Lawyer Monthly Magazine -December 2019 Edition

The Life of a Trial Lawyer From working on a manslaughter case, to patent infringement, Ronald Schutz shares with us his journey as a trial lawyer. He expands on the lessons he has learnt along the way and how best to prepare for challenging trials. What is the most interesting you case you ever tried? Although most of my career has been spent working on intellectual property cases, I started my career in the United States Army Judge Advocate Generals Corp. Over the course of four years I tried 20 felony level cases. The most interesting case was United States of America v. Sgt. Breedan. My client, Sgt. Breedan, shot and killed his wife with a .44 magnum revolver in front of their 2-year- old son and two eyewitnesses. A .44 magnum revolver was, at the time, the most powerful handgun on Earth. It had been made famous by Clint Eastwood in the movie Dirty Harry. The facts asserted by the prosecution presented a significant challenge to Sgt. Breedan’s defense. After leveling the .44 magnum at his wife and pulling the trigger, the eyewitnesses (fellow soldiers) screamed, “You need to make it look like an accident,” at which point Breedan emptied the shells from the revolver and threw them in his back yard. He then got out a gun cleaning kit, placed it and the revolver on a coffee table in the living room, and called 911. My defense was that Breedan did not think that when he pointed the gun at his wife and pulled the trigger that it would discharge. He testified that the six-shot revolver only had bullets in four of the six chambers and that he thought the hammer strike would fall on an empty chamber. He further testified that the reason he was pointing the gun at his wife in the first place is that she was waiving a knife at him after they had finished watching the movie Friday the 13th, and they “were just joking around.” There was, of course, some evidence of marital discord. But if there was no intent to kill her on his part, then he was not guilty of murder but only guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which carried merely a one- year sentence, instead of life. I called several of Breedan’s fellow soldiers and portrayed him as a weapons expert. He could take apart and reassemble an M-16 blindfolded. In two minutes. Breedan was someone who would have known whether the gun was going to fire when he pulled the trigger. Breedan was charged with third degree murder – engaging in an inherently dangerous act – the act, of course, of pointing a gun you know to be loaded at someone’s head and pulling the trigger. Further complicating the case was the conflicting testimony from the eyewitnesses and Breedan about how many times he pulled the trigger before the gun discharged. When I got to closing argument I really needed to stress that Breedan did not think the gun would discharge when he pulled the trigger. That he was, in effect, pointing an empty gun at his wife. At the end of my closing I took the gun and held it up for the jury to see it wasn’t loaded and said “when Sgt. Super Lawyers By Ronald J. Schutz, Robins Kaplan LLP 54 WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM | DEC 2019 Contact Ronald J. Schutz, Partner Chair of the Executive Board

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