In this episode of Trial Lawyer Talk, Scott speaks with San Diego trial attorney Jim Brown. Mr. Brown tells Scott about a sex abuse case involving a child adolescent rehabilitation facility.
Transcript of Episode 46, with Jim Brown
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. We simply have great lawyers tell great stories from cases that had a profound impact on them. So let’s get started.
I’m very glad and honored to be sitting with Jim Brown. Jim is an excellent human being who’s authentic, and real, and wickedly talented. Jim, thanks for being with us.
Yes, Scott, thank you. We’ve been talking about this for a while and it’s really my pleasure to be here. I’ve been a big fan of your podcast and to be included is really exciting.
Jim, can you share with us a story of a case that had a profound impact on you?
Sure. There’s a lot of them, like with most of the other folks that you’ve talked to, but there’s one that really is important to me as a human being, and as someone who has been involved in the Trial Lawyers College for a while. It’s exciting and it really showed me how significant what we do is. It involved a sex abuse case that I tried a little while back now.
It was a young man. His name was Brandon. That’s public record, so there’s no point, it was Brandon Doe. He was an enrollee, 13 years old at a child adolescent, that’s what they called it, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility down in San Diego.
This company would bring in and required these children to have AA sponsors. Brandon would go to different facilities, AA facilities around San Diego, and PB, and different areas and try to find a sponsor. But he didn’t care for any of them because they were all old, they were all alcoholics.
He couldn’t identify with any of them and he used a particular descriptive term as to why he didn’t want to be around any of them. So this rehabilitation facility-
What was the term?
Well, I don’t want to publish that right now. It wasn’t really flattering, but it was powerful to him in a sense of the way that he would express it. This rehabilitation facility had what they called volunteers that were individuals that had participated in AA, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. And they really built this man up. They told him this is the guy. He’s the one that can do it for you. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s worked with some of our other children here and he’ll be a great person for you.
Well, they didn’t tell him a lot of things about this man that if they’d have been paying attention that they would have known about. One of them, which was really significant for us, learning about the case, was that he had choices of being involved in adult alcohol rehabilitation, or drug rehabilitation facilities, or children, and he always chose the children facilities.
Learning about this, you come to understand that these people, predators, go to where the kids are. Doesn’t make any difference if it’s a school, or rehabilitation facility, or wherever. They search out little kids. He developed a very close relationship with Brandon where he would actually push, he got to the point where he was pushing Brandon’s parents away and isolating Brandon from his parents.
The parents would go to the facility and say, “Something’s not right here.” They got accused of being helicopter parents, to stay out of it, that the facility were the professionals and they had a lot of trust in this man, and the parents just need to pay the money for the program, and go about their business, and let the pros do what the pros do. But it continued and it came to light, this man got arrested. He had abused another child and the police found out about it, set him up with a call with the young boy that he had abused and they ended up arresting him.
But they wanted to interview Brandon about this and Brandon denied all of it. Said, “He never touched me, never had anything to do with me. He was my best friend. He was a better person to me than even my father was.” It became a very difficult case because that’s obviously what they were using as a defense on the case, that the man never touched him. But we come to find out that Brandon didn’t get better and his parents finally shipped him out to a drug and rehabilitation program out in Utah.
He described for us, and I had him do two things in trial. One of them was to describe that moment when he was in a tent by himself, out in the middle of nowhere, in this drug program in Utah, where he finally had the realization of what was going on. He described that and we brought him to the scene, put him in the tent, and had him describe it while he’s lying there on the cot. He was very emotional about it and described that, just lost it. Just became confused, frightened, vomiting, couldn’t get out of that cot for like three days when he realized what had happened with this.
We talked with him about that for a little bit because he felt safe talking about that because there wasn’t any accusations being made. It was just a realization of the grooming that he had been subjected to. The separation from his parents, the starting of touching, the showers, but there was not any sexual touching that we were able to figure out yet.
So where we got involved in the most … This is still to this day and I’ll bet probably for my career, the most powerful moment I’ve ever had in a courtroom. We had Brandon’s father testify before Brandon was on the stand and he described a history with this, who we ultimately found out was a pedophile, and his efforts to try to get the facility to do something about it.
He described driving down, they lived in a cul-de-sac and it was pitch black down there. I had been there, I’d been over to the house many, many times talking to Brandon. His father described himself driving home one evening and seeing the sponsor, the AA sponsor through the program, seeing his car down at the end of the cul-de-sac. He drove down and he flashed his brights, and he saw what he believed to be his son in a very compromising situation, position with this guy.
