In this episode, Scott speaks with Louisiana attorney Jody Amedee. Mr. Amedee tells Scott about the importance of not judging potential jurors based on first impressions.
Transcript of Episode 35, with Jody Amedee
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 story telling podcast so we simply have great lawyers, tell great stories from cases that had a profound impact on them.
First today, I want to mention that our hearts go out to everyone in Houston and especially all of the great trial lawyers we’ve interviewed in Trial Lawyer Talk. Including Michael Callehan, Emily Detoto, Ron Estefan, Paul Elliot Estefan, Andy Vickery, and Eric Davis.
We hope you are all safe and our thoughts and prayers are with you. Today we’re very fortunate to have a tremendous trial lawyer from Louisiana, Jody Amedee. Jody was a former member of the Louisiana State Senate and is a tremendous spirit and a tremendous character. And he’s gonna tell us a story I’m sure you’re gonna find interesting.
Let’s get started. I’m very happy to be sitting with Jody Amedee who’s a phenomenal lawyer from Louisiana. Who practices in Gonzales, Louisiana and is truly an amazing story teller. An amazing lawyer and an amazing teacher. Jody, thanks so much for being with us.
We’ll thank you Scott, I’m honored to be on your show.
Do you have a story that you can share with us from a case that had a significant impact on you?
Yeah, the last case that we tried. Me and my law partner, Andre Gauthier, it was in Gonzales and we had a client by the name of Randall and he came see us and he had been rear ended pretty hard. And he was hurting and so he … I said, “Well, Randall.”
You know, he didn’t want to … The people didn’t have much insurance but he decided to … He’d get back with me. And about eight months later he came back and he had had a surgery. Come to find out he was at work when he got rear ended.
He was in a work vehicle so workers comp paid for everything but there was only $25,000 in insurance. And he didn’t … And he just couldn’t believe there was nothing he could do so I said, “Well, let’s check and see if they got UM coverage.
So I did and he did. They had a significant amount and he’d been working for this company for about 25 years and he really struggled. It was a real internal struggle with him whether or not to make a claim. He was back at work.
He had only … After his next surgery he had only had three visits to the doctor after. You know, post-operative checkups and he hadn’t gone back to the doctor. He was doing pretty good so he said, “Well, I’ll get back with you.”
So then in about a month he came back in and decided that he wanted to go ahead and file a claim so by now we’re getting close to prescription so we had to file the suit. So we did and he’s just one of these people that you never hear from him. He doesn’t bother people.
He doesn’t bother lawyers, he doesn’t … We would have to call and check on him and make sure he was doing okay every few months. But as the case moved along we started realizing that this may be a case that we have to try because the insurance … The UM carrier didn’t want to pay him much even though he had a fusion in his neck.
So we did. We went ahead and started gearing up for trial. And it really … We thought we knew the case. We thought we knew him, his wife. Andre had actually known him and his family for a long time.
Andre, your law partner?
Yeah, Andre Gauthier, yeah my law partner. So we decided to … When we realized we were going to trial. And something we always do, we decided to psychodrama our client. We got Don Clarkson down and scheduled a day for him … For Randell and his wife Gay to come in.
Wait, Don Clarkson the psychodramatist?
Yeah, the psychodramatist. He came and he’s just amazing and been working with him for years and years and we didn’t have a lot of witnesses in this case.
So what we thought was we would have Randell and his wife. Let the wife tell the story of what this has done to him. But what we discovered in about six hours of psychodrama was that his wife Gay just was not gonna be able to testify.
She is a simple, wonderful lady but at the end of the day between me, and Andre, and Don. Or really Don, we just all looked at each other and he said, “Y’all, I don’t think this is gonna work.”
So we had to start developing a way to get the entire story of him out to the jury through our client without any witnesses. I mean, we didn’t have any other witness to call. As far as family members, coworkers, we didn’t … He didn’t want to involve any people at work. We were very, very conscientious about his job.
