A Conversation with Jimmie David Gentle, Reflecting on Joe DuRocher

franklin-graham-award-winners-e1484091990549-225x300When you first become a lawyer, it’s a special feeling.  Everything is new, and egos are out of control (new lawyers are the worst, trust me).   Back in 1993, I joined Joe DuRocher’s Public Defender’s office and was thrust into a glorious pot of new attorneys, many of whom are now judges, friends, or both.  Jimmie “David” Gentle was in that group, and we have been friends ever since.   David has taken a different path of late, which we’ll get to eventually.  First, why are we talking about our old boss?

Well, I’m getting more and more sentimental these days.  My morning routine involves listing a few things I’m thankful for, and rather consistently, I have deep gratitude toward my old boss Joe DuRocher.  Joe passed on in 2012, and I miss him.  Also, I owe him.  He gave me not just a job, but a great career.  I’ll never be able to repay him for that.  The problem is, I struggle to recall all the stories Joe had for we attorneys, so, I did what I always do when I need to know something–I Googled Joe Durocher.  I didn’t find much.

I decided to call David, hoping he could recall some stories.  Joe had great stories.  The problem is, many of the stories were told during our monthly PD staff meetings.  I was “too busy” with my PD case load to pay much attention  (as much as I try to make myself look good via this blog, I have to admit that ‘being busy’ simply means that things were out of control.  In that sense, and in a financial sense, I don’t miss the life of a public defender).  Anyway, I do miss Joe’s stories, so, can I get some help here?  Yes.  That’s where David Gentle comes in.

David’s that guy that wanted to be a lawyer since he was in grade school.  Living that dream.  But when David and I get together, the discussion tends to be more about music, Gibson guitars, business—anything but law.  David is a drummer (as am I), but he also plays bass and guitar.  He practiced his instruments for 35 years, criminal defense practice for 25 years.  Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of practicing.

Then, two years ago, he left it all.  David retired from criminal defense and moved to LA to write scripts for a living.

Do you know how many attorneys would love to leave the law and do something else?  Most of them.  I hate to say it, but attorneys are miserable.  No, I’m not being cynical here, just stating the facts. Prosecutors especially.  Again, just stating the facts.  Maybe they’d be miserable no matter what they did, but that’s an analysis for another day (by the same logic, 99% of the men in prison have tattoos, but 99% of men with tattoos are not bound for prison, so we don’t have a finger on the causation here, only correlation).  If you find this fact shocking, you probably don’t know many lawyers.

This point brings me back to David.  He did what everyone else only talks about.  He left criminal defense after 25 years.  Typically, defense attorneys are pushed out of the business because they cannot compete.  This doesn’t mean they’re bad lawyers—just bad small business owners.  Not David.  David was doing just fine.  So, who leaves a great job?  Who moves over a 2,000 miles away to start a new career in his late 40’s?

David does.

So, be warned, this interview runs dangerously close to an episode of Inside Baseball.  Here’s a few points from our talk:

-The judge presiding over the trial can play a large role in trial strategy.  David had a “wristwatch” defense in front of Judge Cyczmanick that worked like a charm.

-David’s PD claim to fame—three felony jury trials in one week, all three Not Guilty, three different judges!  Nice.

-Remembering Jonathan Comnes’ record 50+ DUI jury trial wins in, like, one year! (is this number getting bigger as we age?)

-What was Joe Durocher’s greatest talent as an administrator?  This answer relates to what David believes to be a defense attorney’s greatest attribute.

-What did David say to a prosecutor that scared this prosecutor for years to come?

-Why does David have a box of Cracker Jacks that’s at least twenty years old?

-What should new criminal defense attorneys do with their free time?

-What are the two classes of cases where the punishment doesn’t fit the crime?

-Joe Durocher constantly reminded us of one thing

-Do criminal defense attorneys ever retire?

JOHN: All right, we’re here with David Gentle. All right, will you tell the recorder about yourself.

 

DAVID: I swear to tell the truth, the whole … My name is David Gentle. I practiced criminal law for the last 25 years. I started off at the Public Defender’s Office, I actually started off interning at the Public Defender’s Office in Miami. I did a short brief stint in Seminole County as a Public Defender and then I ended up in Orange County under Joe Durocher, Joe hired me to come in here.

I literally, I interned in law school for Joe in juvenile one summer and so that’s how I made the connection. I worked for David Spain and I cannot remember the other gentleman’s name off the top of my head.  I volunteered to be in Juvenile Court for a summer and because of that Joe remembered me and I got hired when I got out of law school.

JOHN: Nice.
DAVID: So, I practiced law [as a private attorney] but I spent seven and a half years at the Public Defender’s Office trying everything from misdemeanor all the way up to murder.
 

JOHN: Right. You had a lot of trials. Do you remember how many you had as a PD?

 

DAVID: I don’t know it had to be 90 to 100 … trials

 

JOHN: It was that [Judge Frank] Kaney assignment that nobody wanted and you got it.

 

DAVID: Yeah, the one – I found out, Dennis Wineset came up to me –

 

JOHN: That’s a whole discussion.

 

DAVID: That’s another, that’s a whole other conversation.

 

JOHN: I see him [Dennis Wineset] every now and then and he looks the same.

 

DAVID: Yeah, he’s exactly … Last time I saw him, I haven’t seen him in two years, two and a half years but he looked exactly the same.

 

JOHN: Unbelievable.

 

DAVID:  He told me that I must have done something really bad in another life. He said, you must have been goose-stepping for the Nazi’s. He goes, for you to come back and have to be assigned to Caney you are paying for some really bad awful thing that I did in my other life.

My mistake was, when I was in misdemeanor back at the old, old courthouse, two courthouses ago. There was this attorney named Jonathan Comnes, who fell into disfavor with a Judge Rodriguez. Jose Rodriguez.

 

JOHN:  Right, that was my first assignment, I was in front of Jose in 1993 for about a month before Judge Evelyn Golden.

 

DAVID:  Oh okay. Wow. You were –

 

JOHN:    1993.

