In this episode, Scott speaks with Grover Porter, a phenomenal criminal defense attorney from San Bernardino, CA. Mr. Porter shares the story of a domestic violence case that had a profound impact on him.
Transcript for Trial Lawyer Talk, Episode 27, with Grover Porter
Scott Glovsky: Welcome to Trial Lawyer Talk. I’m Scott Glovsky, and I’m your host for this podcast where we speak with some of the best trial lawyers in the United States. This is a storytelling podcast, so we have great lawyers tell great stories from cases that had a profound impact on them. Let’s get started.
We’re very fortunate today to have with us a true wonderful human being. Grover Porter is a phenomenal criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, California, and Grover’s filled with wisdom, courage and creativity. Grover, thanks for being with us.
Grover Porter: You’re welcome.
Scott Glovsky: Grover, can you share with us the story of a case that had a profound impact on you?
Grover Porter: Yeah, I think every case that I’ve tried and I’ve lost had a profound impact because I’ve learned something from it. Sometimes, it’s in your loss that you’ll learn things and there was one, a domestic violence case.
Scott Glovsky: Take us from the beginning, and how when you first got the case.
Grover Porter: When I first got the case, it was domestic violence and a guy was accused of assaulting his wife. They were separated and she was living with someone else, and that someone else was injured, the other party was injured but not the spouse, but the other party was injured. They got into a confrontation and the court dismissed the domestic violence charge but the assault charge, a 245 charge, he found sufficient to go before the jury for jury trial. The domestic violence charge was dismissed at the preliminary hearing but the assault charge he found sufficient for a jury trial.
We went to trial. Jury came back and found him guilty of the assault along with the GBI, the great bodily injury, and that had an effect on me because I thought it was a self defense case.
Scott Glovsky: Tell me the story of the case.
Grover Porter: It was a guy who he and his wife were separated and she developed a relationship with a co-worker, and moved about a block away from where she and her husband were living with his mother at the time and he would periodically go over and see her and they would talk about the person that she was living with. They were living in a bedroom of a friend and the two of them would talk and she would tell the boyfriend to go into the bedroom while she and her husband would talk in the garage. He was trying, the husband was trying to get back together with her and he loved her deeply but she was moving on and she was trying to share that with him.
It was difficult for him to understand that because she was the love of his life, so one day, he decided to return some property that belonged to her and it was property that belonged to her mom actually, so he packed some things up in a trailer. I mean the items were already in a trailer that belonged to his sister so he took the items over and he and his wife got into a major discussion about a toolbox, and the toolbox was really enamel can.
The boyfriend at that time, who was like 6’2″, weighing about 240, my client was like 5’8″, weighing 165 pounds. He was, the boyfriend was unloading the trailer when he, my client and his wife got into a physical altercation while the boyfriend came to help her and in the process, my client was holding on to the toolbox and the guy was approaching him and as he was coming towards him, he turned to defend himself and he swung the toolbox. Well, the lid came off, it’s a metal box and literally sliced the guy from the top of his forehead down to his upper lip, through the bottom lip down to his chin and opened him up. My client was arrested as a result of that and charged with the 245 assault with a deadly weapon along with the GBI.
Scott Glovsky: How did you go about trying to discover the case?
Grover Porter: We did a lot of role-playing. We reenacted scenes that we thought were critical in the case. We role-played his relationship with his wife, how he initially met her so we were going back 20 years so that we could get a flavor for the relationship. He was, I think seven years older and they had one child. She already had a kid when he met her and they had a child between the two of them. He was in love with her and after 20 years, the relationship, the honeymoon was over and the relationship was going nowhere financially, emotionally, and she decided to leave him at the time when he was living with his mom and she decided to leave him and she met someone else and they started living together.
We had to discover each piece of that story through role-playing, and it allowed me to step into issues to discover what he was feeling emotionally for her. It allowed me to step into the shoes of his wife, to get a better understanding of how she felt about the relationship and it allowed me to step into issues of the alleged victim and what he was feeling as a younger man dating an older woman who was married to an older man. We were in the process of discovering these stories and the story that we wanted to present in court to the jurors so that what we were really trying to do is to discover the jury story and the impact that it would have on them in terms of this relationship so we were trying to find who could we prosecute in this case.
Scott Glovsky: You mentioned that you’re trying to find the jury story.
Grover Porter: The jury story, correct.
Scott Glovsky: Say more about that.
