• Attorney Adrian Baron

A Special NL Guest Post By New York Times Best Selling Author Erin Torneo (NL Archives)


Writing Picking Cotton has taken me from a hotel lobby in Greensboro to the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the abolition of the death penalty, from the lethal injection chamber in Raleigh’s Central Prison to the streets of Savannah, GA. Once, while in San Francisco for the Soros Fellowship Conference, I even found myself at Alcatraz with Jennifer and Ron, sightseeing. When the tour invited us to step inside a solitary confinement cell, Ron hung back. “Not going in?” I asked, after Jennifer and I took our turns inside the dark cramped cell. “Hell no,” he replied, laughing. It was just one of many moments that reminded me that their seemingly ordinary, decades-old friendship is just as improbable as Ron, who spent nearly eleven years of his life wrongfully incarcerated, wanting to visit a prison on his day off.


The journey, suffice to say, has been incredible, bringing me deep into some of the complex issues surrounding wrongful convictions and forever changing the way I will think about crime and punishment in the United States. “I don’t know if I’ll be of any help at all,” Jennifer’s rape crisis counselor told me the spring afternoon I went to interview her at Elon College. What could she remember, after all this time? But it became very clear as we spoke that she had one particularly strong memory: the day she accompanied Jennifer to the physical lineup. “I remember it was one of the most take-your-breath away things, the fear,” she said. She vividly recalled the details of the physical lineup, mentioning the one-way window. I interrupted her to tell her in fact, there had been no glass, nor wall at all, as verified by the police report and the investigating officer. The seven suspects were standing merely feet away from both of them. She was astounded. “Isn’t that strange? In my mind, I had given us the distance of at least having a wall there. I had given us that safety.” She paused and then said, “How frightening. I think I prefer the safety of my memory.”

It was just a small example of the undercurrent that runs through the book— the fragility of memory itself. Their case has become a hallmark of the relationship between eyewitness misidentification and wrongful convictions because of how little we really understand about how memory works. I have seen Jennifer — and more recently Michele Mallin — vilified by people for their mistaken eyewitness testimony. It is further proof of the need to educate people about the many variables that can contribute to misidentification. By putting the reader in Jennifer’s shoes, I hope Picking Cotton helps to illuminate just how difficult making an eyewitness identification is—even when you are sure—and remind people everywhere that she was a victim of a brutal crime that derailed her life. Jennifer pursued justice in the hopes that her assailant — whom she knew had gone off to rape a second woman an hour after she escaped—would never be able to hurt another woman. The failure was systemic—not personal—and her brave decision to forfeit her privacy (many victims never come forward in other wrongful conviction cases) is the reason many states have adopted reform measures. Working on the book has also taught me that newly won freedom can be as bewildering as the first days of incarceration, which you can see once you shift to Ron’s point of view. Though many exonerees today make headlines for the millions of (well-deserved) dollars they receive after winning lawsuits, it is important to know that Ronald Cotton is not one of those exonerees.


When he first got out, he tried to return to school to get his GED, but eventually quit so he could take a second job and earn more money. He wanted to move out of his sister’s home and into an independent life. Now he works five, sometimes six days a week at an insulation plant, where the heat and the fumes take their toll on his sinuses. Lately, the faltering economy has impacted the work available at the plant. Ron’s regular shifts are no longer guaranteed, and he struggles to make ends meet. As the first post-conviction DNA exoneree in North Carolina, Ronald Cotton’s case paved the way for many of the progressive measures the state later adopted. Jennifer actually helped to lobby the state to create the compensation bill that entitled Ron to roughly $110,000. Since that time, North Carolina has updated its compensation law twice, but Ron was excluded from the improved benefits (which, in addition to significantly more money, also include job training and tuition). Perhaps North Carolina officials will reconsider the terms of the statute and offer the same benefits to all six of its exonerees. The State v. Cotton case touches on many important issues in the innocence movement — the fact that the DNA was not destroyed though Ron had exhausted all of his appeals, the access he had to DNA testing, how simple changes to photo array and physical lineup procedures can reduce eyewitness identification errors, the importance of having state resources in place that can help the exonerated back on their feet, but most of all, it shows that the effects of wrongful convictions are devastating on both sides. Ron waited 11 years for justice to prevail, but in the end, so did Jennifer.

