The last week of my internship was actually the week of a federal trial that the organization was trying (actually for a second time; it was a re-trial). It was a Federal Housing Act case, and we (the plaintiffs) were suing a the landowners (a corporation) for their policies having a disparate impact on Hispanic immigrants in the area. It was our job to show that there was a disparate impact, and then it was the defendants job to show that the disparate impact was a result of a necessary business practice. I had never seen in its entirety in person before, let alone work for people who were involved in the trial, so I knew that it was going to be an extremely valuable experience.
The first couple days were jury selection, opening arguments, and a couple witnesses that we (the plaintiffs) called to the stand. The witnesses that we called the first day were the plaintiffs that we had sued on behalf of, who were Hispanic immigrant tenants in the building that the corporation owned/managed. What I found really interesting were the strategies that we used for questioning our own witnesses and comparing them to the strategies that the defendants used to cross-examine our witnesses (and vise versa later on when the defendants called their witnesses). Both sides were trying to paint their own picture of what happened, and it was the jury’s job to decide which side was the most accurate about the story that they were telling. Witnessing this made me realize that winning cases is all about perception. How the jury perceives the witness, the attorneys, and the evidence presented. Even if the evidence seems crystal clear, if the jury doesn’t believe the witness to be credible, anything the witness says would essentially be invalidated. Another extremely important aspect is the judge, who can, whether for better or for worse, make or break a case. Although the judge’s job is to be an objective point of view, like everyone they are susceptible to bias, and it really depends on who the judge is on whether or not they will play favorably to one side, or be as neutral as possible. As much as our justice system has tried to rid of any possibility of bias or subjectivity, because it comes down to a person’s decision, whether its a jury or a judge, there will always be bias present. In this case, race, and how one perceived race, was a huge deciding factor in the case. And with the state of our country currently, it will likely remain a major issue for years to come. Although there have been signficant decisions in court and in our legislature to do with racism and discrimination, our system still has deeply rooted discriminatory factors that have been perpetrated through biased judges, jurys, government entities, and attorneys. This issue is one of my motivations for pursuing a career in law, for hopefully I can play my part to combat these discriminatory practices both in and outside the courtroom.