Grover Porter: Well, we all bring with us our own stories. The relationship between a man and a woman always starts with the honeymoon period and the intimacy that we share with one another, and then that starts to change. Something creates a change where now it becomes a job and some people work harder at it than others, so when jurors come in, I think and I’m learning this through Trial Lawyers College, they bring their stories with them and they’re emotionally, it’s not the typical, they’re in there, they’re tuning in their emotions to their feelings so what I’m realizing is that the job is to decide or to discover the emotional story, so we look at the behavior and we’re asking the question what’s triggering this behavior so that the emotions will come up and then the thought behind this, so we have the effect. We know what the effect is but how did it get there. What’s the cause of the effect? We’re trying to discover that story so when we walk into the courtroom, we know the story that we’re telling.
At the same time, for void, for purposes of voir dire, as Gerry has been teaching, we got to discover the danger point in the case. What’s going to get in your way? What are you most afraid of in the case? Because once you can discover that, then what happens is that you have to take off your armor. You have to become more transparent and you have to share your vulnerability, which for me is my fear and part of that is allowing me to discover and allowing me to be open with the jurors so that I can communicate better. I can create through my communication, speaking from my heart to their heart, not from my head to their heart but my communication to me is when I’m speaking from my heart to the jurors’ heart.
That allows me then to have honesty. That allows me and the juror both to listen to each other but it creates trust, so to me, that’s the connection that I’m trying to have with the jurors in voir dire. That’s the reason why voir dire is so important to me. Well, in this particular case, I don’t think I did that. I think I was more tuned in to putting out the theory of my case. I was being more clinical, I think from my perspective. Someone else may see it totally different but from my perspective, I’m looking at it, I’m looking at voir dire as my way of creating this connection, this human connection but that’s only because I know the story that I’m going to be telling. I know my story because I discovered the story in my office through role playing.
The voir dire allows me to create this connection to be real. There’s a psychodramatist by the name of Dorothy Satten, who talks about this. She wrote a book on it actually, being real is more important than being perfect and if you don’t reveal yourself, others will reinvent you. Part of what I’m doing is revealing who I am, so they don’t have to reinvent me because I’m being honest with them. I’m speaking from my heart. This is my form of communication now. I’m speaking from my heart. I’m not concerned about the words that I’m using because as a psychologist by the name of Robert Sawicki had shown me is that there’s the halo effect. The halo effect is this, the positive halo. If I like you, you can do all the wrong things, I’m going to find the good. If I dislike you, you can do all the right things, I’m going to find the bad.
What’s important to me, when I’m selecting a jury, is that if I know what I’m afraid of, what I’m looking for is what this juror and I have in common with one another and that’s drawing her emotions because our life experiences may be different but our emotions are the same because there’s only one of us here, and if that’s true, then you’re going to understand the story because it’s going to match your story in some way emotionally. Does that make sense?
Scott Glovsky: Yeah, so how did you implement that or not implement that in this case?
Grover Porter: Because the danger point in this case for me would have been the injury and I talk about that. I talked about betrayal. I talked about trust. I was developing the relationship and how the betrayal had taken place because you got two men trusting the same women and she’s playing both ends against the middle. She’s playing the old bull against the young bull, and I walked in and voir dire, that’s what I was talking about because I was trying to discover the juror’s story in terms of their relationships, in terms of betrayal and so on, but the real problem was the injury. That was the effect and that’s what I realized the DA was going to focus on, but I was afraid of talking about the effect. You see the injury, I should have put that out there because that was the thing I was most afraid of and I didn’t share that, and when it came out in trial, it was devastating. At least I thought, I mean from my perspective, so I realized that, and again, every lawyer will approach something different. There’s no right or wrong way.
It’s just when I went back and start looking at it, and thinking about what Gerry has been lecturing and teaching and the process that he shared with all of us from TLC. I started realizing that the danger point in your case, which we’re mostly afraid of is what we avoid because what I was avoiding and running away from, which I should have gone towards it, I should have embraced it and I should have discovered that in the office, what was getting in my way so that I should have shared that piece of me in the courtroom. I should have said, “This is what I’m afraid of.”, and then put it in the context of my fear. I’m afraid of this. How do you feel about that? Then shared that with the jurors to give them the opportunity to be real with me, and to me, that’s how you create a connection because if I’m being open, if I’ve taken my armor off, if I’m transparent and if I’m showing my vulnerability, that becomes my honesty. That’s when I’m real because I’m not hiding behind anything.
When the jurors, when I give it to the jurors, all I can do is trust. I have to trust them through my honesty and I have to be willing to listen to them. That’s part of that four step process, communication, honesty, listening and trust. Now I have to stand and be vulnerable with the idea and the understanding that the group will always save you, and that’s what I learned in psychodrama.