 

DAVID:  You were goosestepping in another life too with Judge Golden. What happened was Rodriguez was very mad at Jonathan for something and had called Joe Durocher and said get him out of my courtroom.  He’d had enough and I believe Bob Larr might have been the supervisor at that time and I said to Bob, I’ll go to Judge Rodriguez.  My biggest mistake I found out later was, I went into Rodriguez and made everything better and from there on out, I kept getting assignments –

To fix things. I didn’t realize it at the time, somebody pointed it out to me they go, you realize every time there’s a problem Judge or a problem they just send you in.

DAVID:  Because then they don’t hear about the problem anymore. I’m like, you know I never thought about it but I did take a couple of hard assignments back to back. Judge John Adams, before his first divorce, that was not really fun. I had Michelle Heller and Michelle Rouse and …

 

JOHN:  Well, I remember how I got into Judge Conrad, into Felony –

 

DAVID:  Oh yeah, how was that?

 

JOHN:   Well, a guy who was running for Judge–he’s going to remain nameless–was practically kicked out of Conrad’s courtroom within one or two weeks.

Judge Conrad’s like,” Joe you get this guy out of here and you get me another PD” and so here I am. So I’m in front of Conrad, and you got the same assignment.

DAVID:   I got the same assignment, in fact I walked into Rodriguez and I said, “I’m your new PD David Gentle” and he literally got off the bench and came down and bowed at my feet and he goes, welcome to my courtroom.

 

JOHN:   That’s great.

 

DAVID:   I’m like, wow he really wanted Jonathan Comnes, gone.

 

JOHN:   The urban myth of Jonathan, which I think is not myth. He won like 50 or 60 trials in a row.

 

DAVID:   No, he did a lot of trials in Traffic Court.  A lot of DUI Traffic Court and what he would do is, when they would offer him a reckless, he would take it to trial.

And he won because I remember, [former ASA Melissa] Barker, she was trying them against him and we were like, why do you keep [going to trial and losing] … Just start offering a reckless [a reduced charge from DUI], and she goes, I do. I offer him reckless driving and he won’t take them.

JOHN:  It was over 50 DUI trial wins in a row for Jonathan Comnes, from what I remember.

 

DAVID:  That could be. In Traffic Court he [Comnes] put up just astounding numbers.

Yeah, my biggest claim to fame, you may not remember this, is I won three felony trials in one week, in a row [in front of three different judges!]

JOHN:   Wow.

 

DAVID:   Three separate felony trials, not guilty on all counts.

[first trial was Judge Adams], then Adams shipped me out to Judge Michael Cyczmanick.  And I tried a case with [prosecutor] Michelle Heller.

JOHN:   Cyczmanick was great.

 

DAVID:   I loved Cyczmanick.

I figured out Judge Cyczmanick … I don’t know how many cases I tried in front of Cyczmanick but I figured out the routine with him was, he just wanted the case to move. He didn’t want to spend any time, so I would try to move the case as fast as possible. Cyczmaick would always be on my side, move it, move it, where’s your witness? Don’t have a witness, we’re moving, go go go. “Judge I’m ready to go.” Then I would get up in my closing arguments and I’d go, this whole trial started like two hours ago.

 

JOHN:   That’s right. I do remember that.

 

DAVID:   Two hours ago and all the State’s case, everything they had, they presented to you in two hours.

 

JOHN:  This was your ‘look at your wristwatch defense.’

 

DAVID:   This was my look at my wristwatch defense. I would go in there and I would just, whatever time it took I would use that in closing.  The State did not prove their case, they didn’t spend any time on the case, they could have called more witnesses, they could have spent more–they didn’t do it–and I used to get not guiltys with Cyczmanick all the time on that because he did not want cases to last.

I tried a case in front of Cyczmanick, I went back to Adams, and I think Adams thought because I just tried two cases and they were not guilty, that he was going to [jam me up on the third case] and then I show back up and he’s like well, you still got other cases that you have to resolve. Let’s do it.  So then they picked another case and I said, let’s go and he shipped [the third trial] to Judge Danny Dawson.  So then I went and tried that one and came back not guilty and that one was even a little more frustrating because [prosecutor] Michelle Heller–who I had just beaten–wouldn’t offer me something we were looking for, and then she found a misdemeanor attorney and made them try the [third] case because she wasn’t going to try the case –

JOHN:  After giving a crappy offer.  She didn’t have to suffer the consequences?
 

DAVID:  Once she picked up on the new prosecutor it was just a crappy offer, and it was just like, okay, let’s try it. So I tried it and I had three … They were across the board not guilty. There were no lesserS.

 

JOHN:   Wow.   That was the problem Johnny Combs had when he got to felony. After winning, say, a hundred misdemeanor trials, all of the sudden it’s a lot harder to win in Felony Court…

 

DAVID:  It was a lot tougher in the circuit court.

 

JOHN:  To win three in a row in Felony Court, hard to do.

 

DAVID:  Yeah, I don’t know of anybody else in the PD’s office that did it because Joe DuRocher made a big deal of it.  For me, I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t like, I wasn’t trying to stonewall him, it wasn’t that I had a bunch of cases I couldn’t resolve, it was just I had this case, they were ready to go, let’s go.

JOHN:  Do you enjoy trials?

 

DAVID:  Yeah.

 

JOHN:  Nowadays?

 

DAVID:  No, not like I did.

 

JOHN:  Me neither.

 

DAVID:   You’re kind of the same way, I think to become a trial lawyer you have to be competitive by nature and I didn’t want to lose, and I think starting out I felt like I had to prove that I could do it.

 

JOHN:   I agree.

 

DAVID:  Once that light bulb went off where in my mind I’m like, I’m a damn good trial lawyer. I think that kind of took some of the enjoyment of it.  Once I realized I’d accomplished everything I thought I wanted to do then it wasn’t as much fun.

JOHN:   I agree with you.   I think when you mature in this business — your ego starts getting out of it because, when I was a PD, my ego was well into it. That guilty verdict was like …

DAVID:  Oh, it was personal.

JOHN:   Conviction against me–I took it personally.

DAVID:   It was personal.

