Monthly Archives: January 2015

Voir Dire: Culling the Masses in Mass

January 12, 2015

With the passage of the Massachusetts Session Laws: Chapter 254 of the Acts of 2014, beginning in February 2015, attorneys licensed in Massachusetts will, for the first time, be allowed to question prospective jurors in civil and criminal trials.  The questioning of prospective jurors to obtain a fair and impartial jury is called, voir dire.

Voir dire, in 17th Century French lingo, means “to speak the truth.”

Jury.jpg.CROP.article250-medium Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

VOIR DIRE: A NOUN OR A VERB?

In law, voir dire is the act or process of asking questions of prospective jurors for jury selection reasons in civil and criminal trials.   The word “voir dire” may be used interchangeably either as a noun or a verb.  For example, an attorney may voir dire a potential jury member, by asking the person questions (an action verb).  Voir dire may also be conducted prior to trial.  In this context, voir dire is a noun because the word voir dire references the name of a particular pre-trial procedure, a thing.

NEW LAW ON VOIR DIRE IN MA

Chapter 254 of the Massachusetts Session Laws: Acts of 2014, pertains to voir dire in Massachusetts Superior Court, not the Massachusetts venue of federal court.  Federal courts sometimes do things differently than state courts.   Here’s how.

FEDERAL AND STATE VOIR DIRE 

Due to Federalism and the Constitution of the United States, both the US federal government and each US state government each have their own court system.  (Aside: Massachusetts has three federal courthouses, Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.)

Federal courts have jurisdiction over persons, places and legal subjects like appeals claims, bankruptcy petitions, constitutional claims, admiralty matters, issues involving different states, and trials involving the laws and treaties of the US, just to name a few.  State courts have jurisdiction over the persons and issues dealing with state law as well as legal matters that are not federal or international.  Notwithstanding jurisdiction, forum, and venue are also important, albeit often confusing legal terms.

FORUM, VENUE AND VOIR DIRE  

Forum and venue play a part in how voir dire is conducted currently in Massachusetts.  Forum selection pertains to which court a trial will occur in.  Venue selection has to do with the geographic location of the trial.  This is why we have a  state forum and a federal forum.  If a legal matter involves the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the court forum will be located in the venue of Massachusetts, where voir dire is not attorney conducted.

THE TSARNAEV TRIAL VOIR DIRE 

In the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, (United States v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, No. 13-cr-10200), the forum is the federal court system or US District Court.   The venue (location) is the District of Massachusetts.  Hence, the Tsarnaev case is underway in the federal court of Massachusetts, a/k/a the US District Court: District of Massachusetts.  In US District Court (the federal court forum), attorneys are permitted to question individual potential jury members.

Voir dire in the Tsarnaev trial will consist of several phases.  The first phase of voir dire involves potential jury members filling out a typed confidential, multi-page, multi-question,  juror questionnaire.  Attorneys have a week, or so, to go through each group’s questionnaires to confer and agree on which jurors should be excused routinely or dismissed, for cause,  for things like bias or hardship.  In this context, the word “cause” means, as a matter of legal routine or common practice.

On January 15th, the next phase of voir dire involves the Hon. George A. O’Toole, presiding trial judge.  Judge O’Toole will question possible jury members, individually.  After Judge O’Toole completes his investigation, the attorneys for both the defense and prosecution may begin their individual voir dire.  Voir dire in this phase will involve individual questions to potential jury members and 20 attorney challenges, or challenge questions.  The challenges will cull out any who may be disqualified routinely, as a matter of cause.

THE HERNANDEZ TRIAL VOIR DIRE

In the Aaron Hernandez trial, regarding the Odin Lloyd murder, (Commonwealth v Aaron Hernandez, No., 1314CR002057) voir dire will be conducted a little bit differently.  In the Hernandez trial, the forum is not federal court, but state court.  In Fall River Massachusetts, in the Superior Court of Bristol County, the Hernandez trial is now underway.  This state forum affects how voir dire is conducted for Hernandez.

As mentioned earlier, under current Massachusetts state law, legal limitations on vior dire are still in effect.  Attorney conducted individual voir dire is not permitted in state court.  The Hernandez’s attorneys filed a Motion (in December 2014) to ask the court for attorney conducted voir dire.  However, the Hon. Susan E. Garsh, Justice of the Superior Court, denied the motion.  Therefore, the Hernandez trial court is conducting voir dire, not the trial attorneys.   Like in the Tsarnaev trial, the Hernandez questionnaire process of voir dire is similar but the distinction lies in the following phase of voir dire.