Scott Glovsky: What do you mean the group will always save you?
Grover Porter: Well, in psychodrama, when the protagonist is at his or her worst shape, and we think of vulnerability as being a weakness, but it’s really our strength because that’s what connects us, again in growing up. There’s only one of us here so we’re all the same. I don’t care if we’re male, female, Black, White, Hispanic. It doesn’t matter.
Scott Glovsky: What do you mean there’s only one of us here?
Grover Porter: Well, emotionally we’re the same. We all have fears. We all have anger. We all have joy, happiness, love, so we’re all the same emotionally. Now, the life experiences may be different but we all feel the same. When we’re hurt, we’re hurt. It’s the same. When I feel as though, when you feel as though our significant other is replacing us with someone else, it hurts. That’s the pain. That’s when we feel as though we’ve been betrayed. We all feel that. We all have the same stories. Now again, the stories may be a little different but the emotions are the same, so that’s the reason I’m saying there’s only one of us here.
What we have in common, what we have in common are our fears or our emotions. Let me put it that way, and one of them is fear. Fear is what we gravitate. That’s the reason why we gravitate to each other because when we’re afraid, we’re looking for someone to comfort us. That’s when the intimacy comes into play. When I share my emotions, when I’m sharing my fears, I’m looking for the jurors to comfort me. I’m looking for the jurors to help me feel safe in the courtroom so I’m trying to create an environment that’s safe for all of us to be real.
Scott Glovsky: You said that the jury will always save you. Say more about that.
Grover Porter: Well, in psychodrama, you have the group. When the protagonist is at his lowest or her lowest-
Scott Glovsky: The protagonist meaning the main character?
Grover Porter: The main character. The psychodrama itself is about role playing. You’re doing a lot of role playing, and what I’ve come to realize is that it’s all based on someone else’s perception. It’s the protagonist’s perception, whether or not the person that they’re talking about will see it the same way, it don’t really matter because it’s all about the perception of the protagonist. What the protagonist is discovering in that moment, because everything is being done in the present tense, what that protagonist is discovering in that moment, they’re discovering their emotion. They’re discovering their pain, which sometimes they take into their life, their experiences later in life but in that moment, they’re discovering their pain and it’s all done through role playing that allows them or helps them to discover that pain or that feeling that they have.
Life is three dimensional. It’s the behavior. It’s the emotion and then it’s the thought that we have, and when we put it all together, that’s the experience. What the protagonist is discovering through the behavior, they’re discovering their feelings, what’s hurting, the pain. They’ll sometimes discover their anger but the anger is secondary. It’s the hurt, the feeling of rejection. Sometimes, that’s what creates, that’s the story that we tell ourselves. That’s the soliloquy, and then that takes us to the effect so now we know the story, the cause of the effect. That’s the story behind the effect. In my case, the effect was the injury but there’s a story behind that and that’s what discovering the story is all about.
The group brings with them their stories and that’s how we connect to the protagonist. That’s the reason why we don’t question, we don’t judge by criticizing the experience or giving advice because it’s at that point that the protagonist is most vulnerable and it’s at that point that if you do those three things or one of those three things, the protagonist is going to armor up to protect himself or herself. That’s the reason why you don’t judge. You want the protagonist to understand that it’s okay, that there’s only one of us here because we’re all the same emotionally.
Scott Glovsky: How did this case have a profound impact on you?
Grover Porter: Because in discovering the story of my client and who he is, I found a piece of me. He was a complete stranger to me in the beginning until I started discovering his story, and in his story, I found my story.
Scott Glovsky: Say more about that.
Grover Porter: Well, his story became my truth, so I’ve discovered his vulnerability. I discovered his honesty. I discovered the thing that when I say there’s only one of us here, I discovered my story in his story, which allowed me to tell the story from my perspective as the truth because his story was my story. His pain was my pain. His feeling of rejection was my feeling of rejection.
Scott Glovsky: How did Grover Porter connect with his story?
Grover Porter: In relationships. I mean, when I’m discovering his story, again I’m going back to there’s only one of us here, his feeling of rejection, his feeling of betrayal, his feeling of a broken trust, relationship, his feeling of intimacy and of course because I’m human too, not so much the fact that I’m a male but I’m human. I’ve been rejected. I understood his pain, which then became my story and that’s the story because that became my truth and when I’m communicating with the jurors, I’m not in my head now. I’m not trying to use logic. The emotion that I’m talking about came from my heart, my passion.
