Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Matter of Life and Death

During the month of July, my contributions to the blogosphere have been, well -- sparse.  My creativity and inspiration dried up -- like the grass on our parched lawn -- as I worked on a huge custom order, spent time with visiting family members, and worked as part of a volunteer team to review and edit a death penalty brief.  

Yes, I truly was dealing with a matter of life and death.

My little brother, Jeff Larson, a long-time public defender in South Dakota with over 30 years of criminal defense experience, is defending a man who was sentenced to death, and he's doing it pro bono -- for free.   So, when he asked me to be a part of "Team Rodney" I felt I could not refuse.   I became part of a team of four volunteers who reviewed, critiqued, and helped edit the brief.  His paralegal, Kara, deserves a medal for putting up with all of us!!

(The phrase "legal brief" is an oxymoron.  A brief is longer than a term paper, but shorter than a thesis.  It is governed by strict formatting and citation rules which vary from jurisidiction to jurisdiction.  It is a formal written argument presented to a court, often followed, several months later, by an oral argument.)

I was the token prosecutor (as well as the big sister).  Although my brother used to kid me about working for The Dark Side while he was championing the constitutional rights of indigent criminal defendants, my years as a prosecutor helped me to anticipate arguments the State might raise in the appeal. I headed the Appellate Division in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office in the late 70s and early 80s (yes, I am a dinosaur), and I later taught Legal Research & Writing and coached the moot court team at the University of South Dakota.  Although USD School of Law was then (and possibly still is) the smallest law school in the country, my teams qualified for nationals five consecutive years.  In the late 80s one of my teams also took top honors at the Insurance Law Moot Court Competition in Hartford, CT, where 42 law schools competed.  But I digress.

After one face-to-face meeting in Sioux Falls, we traded drafts, redrafts, comments and edits via a flurry of emails through four drafts.  The fifth and final draft is the bound brief pictured above.  I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when it was DONE.

I will not offer any political, moral, or religious opinions concerning the death penalty, nor will I elaborate on the facts and circumstances of this case.  But I am immensely proud of my little brother for taking on this incredibly difficult and stressful assignment pro bono.  And I was honored to be a minor player on a talented and dedicated team.  In a thank you email Jeff sent to all of us, after thanking each of us for individual contributions, he concluded, "And to every one of you for the heart you have shown, to spend hours and hours, without any compensation, devoting your energies to a project aimed at preserving the life of a person three of you have never met."  

All those sleepless nights?  Worth it.

Now -- back to the sewing room, where nothing is a matter of life and death.

LeAnn aka pasqueflower


  1. Wow, I am impressed... Guess this old dinasaur still has some awesome skills to donate. Volunteering can be so rewarding...and exhausting. Treat yourself to something nice this week:)

  2. Wow! The pressure was on! What an exciting, difficult, but rewarding experience. That is serious business.

    As far as the word "brief," I never quite understood why they called it that either when there is nothing brief about it.

    I think it is time now to head to that sewing room and make something for yourself for a change. You deserve it!

  3. Good for you, LeAnn. Sounds like a hard, but not thankless, job you assisted your brother with, and something to be proud of.

    Years ago, in my other life, I required the services of an attorney (thankfully paid for by my malpractice insurance). Even though it wasn't a life or death situation for me, I was so grateful for her skills and time which helped the jury come to the right decision in my trial.

  4. You've been a busy bee! First the large order and now this!
    That's so great of you (and your brother and the others on the team) to volunteer your time :)

  5. Impressive! Sounds like it was a big case with lots of work. You have had a busy month, I hope you have fun getting back to your sewing projects.
    Everyday Inspired

  6. We may not always like it when we don't like the description of a defendant but thank goodness we still have the right to counsel. Thank you, your brother, and the rest of the team for stepping up.

    Now get sewing. It is not life or death but it is about sanity;)

  7. Wow, that seems like a huge undertaking! I am impressed :)