Earlier this month, our team at Smith Blythe trekked up north to attend the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan Fall Conference at Boyne Mountain. Because I was a part of the committee who selected and invited our keynote speakers, our whole team, including our support staff, came for the conference.
The keynote speakers were fantastic. Amanda Knox and her fiancée, Christopher Robinson, spoke about Amanda’s journey after she was exonerated for a murder she did not commit. She spent more than four years in an Italian prison after she was falsely accused and convicted of killing her roommate in 2007. Amanda discussed the ways that the media affected her case and public perception of her in particular — hyper focusing on things that completely skewed public opinion about what kind of a person she was, what her motives would have been to murder her roommate, and how it completely derailed her defense.
In my book, I am currently writing about this issue as well. While representing Larry Nassar, our office faced the same dilemas with the media. Many times, I wondered if I had been in the same courtroom based on the wild news reports that would come out after a day in court. At one point, there was a photograph taken of Larry Nassar with the defense team. I had cracked a quick joke after we were flooded with the flashes from a roomful of cameras. That one line I said and moment in time captured in photographs represented probably .000000001% of the total time we spent with Larry. Sure enough, it was the front page article and photograph in the newspaper the next day. At the time of Larry’s sentencing, more than a year after this photo had been taken, it re-emerged as if it was new. While the photo was taken in the most innocuous of circumstances, it opened the floodgates for attacks on what kind of a person I must be to take the Larry Nassar case so lightly. It was amazing to see how one photo of a moment in time could shape public opinion…much like the one moment in time where Amanda Knox’s boyfriend kissed her after the murder – a clip that was played by the news media repeatedly to make sure look like a callous, cold-blooded murderer.
At the conference, we also had Rena Cook present as a keynote speaker to teach lawyers how to deliver our clients’ stories in the most powerful way possible. Through her company, Vocal Authority, Rena adapts actor training techniques to help individual and groups be more confident and dynamic communicators.
The lawyers at Smith Blythe also taught some of the breakout sessions for the Friday afternoon portion of the conference. Molly Blythe spoke about motion practice for criminal sexual conduct cases, teaching the audience about new legal issues that are on the rise after recent changes in the law.
Our newest Senior Associate, Brian Watkins, led a breakout session focused on teaching lawyers the ins and outs of Title IX cases. Many criminal lawyers have clients who run into Title IX issues when schools or universities conduct investigations into claims of sexual assault and misconduct by students. This has become a constantly changing area of the law and Brian did an excellent job helping lawyers who do not study Title IX cases day in and day out get up to speed.
Finally, our of counsel attorney, Sonia Cannon, taught a breakout session geared toward teaching criminal defense lawyers about Child Protective Services issues and proceedings. Many times when criminal clients are under investigation for alleged child abuse or sexual abuse, CPS conducts a concurrent investigation with law enforcement and can file petitions in court to terminate a parent’s parental rights. All of the materials from the presentations by Molly, Brian and Sonia are available through CDAM’s website – www.cdamonline.org.
Finally, our office also had a chance to enjoy ourselves and relax at a firm dinner in Petoskey on Saturday night. The food at Chandlers in Petoskey was absolutely fantastic and the ambiance in the restaurant’s wine cellar was the perfect place for us to connect. I feel lucky to have found the most incredible team of people to work with on a daily basis — they truly are my work family and are true friends.