The Barrister Fall 2017 - 13
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The U.S.S. Pueblo was seized off North Korea in January
1968. At the time, my unit was on night maneuvers during the
Monterey Pop Festival; the amphitheater allowed us to hear Jimi
Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Arlo Gutherie, et al clearly from two miles
away. The irony was palpable!
Two days before I was to return to my home unit in Carlisle
and civilian life, I received new orders: "Arrive DaNang Air Force
Base wearing khaki uniform . . ." I was going to Vietnam after all.
The best laid plans . . .
Jungle school, escape and evasion training, inoculations. We
were scared, but we were ready! For some reason, unknown to
me, my orders were rescinded. I was to return to my home unit
and await further assignment! Relief, even elation, later turned to
survivor's guilt which remains to this day!
My orders changed, theirs did not; the previously mentioned
names became stark reality! Kids from broken homes betrayed
by high command, fought bravely, died or were seriously injured
in those places in this unimaginable war. Those who ultimately
returned to the U.S. couldn't wear their uniforms for fear of
attack by pacifists. In some ways, Vietnam changed our nation's
consciousness with regard to trusting political and higher military
authority. In other, more important ways, it changed nothing.
The kids that lived are in their late 60s now; the war was 50 years
ago. It took almost that long to recognize the sacrifice of this
In late 1968, I was admitted to practice in motions court by
Judge James Bertolet. My preceptor, Henry M. Koch, Sr., Esquire,
hired me after my mandatory six-month "clerkship" was waived.
George Balmer, Esquire, the founding partner of Balmer Mogel
Speidel and Roland, interviewed me to determine if I met the
Berks Bar requirement of being "of good moral character" and
worthy of admission to the Berks Bar. Years earlier a young lawyer
was denied admission; I was very nervous when the interview
began. Mr. Balmer was a diminutive man with coke bottle glasses.
I stood at attention and he told me to sit down and relax. He took
two hours of his valuable time to meet with me. We discussed
everything from my undergraduate and law school record to
extracurricular activities and Army service. He did most of the
talking; he knew EVERYTHING about me! He took his job
seriously! I was humbled when he told me I met the Berks Bar
standard. He congratulated me on my "accomplishments." Why
he took the time to compile this information and meet with me
remains a mystery. I left his office in tears. I began to understand
what it meant to be a member of the Berks County Bar and had
an inkling of what my ultimate responsibility might be.
Two days later, Fred McGavin, Esquire, sent me to "motions"
court. The only thing I was certain of was that I was last in line!
The inimitable President Judge Warren K. Hess presided. When
I approached the bench he said very complimentary things about
me and welcomed me to the Bar. I thought this would be easy! I
thought I was back in Mr. Balmer's office. Then, the bombshell!
"Mr. Dimitriou (the newly appointed public defender) has a
conflict. I'm appointing you to represent Mr. X who's charged
with burglary. Jury Selection beings at 1:30," Hess said, smiling.
I was stunned, scared and clueless on what to do, where to begin!
John S. Speicher, Esquire, a highly respected multitalented trial
lawyer whom I had never met, led me into the lawyer's lounge (I
didn't know what that was) and proceeded to tell me a series of
jokes that initially relaxed me, and a few minutes later had me
rolling on the floor! John was a master of the language and one of
the most insightful members of our Trial Bar. His courtroom skills
were legendary as was his risqué sense of humor.
He said, "Kid, tell 'em it's your first case, that you are really
nervous and you are going to make mistakes; the ADA will object
to your questions and the judge will sustain most of them, and ball
me out because of my lack of experience. Blame that on me, not
my client; Mr. X is innocent!"
That's exactly what I did! As soon as the words were uttered a
surreal event occurred! The panel relaxed; I RELAXED!! I did the
job and this was not a law school mock trial. The rapport lasted
throughout the trial. This great trial lawyer taught me the ultimate
trial tactic in four sentences! Tell the jury the truth, even if it hurts
your case, look them in the eye, forget procedure, do it your way.
Years slipped by, and other trial lawyers introduced
themselves to me; Fred Edenharter, Fred Brubaker, Russ LaMarca
and the inimitable Cal Lieberman. They all helped me in so many
ways but Cal was so kind, so skilled! For some reason he liked me;
he taught me that trial law is about creating a dynamic interaction
between the jury and your client; forget everything you learned in
Most of these trial lawyers were highly decorated WWII
veterans. They had a cavalier attitude about work and "play." They
were amazing in the court room and raised holy hell outside of it.
They represented people who were downtrodden and couldn't pay
them. Every Christmas these clients would give them a small gift,
usually in a bottle!
One day, later in his career, Cal took a position with which
PJ Hess did not agree. Both had hair-trigger tempers! Neither
backed down, other lawyers shuddered; Cal prevailed!
Later at the Peanut Bar, I said, "Cal, you really lost it; he's the
PJ. I couldn't believe the way you were yelling at him; he might
have held you in contempt!" Cal said, "What the hell is he going
to do to me that will make a difference in my life? I had 8 combat
jumps in Europe; contempt doesn't really rattle my cage!"
Four or five beers later, he said, "Don't try to do things the
way I do; be yourself, there's only one you; think of the best way
to help your client and do it no matter what! Do that for 50 years,
and you'll look back on your career with pride and say: you didn't
bow to anybody; do the best you can and answer only to yourself."
That's the lesson of the 60s and 70s!
Hey, Cal, it's been 50!
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The Barrister Fall 2017
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Barrister Fall 2017
The Barrister Fall 2017 - 1
The Barrister Fall 2017 - 2
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