Trial Practice

Done well, a trial is elegantly violent able trial lawyer
must be one part director, one part actor and all pugilist.

The practice of law is an art, not a science.  This is doubly true for trial work.  Choosing a jury, marshalling witnesses and evidence, and knowing what to present, when and how are just the tip of the iceberg.  A trial lawyer worth his salt considers not just these obvious chores, but how to shape every subtlety knowable by the judge and jury.  This is where the true artistry begins...

Record setting trial results

In 2006, Cary Hansel obtained what was, at the time, the highest verdict ever against Prince George's County, Maryland in a police misconduct matter.  In 2019, he won the highest civil rights verdict in Maryland history in a case in which the victim beaten to the point of being wheelchair bound and mute for life.  In between, he obtained the nations two highest verdicts in police dog shooting cases.  

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Read what our lawyers have to say about their trial approach

Speak up even when your voice shakes…

By Tiana Boardman

During my 4L year, I was a Rule 19 student attorney at the Baltimore County Office of the Public Defender (“OPD”).  At Hansel Law, most of our clients come to us after they’ve been arrested, charged, and either found not guilty at trial or their charges are dismissed by the prosecution.  I wanted to get a better idea of the client’s experience before we met them so I would be better equipped to serve them. It was nothing like I imagined.
I was primarily tasked with bail review hearings.  I have spoken to hundreds of clients during my time at Hansel Law and met with dozens who were incarcerated.  This was not the same.  I will often spend an hour or more speaking with a client during their initial intake.  Not only am I obtaining information about their legal issue, but I am also getting to know them as a person.  One of my primary goals has always been to humanize our clients and give them space to be heard because those are some of the first things taken from them when they’re pulled into the correctional system.

On the morning of bail review, I would receive an email from my OPD supervisor with copy of the arrest report, witness statements, and body camera footage if it was available, which it often wasn’t.  Some days I had 5 or 6 clients and other days I had to speak to upwards of 20 people before heading to the courthouse.  Instead of being able to spend hours learning about my client, I had about 5 minutes to do a very cursory explanation of the bail review process, and gather information from the client sufficient to show the Judge that they were not a flight risk or a danger to society.

I remember one client in particular and I’ll call her Jane. Jane and her sibling were arrested after an altercation with another relative at the home they all shared.  Jane and her sibling were often the subjects of abuse and at one point, they were removed from the home for their own safety.  Unfortunately, Jane’s family was only able to afford private counsel for one sibling, and it was not her.

During our conversation I could just feel how anxious Jane was.  She had recently gotten a new job that she loved, she had her own family to take care of, and even helped care for other family members and neighbors.  Jane was terrified about the prospect of having to stay in jail for months while she awaited trial.  She would have lost everything.

The judge called Jane’s name and I think my heart rate doubled.  From the bench, I probably looked like an old school cartoon character with their heart pounding out of their chest.  This was it.  I had to persuade the Judge to release Jane on her own recognizance.  And I did.  My voice was shaking, I’m sure I looked like I was going to cry because I was so nervous, and I was gripping the underside of the trial table for dear life, but I did it.  The Judge even expressed sympathy for what Jane had been through, ordered her released immediately, and wished her well.  I couldn’t see Jane because she appeared remotely, but I know she was smiling from ear to ear.  I certainly was.  It wasn’t about how I felt in that moment.  It was about humanizing my client in front of the Judge and making sure Jane got to go home that night.

Interestingly, the private attorney who stood up to represent Jane’s sister merely told the Court that he “incorporates all arguments made by prior counsel.”  The Judge ordered Jane’s sibling released as well so now when I tell the story, I say I got two siblings out of jail that day.    

Winning by pin...

By Cary Hansel

In early September of 2001, I was finishing my preparations for a trial.  My clients were small businessmen who'd caught an employee stealing.  The owners offered to allow the thief to pay them back instead of referring the matter to law enforcement.  The former employee signed a handwritten note for the amount and his former employers let him go on his way.
For their kindness, they were rewarded with a lawsuit in which the perpetrator played the victim.  In order to avoid his repayment obligation, the thief alleged that the business owners had beaten him, forcing him to sign.  Never mind that my clients were distinguished businessmen well into middle age, or that the note was for a sum that these gentlemen routinely spent on dinner. The thief not only sued them to avoid his obligations, he sought hundreds of thousands in damages for the phantom beating.

The odds were seemingly in my favor, until the planes hit the Twin Towers a week before trial. Until that moment, I didn't think anything of my clients' Pakistani heritage.

In case the fact is lost to history in the maelstrom that followed 9/11, I should remind readers that even seeming vaguely Middle Eastern in the weeks following the attacks was a dangerous liability.  But here my clients were, with strong Pakistani accents and the complexions to match.  They were about to be tried for assault and battery before a jury of their post-9/11 peers.  The jurors all lived within miles of the Pentagon – some probably saw the smoke over their houses on that Tuesday.

Wanting to ensure a fair trial, I spent the night before trial shopping for US flag pins, making sure that no two matched so the jury would not infer an orchestrated effort.  I was embarrassed when I quietly handed them out the morning of trial, but my clients loved the pins, wore them throughout, and still proudly wear them today – long after the rest of us have set aside our post-9/11 shows of overt patriotism.

I'm proud to say that this jury reinforced my faith in America’s judicial system. Time and again, I have seen juries collectively arrive at elegant solutions to complex problems – often more just that what either side advocated.

Winning at trial and before...