Editor's Note: Erin Torneo is the co-author of "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption," the true story of an unlikely friendship forged between Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, the man Cannino incorrectly identified as her rapist and sent to prison for eleven years.


My warmest thanks to the Innocence Project, Erin Torneo, Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino. To learn more about this incredible book , I encourage you to visit http://www.pickingcottonbook.com/about.html

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  • Attorney Adrian Baron

Guest Post By Attorney Cliff Tuttle Jr., author of the award winning Pittsburgh Legal Backtalk

(From the NL Archives)



Lawyers are often advised by marketing professionals to blog because it is good marketing. The AVVO blog recently announced an inexpensive and easy to use blogging vehicle for lawyers. If you have a modest marketing budget, investing in a blog will buy you more effective advertising than any other vehicle, including Google pay per click ads.


But if a lawyer never lands a single new client from blogging, the exercise is still worthwhile.


Here are 10.5 reasons why:


1. Self education. In order to write a blog piece you need to read and find out what’s going on in the law and in the world. Doesn’t continuous self-education make a better lawyer?


2. Reinforcement of learning. The best way to remember newly-acquired information is to use it. The best way to really understand a concept is to explain it. Blogging forces you to do both.


3. Getting away from the old me-me-me. The essence of a law firm website is telling potential clients how great you are. That can get tiresome — with legal advertising websites rivaling the leading sleep aids for induced drowsiness. A blog looks outward at the world, not inward at the firm.


4. Practice makes perfect. If you wish to be a persuasive and polished writer, you must practice.


5. Busman’s Holiday. It is surprising how relaxing it can be after a day of toil to write something. You may not think so until you start to really get into writing your blog. Meanwhile, you are thinking and writing about work related matters.


6. Making Friends and Influencing People. Through your blog (assuming you are diligent and have good content) I guarantee that you will make the acquaintance of people worth knowing. They will consider you smart, informed and very persuasive — otherwise, they wouldn’t be reading your blog.


7. The Bully Pulpit. When you have a gripe, a beef or a strongly-held opinion, shazam! You have a forum!.


8. Developing New Expertise. All that reading and writing, scrounging for topics and keeping your ear to the ground to identify advancing trends, will cause you to develop and expand expertise on new topics. Moreover, you don’t have to tell anyone you know something about a field of the law, your blog does.


9. Developing a Portfolio. All the posts you ever wrote will be on the internet for a long time. You’ll receive comments popping up on posts written many months or even years ago — ones you’ve actually forgotten you wrote. You’ll find yourself saying to people: “Read my blog post(s) on the subject.”


10. Self fulfillment. You will feel a sense of accomplishment when you post something really good.


10.5 Strange as it may seem, you could be a force in someone else’s life. Someday, if you are lucky, someone will write to you or tell in person that you helped changed his or her life. Teachers often hear it years later from students. When you blog, you are the teacher and who knows who the student may be?

CLT


____________________________________

Note From the Editor:

If you are thinking of starting a blog, I hope Attorney Tuttle's excellent post gave you a little encouragement as well as some valuable tips. If you haven't seen it yet, his blog Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk is really a great source of information and advice.


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  • Attorney Adrian Baron

Updated: Dec 30, 2020


NL Notes: Polish President Andrzej Duda made a historic visit to New Britain, Connecticut. Despite being a state with almost 300 thousand Polish residents, it was the first time a sitting Polish president visited Connecticut. I was humbled and honored to receive the Flag of Poland from President Duda during his September 22nd visit. While the reasoning appeared to be my work with the Polish community, I'm pretty sure the real reason was the president is a fan of The Nutmeg Lawyer.


The Polish President studied law at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow Poland where he later was appointed as a research assistant in the Department of Administrative Law of the Jagiellonian University's Faculty of Law and Administration. I had the privilege of studying there during my own lawschool days.

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