supreme Court Justices dissented and Justice Rehnquist wrote a dissenting opinion with Justice White and Justice O’Connor. They state: “For more than 200 years, the American flag has occupied a unique position as the symbol of our Nation, a uniqueness that justifies a governmental prohibition against flag burning in the way respondent Johnson did here”. They used words from Ralph Waldo Emerson that described the Revolutionary War to illustrate the meaning and importance of the flag as a unifying symbol of our nation. They also illustrated the importance of the flag during the Civil War and how, in the end, it represented “an indestructible union”. They also talked about the importance of the flag during both World Wars and brought up Iwo Jima and the iconic image of heroic Marines raising a flag. They go on to talk about the Korean War and Vietnam as well and reiterate that: “The flag symbolizes the Nation in peace as well as in war” and they talk about Memorial Day and how a flag is placed on caskets of deceased Armed Forces members and then given to their families as a sign of honor and a mark of respect to their memories. They believe that the American flag is not just some idea or point of view, but something so much more than that. They believe that the States and Federal Government have the power to protect the American flag from “acts of desecration and disgrace”. Rehnquist concludes that: “The Court decides that the American flag is just another symbol…for which the most minimal public respect may not be enjoined. The government may conscript men into the Armed Forces where they must fight and perhaps die for the flag, but the government may not prohibit the public burning of the banner under which they fight. I would uphold the Texas statute as applied in this case”.
Justice Stevens also wrote a dissenting opinion. Much like in the other dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens believes that the American flag is a symbol of courage, determination, freedom, equal opportunity, religious tolerance, and goodwill for others. Justice Stevens states that the “value of the flag as a symbol cannot be measured” and that “sanctioning the public desecration of the flag will tarnish its value — both for those who cherish the ideas for which it waves and for those who desire to don the robes of martyrdom by burning it. That tarnish is not justified by the trivial burden on free expression”. Justice Stevens concludes: “The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force in motivating leaders like Patrick Henry, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln, schoolteachers like Nathan Hale and Booker T. Washington, the Philippine Scouts who fought at Bataan, and the soldiers who scaled the bluff at Omaha Beach. If those ideas are worth fighting for — and our history demonstrates that they are — it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration”.
Clearly, the Supreme Court had a difficult time deciding this case but in the end, it was determined by a close margin that flag burning is protected under the United States Constitution as a form of free speech. This is a landmark case in our history.
State of Iowa v Mark Becker
The Iowa Supreme Court issued their ruling on Mark Becker’s appeal. Becker was sentenced to life in prison after the District Court found him guilty of murdering Applington-Parkersburg’s beloved football coach, Ed Thomas. Becker appealed the decision and the case made it all of the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, where the Justices affirmed the decision made by the District Court.
Coach Thomas became the head football coach at Applington-Parkersburg in 1975. He amassed 292 wins, including two state titles, and was named national high school football coach of the year in 2005. But more than just being a coach, Thomas was known for turning generations of boys into men, and molding them into more than they thought they could be. After a tornado hit in May of 2008, Thomas led the relief effort and “guided Parkersburg out of the wreckage”. The 2008 football season, he guided the Falcons to an 11-1 record, a feat that seemed impossible after the tornado had destroyed so much. In 2010, he was honored at the ESPY awards with the Arthur Ashe award for courage which his family accepted on his behalf. “The three things that mattered to Ed Thomas the most were: faith, family, and Falcon football”.
On June 24,2009, Mark Becker, a native of Parkersburg and former football player under Coach Thomas, went to the high school weight room where the players were doing their summer workouts and shot his former coach. Earlier that day, Becker had practiced using the .22 caliber gun on a birdhouse. He later revealed to the police that he “knew he would have to get close to Thomas in order to be sure that he hit him”. Becker spent a good amount of time searching for Thomas. He went to where he thought the Thomas’ lived only to find out that he was at the wrong house. He then went to the elementary school before finally finding him at the high school. Becker “entered the weight room, approached Thomas, took out the gun, and shot Thomas six times in the head, chest and leg. He proceeded to kick and stomp on Thomas, yelling, “Fuck you, old man.” He then left the weight room screaming that he had killed Satan and telling people to go get his carcass. Thomas died from his injuries”. Becker admitted to police that he shot Thomas while he was in custody and the prosecution had multiple witnesses that identified him as the shooter.
