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Bar News - June 17, 2011

Battle of the Lawyers: Keshen Wins with Palace-Guardhouse Closing Statement


Ever watched a colleague in action and thought, "I could top that."? The first ever Battle of the Lawyers put that assumption to the test as four leading New Hampshire attorneys battled it out to present the most dynamic and effective closing argument.

Barbara Keshen carried the night with her closing argument in the case of State of NH v. John Doe, where a man was charged with felonious sexual assault for allegedly biting the penis of a young boy. The catch? He confessed to the crime.

Keshen, legal counsel for the NH Civil Liberties Union, using an analogy from a Harvard Law Review article, argued that the confession should be dismissed because the harsh conditions of the interrogation room – the Guardhouse – drove him to do anything within his power to escape the awful situation which he was in, even if that meant confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.

The analogy went further in explaining the false confession, saying that the jury gave unfound credence to the statement because the official atmosphere of the courtroom – the Palace – didn’t have a conception of what it felt like for the defendant to be held for four hours in detainment as he was asked repeatedly for his confession.

"If an animal is caught in a trap out in the forest, it will do anything to escape," Keshen said to the audience jury, "even if that means chewing off its own leg."

The defendant was acquitted of the charge.

The Art of Advocacy

If television legal dramas or Grisham novels are any judge, the closing argument holds a special place in the heart of the American public. They’re dramatic and engage the emotion of a case in a way that the normal course of a trial cannot. A well-built rhetorical argument can solidify the facts of a case, creating an impenetrable wall or it can bring that wall crashing to earth.

Three other New Hampshire attorneys used closing arguments from actual cases to highlight their mastery of the art.

Will Delker, senior assistant attorney general in the Attorney General’s Homicide Unit, recently took the lead in the office’s new Cold Case Unit, which focuses on unsolved homicides in the state. He presented his closing argument from State of NH v. Christopher Legere, in which a man was charged with the murder of a motorcyclist who wore the t-shirt of a rival biker gang. Legere was found guilty.

Heather Burns, a partner at Upton & Hatfield in Concord, has successfully litigated many cases in the federal court, including employment discrimination, medical malpractice, and wrongful discharge. She presented her closing statement from the a US District Court case – Jane Doe v. ABC Industries – in which a business owner was accused of discriminating against and creating a hostile work environment for a female employee. The jury found in favor of her client.

Bruce Felmly, a director of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester, represents companies and individuals in a wide range of commercial disputes. He is a well-known litigator and a past president of the NHBA. His argument was from Estate of E. Cabrera v. Hyundai Motor Company, in which he defended Hyundai Motor Company, which was accused of faulty manufacturing of airbag, resulting in the death of Cabrera. The jury found Hyundai not liable.

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Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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