Scott Glovsky: What about rejection did you connect with? Where in your story did you find the emotional connection?
Grover Porter: In relationships, in relationships, all of us. I mean as a kid growing up, my first girlfriend rejected me. When I went into the military, someone else, I was replaced and to me, that was betrayal because I trusted her. She said she would wait for me and it didn’t happen, and I was hurt. I was angry but I was hurt and that’s the beginning of the betrayal. That is the betrayal. When we’re discovering the client’s story, I understood his feelings. I understood his pain so when I stood up to tell the story, not only am I telling his story but I’m telling my story and my story is coming from my heart and not my head. I’m not looking for the words. I’m trusting my feelings to define the words that I need to say. I’m trusting that.
Scott Glovsky: When you’re actually in trial, do you draw upon those experiences? Do you visualize yourself or think about that rejection in your life?
Grover Porter: That’s done before I’m in trial. I stand back in the office. That’s the purpose of the role playing. My job is to discover the story. The client can show me but I need to step into his or her shoes. I need to become that person, not only just the client but I need to understand what’s motivating the witnesses in the case, so not only must I step into the role of the client but I need to step into the role of the various witnesses, sometimes even to the extent of becoming the fly on the wall or the picture on the wall and watching. You create the scene. You put the behavior into the scene so that you can observe the behavior and from that, you will extract the feelings, the emotions as well as the soliloquy or the thought, so you go back to that three dimension and you get a better feel for the experience, because the mind doesn’t really distinguish between what’s vividly imagined or what’s real. The mind doesn’t know the difference, and if that’s true, when you put something in action, that becomes your reality.
Scott Glovsky: How do you stay real and genuine when you’re doing a reenactment for example in the courtroom?
Grover Porter: By having the experience. Again, once you discover your story, that’s all you have to tell. That becomes your truth and you’re speaking from this. The reason why you don’t speak from your head, you speak from your heart because that is your truth. When I’m in my head, I’m looking for the language, I’m looking for the experience but when I role played it, that becomes my reality. It becomes my experience and again, the mind doesn’t distinguish because that is your truth and the communication. You’re finding what you have in common emotionally but you’re communicating your emotions and you’re putting a voice to it, let me put it that way. You’re putting a voice to it, so if I say I’m speaking from my heart, I’m speaking with the passion. I’m speaking with the passion. That’s hurt, the feeling of rejection so I’m using the language. Anger, I’m using the language, but that’s where the honesty comes into play. That’s where being real comes into play. Then you’re listening, although the person that I’m speaking to is, they’re going to listen because it becomes their story. They’re telling their story and that’s where the trust comes into play.
Scott Glovsky: What wisdom do you take from this case?
Grover Porter: That I need to do what Gerry has suggested and look at my danger points after I’ve discovered the story in the case. I’m looking at the perfect case but there’s always a downside, and when there’s a downside, you’ve got to give respect to that. You’ve got to respect the downside, and sometimes for me, I’m not speaking for everyone, sometimes I get so caught up in the good stuff that I miss the danger, and sometimes you got to go to the danger because that’s the effect. That’s what I’m running away from, and sometimes, what I’ve learned now is to embrace that, don’t run from it. Embrace it. Take that to the jurors. Let them help you. Let them suggest things to you. Let them help you to be more creative, and I’ve done that. I’ve done that.
Sometimes, you lose perspective. You forget the basics. You have a routine and sometimes, you steer away from the basics. I call it arrogance. I think sometimes, we’re trying to prove something versus improve on something, but Gerry’s right. If you know your story and if you know the downside of the danger point, then you don’t run from it. You embrace it and you take it to the jurors and you put it in context with the fears, with what you’re feeling, why you’re afraid and you invite them to join you by sharing it with them, but one of the most important things even when they say something that you don’t necessarily agree with, because that’s a pearl and Gerry had said this, that if they come forward, because they’re being honest and sometimes, we want to run away from that honesty.
Sometimes, we want to criticize them because they don’t think the way we do, but sometimes, that’s the best thing that could have happened to you because then you can discover what other people are feeling and thinking, because you’re giving everybody, you’re creating an environment for disagreement. Everybody’s not going to agree with you. As a matter of fact, sometimes I visualize the stepping in process that we normally use in warming up. I will step into the middle of this, of their circle and say I’m afraid. How many of you feel that way? Identifying the people, the jurors that are stepping in with me but I can also see the ones that are not stepping in, now I try to work towards and Gerry has said this, you’re going to hear me say Gerry a lot, is that I’m constantly trying to include versus excluding because when you exclude, there’s a negative emotion, and so our vibes, we’re sending vibes. It’s in our tone, it’s in the tone of my voice, but when I’m trying to include everything, it’s very positive because I’m looking for the good in everybody, so when I step into the center of that circle, I’m afraid.
