I recently had the privilege of attending the NYC Bar Association’s 8th Annual White-Collar Crime Institute. Among the impressive panels was one titled “Former White-Collar Defendants Speak.” It was moving to hear four former defendants talk about their experiences with the criminal justice system. Three had stood trial, and one spent time in prison before his conviction was overturned.
Their paths through the legal system varied considerably, but what stood out was their common experience of trauma. They described waves of despair and humiliation and moments of panic and utter desolation, especially as they talked about the impact of the experience on their loved ones. But, they also talked about the moments that gave them hope and comfort and helped them preserve their sense of dignity. One panelist remembered that the judge always called him by name rather than “the defendant.” Another mentioned the importance of having his legal team be available to his family to answer questions. These may seem like little things to the rest of us but their impact can be stronger than we realize.
While the dehumanizing effects of trial – and the events leading up to it – are especially powerful for criminal defendants, civil litigants can feel them too. Their freedom may not be on the line but sometimes their business or their professional reputation is. Panels like the one at the WCC Institute are important reminders to us of the people behind the cases. It is our job not just to remember their humanity but to bring it to life for judges and juries. “The defendant” may not move people much but Mr. Litvak, Dr. Neumeister, Mr. Allen and Mr. Davis certainly moved me and many others who heard them speak.