She has been a trial lawyer for more than twenty years and is currently the Director of Trial Practice at the University of Florida College of Law. This week, we ask Five Questions with... Jennifer Zedalis.
1. What was your most memorable trial?
After 20 years, it's difficult to name a single, most memorable trial. There are a handful that qualify. I once represented a Haitian man for drug trafficking charges, and the state's key witness was also Haitian, so we had two interpreters working during the trial. Cross-examination is frustrating when everything (including the bombshell questions!) has to be interpreted.
I had another trial in the late 1980's with a paraplegic man as the state's main witness. After a "Not Guilty" verdict, this witness proceeded into the juror parking lot in his motorized wheelchair and began to taunt the jurors. He blocked some of them with his chair, and the bailiffs had to escort him out of the lot. In one case I had, we had to recess in the middle of the state's case because some evidence (a single pubic hair) had gone missing. An analyst from Tallahassee and a local police captain kept peering into the little manila envelope, trying to find this missing hair. They never found it and the case was ultimately a mistrial for multiple reasons, but the pubic hair was definitely the most humorous.
2. What was your most memorable moment as a trial lawyer?
Most memorable moment: a young woman raised her hand during voir dire and explained that she was the ex-wife, sister, and daughter of police officers. I cringed, because we were selecting jurors for a Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer/Resisting a Law Enforcement Officer case and I was concerned about what she would say. She then explained that, in her experience, some of the most violent, controlling individuals gravitate toward law enforcement. She said she observed abuse in her family for years, and no one ever did anything about it because the abusers were law enforcement officers.
3. What was the hardest lesson you've learned as a trial lawyer?
There are many hard lessons to learn as a trial lawyer -- patience, poker face, and, of course, the ability to delay gratification! The hardest lesson has probably been avoiding result-oriented ways of measuring success altogether. Any trial lawyer knows that you can do a poor-to-mediocre job and yet get a favorable verdict-- you can do a wonderful job and still lose a case. You can put your heart and soul into a case and still get your teeth kicked in.
4. Who or what inspired you to become a trial lawyer?
My Mother inspired me to become a trial lawyer, and in particular, to defend the poor, the mentally ill, and children. She taught me to speak for people who have no voice of their own.
5. What lesson would you pass on to new trial lawyers that you wish you had known when you started?
Jury selection is soooooo important. Quit doing the talking and learn to listen instead. Also, don't just read the advance sheets -- start putting the important cases in a trial notebook right away, before your attention is drawn to other demands.
Would you like to be interviewed for an upcoming issue of Trial Tips Newsletter? Send your answers to TrialTips@TrialTheater.com with the subject line "Five Questions." Please include a brief (one paragraph) biography so readers can know a little about you. If you would like to have your phone number, firm name, or email address included at the end of the interview, please let us know.
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