 

JOHN:  And a ‘not guilty’ verdict — I thought I was good.

 

DAVID:  Yep, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

JOHN:   I think they call that attribution error. Right? Where you attribute your success to you but your failure, that might be somebody else’s fault. Surely it wasn’t my fault.

 

DAVID:  And we had the out, well the guy could have been guilty …

 

JOHN:  Yeah.

 

DAVID:   … So if I lost, well maybe, you know … But, no it was personal.

JOHN:   … And you still see attorneys out there that just have these huge egos that they want to go to trial or they want to do this for their ego rather than …

 

DAVID:  Than for what it is.

 

JOHN:  … Your client is your boss. Your client is telling you what to do.

 

DAVID:   You know, but I don’t think … There was a time when a lot of the people that were hired under Joe DuRocher were … Joe DuRocher had a talent for finding people with heart.   He had a talent for finding good people and I don’t think any of us for the majority of it ever forgot that there was … There’s a trial, but this is a human being sitting next to you and if they lose, this has consequences on their life. If it’s misdemeanor and they go away for 30 days jail, that 30 days could be, lose their lease, lose their car, lose their job. 30 days could wreck their lives.

JOHN:   What they had in their apartment will be gone.

DAVID:  I don’t think we ever forgot, even with that ego of trying to succeed or prove we were great, I think we all kind of had this attitude that, we’re playing with human people. Human beings lives, and I don’t think that was ever lost on any of us. In fact, we probably got into more trials because of that, because we didn’t like what would have happened had they plead guilty or had they lost at trial. We probably fought harder for that right, but, once the trial was announced and once it became a trial and there was no turning back, then my ego would kick in and it was like, I’m going to win. Legally. I’m going to win, I’m not going to cheat, I’m not going to call witnesses that weren’t there. I’m not going to break any ethical code, but I’m going to do everything I can by the book to beat them.

 

JOHN:   Right, Roger Weeden saw Diana Tennis in an elevator before she became Judge and she was sad.  And Roger was like, “why are you down?”  She’s like, “Oh, I’m going to trial, going to lose. There’s just no good offer”, Diana said, “but the good news is I’m going to bloody some noses today.” So, even if you’re going to lose, maybe you can bloody a few noses because I think the ego still comes in to it for the prosecutors.

 

DAVID:  Absolutely.

 

JOHN:   And that, you wind up going to trial because of the prosecutor’s ego over you, rather than, hey can we look at this accused person’s life, and what they’re accused of, and give a just resolution to this case? This is not hard.

 

DAVID:  There’s no doubt, in fact, apparently, I made a comment to a prosecutor named Steve [Mikilib 00:13:25] once. I said something about how sometimes I just get a little bit crazy and I just will try a case just to try a case. Because he said to me one time, he’s like “you’re not negotiating” and I said, you know sometimes I just want to get crazy and try a case. I was joking around and I found out after he left the prosecutor’s office–another prosecutor came up to me and said, you know he was scared of you. I go, why was he scared of me? Because we tried cases all the time and he goes, because he thought you were going to try a case sometimes just to try a case–regardless of whether or not you had a good case or not. He was always afraid you were going to come in one day and just go, “trial,” when he thought it was all worked out.  I’m like, that’s funny because I didn’t think … It was just a smart comment I made off the side, I didn’t think anything of it but ego does come in.

 

JOHN:  Unpredictability can be a great asset I suppose.

 

DAVID:  I guess so.

 

JOHN:  You didn’t do it intentionally but you might have benefited.

 

DAVID:  As long as it’s tethered to something. As long as you’re not unhinged.  Unpredictability can be an asset.

JOHN:  I have a friend that, I don’t want to put his name on here, but he will go into Court and purposely never talk to the prosecutor. I don’t understand how you can do that.

 

DAVID:  Right? I know who you’re talking about and –

 

JOHN:  We’re hired to negotiate, or to jury try something, or dismiss something, but that is not his game.

 

DAVID:  And it worked, it worked for them.

JOHN:  In a way it’s intimidating because the prosecutor never knows what’s going on–ever. They won’t say much to the Judge at the podium, they won’t respond to the prosecutor talking to them.

 

DAVID:  You have to have a great track record and you have to have kind of a reputation before you can … You cannot pull that right out of law school.  That comes to a point where you have to think that your prosecutor is inexperienced and they don’t really know what they’re doing.  But it worked, it worked.

 

JOHN:  Yeah, yeah, that’s true.   You talked about Joe’s empathy, that is the strongest asset you can have in criminal defense.

DAVID:  Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know how Joe did it, I heard about all these people that went through this interview process that I never really went through. I heard stories about him talking about pictures on his wall or something kind of like –

There was something about our whole … I call it a generation, I don’t know what it is but all of us that came out around the same couple of years together at Joe Durocher’s PD’s office, that started off in misdemeanor and all that. They are some of the best people I’ve ever met, the biggest hearts, the people that actually care about people and that was the one thing we had in common because we really didn’t have a lot in common with everybody.

… You know, coming from different law schools, everybody was different. We weren’t cut from the same cloth but we all had that one kind of thing in common and I think that was part of Joe Durocher’s genius was finding that in his attorneys and kind of nurturing it and getting it out of us.

JOHN:   Yeah, he had it and it came from the top. It’s like Bill Gates always said, what does Microsoft do? I mean he’s not there anymore but he said, what we do is we hire. That’s it, plain and simple, we hire. You could take the people I hire and put them in a room and they don’t need to be working on Windows 10. They could do anything. They could come up with some other product because we’ve hired the right people. That’s like Joe, he hired a certain group of people, they would find a way to defend these folks.

DAVID:  Yeah, I don’t know what it was but he found the heart in all of us or he hired all of us because we had heart or something but it was the one common thread.  Because, you go back and look, half those people are judges now but if you look at everybody we were in misdemeanors together, there’s not that much in common.

We all have very different lives, very different view points …  I mean, Scott Polodna used to sit in his office and listen to Rush Limbaugh.

JOHN:   Well, do you remember the … I thought the biggest controversy with Scott was when he was my Division Chief, you know what I’m going to say right?.