He pulled up, asked him what’s going on, and his son denied it. Brandon said, “Nothing, nothing dad. Get out of here. Everything’s fine.” He described that scene for us in the courtroom, and then we had Brandon testify to the issue that I just talked about the tent situation and scene. Then I brought him to that cul-de-sac and I asked him if he talked to his father before Brandon came in to testify. He said, “No, I hadn’t talked with him.” I told him where I wanted to go. I said, “Well, your father described a situation that he felt that there was maybe something compromising going on in this car when he came home that night.”
This boy looked at me, he was 17 at the time, when this was going on now in the courtroom. He looked at me. His eyes just got incredibly large, I asked him, “Brandon, can I talk to you about that?” He just sat there and just started crying, and cried, and cried, and cried for like five minutes. He just cried and I just stood there and the judge started crying, and then the judge handed him tissues to help him to stop crying.
Nobody moved, nobody said a word. The power of that moment and the hopelessness that was in that little boy at that time was just, it was devastating for everybody in that room. It’s something that I’ll never forget. He finally stopped crying. The judge even asked him if he wanted to take a break and he said no. Then he looked at me, and he looked at everybody in the courtroom and he said, “No, I’m not talking about it.”
I said, “fine,” and I respected it and left it. I turned it over to the defense attorney to cross-examine him at that point in time. But where it’s important on this, Scott, was to me anyway, the power of it was incredible, but it was through the skills that I’ve learned at the Trial Lawyers College that got me there.
I spent an enormous amount of time with Brandon earning his trust and talking with him about trust and how we needed to work together with this. And if he would talk with me I would never violate his trust. And if he didn’t want to go somewhere, I promised him that I would never ever make him say something or do something that he didn’t want to talk about or go to an area that he wasn’t comfortable with.
He thanked me for respecting that after he got done testifying, because he really believed in me and the only way he was going to believe in me was for me to do everything that we learn out here at the college to gain his trust and to create that bond with him, where I knew and he knew that we were going to be acting together in that courtroom and getting done what we needed to get done.
Like I said, it was the most powerful moment I’ve ever had in a courtroom. In closing, what it allowed me to do, I didn’t even have to say anything, because all I talked to the jury about when I was done is that, is what they felt and what they saw. I told them, “You saw his truth and you felt his truth. You saw his loss and you felt his loss.” I didn’t have to say anything else because it was there. Everybody knew what happened, everybody knew likely what was going to happen.
They came back, after not a tremendously long period of time, but they came back with a very nice judgment for him, nice verdict and it validated him. About eight months ago I talked with him and he said he’s doing really well. He’s in counseling, he’s coming a long way. He’s got a girlfriend now. He’s grown up, he’s maturing into a very, very, very wonderful person. I feel grateful for all that and I feel really grateful that I was able to help him get this done.
Jim, the sensitivity that you showed him, which is evident to everybody who’s listening to this, what journey did you have to get to the place where you could allow him the space and show him the sensitivity to be present with him? Because that shows a lot of …
Yeah, that’s a great question. The best way I can answer that Scott, is just to say it took time. It took going to meals, it took everything that we know to do. For me personally, to get to a point where I was going to have, at that time, a 17-year-old boy talk about things that were happening to him when he was 13 years old, the pain that I would see in him is something that I was able to relate to on different levels.
Not the same level that he had, because they were different circumstances, but he and I were able to connect on different levels and I was able to share with him some things in my life that were very important and very painful and very difficult to talk about, and letting him know it was okay to do that. It was okay to talk to another person about these things and to get him prepared for that. And the only way I could get him prepared for that is I had to get into that same painful area where he was, so I could understand how to talk with him and, even more important, I would understand when to stop.
Can I ask you about your connection to the pain?
Well, there’s things that happen to us all throughout our lives, you know, the things that we see and things that we do. I mean, I’m not all that uncomfortable talking about some of the things that have happened to me, right here, right now. But we all have our dramas, we all have things that happened and things that we’ve seen. The things that I was sharing with him were things that I had seen and had no control over that were as shocking as anything that any human being would ever want to see, and not want to see really. And the pain that it caused in me was evident to him.
Was it personal? Not quite as personal as his pain, but I didn’t have that same experience and I didn’t want to belittle him and the pain that he had, and the experience that he had by trying to share something that might have happened to me that wasn’t on that same level. I didn’t think that that was going to be helpful.
I thought it was best to talk about things that I knew that had happened, things that I had seen, and things that I couldn’t prevent. But things that I was able to talk with him about that helped him understand that it’s okay to talk about people and things that are painful, and things to develop trust with him. Because the people that I was involved with and the people that I saw these things happening with, when I was there, they trusted me. I hope I’m answering your question. I’m not sure that I am because it was hard to get there.