In the original trial, Becker used an insanity defense. After a number of violent outbursts (including a nasty incident with a baseball bat), he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on June 21, just three days before walking into that weight room and shooting Coach Thomas. Becker’s lawyers claimed that because of his mental state, he did not understand the consequences of his actions. The defense used two psychiatrists as expert witnesses who testified that as a paranoid schizophrenic, “Becker did not know and understand the nature or consequences of his actions and was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong in relation to those actions”. Interestingly, the state had two of their own psychiatrists as expert witnesses. They testified that even though Becker was a paranoid schizophrenic, he still “understood the nature and consequences of his action and knew right from wrong in relation to the acts he committed”.
The state argued that the attack was premeditated and Becker acted with malice and forethought and the jury rejected Becker’s insanity defense. They found him guilty of first degree murder and therefore Becker was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was also ordered by the court to pay restitution to Thomas’ estate. After the guilty verdict, Becker tried to get a new trial but the motion was denied. He appealed his conviction and presented three reasons for doing so. He claimed that “the district court improperly instructed the jury when it submitted the Iowa State Bar Association’s jury instructions defining the elements of the insanity defense instead of the instruction Becker requested. He also claimed the district court violated his due process rights under the Iowa Constitution when it refused to instruct the jury as to the consequences of a not- guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict. Finally, Becker claims the restitution order, including the expert witness fees paid to Becker’s expert witnesses, exceeded the maximum amount allowed by the statute”.
The majority opinion stated: “The instructions given by the district court, when read as a whole, fairly and accurately advised the jury of the legal standard it was to apply to Becker’s insanity defense. Becker’s appeal on this ground is without merit. Also, due process under article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution does not require the district court inform the jury of the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict under the facts of this case. Becker’s conviction is affirmed”
Justice Hecht dissented for this reason: “Given Becker’s history of violent, delusional, and homicidal conduct consistent with severe mental derangement, the jurors were justifiably unwilling, without the requested information about the consequences, to risk the possibility that Becker would again be released without proper psychiatric assessment and management. Deprived of a meaningful opportunity to assert his only defense, Becker’s right to a fair jury trial was abridged. I would grant him a new trial”.
To wrap up this case, the Supreme Court concluded that Mark Becker did not make a case for a violation of due process rights and that the instructions given to the jury, when taken together, “accurately advised the jury of the legal standard it was to apply to Becker’s insanity defense”. They stated that according to the Iowa Constitution, there is no requirement for the district court to inform the jury of the consequences of an insanity defense and therefore Becker’s appeal did not have merit. His conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court with all justices concurring except one.
An Hour in Courtroom 109
On Tuesday, February 21st, I was lucky enough to spend a little over an hour at the Blackhawk County Courthouse. The hour I spent was observing a domestic violence trial in courtroom 109. I learned a lot in my hour and it was a great experience.
When I got to the courthouse, the court clerk directed me to courtroom 109 where she assured me that a trial would be starting at 1pm. As I made my way to the courtroom, I was stopped by a young women who asked me if I was going to be observing the trial. I replied that I was and told her why I was there. The woman ended up being Molly Edwards, the prosecuting attorney. Ms. Edwards was extremely friendly and chatted with me before the trial began. She told me that she had gotten her undergraduate degree from UNI and then introduced me to the Judge (Jeffery Harris) and the defense attorney (Heather Badovinac).
The trial was a domestic violence case involving the defendant, Telly Waters, and the victim, his wife (Mrs. Waters). Before the jury, that was picked earlier that morning, was brought in, the Judge swore Mrs. Waters in as a witness. In order to avoid self-incrimination, Mrs. Waters invoked her 5th amendment right. Judge Harris asked: “Do you still intend to invoke your 5th amendment right”? and Mrs. Waters responded with a resounding: “Yes Your Honor”. After Mrs. Waters invoked her 5th amendment right, she stepped down from the stand and the Judge called for a 15-minute recess. I was confused as to why there was a recess when the trial had only just begun. Ms. Badovinac came and sat by me in the pews in the back of the courtroom and said: “I bet that was really confusing huh? Would you like me to explain what just happened?”. I took her up on the offer immediately. She explained that because Mrs. Waters pled the 5th, she needed an attorney for herself, a public defender. The recess was called so that the State could find her a public defender that wouldn’t have a conflict of interest in the case.