For Hernandez, potential jury members will be questioned individually by Judge Garsh.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors will be present and may object and challenge.  However, attorneys will not be permitted to ask potential jury members individual questions.

Had the Hernandez trial started only two weeks later, in February rather than January, attorney conducted vior dire would have been legally available.  Funny how laws change, affecting procedural outcomes.

JUSTICE AND VOIR DIRE  

Whether or not voir dire is conducted by the court or by attorneys, voir dire is part and parcel of the US constitutional right to a fair trial.  Jury selection is critical to any trial.  No matter how strong the case or how proficient the defendant’s attorney or legal team may be, if the right jury is not selected a defendant stands a very slim chance of winning at trial.

Voir dire is an exercise of justice.  Voir dire is important and a very effective way of “culling the masses in Mass” and finding the best possible fair and impartial jury.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal, Massachusetts, Trial, Voir dire

4 Extraordinary and Simple Things to Boost your Financial Health

Financial health… spiral_notebook_red

We all want it.  But how do you get it?

Financial health is relatively simple, but the benefits are many.  It requires us to pay attention to what we are doing and to do the right thing.  Like exercise or anything else, it requires us to work on it, to grow and mature.  Doing this also helps manage stresses in our life, a big part of physical and mental health.

1.  FINANCIALS

Make a simple personal financial record or statement. This is a very simple journal of income and expenses.  Some people call this budget planning or a spreadsheet of income and expenses.  This sort of record is like a food journal or a diary.  Create it on computer spreadsheet or keep a simple notebook. The important thing is to update your journal and keep it going.  Don’t give up.  Your personal financial journal, statement or record is a very important tool.  It will not only help you keep track of where your money’s going, but will aid you in making good sound financial decisions for the rest of your life.

Tip: If you hesitate, estimate!  Estimating your finances is a start. It will help you get going until eventually, you will find value in keeping more detailed, more accurate financial records.  Just get started, the accuracy will come later – easy peasy!

2.  DEBT

Pay down debts. Do this the best way you can now.  Then, do it the smart way eventually, over time.  Prioritize debts by deciding which debt you want to pay down first.  Maybe this is your smallest debt, to give you a quicker reward.  Maybe it’s the one debt accruing the most interest and fees, to give you a larger value for your efforts now.  There is no one right, wrong or perfect way to do this.  Just get started.  Even if you take a different approach, keep at it.  Eventually, you will become better at paying down debt.  Resolution number 1, keeping a Financial record or journal, will help.

TIP:  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  After all, inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.  Don’t be overwhelmed, keep it simple.  Ask for help when you need it.  Your trusted financial or legal advisor may be able to help.  Asking for help, especially if you are overwhelmed, is a no-brainer for smart people!

3.  SAVE

Start now, saving for tomorrow.  Start a retirement savings plan.  No, I’m not talking about a tiny little 0% savings account, but if you need to do this to get started, by all means do it.  Retirement savings is a long term savings plan.  There are many ways to do this.  Find the one that works best for you and start.  Start this year, no matter how big or small.  It is never too late to start any kind of long term savings.

Tip:  Many people don’t save because they do not believe it makes much difference, that they can’t save anything or that they will never have enough money.  This kind of thinking is not good.  It’s like telling yourself not to start an exercise plan because it won’t help you now or doesn’t really matter because you can’t see future results.  Look at savings in a similar way.  What will it hurt if you do?  What will it hurt if you don’t?  Think about it.

FYI:  The financial equivalent of Bag of Chips, One Late, One Six Pack of Beer or One Movie Date or One Take Out Pizza, per week, invested, over time (maybe 30 years or so), may bring you a return of $100,000 to $200,000.00?  What will you have saved in 30 years, based on your current plan?

First steps:  Call your financial planner, tax advisor or even your attorney.  Financial planners are usually an enormous resource of help and information.  Just get started, that’s all you have to do.

4.  PLAN

Start an estate plan.  No matter how big or small, plan your estate well, and plan it now.  If you don’t even have a simple will, ask your attorney to draft one, for starters.  Keep your estate planning simple, and you’ll be off to a great start.  It will be worth it in the end.