Scott put up a Rush Limbaugh poster and Joe made him take it down.   Scott was so offended that Joe made him take it down. It was like an affront to his freedom–but really–Joe was an elected official for God’s sake. If you got a guy on the radio railing against a Democrat and Joe is a Democrat, Scott, you got to fall in line.

DAVID:  No, I understood that. What I appreciated was Scott had a completely different political viewpoint than Joe, and Joe still saw the reason to hire him and hired him and still …

… It wasn’t like we all had to march to the same drum.

DAVID:  The common denominator was more of what was inside us, not who we were as far as what we believed politically or what we did in life.  Joe somehow found that out.  I still to this day don’t know what he would do at his interviews or what he looked for.

JOHN:  That’s true.

 

DAVID:  There was something he looked for–and he found it–because you look at David Hill, you look at Blair Jackson, you look at …You just start going down the list of all the people, there was something he knew about all of us.  Bob Larr, Bill Garmany [referred to as a “saint” in my interview with Ted Marerro] you just keep going down the list and you’re just like, wow. Just good person after good person after good person.

JOHN:  I agree.

DAVID:  That was the thing I’ve always admired most about Joe Durocher. That and the box of Cracker Jacks.  I still have my box of Cracker Jacks. [an award left in your office by Joe Durocher after you’ve had your first jury trial]

 

JOHN:  Oh, I wish I had mine.

 

DAVID:  I have two of them.  Those are some of the best trophies I ever got because usually you get them when you first win for trial.   The second one I got was for winning three trials in the same week, he gave me another box of Cracker Jacks. I always thought that was a unique trophy to give to somebody.  Of course, I don’t think the generation now would even understand what Cracker Jacks are or what the meaning of that is but I thought that was a really unique and touching way to say, “you did a great job.”

 

JOHN:  That’s part of why I wanted to talk to you about Joe, because you get to this point, I know he’s been gone for what, four years maybe, but I owe everything to this guy who gave me a chance back in 1993.

Joe gives me a chance and by the way, my job interview was a little different because he saw I had my MBA and an accounting degree, so, he starts talking to me about taxes. He and I are on totally different pages about taxes. He tells me, “we need an income tax in Florida”, “we need to raise the sales tax”.  He’s going on and on about all these taxes and thank God he didn’t let me chime in.  I’m like, oh my, Lord no. We don’t need more tax. Thank God he hired me anyway.  During the interview, all he’s talking about is the stuff that I totally disagree with him on.

I understand that they say the four letter word, the best marketing plan ever is to care, right?

 

 

DAVID:  Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, yeah.

 

 

JOHN:  So, he understood that he had to hire caring people and you’re absolutely right, I never even saw that angle in him, but he was a master at –

 

DAVID:  He was a master at it. I mean –

 

 

JOHN:  I don’t know what questions he asked to figure out whether we would … It’s sort of like when Apple first had the Macintosh, that little computer, and they didn’t care whether you had computer experience. They’d put you in a room with it and if you played with it before they walked in –

 

DAVID:  Right, right.

 

JOHN:  You might just get hired with no computer experience.  Joe must have asked questions that were irrelevant, that we didn’t see coming but he knew we were caring.

 

DAVID:  I was really, really embarrassed one time because I’m walking out of the Courtroom and I run into a guy I went to law school with. He says something like, you’re at the PD’s office now and I’m like, yeah. He says, are they hiring? I go, yeah we need like three or four attorneys we’re really … We were really backlogged.

He’s like, I got an interview and I’m like, well good luck and then the next time I saw him he said he didn’t get the job because Joe told him there were no jobs.

JOHN:  Right. Joe didn’t have the heart to –

DAVID:  It hit me, two things hit me. One, I was completely embarrassed that I told him that there were jobs opening and two, there’s something about him that Joe DuRocher did not feel he should be hired. Those were the two things that hit me when he didn’t get hired, was I shouldn’t have opened my mouth saying there were job–I should have left that to the people that be–but then there was something else about this guy that maybe I don’t understand or know because if Joe didn’t hire him when I know we needed attorneys, there was a reason Joe passed on him.

I’ve always said that, that was Joe’s, one of Joe’s greatest strengths was not only his heart but the way he could see it in other people.

JOHN:  Right, I think the same thing could be said of Mark Nejame as far as legal talent.

DAVID:  That’s interesting.

JOHN:  When you think about, Nejame hires Danny Tumarkin, he hires Michael LaFaye, he hires Eric Barker. A lot of the people that he’s hired are pretty damn good attorneys. He’s gotten his hands on some really good attorneys. I feel like, Nejame … I don’t know about now, because I don’t know his people now –

DAVID:  I think he’s a good business man, Nejame.

JOHN:   Yeah, no he is, but his ability to hire, to see that talent, that’s good.

 

DAVID:  But you know, just like anything else, when I first started out at the PD’s Office, believe it or not we should have been swamped all the time but there would be free time.

JOHN:  Oh, yeah. Especially in Traffic Court. I remember that. That was a part time job.

 

DAVID:  I just remember going … I’d be finished at 2 o’clock or two thirty.   So, I’d go over to the courthouse, and just find somebody who’s in trial and I would just sit and watch trials.

JOHN:  Oh, you’re a better man than I, that’s far more productive than I was.

 

DAVID:  What I learned is if you just listen, you shut up and listen, you can learn so much and then later you can ask the questions why’d you do this or why’d you do that.  Watch what other people are doing.  I’ve always said, if you’re looking for a good talent just go sit in the courthouse for a while. Find out who’s trying cases and just go listen to them. You’ll find the talent. Nejame knew enough people that he could ask everybody who the talent was or something like that.

 

JOHN:  So, I was feeling guilty, that Joe gave me this career, which really has been great for all of us–but stressful. Maybe our cardiologists, if I’m on a hospital bed in a couple of years, might not say it was so great, but, here’s something that you’re going to relate to, I think. We had those monthly meetings at the PD’s office.

DAVID:  Right.

JOHN:  And I dreaded going to that meeting. I was just like, oh Lord, I have other crap to do, do we have to go to this meeting? It’s a waste of time.