It’s really the only job he’s had in his life. So we did a little more work with Randell that day and then before we got to trial we of course got him back in for a few hours two or three different times working on things. Trying to get him to be able to paint a picture and tell a story and set the scene and actually we learned so much during the psychodrama.
Like what, for example?
Well, laying on the operating table. Describing how that felt. What was flashing in his head and his eyes and how he felt about that.
What could go wrong. What kind of person he was. What he thought people thought about him. What he thought about himself. How he grew up. Just his whole life story because we had so much to work with because he was just such a prince of a guy. And just a hard working down to earth.
Never went to college, nobody in his family ever went to college. I mean, all those things I think just made a difference. And we discovered all that in the psychodrama setting and so we took that and we tried to do … And of course our only other witness we had was a doctor.
And we had another hurdle we had to get over and it was the fact that when we tried the case it had been about four years. This case took a long time. It had been around four years since he had been to a doctor ’cause he had the surgery. Had a visit a couple weeks later and maybe a month and the next month and he had never gone back.
And it wasn’t that he wasn’t hurting it was just that’s the kind of person he is. So we had to figure out a way to get that to the jury and have them feel it. And we just did that through psychodramatic methods with him on the stand and the direct exam.
Well, we took him into present tense and put him in an operating room. We did scenes like that. Actually, I got him off of the stand and had him sitting in his truck and he got rear ended and did a little scene on that in presence sense.
And he did a phenomenal job and what was so amazing is when we started the psychodrama back when we were preparing I didn’t even think he would be able to do it. But with Don’s persistence and talent that not many people in the world have he was able to get him to where he could go to that place and get in the moment.
And he basically stayed in the moment for forty minutes on the stand and it was just real powerful what these tools did for just a guy that had never even heard of … I mean, it was bizarre he looked at us like we were … I mean, he, “What you mean now.” I mean, it happened it’s not happening. But he was able to make it happen and it brought the courtroom alive and we picked a jury in the morning.
We did openings at 1:00. About 1:30 we put the doctor on the stand and probably took a break, 3:00 we put Randell on the stand and at 4:30 we were doing closings. We did it all in one day and that’s not easy. You know how courts work. I mean, you got delays and people have to take bathroom breaks and so forth and it was just a wonderful experience.
And what did you learn from this case?
Well, one thing I learned which is an interesting side story is we … We always get to the courthouse early and we were loading our stuff into the courtroom on a dolly. We had several boxes and I went out to the parking lot to bring my little dolly and put it in my truck.
And as I walk back in at the end of the hallway there was, I thought to be, a potential juror sitting there reading a book.
I mean, I looked at him. He had some kind of loose khaki pants on. Just a light blue button down shirt, tucked in, nice and neat. Appeared to be about 50 years old with glasses and I thought to myself, “Lord, this guy must be an engineer.
Maybe a librarian. I don’t know.” But it doesn’t look like the kind of juror we would want. I was judging him and … Which is not really good to do as we know. And I walked into the courtroom and I told Andre I said, “Well, we got one we’re probably not gonna want on a jury.” And he said, “What are you talking about?”
I said, “Well, there’s a librarian out there.” You know I just kind of nicknamed him the librarian. So they come in and we start picking the jury and first panel gets selected to be voir dire and Andre goes to panel and he’s not on it and I think we had about eight jurors picked after that first panel.
So then they put another panel, now it’s my turn. Well, low and behold here comes the librarian. He’s in a panel and so in my mind I’m looking at him and saying, “Okay, well he’s surely gonna … We’re not gonna want him.” I started, I-
He’s surely gonna screw us.
Oh, yeah. He’s gonna screw up. I mean, we can’t have him on this jury just by the way he looks. I mean, that’s what we’ve all been conditioned is just look at people and judge them.
A valuable lesson for me because we got down to it and I knew how many strikes we had and I knew how many the defense had. And I knew how many the defense had and I knew they weren’t going to use a strike on him and I had some other people that I thought once I finished and I knew this guy was probably gonna end up on the jury and he did.