What did you learn through this case, through Brandon?
About Brandon or myself?
Okay. Well, the case, these types of cases are incredibly, incredibly difficult and they’re very emotional. You learn about these children and adults that this happens to that this is not a fleeting moment. This is something that affects them through all stages of their lives. You talk to some of the professionals that are involved and they’re still counseling people that are 70, 80 years old that had been exposed and had things like this happen to them, and it just doesn’t go away, and there’s no place for them to put it.
There’s no pocket that they can put it into. There’s no part of their body that they can put it into and act like it never happened. There’s no key they can lock it away with. It’s just always there with them and it affects them in all their relationships. It affects them with their children because they become over protective, won’t let them out of their sight. They become controlling, they become incredibly worried. It affects them in their relationships with husbands or wives, out in the future.
It’s just a horrible, horrible thing that I don’t think gets talked about enough to where people understand just how significant and how hard this is. With Brandon, the way it affected me was I’ve never had anybody that I thought was as courageous as him to walk into a room not blaming anybody. He didn’t blame anybody. He just shared, and he shared only what I told him I would let him share. In the sense of we won’t go past where you want to go, and he just told a very quick story, and shared those moments that were incredibly powerful to him. The realization and then telling me, “don’t go there.”
His growth from that has been just remarkable. Because he’s a hell of a kid. He’s not a kid anymore, he’s older, but he’s just such a powerful person and I think that the verdict had a lot to do with that because it let him understand that he didn’t do anything. That he was okay and people realized the journey he’d been on and realized the harm that had been caused to him and were doing anything that they could to try to help him, and to protect him as a child.
His growth out of that, I saw a completely different person. I saw someone that was confident, that was comfortable. I’m talking about a kid that, when he was in school and some of the kids in school heard about this, would just abuse him, and say, “Hey, you were with a pedophile. What did you do?” Just accusing him of all these things that people’s minds wander to, and I never even asked him. I never once asked him what happened because it wasn’t something that I needed to know. Just his story was enough and his emotions were enough.
As I started to say a minute ago, the power that he has now over that helplessness, and that pain, and that loss really made me feel wonderful because he’s doing what he can to live his own life now. I think he’s got control over it, Scott, I mean I really do. And me, what did I get out of it? I got that … I think I’m a better person for having done it. I think I’m a better person for having been able to connect with a young man that was nowhere near my age, that’s younger than my own children and have him trust me and create a bond with that child that nobody else had.
His parents didn’t have the same connection with him that I did. And to realize that I was able to do that and create that relationship with this young man where he trusted me and knew that I wasn’t going to hurt him and that I was going to respect him, which is all he wanted.
It makes me a better person and it proved to me that what we do as lawyers, and what we learn out here at the ranch, and what we teach out here at the ranch, you can’t say enough good things about it. Because if I hadn’t done the things and hadn’t done the work that we teach out here, I’m not so sure I’d have ever gotten there with him.
You must feel vulnerable yourself working on cases with abused children. I mean, that’s a heavy load to carry. How do you deal with it?
Well, you ask good questions. I don’t know. The only way I can deal with it is get to know them. If I get to know them then I get to understand them and they get to understand me, and then it’s not a … They’re not victims to me. They’re friends. I don’t mean that lightly, and I don’t mean it to throw out the word friend, but they do. They trust me and I’ve seen, especially with Brandon, seeing him later on, it was just a really good meeting, a really good conversation. It was warm.
But you deal with it. I deal with it by learning about them and being their friend, and being there for them. I can’t tell you the amount of times, I keep talking about Brandon, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I just sat with him. Nobody talked about anything except shooting the breeze, just shooting stories about things that had nothing to do about anything but just getting to know each other on a certain level.
It wasn’t forced. He never said no, he never said he didn’t want to get together, so I knew that it was working. It created a paternal instinct in me too to protect, and to help, and to do things that I wanted to do. That’s how I deal with it, and then if it works out, great, and it makes you feel good about what you’ve done.
There is truth at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. And if you can get that truth out, and if people recognize the truth and accept the truth, then I also feel accepted, because I’m the conduit there. Everything flows through us, right? If I’ve done that, and I’ve had the jury connect with, then that’s how I deal with it.
This may be a bit of an esoteric question but, in Brandon’s case, what was your approach to the jury? What was your feeling about building a relationship, or whatever you were looking for?
Well, I don’t think it’s esoteric at all. I had a huge realization. I tried a murder case a long time ago and it involved a boyfriend. The girlfriend had a young daughter and the daughter ended up in the morgue. They charged the boyfriend and I was hired to represent the boyfriend. Now, it’s a completely different case and a completely different issue, but what I learned from that is a jury, like all of us, especially if we’re parents, will do anything they can to protect a child and to help a child.