 

DAVID:  This is the one where we’d go up to the library …

 

JOHN:   Yes.

DAVID:  … [Joe would] give out the pig award …. We’d all sit around and yeah, I actually enjoyed those.

JOHN:  Okay, good. You’re a better man than I am.

 

DAVID:  No, I just thought they –

 

JOHN:  You’re watching trials in your spare time, I’m –

 

DAVID:  I thought they were funny. I knew that there were going to be things said at those … When you got Kelly Simms and you got [now judge] Steve Jewett and you got … There’s going to be things said at those that just amuse me.

 

JOHN:  Yeah, I wish, I wish I could have some of Jewett’s stuff and Kelly’s stuff on tape because they … That was a comedy duo –  No doubt about it. That was classic.

What I miss or what I feel guilty about is I looked up Joe on the internet just the other day.  Sadly enough, I don’t remember his stories anymore. I remember all of us walking out like, that meeting could have ended two hours ago but Joe started telling a story –

DAVID:  And he would always, yeah, right towards the end he would always go – He’d start on a story.

 

JOHN:  So, now I want to hear those stories.

 

DAVID:  Wow.

 

JOHN:  When you think about it, I look online, Joe’s stories aren’t there.  I went and talked to Roger Weeden, he doesn’t remember the stories. How many helicopter stories did Joe have?

 

DAVID:  He had thousands, it seemed like.   but sometimes he would start those stories and not finish them, and I think he would do it just to yank our chains like, “that reminds me of when I was flying helicopters,” you know … especially after a late meeting he’d start doing that, and you’re just like, I’m not sure if he’s really got a story here or if he’s just yanking us –

 

JOHN:  No, he does have a story.

 

DAVID:  He did have stories. I don’t remember them…

 

JOHN:   You don’t remember any of them? I need you to remember some, but you don’t?

 

DAVID:  I know, I don’t remember, you got to talk to Jewett and Kelly [Simms] and those guys that were really close to him, I’m sure Kelly Simms can tell you those stories left and right. I cannot think of anything from any of those stories. He used to bring in politicians to those meetings, he used to bring in people running for Judge that he supported. I remember him doing that.

DAVID:  I remember the pig award which started off being innocent and turned into a really nasty kind of award. Do you remember the pig award?   You could give the pig award … Joe found this award with a pig on it and he got it for a dollar or something at a farmers market. There was no reason it had a pig on it, it just had a pig on it. So he decided he was going to have some kind of award that he gives away every month but he didn’t want to make it just about trials. So, he gave it to us to say good job, and the person that gets it gets to give it out the next month.

So, you get the pig award because of something great that happened in your courtroom or somewhere you went above and beyond, or trial. The mistake he made was he gave it to a bunch of clowns and he said there are no rules to who you give this to. So, at first it starts off as this really great award.

Which is, you know, Kelly won a murder trial nobody said he could do it, here’s the pig award, great job, pat you on the back. Clap clap clap. Then after a couple of months it starts making the rounds and all of the sudden I remember somebody giving the pig award to somebody else we won’t mention, and just said, I’m giving her the pig award because she’s a bitch.

JOHN:  Now he had to pull the plug?

 

DAVID:  Yeah, and so the pig award went from this really good idea where we’re celebrating everything, but he didn’t put any limitations on it and then it just became … You know, you could give it away for any reason you wanted to…and it got kind of dark and then all of the sudden the pig award died.  Joe did have a story about the guy with the shoe. Franklin Graham.

Then Joe started the Franklin Graham Award.   Franklin Graham, I never met Franklin Graham but he passed away either while he was a PD or after he was a PD.   Franklin Graham was one of those guys that … I’m trying to remember the story but he really was a true believer, really fought for something and somewhere … You’re going to have to find someone that knows this story because I do remember Joe telling this story.  Franklin got mad at somebody for being a smart ass and took off his shoe and threw it at him as he walking out of his office.  I guess Joe was walking by and the shoe comes flying out of the office and hits the wall. He made it a memorial award.

JOHN:  That’s right.

DAVID:  I think it had a cash bonus and he gave it away every year.

JOHN:  I think Bob Wesley [current Public Defender] still has that plaque.  Which is nice of … because when I went to Jeanette’s retirement I’m like, oh my God. This plaque, oh my gosh I cannot believe this.

 

DAVID:  Interesting.

JOHN:  I think, when you talk about Joe having empathy and compassion, which, he just had it in spades, and you also look at some of the people he hired–some were not ego trial driven.  They all cared.

DAVID:  Yes.

JOHN:  They were like social worker attorneys.

DAVID:  Yes, yes, those are the ones that stayed and moved up.   There were lots of us that got in at the ground floor, But the ones that hung in there for years, and years and years, they were the ones that were true believers or that really were fighting for a cause.

JOHN:  Yeah, and just I think of Bill Kinane, you know, I think of Cristine Warren.

 

DAVID:  Christine Warren.

 

JOHN:  I don’t think there’s anything Christine Warren wouldn’t of done for a client, but she had this sensibility about her, she was empathetic to everybody’s cause.  But she almost wore that weight on her shoulders too.  She got their stress.

DAVID:  Yeah, she did, she did.   That was the problem, Dominic Sagorski told me a long time ago, if we were paid by the hour none of us would make a living–but we’re paid by the stress. Then he goes, we get paid great salaries or decent salaries because we handle people’s stress and we stress.  He’s right. I realize that there are jobs out there that are high stress jobs that get paid a little bit better than minimum wage or something but you carry that stress. You know, and we do as criminal defense attorneys, we carried that stress.

JOHN:   I don’t know, I talked to Roger Weeden yesterday and it was Chung Kim who told me the other day how Roger goes to trial on the drop of the hat and doesn’t stress … I stress.

 

DAVID:  Roger is about as even keeled as they come.

 

JOHN:  I told Roger, I’ve got a trial in February, I’m stressing about it and it’s early January. Chung is the same way I think. A lot of us are the same way, Dom is probably the same way… I’m trying to change, but I cannot change.