And, of course, during the voir dire when I started sharing things about myself and then he started sharing things about himself he didn’t appear to be that bad.
What did you share about yourself?
Well, I just shared that … I think one of the things I talked about was lawyers and verdicts and my fear of people not more conservative because there’s something in me that I don’t like. Sometimes I don’t like some lawyers, I don’t like the same things other people don’t like.
I don’t like my rates going up. My insurance rates going up. I don’t like … I mean, hell I don’t like frivolous lawsuits, okay. And I shared those types of things and by doing that I think it helped him talk and everyone that was there … It went great.
And we get to the end of the trial and he’s on the jury and the jury walks out of the deliberation room with the verdict and then I don’t know if you know in Louisiana but the jury foreman, or foreperson, they fill out the verdict form and they sign it and they hold it in their hand.
And they don’t give it to the bailiff and they get in the box with it and then the bailiff … The judge will instruct the bailiff to get it and bring it to clerk. And he had the verdict form in his hand. And I’m like, “Oh, Lord, what’s gonna happen now,” and it was just a real valuable lesson that I learned and I’m glad I learned it.
And we talk about that all the time, about you don’t want to … When you’re picking a jury you don’t want to look for people to kick off, you want to build a tribe and you want to pull everybody in. And, I mean, that’s what we ended up doing but in my mind before we started I judged a person and I was just absolutely wrong.
So, in the end he was on your side?
Yes. He was the foreman and he was one of the … From what I hear the cheerleaders in the back. You know, he really connected to Randell and it was just … I told someone I’m gonna write a book one day and I’m gonna name it, “The Librarian.” It just really stuck in my mind.
How did you connect in that case with your client, Randell?
I think I connected because we have a lot of similarities. During our psychodramas and such, with him, I really became close with him to where I try to put myself in his shoes and feel how he feels because of who he is and the life that he’s had.
He’s never been a guy that’s ever really gotten ahead. He’s just the kind of guy that touches your heart and somehow we connected from early … I’m not gonna take credit for it.
That’s the kind of guy he is. I mean, everybody wants to help him and he’s the kind of guy that we learned actually some of it from his wife. He’s just always wants to help. He’s never worried about himself and it was just a valuable, I guess, lesson that I learned.
Where did you identify with him?
I guess I identified mostly with him because they were … The insurance company, they treated him like a second rate human being in my opinion. We all know what neck surgeries are worth, or at least a range, and I mean they weren’t even at the low end of the range.
They were like, “You from Sorento or whatever. You from Gonzales or we’re not paying you.” And I think I connected to that because growing up I was never the favorite. My family, I wasn’t really supposed to go to college or be a lawyer.
There’s no other lawyers and I always felt like I was the underdog and I was never … I played sports, played baseball even in college and I was never the biggest guy. I was never the fastest guy. The scouts wasn’t looking at me. I always had to work harder than the next guy to perform.
And I think in a way that’s how I felt about Randell. That’s how his life has been. He’s been … He’s never gotten a big job that pays a bunch of money. He’s just always been content with being who he is and I think that’s how I connected with him from that aspect just I’ve never been the favorite. When I got out of law school I mean, heck I wanted to be in a rotary club. I wanted to do this. Well, nobody asked me to be in a rotary club.
Nobody asked me to be in a whatever club and I’m just saying rotary club. I’m not talking bad about the rotary … I’m just using that as an example but we had to fight, our law firm. We just had two people that we basically just started with nothing. And I had to fight, and fight, and fight for years and years and only recently do people even look at us as good lawyers maybe.
I mean, maybe they know we’re good lawyers but they … We’re certainly not … talking about the ones with the windows and the glass around their building in the big cities and they don’t … I guess, these big corporations the way they look at us is like we’re little podunk people from Louisiana and I actually kind of like it. So I’d rather be the underdog and just have to fight our way to the top.
And how does that feel? In other words, to have to fight, and fight, and fight, and fight?