By Kristen Mack

It is not glamorized in the movies, but in all actuality, we as attorneys do more legal research and writing than we do anything else. It is at the backbone of every case that we file. In fact, it is possible to win a case before trial through research and writing.
A prime example of this is what happened with the first motion I ever drafted after joining Hansel Law. I was asked to oppose a Motion for Summary Judgment in a police misconduct/brutality case in federal court where Baltimore County Police Officers unconstitutionally entered an innocent black man and woman’s home, pulled them out of their home, and then proceeded to tase the man, tackle him to the ground, and brutally kick and hit him in the body and head multiple times in front of his wife and children.

The Defendants in the case were asking the court to dismiss all of the counts in the lawsuit against all of the Defendants as a matter of law based on the undisputed facts. I filed a 50-page opposition to Defendants’ motion explaining to the court why none of the counts in the case should be dismissed. Normally the court would schedule a hearing for the two sides to argue their motions in front of the court.

Instead, based solely on the Defendants’ motion and my opposition, the court denied the Defendants’ motion; but then took it a step further, and granted summary judgment in my clients’ favor for two of the counts. In other words, the court said that my clients already won on two of the counts in their complaint well before the trial was scheduled to take place. That means that if the case were to go to trial, the jury would be told that the Defendants were liable to my clients for those two counts and their only job would be to determine a monetary value for those two counts.

Trial is always a risk. Any attorney that tells you otherwise is not to be trusted. But to begin trial having already won on two counts eliminates most of that risk!

Building our case...

By Cary Hansel

There is something about the night before trial.  True preparations are over days before, so nothing is left to chance.  The night before, there is little to do but get some sleep – but far too much nervous energy for that.  I spent one particular trial eve in the basement with my associate and enough tools to make a journeyman carpenter proud.
My client was a social worker with a master’s degree from a prestigious university. Wanting to help Maryland’s neediest children, she took a job working the night shift at a shelter for homeless youth. The work was rewarding, but everyday life was tough: she made little money,  lived in a low-income apartment building and slept during the day after working all night.

When two rogue police officers arrived at her door with the wrong address, they assumed that an African American woman living in that neighborhood and sleeping in the middle of the day was someone no one would believe.  So, when she honestly told them the man they were looking for wasn't there and didn't live there, they forced their way in and assaulted her with punches, kicks, batons and pepper spray.

Terrified by their violence, she did not believe they were real police officers.  She ran into the hall and pounded on her neighbors' doors for help.  Her neighbors testified at trial that she was begging for someone to call the police.

Eventually, the police chased her outside and roughed her up there.  When they saw she was only wearing a bathrobe, they brought her a skirt and t-shirt from the dirty clothes hamper and forced her to dress in the parking lot, in full view of her gathered neighbors.

The case amounted to my client’s word against two men with badges to vouch for them and training from the police academy on how to testify in court.  They had offered testimony in more cases than I had tried back in those days...

...which is why I was in the basement late into the evening the night before trial.  All the lawyering was done.  Everything I could do with law books and computers had been put to bed days ago.  So, it was time to break out the power tools.

The next day, when the first officer took the stand, I had him carefully describe every aspect of the encounter in microscopic detail.  This was clearly trying not only his patience, but that of the judge.  Hidden innocuously in those details were the few specific points I needed: my client allegedly hit him with her right hand, which is why he claimed to have used force; and the door swung inward and the hinges were on his left with the knob on his right as he faced it from the outside.

Once this much was established, my associate wheeled in our creation from its hiding place in an adjacent room.  It was a full exterior door – knob, frame and all – with the hinges on the left and swinging in.  After all of the minutiae I had covered with the officer, the door's entry into the room grabbed every juror's attention.

I invited the officer down from the stand and had him position himself on the inside of the door just where he said my client had stood.  At my request, he opened it the width of his knee, just as he said she had done.

Suddenly, the officer saw that this was not a door, but a giant mousetrap.  From inside, where he stood, the hinges were on his right.  As the door swung in and toward him, it blocked any conceivable access to my face that his fist might have had.

There was no way my client could have punched him on his left jaw line with her right hand as he claimed: the door was in the way.

The officer became furious as he realized he was caught.  I invited him to hit me as hard as he wanted (if he could) using his right hand.  Judging by the thud his fist made when it hit the solid door, I'd say he'd hoped to punch through it.

The jury rendered a six-figure verdict in favor of my client, who went back to helping the homeless.

A real courtroom brawl...

By Cary hansel

Trials are won in the office, not the courtroom.  For every hour in trial, 10 hours are spent in preparation.  This includes deposing witnesses in advance, which is not just a chance to gather information, but also to learn what makes them tick and how they should be approached in court...
...which is how I knew what it took to wind up the six-foot-five combat-sports athlete behind the badge on the stand in front of me.  About half way through the dance, when he was boiling over and we'd both raised our voices to just below the judge's contempt threshold, he finally took the bait.  As our voices grew louder and the tempo became faster, he finally blurted out that it would be much easier to explain what he had done to my petite female client if he could just show me.

This is one of those moments you always hope for, but never really expect.  I immediately waived him down and said, "come on" in my best courtroom tough guy voice.  His lawyer was beside himself, but just as trapped as his client.  If the lawyer objected, it would look like he was trying to hide from the jury what the officer had done to my client.  If he said nothing, the jury was about to see his client engage in a near fight in the well of the courtroom.  The judge was on the edge of her seat waiting to grant the objection that never came.

The muscle-head on the stand stood up quickly, revealing a powerful physique.  He was on me in about two bounds.  I was the captain of my high school wrestling team and wrestled in college, but he genuinely surprised me.  I was on the ground in a second or less with my head ground into the carpet and my arms violently twisted up behind me.  His knee – with all his weight and force – was planted deep in my back.  After two hours of tense cross-examination, his pleasure in the attack was evident and I didn't have to rely much on my acting chops for the jury to see that this was a violent man, prone to exactly the type of outburst my client had described.

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