After the recess, the Judge returned to the courtroom and so did Mrs. Waters and her new public defender. The judge allowed the prosecution, Ms. Edwards, to meet with Mrs. Waters and her lawyer. Ms. Edwards talked to Mrs. Waters about testifying in front of the jury and what she would ask in order to avoid Mrs. Waters incriminating herself. Ms. Edwards planned to ask about prior dates of complaints of domestic violence from 2010-2013.
Then things got a little crazy. And I should mention that all this time, Mr. Waters, the defendant, was just sitting next to the defense attorney very calm and didn’t really seem to be too concerned about the fact that he was on trial for abusing his wife. Anyway, Ms. Edwards had a sheet that she had Mrs. Waters sign about what she would be testifying to and then Ms. Edwards gave it to the Judge and the Ms. Badovinac to look at. The defense attorney had some questions about the prior accusations that would be brought up in trial. Ms. Edwards and Ms. Badovinac got into a debate about sealed and public records and if they could be evidence. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, the defense attorney stated: “I believe it would be appropriate in this case for the court to recuse itself from hearing this case”. The judge kind of looked confused as he responded: “You want me to recuse myself and cause a mistrial?”. After about five minutes, Judge Harris ended up agreeing with Ms. Badovinac and much to the displeasure of Ms. Edwards, declared a mistrial.
By that time, I was extremely confused. There was a mistrial before the jury had even entered the room. Ms. Badovinac left with Mr. Waters and Mrs. Waters left with her attorney and the Judge left as well. It ended up being just Ms. Edwards and I in the room. She asked me if I had any questions and I asked her to please explain what had just happened. So she did. According to Ms. Edwards, prior bad acts are admissible as evidence in a trial for domestic violence and Mr. Waters had previous convictions as well as 3 previous arrests. Mrs. Waters requested a civil non-contact order but then she tried to cancel it. The defense claimed that they didn’t know about the non-contact order but the State said that the defense had multiple opportunities to know about it. Ms. Edwards told me that she never read the sealed file and she “didn’t need to know what was in the complaint that led to the non-contact order, just the fact that there was a complaint”. She then actually showed me the sealed document and it was clear that no one had opened it.
I then asked Ms. Edwards why that meant Judge Harris had to recuse himself from the case and she told me it was because he knew about the prior cases against Mr. Waters and told the parties about them which meant he had some conflict of interest.
After we finished talking about the case, out of curiosity, I asked Ms. Edwards how she prepared for a trial like this. She told me that she first reviewed evidence including police reports and sometimes she talked to witnesses. In this case, Mrs. Waters refused to talk to her. Then she said she filed a trial information sheet and she showed me the trial information sheet for the case. I noticed that certain lines were blacked out on the sheet and I asked her why. She said: “there are some things that we can’t reveal about a defendant to the jury in order to not predispose them in any way”. The things that were blacked out were information about the number of offenses committed by the defendant along with the seriousness of the offense. According to Ms. Edwards, both of those things would predispose the jury against the defendant even though the same information would likely come to light during the trial anyway. I thought it was really cool that she showed the sheet to me! After the trial information was filed, they went to arraignment where the defendant either plead guilty or not guilty, then they moved on to pre trial where often times a deal is offered or made and then trial.
Something else that I was curious about was the fact that Ms. Edwards and Ms. Badovinac, the two competing attorneys seemed to be very friendly with each other before the trial and even during the recess during the trial. I asked Ms. Edwards if they were actually friends and she said that they were. She told me that “during the trial, we go at it, but I work with her so often that it’s important to maintain a good relationship outside of the courtroom”.
I feel really lucky to have had the experience that I did. I never expected to have so much one on one time with one of the attorneys and I am extremely thankful that Ms. Edwards answered all of my questions. They all, but especially Ms. Edwards genuinely seemed to care about making sure I had the best experience possible and were happy that I was observing the trial. I am really glad that I got this experience and really happy that I had a great time!