Well, it actually motivates me. It makes me feel like I have something to prove every time. Now of course as you know sometimes you don’t have to go fight sometimes you can settle cases but people in general …
Lawyers are scared to go try cases and that’s one thing we decided at an early age, years ago that we just gonna go try it and if we fail, we fail. But we have to go fight for the client and that’s … It motivates me and it makes me feel like I want to fight.
In the sense of not being acknowledged, being the underdog. And not feeling connected, or accepted, where does that come from in Jody’s life?
I don’t know, I guess at a young age and it’s kind of strange but I was always accepted as far as socially. I’ve always been blessed to have friends, like a lot of friends. But as far as in business, in the legal profession, I don’t really feel like … I don’t know, I’ve always felt like we were frowned upon ’cause we were plaintiff lawyers in a little small town.
And we didn’t have a big building and we didn’t wear suits to work every day and my favorite stories, I still to this day go to lunch. We wear blue jeans most of the time and I go to lunch and people still tell me after 20 years, “Well, man y’all off today?” I’m like, “No, we’re not off. I mean, we just …”
And so I don’t have to … I really don’t want to wear a suit every day and maybe that’s part of it because we never did and people always … I know some of the older lawyers are frown on it but when I meet with my clients and I’ve asked them, at the end of the day, after the case is over …
And I’ve asked 50 of them, 100 of them and most of them, almost 99 percent of them will tell you, “I feel way more comfortable just being yourself. Not trying to wear a costume to work.”
Not that it’s bad to do it but I’ve just never been the … We’re not country club lawyers and I think that people … And I guess it can work both ways but some people they just think … They probably feel like we’re just not as good as all those lawyers but, I mean, I guess the results speak for themselves at this point but for years and years I don’t think people really wanted to acknowledge us as real trial lawyers.
They make fun of the way we do things. We’re the only people that do it like we do it around the way we are. We pick jury’s different. We examine witnesses, we do things different. But at the end of the day, I think, what we’re doing and what we’re learning and the way we try and connect with our clients and our jury’s is really what helps people and that’s the only way you can help ’em is if you can connect them with the jury. So I’m perfectly at piece with the methods that we use.
A couple of minutes ago you mentioned some of my favorite stories. I know you’ve got amazing stories, can you share one with us?
About a trial?
Trying to think. I guess, most of my funny stories involve my law partner it seems like with trying cases. But we had a case one time where we were suing Home Depot. A bag of sand had fell off the top shelf and it fell on the back … Not on top of our client’s head but it hit him kind of at the bottom of his neck and his shoulder.
I mean, it fell from about 10 feet. He was filling with some sand on a lower … On the floor and apparently a rack, and those racks they have at Home Depot it may have shook and had a sand bag just leaning over the edge and it hit him.
So we’re in trial in Baton Rouge and we’re young lawyers. This is 15 years ago and we had an expert in. Dr. Lorris out of Houston, Texas. He’s a former NASA scientist. I think he was an astronaut but he didn’t really go on any missions but he’s a safety expert. So he comes into town and we’re gonna take him to eat and so we go eat some seafood.
He wanted some fried seafood the night before he was to testify and he asked us … We were eating and he said, “Guys, and he was an older gentleman, he said y’all young fellas wanna take me to this store so when they put me on the stand tomorrow the first thing they’re gonna ask me is if I ever walked in that store and I don’t want to have to … At least I can say yeah I did it last night but it won’t be no, never.”
So we said, “Well, sure doc. We’ll bring you in there.” So we pulled on up to Baton Rouge and went into the Home Depot where it happened and so we’re walking around. Me, and Andre, and him and next thing you know Dr. Lorris, he pulls out a camera and starts taking pictures.
And we said, “Well, I don’t know doc if we ought to be taking pictures. We don’t …” Well someone reported him, or us, not him, to the store manager. So next thing you know they done called the police.