Do you have small children, a larger estate, elderly parents or even a life insurance policy?  Do you need a guardianship plan, a trust, end-of-life healthcare directive or power of attorney?  There are many legal options and tools.  A good estate planning attorney can help you with this.   Put this on your “things to do” list, now.  It’s one small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Financial health need not be difficult.  Just remember these 4 steps, Financials, Debt, Save and Plan, (“FDSP”) Four Ducks Swim Perfectly!

I wish you the best of luck and great financial health and success in 2015 and beyond!

PERSONAL STORY

Once upon a time, I was living hand to mouth.  This is not uncommon, even for an attorney.  For many folks, financial health is a learning curve.  It’s the same for many professionals.

When I was raising a young family, I faced a lot of mental anguish over how to make more money, how to pay the bills and how to get through college, football cleats, sleepover parties and Christmas.  No matter how much money I made, it went in one hand and out the other.  Paying off debt seemed an impossible task.  Saving was off my radar screen.  Not a good place to be.

More often than not, stressful times require strong action.  Since I couldn’t stand the stress, I learned how to get rid of it.   First, I learned how to budget and plan.

Keeping a financial journal was not always easy.  Sometimes I’d make things complicated.  Sometimes I’d forget to update it.  A few times I lost my journal.  Eventually, I learned how to keep things simple and just do it (this was not instant or magical, it took time for me).  I learned to keep my financial journal in a little red notebook, in my kitchen.  When I found it, I updated it.  One simple task of keeping my color-coded financial journal, in one visible place, resulted in big financial gains for me.

Because I updated my journal, at least every month, eventually, a more accurate reflection of what I was doing and where I was going came into focus.  Simple things seemed easier.  My financial journal helped me to understand that making pizza, rather than buying pizza for the kid’s sleepover, would save over $50 dollars in just one week.  I discovered that eating more leftovers would reduce my grocery bill at least $100 each month.  These simple gains motivated me to do better.

I wanted to learn more about how to cut costs on all sorts of things, how to earn extra cash and more.  I learned how to sell things on eBay.  I learned how to have the best yard sales, which helped to pay for my college.  I worked odd jobs and traded babysitting with other moms, partly to keep my sanity, but mostly to save money.  Cutting costs on electricity and fuel, with 4 kids, was not always easy, but we did it.  I also borrowed tools and even learned how to work on my own car, a very big deal for me (I’m not a motor-head).  I car pooled and took the bus, rather than drive to work.  I even found some pretty swanky clothes at yes, a thrift shop.  One of my favorite suit jackets is a “Saks Fifth Avenue” special, found at Salvation Army for $8.  I still wear it.

Eventually, with the extra money I saved and earned, I learned how to start paying down my debt.  In a few short years, I turned financial gloom into boom.  I started saving for retirement, Christmas and vacations.  The only bad thing I can say about all of this is, good things don’t always come easy.  Fear of things like moth-ball smells and grease on one’s hands must be overcome and it’s not always fun becoming the leftover-ogre or the light-switch witch.  No, not easy and not always perfect.  I also made my share of mistakes.  But that’s OK.  Mistakes are lessons to be learned and tools to get you were you want to be.

Good things are usually worth the effort.  So my point is, don’t give up.  Don’t think it’s over and you’re done.  To this day I still work on my financial journal and budget.  I still work on my own personal “kinks” and things.  To me, apathy is a nightmare.  I try to avoid apathy like I avoid bears.  Bears will kill you.  Oh yes, don’t forget or become too proud to ask for help.  This is important.  If you don’t get the help you need, right away, keep asking.

Anyhow, I’ve come a long way since the early days of eBay and yard sales.  It’s not rocket science.  No, I’m not superhuman.  I don’t have a magic wand.  Neither do you.  No matter what you’re your situation, age or income, you can do these things too and there are plenty of people willing to help.

Whatever you do, learn how to gain financial health.  Learn what motivates you.  Learn the things that keep you pointed in a positive financial direction.  Learning more about financial growth and how to become more stable is the right thing to do.  Do it for yourself and your family, this year and beyond.  It’s worth it!

TIP:  Most initial attorney consultations are free.  If your attorney does not offer a free consultation service, just ask.  The worst that can happen is he/she will say no.  Usually, an attorney will help.  If not, and you need an attorney, don’t hesitate to call me.  Maybe I can help.  You never know unless you ask.

ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

IMG_0832

Leave a comment

Filed under Financial, Legal