In that murder case, that was a huge part of my voir dire, was how are we going to deal with this? I mean, we all want somebody to pay for this child having passed away, and we need to be able to talk about this. So I took what I learned from that about, I don’t want to use the word the extremes that people will go to, but if you’ve ever loved a child or had a child, you know that that’s just human instinct is to protect that child and make things right for that child.
That’s something that I’ve learned that with a jury. It’s not a huge leap to get them to understand that who they’re talking to now might be 18, 19, 20 years old or so forth, but when this was going on with them, they were children. They were 10, 12, 13 years old and they had no power, they had no control. They don’t understand what’s going on. They have no ability to comprehend the evil that exists out there.
When a jury understands all of that, they’ll help and they’ll feel good about helping. That’s why I said, not to repeat it, but I guess I will repeat it. I didn’t have to make a big closing argument. All I had to tell them was remind them of what they saw. They saw his pain, they saw his loss, and they saw his truth. And for them, to have seen all of that, they had to have felt all of that.
That’s all I told them. “You saw it and you had to have felt it, so what are we going to do about it?” It was a wonderful charge for them and they did something. They did the right thing about it. People will do what they need to do to protect a child, Scott. I just know that.
I can sense your trust in the jury.
Oh, you have to.
Say more about that.
That’s who we have to look to. We’re there; we have to look to someone else to resolve this. I mean, I can’t resolve it. If I could, we wouldn’t be in a courtroom. A defense attorney has got an interest not to resolve it because they’re going to plaster whatever they want to plaster against a wall for not just a child, but for anybody. We’ve all seen it.
We have to be there to trust a jury, and respect a jury, and talk to the jury like we care for them and we’re concerned about them. And we want them to do the right thing and then give them the information that they need in order to do the right thing. We have to be there with them. They’re there to resolve this for us. If we don’t show them the love and respect that we want anybody to show us, it would create a problem, I think.
Jim, what advice do you have for young lawyers out there who want to become great trial lawyers?
Try your cases, just try them. Focus them, go talk to every lawyer you can talk to about them. Get help, get advice, come to the Trial Lawyers College. Come to the local meetings that we have everywhere. Go to the courthouse. One thing that I did before I even heard about it, long before the Trial Lawyers College was even in existence, I would find out in San Diego, we all knew who the trial lawyers were. I would go down and watch them try cases. It was wonderful to watch them try cases.
Most of them were such great people that when they were done, if they did come out, I’d talk to a couple of them right after they gave an opening statement and I’d ask, “Well, why did you say that?” And they would take the time right then and there to tell me why they did it this way. So I think that younger lawyers will find out that the lawyers that have been there for a period of time are happy to share with them the things that they learned.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a very good friend of mine, because I was like everybody else and, to some extent still this way. When I go into a courtroom, I’m scared, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how I’m going to get words to say what needs to be said in a courtroom, to get done what we’re all hoping is going to happen, and my friend told me, “Listen, you need to stop.”
He said, “Most every word that you can ever imagine has already been said in a courtroom.” He said, “So quit beating yourself up trying to come up with new ways, new things to say. If you come up with one, God bless you.” But he said, “Stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before you. Learn what they learned, learn what they know, and then try your cases.”
I did that and I’ve done that. I mean, I don’t try any case now without bugging everybody about, “what do you think about this? How would you go about this? What do you think? What do you think is the best way I can go about doing this and focusing in?” Going to local meetings and talking about them, reenacting scenes, doing all these things to help. It’s a lot of work.
Many lawyers out there, well, probably most every lawyer I know, deals with fear. What advice do you have for lawyers who feel like, down deep inside, that they’re not good enough, that they’re not experienced enough, or that they’re afraid they’re going to fail?
Well maybe they do fail. We’ve all failed, but you are good enough. Everybody’s good enough and if you show the trust in people, and you show the love for people that you’re supposed to have, not as a lawyer so much, but just as a human being. And you go talk to people as a human being, you go talk to them, you just connect with people, without all the legalese and all the big words and all the puffed up chests, then people will relate to you. And they’ll want to talk with you and they’ll be receptive to the message that you’ve got. And if you’ve got a good message then people are going to listen to you. So I believe anybody can do it. I really do.
Jim, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your wonderful story. You’ve provided tremendous insights and wisdom, so thank you.
Yeah, thank you Scott. I appreciate it. It’s been fun.
Thank you for joining us today for Trial Lawyer Talk. If you like the 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.com. 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.