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Transcript for Trial Lawyer Talk, Episode 29: Betsy Greene

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Listen to the full episode here.

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 story telling podcast, so we have great lawyers tell great stories from cases that had a profound impact on them. So let’s get started.

We are very luck to have with us today a true gem of a human being. A phenomenal trial lawyer, a phenomenal person, and really one of my mentors. We have Betsy Greene from Indiana, who is one of the best trial lawyers that I know, one of the best teachers of trial lawyers that I know, and has a heart as big … well, we’re sitting in Texas at this moment … as big as Texas. Betsy, thanks for being with us.

Betsy Greene: Thank you Scott.

Scott Glovsky: Betsy, can you tell us the story of a case that had a profound impact on you?

Betsy Greene: I can. Well, the Trial Lawyers College really changed my life. And I had been a trial horse at a firm with lots of clients and just it didn’t suit me. So after my first Trial Lawyers College regional, I quit my job of 16 years, and I started my own firm. Well then I had to apply for the college, right? I mean I had to. So between the time I got accepted and I went to the college, a friend of mine, a fellow lawyer in Bloomington, brought me a case. And it was like boxes, moving boxes full, and I just didn’t have a chance to get into it before I went to the ranch. So I did not work the case at the ranch.

But as soon as I came home, I was so excited and I wanted to put the methods to work. I wanted to do this. And so my client was just a wonderful young man. He was still in high school. He was a senior in high school at the time. Big guy, you know? Really kind of very tall and big and shy, and kind of quiet. A farm kid from the wilds of Green County. Went to a small little school, his dad was a farmer. He wanted to grow up to be a farmer, and he had been injured very badly.

So, I come home from the ranch, and I gather up a group of people. I don’t have any grads around, so like my husband is in there, a couple of friends of mine who are very interested in Jerry Spence and interested in the method, came. And we were going to do re-enactments. And I didn’t have anybody to do it but me. And so, we did. The farm boy and his dad and his brother, and we were all in the group. And in about five minutes or so … he loved to fish … Brandon loved to fish, that was his favorite thing. So I said, “Why don’t you show us when you caught your biggest fish?” And so within minutes we’re all in the boat, we’re on white river, and Brandon’s showing us how he’s catching this fish.

So then we got to the incident. And what had happened was the law suit was against the school. And what had happened was they were all going to sectionals. Which, if you’re not from Indiana, you may not know what that is, but that’s our basketball tournament. It happens over a few weeks, and so sectionals is a big deal if you make it to sectionals, and then of course regionals, and then if you win you go to the championship. So this little, tiny school was going to sectionals, and they had a fan bus. And so they all went to sectionals. Well, they lost the game and they came back early. And all the kids were hanging out at the school without any supervision.

And Brandon needed a lot of support in school. Brandon didn’t excel academically … wonderful, wonderful, person. And for some reason they were picking on him, and so some kids started throwing rocks at him. And one of the kids that was throwing rocks at him was his brother. And a rock hit him in the eye and put his eye out. So, I’m re-enacting this, and we come to the part where Brandon’s father pulls his hands away from his eye so that he can see the injury, because Brandon’s father has come to school to get him because he’s very clearly hurt. And it was just the most powerful thing, Scott. It was just so powerful. And the love in this man’s face for his son, and his willingness to be directed and to show us what happened. It was just so profound.

Scott Glovsky: So you had Brandon’s father in doing the re-enactment.

Betsy Greene: Yes. Yes. I had Brandon, his father, and his brother. Were all there. And I just, in that moment, I mean I knew the power, or I felt like I knew the power of what we do, but actually experiencing it with this man was just unbelievable moving, it was just a really powerful moment. So, I did all kinds of things in that case. I re-enacted the defendants meeting and deciding that we weren’t going to have chaperones on the fan bus.

I worked for like two whole days just in re-enacting. One day was Brandon and his whole family, and the other day was I was working on the defendants. And so we get to court, and I’m ready to try this case. This was giving me my first case back from the ranch.

And of course I’ve tried cases in this courtroom before, right? This is southern Indian, this is a court room I’ve been in quite a bit. Because back then we were venued out because we were suing the school system, so we were in a different county, we were in Lawrence County, Bedford, Indian. So I had been in this courthouse a lot. And then this was a courthouse … you know how every courthouse smells a little different? This is a courthouse that has a very unique smell, so I’m smelling it right now, you know? This is an old courtroom, circuit court with a smell, and I go walking up to that jury box, and I looked at ’em and  I said, “You know, when I first got this case, I was really concerned and troubled. Because we’re suing the school, and nobody that worked for the school threw the rock that put Brandon’s eye out. What do you think about that?” And I stood there. And they were all looking at me. And I stood there. Felt like probably, I don’t know, five years maybe.