 

DAVID:  Roger is not only a true believer, he’s so unique.

 

JOHN:   Yeah, he’s in his own lane.

 

DAVID:  He’s been doing it for so long, for no glory, he doesn’t do it for masses amount of money.   He’s truly a remarkable –

JOHN:  He’s way into civil rights. See, Roger grew up in the 60’s and he knows civil rights and he’s talking to me, and he’s like, “do you know so and so?” I’m like, no.  Oh well, they came through with Jane Fonda … What? I was born in late 60’s, I was barely born. He knows all that stuff.

DAVID:  And he just keeps going and you don’t ever see Roger lose his cool.   He doesn’t get mad that a judge made a really bad ruling–where you and I would be walking out throwing our file across the room saying, “you cannot do this!”   Roger just is evenly keeled and it doesn’t affect him.  Trial? Okay. Bad ruling? Okay.

 

JOHN:  I got a bad ruling a couple months ago. I’d say it wrecked me for weeks. I mean literally –

 

DAVID:  Yeah, yeah, because it was injustice.

 

JOHN:  It was a motion to suppress. It should have been granted. For weeks I was mad at myself, what could I have done differently. I was stressed about it. Even when I think about it now, I’m pissed.

 

DAVID:  Because it’s not justice, it doesn’t seem right.  That drives all of us crazy, no matter what.

People believe that criminal defense attorneys want to see everybody walk the streets and everybody found not guilty, I think we basically want to see things be right. I’ve tried to explain this to people, if you play by the rules and by the rules you find that my client has to go to jail–then that’s the rules, and then that’s what we just have to deal with.  But if you don’t play by the rules, that’s when we all get so bent out of shape that you know, it’s like it needs to be fair and right and there needs to be justice.  People think we just want to get everybody off. It’s more that we want justice. A real justice to happen.
 

JOHN:  I think a big source of my frustration is beyond justice, maybe there’s a longing for mercy and compassion.  When I see a government official not exercise one ounce of compassion or mercy for another person, and at the same time practically speaking, kind of waste our money–it’s frustrating.  Just give a guy with a drug charge years in prison, when you should have sent him … It’s cheaper to go to residential treatment. You could have treated this guy, got him out in six months and he would be better off than three years prison.

 

DAVID:  Three years prison are coming out worse than they were and they’ve got nothing.

 

JOHN:   So, you cannot, like you just said, intellectually figure out that they’re worse off and it costs tax payers more and you have not one ounce of empathy. That drives me up a wall.

 

DAVID:  But there’s people that run for office saying, I’m going to crack down on crime. I’m going to be –

 

JOHN:  Ugh, they make a living off of it.

 

DAVID:  Yeah, and so their point of view is not mine, but their point of view is that’s what they’re doing. I’ve never seen where three years prison really changed anybody for the better.

 

JOHN:  No, I agree. I need to talk to you about all this criminal defense work and why you left it.

 

DAVID:  I left it.

 

JOHN:  What led you … What were the signs that were like ugh, God this is too much.

 

DAVID:   I hate to say this because it makes me sound first of all, old, and I’m not old.

 

JOHN:  No, none of us are.

 

DAVID:  But I’ve been doing this a long time. I think, the first thing which we kind of talked about was the challenge, I had already proven to myself that I had done it.

 

JOHN:  I see your point.

 

DAVID:  And it started becoming just routine –  And I didn’t feel like I was personally challenged anymore.

 

JOHN:   I know.

 

DAVID:   And a murder case, didn’t even light me as a challenge anymore because I had done them.

 

JOHN:   Chris Rock said, when he was undercover in a taxicab once, with a Rastafari disguise, and he picks up this real white couple and he’s like, “yeah I just got out of prison”. Oh really young man, what was that for? He’s like, “well you ever get in a fight? Like, yeah? My guy died.” You know what I mean?   So sometimes a murder is just a misdemeanor battery where somebody died.   This is not as exciting as it is on TV.

DAVID:  It’s just a battery with fatal conclusions. That’s what a murder is and yeah it got to the point –

 

JOHN:  You did serious … When you went private you did a lot more serious cases than I did.

 

DAVID: Yeah, sex cases where some of my clients were looking at life for sex with minors, and a couple in the end there were big time child pornography cases. Which I think you’ve handled some child pornography –

 

JOHN:  Still do.

 

DAVID:  Those, they wear you out.

 

JOHN:   They do. But it’s also a source of motivation or frustration that again, the laws are so bad for these people.  I got child porn people are facing more prison for the porn than if they just went ahead and molested the kid.  I hate to say it.

 

DAVID:  No, or stabbed a kid, I mean you’ve got people that are passing on pictures they didn’t take, they didn’t receive money for -That they’re just putting them on the internet, and I know I’m saying “just”, it’s still a crime and I understand that you don’t want to keep victimizing people and I get all that. But, when you’re giving them 25 years in jail, or you’re giving them 30 years or 15 years in jail.

 

JOHN:  Yeah, exactly.  It’s outrageous. 100 years prison for child porn.

DAVID:  First of all they didn’t kidnap the kids, they didn’t take the pictures, they didn’t pay the kids, they didn’t force the kids, they’re just passing on pictures. I had one case where the photos were obviously from the 60’s and 70’s, you could tell by the walls, by the clothing, and you’re just like wait a minute, these pictures have been around 30 years? And this guy is going to end up getting five years for this one picture? He obviously didn’t take it.  We don’t even know who the victims are, we don’t know … You cannot even really prove they weren’t 18 from some of them.

JOHN:  Right.

 

DAVID:  And yet the amount of prison time is astronomical.

 

JOHN:  Nobody stands up for them –

 

DAVID:  No, nobody gets elected saying, I’m going to help child porn people not go to jail.

 

JOHN:  Right. It’s impossible.

 

DAVID:  It’s impossible. You don’t do it, that’s not a campaign slogan that wins. It’s not going to get you elected. But it is, there are some things, minimum mandatories, where the crime doesn’t fit the punishment.  The punishment exceeds it by so much and that wears you out.

