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Same court, new experience

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The jury began deliberating after lunch.

Attorney Alice Morical returned to her office on the 44th floor of the Chase Tower in Indianapolis to await the verdict, but she had no idea what the outcome would be. The plaintiff’s case had been well prepared, and the defendant had his motion for a directed verdict denied as well as two witnesses excluded by the judge.

Still, this was an Eighth Amendment case alleging cruel and unusual punishment, so the standard to find in favor of the plaintiff was very high.

Also, her client, plaintiff Robert Holleman, was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in the Pendleton Correctional Facility.

She described Holleman as “smart and thoughtful.” And while she surmised he had committed a serious crime because of the length of time he had been incarcerated, she did not ask for specifics and did not learn of his history until after the trial.

“It wasn’t relevant to what I was doing,” she said. “It didn’t even come up.”

il-alice-morical04-15col.jpg Alice Morical (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Morical, a partner at Hoover Hull LLP, was assisting the case pro bono as part of the Civil Trial Assistance Panel program at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. For pro se litigants who want help presenting their cases, the court looks to this program to provide attorneys to aid either during discrete parts of the legal action or assist with the entire process.

Once the court rejected the defendant’s petition for summary judgment and Holleman’s case against the prison physician was headed for trial, the court called upon the CTAP program. Morical agreed to help and met the litigant for the first time when she went to court to be appointed standby counsel.

“I’m fairly liberal,” Morical said. “Through working with business clients on litigation, I have learned things are seldom black and white. I don’t tend to be a very judgmental person. I certainly felt he was entitled to medical care while he was incarcerated.”

25 seconds

Prison is where Holleman prepared and filed his case.

After arriving at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility Aug. 2, 2006, Holleman submitted health care requests for kidney stone pain and irritable bowel problems. For the kidney stone, the prison doctor, Anwer Jaffri, ordered urine tests and prescribed antibiotics to counter a possible urinary tract infection. Holleman passed the stone Feb. 27, 2007 but did not see Jaffri until April 9, 2007. At that time, the inmate did not receive any treatment.

In his court filings, Holleman alleged the defendant, Jaffri, violated his right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. He specifically alleged that Jaffri was “deliberately indifferent to his reported kidney stone pain in that Dr. Jaffri provided only delayed and ineffective treatment.”

Holleman filed his complaint in the Southern District in August 2008. He ushered the case through the system on his own.

Morical’s involvement started at a reception in the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse July 12, 2012. While attending the portrait unveiling for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Tinder, Morical mentioned to U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson that she was looking for an opportunity to gain courtroom experience with a jury trial.

In her career, she had presented cases to a judge during bench trials, but she had never faced a federal jury.

Twenty-five seconds later, Magnus-Stinson had a suggestion when she saw a group of staff attorneys from the Southern District of Indiana staff attorney’s office walk through the door.

CTAP program

For at least 20 years, the staff attorney’s office has been helping to get lawyers in the CTAP program assigned to pro se cases. A judicial officer determines the litigants who could not only benefit from legal counsel but are also willing to accept assistance. The officer then sends the order to the staff attorney’s office.

Lawyers in good standing in the Southern District can volunteer by filling out an application. From that pool, the staff attorney’s office matches the lawyers’ backgrounds and schedules with the cases. The lawyer will always be given the choice of either accepting or declining the assignment.

“We’ve never gotten an order that we could not fulfill,” said Kristine Seufert, staff attorney with the Southern District of Indiana. “There are some that are harder to fill than others.”

In addition to CTAP, the Southern District Court also enlists pro bono attorneys to help pro se litigants in settlement conferences. The Mediation Assistance Program started in 2009 and uses volunteer attorneys to help prepare for the settlement conference as well as participate in the event and draft any resulting agreement.

Magnus-Stinson has a trial coming up that will use pro bono attorneys. Without CTAP and without lawyers donating their time, she said litigants could stumble over rules of evidence, rules of procedure and, consequently, not get their full due in court.

“We are so grateful for the help,” she said. “The people who are most grateful are the opposing counsel. (The pro bono attorney) makes the whole process go more smoothly.”

For Morical, agreeing to help Holleman required taking a leap of faith. She had not talked to him before she accepted the assignment, and she was stepping in after much of the preparatory work had been done. But this was the opportunity to do something different from what she did every day, and it was exciting to be involved in a jury trial.

In court

On Aug. 1, the trial began. The first day started with Morical reviewing the jury questionnaires and advising Holleman on jury selection. After the jury was seated, Holleman took the stand with Morical conducting the direct examination. Then a witness who had seen Holleman’s distress with the kidney stone testified.

At that point, the defense counsel moved for a directed verdict. Morical expected that and she has already conferred with Holleman that she would present the argument against. However, the judge delayed the motion until the end of day and then denied it once he heard the defense’s reasoning.

Next, Holleman handled the cross examination of Jaffri. The physician wanted to present two witnesses, but the court excluded them. After lunch on the second day, both sides presented their closing arguments and sent the case to the jury.

“It was good practical experience combined with an ability to do pro bono work,” Morical said. “It was a different experience in terms of working with someone who is incarcerated. The way it was different is what made it fun.”

Morical’s experience is typical, both Seufert and Magnus-Stinson said. Attorneys who assist on these cases feel like they have served the client, served the court and gained good experience.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve not had anyone express that it was a bad experience,” Seufert said. “I think a lot of people are excited to have done it.”

When the jury went into deliberations, Morical thought Holleman could win but the high standards for an Eighth Amendment case and odds for a plaintiff’s verdict did not make her overly confident.

Following an hour-and-a-half of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict. They found for the plaintiff and awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $15,000.

Reflecting on the trial, Morical remembered Holleman telling her he wanted the physician to know patients could not be treated badly. She said she is pleased to have been able to help him get that outcome.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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