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Bar News - December 15, 2006

Professionalism: A Shining Example of Civility



Last week I was a spectator in the Merrimack County Superior Court when Chris Keating, the executive director for the Public Defender, gave his closing argument in the first-degree murder trial of Michael LaBranche, charged with stabbing his mother to death. Keating and his co-counsel Donna Esposito had argued that LaBranche should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.


Keating and Esposito had lived with this case for over a year. They had spent countless hours with LaBranche, getting to know him and care about him as few people in this world had. They had devoted hundreds of hours poring over police reports, medical reports, and investigation reports. It was clear that they had put their hearts and souls into representing LaBranche.


Keating gave an outstanding closing argument. It was compassionate and compelling. It outlined every fact and detail that supported their belief that LaBranche was suffering from schizophrenia and was psychotic when he stabbed his mother. The argument was impassioned and genuine.  It was the model of what a closing argument, given by a committed and seasoned attorney, should be. But, in terms of professionalism, there was one moment that stood out.

At the very beginning of his closing argument, Keating acknowledged, and even paid homage, to the opposing counsel. He told the jury that although the trial had been hard-fought, he respected the way the prosecutors (Assistant Attorney Generals Will Delker and Kirsten Wilson) had presented their case, that they had been fair and honorable.


That moment was a shining example of what professionalism is all about.


I have been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and I know that all too often attorneys will disparage their opposing counsel. Rather than appreciate that the other side has a valid position, and a job to do, a lawyer may feel that his opponent is intransigent and oppositional. The sentiment is this: when I stick to my guns, I am steadfast and dedicated; when opposing counsel sticks to his guns, he is stubborn and uncompromising.


Keating’s public acknowledgement and appreciation of the work of opposing counsel was commendable; it was the mark of a mature and competent attorney, and it is something that we should all take to heart and incorporate into our own work.


Barbara R. Keshen is a member of the NHBA Professionalism Committee and a staff attorney with the NH Civil Liberties Union, based in Concord.


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