 

DAVID:  I had a case where my client was charged with neglecting his pets. He had two dogs. One of them had to be put down, the other one was not put down. He had them in the backyard, he had them leashed, but when animal control came they said there was no food, there was no water, the dog was completely hungry. There were fleas everywhere. It sounded like a bad situation. The offer was five years imprisonment.

 

JOHN:  Oh my gosh.

 

DAVID:  For a first time offense. He had no priors.  I even had a prosecutor who is a friend of mine who I deemed pretty much reasonable but this one was just unreasonable. I went to the Judge in this case, which was Kaney, and I thought, you know I’ve been in front of Kaney a lot.  I say Judge, do you really want to give this guy five years or something like that? And Judge Kaney’s response was, “the guy abused animals he deserves five years.” I was just like, if he kidnapped a child and put the child in a cage and left it there for a day nobody would be trying to give him five years. They might give him three years, they might give him 20 years probation–but you wouldn’t give him five years imprisonment on a first time offense.

If you knifed somebody you could get less than five years. This was a dog. I love animals but there are certain cases that people get wacky about. Child pornography is one of them and animals are one of them.

JOHN: There’s buildings in Greece that say, the most important thing is know thyself, right?  That’s one thing I give credit to Carolyn Draper. Judge Draper, I believe she actually recuses herself on animal cases.  She knows herself—she knows she can’t be fair and she does the right thing.

DAVID:  Does she?

JOHN:  I’m pretty sure she recuses herself, and they just know in Osceola–send the animal cruelty to somebody else. But, what you heard from Kaney implies to me that he’s not judging this case.

 

DAVID:  It’s not justice.  It’s not fair and it’s not justice–but because of that–I noticed the next couple of animal abuse cases I got, my rates went sky high.  They never signed me up because I didn’t want to do them because I didn’t want to deal with the illogical factor of ending up going to trial on an animal cruelty case when it could have been resolved with probation. It could have been resolved with punishment that fit the crime.

So all the sudden my fee went up and I think those are the things that wore me down from practicing criminal law.  You could see some of the things that you already knew weren’t going to be justice, and then you get to the point where you’re like, do I really want to take this fight on again?  I got to the point where I thought, this is a great fight for the young, idealistic people.

 

JOHN:  And they’re not going to know what hit them. When they quote that animal cruelty case  2500 bucks, oh it’s an F-3, they’re not going to know what hit them.

 

DAVID:  Or the public defender’s office which is a great source of young idealistic … you know, I think the fight is good for those people coming out. You still seem to have a little bit of a spark in you.

 

JOHN:  Well.

 

DAVID:  I just kept thinking there’s got to be somebody who has the energy and the love that I used to have, they’re the people that need to be fighting this fight. I didn’t think I was doing my clients a service much after that because it wasn’t … I wasn’t the person I was 20 years ago fighting that. It just came to a point for me, you can call it burn out, you can call it whatever you want, but it was kind of like I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’ve proven to myself I can do it and now somebody else needs to pick that up and run with that one for a while. That was my thought.

 

JOHN:  I did that with my recording studio.  I felt like I’d recorded everything I wanted to record. I produced. I mastered albums.

 

DAVID:  You’d learned it.  You learned everything you could learn.

DAVID:  Regarding Joe Durocher, I will tell you this, I was fortunate enough to, it would have been five or six years ago, I’m sitting in my office, and you know we’re in the nice office and we got the nice building and I’m sitting around feeling pretty lucky and fortunate about all that I’ve accomplished and my secretary comes on and says, you have a call it’s Joe DuRocher.   Joe DuRocher hadn’t called me or I hadn’t talked to him in years.

And he called and I’m not even sure what, why he called me.  Before the conversation end I go, Joe I just need to say thank you. I said, you did a pretty remarkable thing in my life by hiring me and mentoring me and all this kind of stuff.  I know a lot of people like me that are attorneys today, and Judges today because of you.

 

JOHN:  That’s right.

 

DAVID:  I was very fortunate that I actually had the moment, that I got to thank him.

 

JOHN:  I know, that’s awesome.

 

DAVID:  Because then he passed away shortly after that, I don’t know why I said it to him, because it’s not the way I would have ended a call.   But it was just for some reason, I was feeling life was good and all of the sudden I get this call … I think I’ve gotten like two or three calls where when I actually get the call I’m a little bit nervous.   I hear the voice –

JOHN:  Is this like a 3.850?

DAVID:  It’s like, Joe DuRocher’s calling me? Kind of like, I’m important?  I remember, I got a call from Julius Irving one time and the secretary goes, Dr. Julius Irving is on the phone and I’m just like, okay.

 

JOHN:  That’s great.

 

DAVID:  That’s when I was a PD, so that was even more bizarre, but getting that call from him I always look back and I’m so glad that I said what I said at the time because I think he was promoting a cause or he was trying to get donations for something, but I just really, I was very fortunate that I got the chance to tell him what he meant to me because that doesn’t happen all the time.

So, I was very happy that I got to at least say that and to hear his remark about we, we did a lot of good and we talked about people like Steve Jewett and Kelly Simms–and for him to include me in that kind of thing –

 

JOHN:  Yeah, that’s nice.

 

DAVID:  That just made me feel good that it was like, yeah this all wasn’t for nothing.

 

JOHN:  How long were you there? [public defender’s office]

 

DAVID:  Seven and a half years.

 

JOHN:  Don’t you think that Joe DuRocher … When you look at the talent at that place, yourself, Kelly, Steve Jewett, and Junior Barrett, Bob Larr. I mean Junior Barrett …

 

DAVID:  Junior Barrett’s incredible.

 

JOHN:  … He could win a sex case in a heart beat. But what Joe did was pick these talented people who would stay with him.

 

DAVID:  You know, I have to give credit to picking, but I also think there was mentoring.

 

JOHN:  No, absolutely.

 

DAVID:  It wasn’t that we were all diamonds.  He polished us, and he put the people around that could help us figure out better ways and to become better trial attorneys.  He saw something in us and then he nurtured it.