But it was actually maybe 20 seconds. And then somebody raised their hand and said, “Well, I don’t know. There might be some circumstances under which the school was responsible.” And off we went. We had this just wonderful conversation. But I’ll just never forget standing there thinking is anybody going to say anything? What’s going on here?

So I had so much fun with that case. Until the end. But I did like a first person opening.

Scott Glovsky: What do you mean by that?

Betsy Greene: Okay, so in the opening argument I took on the role of the principal of the school. And I spoke to the jury as the principal of the school.

Scott Glovsky: Can you give us a piece of that?

Betsy Greene: Um … wow. “Well, Mr. Athletic Director, you know I’ve got you here, and you’re saying we should have this fan bus. You know we really just can’t afford to do this. We can’t have chaperones. I really just don’t think this is the great idea.” And then I stepped over and became the athletic director and I said, “This is a great opportunity for these students. We really need to have the fans there. I know that we don’t have this budgeted, but we really need to take these kids down there to the sectional.” And so I actually spoke, and I went back and forth and had a conversation about this bus and how the kids were gonna be supervised and who was gonna be in charge. And I had never done that before in front of a jury.

And the defense lawyer had never seen me do it before. He didn’t know what to do. That was pretty funny. But he didn’t object. So I tried that case. It’s a hard case. It’s a contributory negligence against a governmental entity. That’s just a really, really hard case. And in the end we lost.

And it really is hard to lose. That’s the really hard part about being a trial lawyer. You have to be willing. You have to be willing to lose. And you have to be able to put it all out there for your client. So sometimes it feels like, to me, I put my heart out on the floor in front of the jury and they stomped on it. I mean that’s what it feels like.

But here’s the thing. Maybe three years later, I’m at the county fair, and I’m just walking through the Midway, such as it is at the Monroe County Fair, and there’s Brandon ambling my way. And he just gave me a big hug. He told me he’d gotten a job with the city of Bloomington. He had a really good job. He was really happy. He was doing really well. And he just gave me a big hug, and he said, “You know,” he said, “Other than my parents, nobody has ever fought for me like that. And I just want you to know how much i appreciate it.”

Scott Glovsky: How did that make you feel?

Betsy Greene: Over the moon. It feels good just sitting here right now just reliving that moment and feeling that. It felt so good, because I felt so bad. I felt so bad. But for him, we fought for him. I fought for him. And that alone was important to him.

Scott Glovsky: What did it feel like right after you got that defense verdict? Right after you find out that you’ve lost the case? After you’ve put your heart and soul into the case and into the client?

Betsy Greene: It’s just suffering. I suffer. I suffered. It was just awful. Because of course I’m responsible, right? It’s all my fault. I could have done this, I could have done that. I picked the wrong jury. I didn’t this. I didn’t that. I mean, it’s just an awful, horrible pain. And I don’t know any way around that. Yeah, I just have to suffer.

Scott Glovsky: I think many people don’t understand what trial lawyers go through in preparing a case, in trying a case, and then losing. Has that taken a cost on you?

Betsy Greene: Yes. Yes. There was one case, this was long before I went to the ranch, but there was one case that broke my heart. I would wake up in the middle of the night and sob. For months. My husband would just hold me. I would just wake up and cry and cry and cry because it was just so unfair. What the jury did was unfair. And I really … that is the only time in my life. I mean I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was nine years old. It was the only time in my life I really questioned what I was doing and why I was doing it. I just couldn’t understand it. I still suffer over that case. And it does take a toll.

But, here’s the thing, since I’ve been to the Trial Lawyers College, and since I have adopted these methods, I put my whole heart and soul in, and so even if I do lose, which I do sometimes, right? I do. I try cases. At least I now know that I’ve given it my all and I can take some satisfaction from that and feel good knowing that I have done everything that I could do. And I had given it all and left it all in the courtroom. I don’t know if that makes sense?

Scott Glovsky: Sure. Nowadays there’s so many young plaintiffs lawyers who don’t get to try cases because of the cost of trying cases, and frankly the fear. What advice do you have for the mind frame that young lawyers should have in approaching trial and actually trying cases?

