In 2016, the Firm committed resources to the defense of a man accused of having unwanted sexual contact with an adult female and a 13-year old female on the subway in Queens back in 2013. By the time Emily Campbell, the Firm’s Managing Member, was assigned the case, the client had already served almost as long as he could have been sentenced had he simply pled guilty at the outset. That bothered Ms. Campbell, and she responded to an inquiry from the 18-B Panel Administrator calling for attorneys to consider taking on a difficult misdemeanor case that was already trial-ready at such a late hour.
Ms. Campbell, a member of the 18-B Panel for Kings County volunteered to be appointed to the Queens 18-B Panel for this one case, being attracted to the assignment because of the difficult nature of the criminal case, with its potential collateral consequences, including through the sex-offender registration procedures.
The defendant had already had two other criminal lawyers before Ms. Campbell was appointed. “It’s always hard to follow other lawyers, since some of the strategy is already determined by choices other practitioners made,” Ms. Campbell said. But Ms. Campbell was up to the challenge.
Ms. Campbell jumped right into the case and began preparing the case for trial, building confidence with the client to be able to actually try the case. Among other relationship-building efforts, Ms. Campbell made multiple visits to Rikers Island to prepare the client for trial. “There was no point in the defendant continuing to wait,” Ms. Campbell stated. “Justice is not served by having someone spend more time in jail than they could ever be sentenced for. Indeed, by the time the case went to trial, the client had already served more time than the maximum sentence he could have received if convicted on all counts.”
Cases like this one are the types of cases Ms. Campbell likes to take. “Being able to try cases is the reason I started doing criminal work in the first place. It keeps my trial skills active because criminal cases are actually tried, while most civil cases settle. The idea that the People were going to drop the charges was obviously not going to happen, given the People’s position. So preparing for trial from the outset was absolutely necessary.”
After some additional pre-trial motion practice – including an extensive 30-30 motion that Ms. Campbell prepared on the client’s behalf, arguing that the People had waited too long to prosecute the case – and that the case should be dismissed — the case was eventually tried in the Spring of 2016. Although, after a week-long jury trial, the jury decided against the accused and found him guilty of the crimes charged, because the defendant had already served his time, he was released soon after the post-trial motion practice was completed.
“There are many issues that were preserved for an appeal,” Ms. Campbell noted, “including appealable issues surrounding an important pre-trial ruling that went against the accused about the nature of a prior crime.”
Corporate clients and friends of Ms. Campbell sometimes ask why she would commit to helping people accused of these type of crimes. Ms. Campbell simply smiles, knowing that she is doing the right thing.
“Every client accused of a crime deserves a strong defense because the People need to prove the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt,” Ms. Campbell said. “The People need to work for the verdict.”
Ms. Campbell always reports being proud to represent people accused of crimes, including crimes that make some people feel uncomfortable, including those accused of child abuse, sex crimes and homicides. “I would want someone like me representing me if I were accused of a crime,” Ms. Campbell offered. “It is important to me to represent people accused of crimes through the low-bono 18-B program, as well as through my pro-bono work. It’s an easy choice for me, as these clients need me as a advocate just as much as my corporate clients need me.”
Procedural justice involves making sure that the client has a good experience even when the outcome is not ideal. By stepping into these difficult cases, where other lawyers aren’t always willing to get involved, Ms. Campbell demonstrates her commitment to pursue justice on behalf of clients who cannot always afford to pay the market-rate to obtain competent counsel. “I know I have had a positive impact on my indigent clients, and that is professionally rewarding.” Ms. Campbell concluded.