He constantly, constantly reminded us that our people are not numbers and they’re not files, they’re people. He never let us forget that what we were doing was not garbage work, it was not taking out the trash. There were human beings involved and that he would always remind us how important it was.

 

JOHN:  I agree.

 

DAVID:   He was good at what he did.  I’ve never met anybody else like him.

In fact, the reason I left the PD’s office was he was retiring and there was an election coming up and I had looked around and I had realized, it’s not going to be the same regardless who wins. I knew both the people running and I was just like, this is going to be a major change and maybe now is a good time to figure out another way.

 

JOHN: I stayed on but I know, I stayed on full knowing exactly what you’re saying.

 

DAVID:  Tough act to follow.   He was underappreciated by people that didn’t know him and he was very much loved by people that did know him.

 

JOHN:   Right. That’s true. He was able to run that place and provide excellent defense. I think Joe provided such good free defenses to people … It was actually hurting the private bar. We had a reputation back then where the privates were not getting hired because they would always say, well in Orange County –

 

DAVID:  “You can stick with the Public Defender.”

 

JOHN:  “See what your PD gets you.”

 

DAVID:  Right.

 

JOHN:  You don’t hear that so much now.

 

DAVID:  No, no, not at all.

 

JOHN:  No offense, I’m sure there’s talent.

Back in my PD days, I had a client come to Court and he got arrested on another warrant when he came to Court–he had $11,000 dollars cash on him. That’s a lot of money back then, you’re talking 1996 say, he had 11 grand cash on him when he was arrested in Court.  He had the same story everybody else had, “well I was waiting to see what I could get from the PD. The PD is good here.”

 

DAVID:  You would hear that at arraignment. I remember being in front of Judge Wattles, and you’d be at arraignment and the guy would go up there and he said, I don’t have any money or something like that. Are you going to hire an attorney? He goes, can I see what the PD is going to do first?

And judge would be like, David you want to talk to him? Sure, Judge.

 

JOHN:  Which is bad for business.

DAVID:  It’s bad for business – They didn’t really do that in Felony because of the whole conviction and your rights, but in Misdemeanor, it was kind of like, just take five seconds and see if this is a littering case and it can be, you know, a 25 dollar fine or something like that.

JOHN:  We’re over your parking meter time limit–and we haven’t discussed you leaving criminal defense.  No, we’re not even scratching the surface –

DAVID:  I didn’t even come close with a good story that Joe told.

 

JOHN:  No, I wanted that, but you don’t have it. I don’t have it so I cannot blame you.

 

DAVID:  A couple of stories I do have, I’m not talking on the record about.

 

JOHN:  Okay, that’s fine.

 

DAVID:  But that has nothing to do with Joe, that was just the people at the PD’s office.

 

JOHN:  And I also remember Joe used to have Christmas parties …

 

DAVID:  That’s some of the stories I’m not talking about.

 

JOHN:  … He had to stop having Christmas parties.

 

DAVID:  Yes, yeah he gave us, sometimes, a little too much rope.

Sometimes, we took advantage of it, unfortunately. Looking back at it, that’s a shame because what he did was usually for pure and we were too immature to realize that.

But it was some fun times too.

JOHN:  Yeah, I agree.

DAVID:  We were all growing up and we had fun.

 

JOHN:  … Originally, what I wanted to talk to you about was this notion that every time you sit in Court, every criminal defense attorney you talk to wants to not be a criminal defense attorney anymore.

Oh, it’s horrible, oh it’s this. You’re one of the few … And they never retire, we never retire. And now there’s you, you left the game. We didn’t even talk about that but we talked about what led up to that, you feel like it was just burn out.

DAVID:  I think it was just, been there, done it.  I don’t know if I label it burn out.

JOHN:  Just nothing left to prove.

 

DAVID:  I know a lot of people would label it burn out and I’m fine with whatever label comes up. I didn’t have a burning desire, so maybe that is burn out, to keep going–but it was more than that. When we started out there were four county courts. There were ten or eight traffic courts and maybe ten circuit judges. When I first started here. When we were in the old, old Courthouse. Two courthouses back or something.

 

JOHN:  I started 1993 what’d you? 1991?

 

 

DAVID:   I started 91, 92.

And you’ll remember the county was, it was Judge Rodriguez, Judge Bronson, Judge Perry, Dan Perry, I used to see him at the courthouse, he’s not a judge anymore. That was the county Court. Now, there’s so many judges and so many of them I’m questioning some of their qualifications for being judges.

 

JOHN:  Which then added to your desire to not do criminal defense anymore.

DAVID:  Which then added to your sitting in Court, you’re getting bad rulings and you’re getting rulings from people you’re not sure you respect as a judge and I think that wore me out too.  My client’s life is really in the hands of somebody that I don’t think is qualified or mature enough to have this position and … It’s not like there was a waiting time to become a judge. In the last five, ten years there’s been an explosion of judges because it’s based on population and there’s more and more judges and there is more and more openings opening up and somebody’s got to fill them and it’s not the cream of the crop. … in my opinion

 

JOHN:   You are in California now, you could dish all this stuff out, name names, but I couldn’t put it up here because then it would be like, now then when I go in front of that Judge …

 

DAVID:  Right, right.

 

JOHN:  I’m endorsing your fear, I would love to hear it, I would love…but you know.

 

DAVID:  I am still a member of the Florida Bar.  And I’m still under the Rules of – and, I do have to go.

JOHN:  I want a part 2 to this interview so we know more about why and how you left the law.

 

DAVID:  Right.

 

 

JOHN:  Was leaving defense work something that you had given thought to? Because everybody wants to leave the law, I think.  But you did it. I cannot think of many people who have done it, I can think of some people that have done it that I really like and respect–that mostly did it because they couldn’t make any money.

 

DAVID:  Oh.

 

JOHN:  But you could make money. You had a great business, you never had any problem.   You were part of a really good law firm.

 

DAVID:  Yeah, we were doing fine.

 

JOHN:  Then you just decide …

 

DAVID:  This is not what I want to do anymore.

We can get to part two but a lot of that turned to life is too short.

JOHN:  All right, we’ll leave it at that.  Thanks Dave.