The store manager’s coming and they had securities coming and they’re literally chasing us and we’re trying to get out the store. And then they met us at the door and they didn’t want to let us out and they were demanding.
They were trying to take the camera from Dr. Lorris. And Andre, my law partner, grabs the camera and he takes it from our expert and says, “No, you’re not getting this camera.”
He sticks it in his pocket and he didn’t push the guy out of the way but he kind of went around him and got the door open and let the doctor out and we went to the car and they literally chased us all the way to the car wanted to try and get the camera.
And so when we get in the car with him and he’s sitting in that front seat and I’m driving and the guy is trying to … Won’t let me shut the door. And I got to take off with him trying to get me not to go and of course Andre’s taking charge of the whole scene.
Saying, “You better get out my way.” And it wasn’t real … It really wasn’t funny at the time so we leave there and we go to bring Dr. Lorris back to his room to the hotel and man he gets out the car. We look at each other and go, “Oh, my God what’s gonna happen with this. Are they gonna file a police report, get arrested, I mean what’s gonna happen?”
So we didn’t do anything. We went to the trial the next day and, of course, they get him on cross. They had him on cross and they said, “Well, have you ever been to the store?” And he said, “Well, yeah I went last night.” And he said, “Yeah, you went with your lawyers, huh?” And he said, “Well, they’re not my lawyers, they’re the lawyers for the client.”
And they made a big deal about it and then so it was just a scary deal. Of course, they tried to get the court to sanction us or whatever ’cause we went … But it’s a public place, we went in it. Now, the funny part is I went back to that store a couple months later and there is a sign in there that says no photography or videoing.
So I guess it is a store rule but it was one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever seen as a … Because I’m dealing with … I’m in the middle of a trial. We’d already started the trial and he had flown in for like day three and this was … We had finished two days of trial.
I’m in the trial and I’ve got my expert in that store apparently, according to them, violating some rule or something but it all worked out in the end. So it’s just a story we tell all the time.
Well, that’s awesome. Well, Jody, lastly I get a lot of emails and calls from young lawyers asking for advice on what they can do to become better lawyers. What advice do you have for them?
Well, I think that’s a great question Scott. I think one of the things that I’ve always told people and I don’t know where I learned it …
I probably learned it at the Trial Lawyers College 18 years ago when I started this journey: don’t run around worrying about how much money you’re gonna make. Waste your time running around worrying about how you’re gonna help people and how you’re gonna change a life.
That’s the first thing and if you do that it spreads like wildfire. If you just worry about getting justice, everything else is gonna be fine. And the other thing is that I think young lawyers, when they get out of law school they have no idea what it’s like to be a human anymore.
I know I didn’t and they need to find a way to do it whether it’s through psychodrama, coming to the Trial Lawyer’s College, going to a regional seminar, is a wonderful idea. It doesn’t cost much. They got plenty of scholarships. I’m not trying to promote it but I am I guess. It’s probably not the only way but it’s my way.
It’s how I did it so that’s two things. The money part ’cause I see so many young lawyers they … You got a lawyer doing a divorce and the client pays them and then they don’t want to finish the divorce because they owe them a couple hundred bucks.
I mean, that’s just crazy that people treat others like that. I mean, sure you got to get paid but there comes a time when you got to just help people and I’ve done my share of all that.
And even in personal injury cases, I mean, I see so many lawyers settle cases because they’re just hurrying up and settling to 50, 60, 70 cents on a dollar rather than waiting and taking their time and getting what they deserve for their client but they’re thinking about themselves and not their clients.
And the only way I know to do that is do a lot of personal exploration and so I guess that’s my advice I would give a young lawyer. Just the same advice I’d give a kid that’s not a lawyer. I think it works in life in general.
Jody, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to share with us today.
Well, thank you Scott and thank you for the wonderful job you do.
Thank you for joining us today for Trial Lawyer Talk. If you like the show I’d really appreciate it 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 and I’d love to hear your feedback. You can also check out the book that I published called, “Fighting Health Insurance Denials: A Primal 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.