Because of that, people will gravitate. Everybody wants to save you because they’re afraid as well and they have their stories to tell about their fear, but the common thing that we have is the fear. That’s what draws us as human beings to one another, is the fear. If that’s true, then that’s the power. That’s my connection as long as I don’t lie to them, because once I’ve lied to them, once I’ve violated their trust, I betray them. That’s the reason why you got to know your story.
Scott Glovsky: A lot of our listeners are looking for advice, especially young lawyers who want to find out what they should read or what they should do. What advice do you have?
Grover Porter: Go to TLC of course. Go to our regional. Take the three weeks. I mean I remember back in 2002 when I first met Gerry. It scared me big time. I mean Gerry was my, and still is, my hero. I mean I used to read all of his material, everything, but you know there’s a difference. You can get your great book. You can go to the seminars, but until you step into the ring to play, until you have your own experience, it’s hard to read a book and not have a reference. It’s hard to go to a seminar and not know the questions to ask because you don’t have a reference, and it wasn’t until I started trying to implement and stepping outside of my comfort zone that I started realizing what I did know and what I didn’t know, so I knew what questions to ask. I knew what I was looking for because I think TLC has some of the greatest lawyers in the world. I think that every time I met a program, when I see someone, Kim Tarry today, we’re talking about cross examination, I learned so much just talking with him, watching you in terms of some of those stuff that you were doing the other day.
We’re learning from each other, but if you don’t know the questions, if you don’t know what you don’t know and you’re not willing to take the risk to find out, and leaving ego at home, be vulnerable. I mean again, there are some of the best lawyers in the world at TLC, a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience that if you open to all of that, Joey Low. I mean that’s a guy that I mean, I can’t say enough about him. I enjoy seeing him. He’s so knowledgeable. He brings a lot of experience with him. Milton Grimes, same way.
Scott Glovsky: Grover Porter’s in the same breath as all those other great lawyers. Where do you find the inspiration to continually learn and grow because I’ve known you for several years and you’re a phenomenal trial lawyer who has such a quest to learn and practice and grow.
Grover Porter: I think that we all have needs. I think part of my need is to grow because that’s life, is to contribute. When I’m contributing, I’m growing. I’m finding out what I don’t know. That’s my need is to keep growing. It keeps me young right away. I love the new experiences. I love going to the trial lawyers programs because I mean it’s so inspirational, watching Josh work is great. I learn new stuff from Josh, with his posters that hang up on the walls. He’s so meticulous about it and I kind of laugh but at the same time, he’s a genius. He’s very creative. You go to the guy, you talk to him for a few minutes and you walk away with a pearl of stuff that you can put in your bag.
I think just being around the creativity, I’m not being stuff, and yet everything that I’ve learned is still fashionable today even though I picked it up, I’m repeating myself constantly because nothing has changed. When you got something of quality, it stays the same year after year. All you can do is add better stuff to it to make it even better. You ask me about losing a case or not getting the results that I necessarily wanted. What I’m constantly asking myself is how can I make it better, what are the things that I can do to make it better, and it helps me to keep that creativity going that helps me to stay open to the possibilities that everybody can give you something. Jurors give me things all the time. Other lawyers give me things all the time. You just have to be open to all of that.
Scott Glovsky: Grover, thank you so much for sharing your incredible wisdom and knowledge with us.
Grover Porter: Well thank you for asking me. I’m still nervous by the way. I’m scared but thank you.
Scott Glovsky: Thank you for your gift of honesty. I think that a lawyer like Grover Porter is scared, that’s a gift that you’ve given us all. Thank you.
Grover Porter: Thank you.
Scott Glovsky: Thank you for joining us today for Trial Lawyer Talk. If you like this show, I’d really appreciate if you could give us a good review on iTunes and I’d love to get your feedback. You can reach me at www.scottglovsky.com. That’s S-C-O-T-T G-L-O-V-S-K-Y dot com, and I’d love to hear your feedback. You can also check out the book that I published called Fighting Health Insurance Denials, A Primer for Lawyers. That’s on Amazon. I put the book together based on 20 years of suing health insurance companies for denying medical care to people and it provides a general outline of how to fight health insurance denials. Have a great week and we’ll talk to you in the next episode.