Betsy Greene: That’s an excellent question. Okay, I started as a prosecutor. I knew I wanted to try cases. I always knew I wanted to try cases. I actually wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer. And I thought that the peace and dignity of the state of Indiana could probably stand a few screw ups on my part, right? Whereas my poor clients couldn’t. And so what I would say to young lawyers is is get in court. I don’t care what it is. Volunteer for the community legal clinic. But get there. Because it doesn’t suit everybody. But if it does suit you, you will know. And you might as well find out sooner rather than later. Because it suits me. I love it. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. So mind frame … Just do it. You can do it. Anybody can. If it suits you. But you just have to be willing to put it all on the line. You have to be willing to do that.

Scott Glovsky: Do you think sometimes that a big barrier to lawyers actually trying cases and achieving great things is their own fear?

Betsy Greene: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t know what that’s all about either, isn’t it? I mean, we’re trained to be advocates. We’re trained to argue and advance our cause. But then we’re afraid to go into the courtroom. But, again I think it gets back to that being willing to lose. A trial lawyer you just, you gotta be willing to put it all out there.

Scott Glovsky: You know, we’re gonna go off of our normal format for a moment given that we’re here in 2017, with Donald Trump as our president. Where does that leave us? For trial lawyers out there with tort reform, in the air so to speak, at least being talked about. A divided country. What’s the approach? What do we need to do?

Betsy Greene: Well, one part of me says boy I wish I knew. But I practice in a red state. I mean I practice in Indiana. My state went overwhelmingly for Trump. And these are people who are on my juries. And so I think we have to reverse roles. I think we have to reverse roles.

Scott Glovsky: Tell us what that means.

Betsy Greene: It means that I think that we have to really try to be in the shoes of our jurors and the people that voted for Trump. Be in their shoes. Really, really try to feel it. And try to understand the place that they’re coming from. Things apparently have not … I mean, things just have not worked out for a lot of people. Or they don’t feel like the American Dream is still a thing, as the kids say. And I just think I have to do a better job of trying to really reverse roles and feel that.

Scott Glovsky: And we’re all people. It feels so divided. At least us versus them, whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on. But, I think this gives new meaning to what we do.

Betsy Greene: The other piece of it is truth. Where is truth? I mean, we trial lawyers, our trial is a search for truth. It’s a journey to the truth. And I’m appalled at the lack of truth right now. It’s like separate sets of facts, and we aren’t ever going to be able to come together if we don’t have an agreed set of truth. And so there’s the try to reverse roles, try to understand, try to communicate. Because I firmly believe, and I still believe this, Scott, I still believe this. I believe that we’re all more alike than we’re different. It’s just somehow we can’t find our way to that place anymore. So there’s that.

But then there’s this whole thing about what is true? What are our facts? What I believe, with all my heart, to be true, somebody else may not. And we’re gonna have to try to find our way, as a society and as a people, back to some truths. And I believe they’re there. We all … we believe in honor, we love our children. There’s lots of things that we do have that are all in common. But we just can’t seem to meet there right now.

I mean I actually feel badly. I have a cousin that’s just a couple months older than I am. You know we grew up together, we were friends together, and we’re not speaking over this election. I may never speak to her again. She may never speak to me again. And it’s really kind of breaking my heart. And I don’t know what to do about it, really.

Scott Glovsky: That’s painful.

Betsy Greene: Mm-hmm (affirmative) it is. But, at the same time, I am who I am, and I’m not gonna be anything else. And I’m not gonna pretend to be anything else.

Scott Glovsky: What advice do you have for young lawyers out there? As we get many calls and emails from young lawyers asking for advice from some of the wise people like yourself that we talk to.

Betsy Greene: What advice? Okay. Being a lawyer is such a privilege. It is such a privilege. To be able to help people. To be able to answer questions. To have the knowledge to go into court and get justice for people. It is a privilege. Do not ever forget what a privilege it is, that you’re being entrusted with as a lawyer. And if you’re interested in trial work, go watch trials. Go to the courthouse. It’s not like on TV. Actually get involved. Go watch trials. Like I said, volunteer. Community Legal Clinic. There’s always places where people can use legal help. And so my advice would be get out there and get involved. Don’t be afraid because you can, you have the power, each and every one of you. Every lawyer has the power to see justice. And you can do it. And you can do it for your community and your neighbors and your clients.

Scott Glovsky: Well Betsy, thank you so much for being with us. It’s a real privilege for me, and I know for our listeners. And on behalf of your clients, and all the wonderful people who you’ve helped, thank you.

Betsy Greene: Thank you Scott.

Scott Glovsky: Thank you for joining us today for Trial Lawyer Talk. If you liked 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 scottglovsky.wpengine.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.