In March, IJ was in court for a trial litigating whether the government could force entrepreneurs to do useless things. This particular useless thing was Minnesota’s requirement that every funeral home in the state have a preparation and embalming room that many do not need, want or use.
Taking any case to trial is no small task. On top of all of the things that have to happen to pull off a successful trial—witness preparation, marathon brief writing sessions and extensive research—for a young attorney like me preparing for her first trial, there are also nerves. Let me take you through the six stages of my experience taking our case to trial.
Stage 1: Jeff Rowes Comes to Town. All Is Well.
IJ Senior Attorney (and lead attorney in this case) Jeff Rowes arrives six days before the trial. Our pre-trial brief is ready to be filed well before the deadline. Our trial strategy is well thought out and we just need to prepare with our strategy in mind.
Stage 2: Wesley Arrives to Complete Some Small Research Projects and Prepare our Witnesses for Cross Examination.
After IJ’s Nashville limousine trial, hardworking headquarters attorney Wesley Hottot was instructed to take it easy and made the mistake of telling everyone in the office he didn’t have much to do and was available for work. So, Jeff gave him some research projects for the trial. He quickly became an indispensable part of the team and flew out to help our witnesses prepare for cross examination.
Stage 3: Jeff Leaves.
Just 36 hours before the trial was to begin, Jeff goes home for the unexpected birth of his child. At 4 a.m., I frantically booked a flight home for him. He told me that Wesley was in charge and all we needed to do was execute our strategy.
Stage 4: Wesley and I Get Ready to Go into Battle.
Wesley and I were laser-focused on what we needed to do. I went from examining just our consumer witnesses to examining our lead plaintiff and our expert witness. (Ah, the benefits for a young attorney of working at the Institute for Justice, where you can get real-world courtroom experience that belies your youth!) Wesley was now responsible for cross-examining all of the government’s witnesses and doing the opening and closing. Wesley is so competent, however, that we do not miss a beat.
Stage 5: Margaret Leaves.
Our calm, cool and meticulously organized paralegal Margaret Daggs was called to Chicago to be with her sick mother. Wesley joked that soon the trial team would be down to just me. I did not think the joke was funny.
Stage 6: Wesley and I Take on the Government.
Wesley and I went into trial and executed Jeff’s trial strategy. The judge denied all of the government’s objections to our evidence.
When the trial was over, our funeral director client, Verlin Stoll, was beaming. He had his day in court to fight for his constitutional rights and was invigorated by it. It was a thrill for Wesley and me to be right there with him in that fight. As we go to press, we await the court’s ruling.
This trial is the perfect example of IJ’s culture and competence. As Jeff said to me when he left at 4 a.m., “This strategy is perfected. All that you have to do now is execute it. I know you can do it.” That’s what IJ does so well: painstakingly craft strategies for cases that give us the best chance to win. And when Jeff had to leave unexpectedly, nobody questioned that Wesley and I could execute that strategy. This trial proves the Institute for Justice is a truly unique place where people are called to do incredibly difficult things—and then do them well.
Katelynn McBride is an IJ Minnesota Chapter attorney.