Michael D. Weinstein, Esquire
2015 Pegasus Scholar Report
For six weeks in spring 2015, my life seemed surreal. I spent my days walking through the august halls of some of the world’s most historic courthouses, marveling at the majestic architecture around me. I worked in an office that overlooked a one-thousand-year-old church still in use today. For lunch, I dined in the place where William Shakespeare first unveiled Twelfth Night to the public. And I was regularly invited to visit High Court Judges, Court of Appeal Judges, even a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. My days often ended on the rooftop of my flat overlooking the lively neighborhood of Kensington, a stone’s throw from Freddie Mercury’s old mansion, reflecting on this remarkable chapter of my life. For a young lawyer, curious about the world and the law, I can think of few experiences that can be as meaningful or memorable as the one I had as a Pegasus Scholar.
This report details those six weeks I spent living and working in London. My co-scholar and flatmate, Tyler Garrett, has submitted his own report that provides a peek into his remarkable experience as a Pegasus Scholar. While Tyler and I lived together and visited judicial chambers together, most of our days were spent apart, working in different barristers’ chambers. So although our experiences were similar in many ways, they were also very different. Tyler’s report provides a great overview of legal London, including: a description of the differences between solicitors and barristers, and an explanation of how they work together to obtain the best result for their mutual client; how barristers’ chambers are organized; and the role of the English Inns of Court in fostering and promoting civility and professionalism in the practice of law. He also discusses some of the most striking differences between England’s legal system and that of the United States, such as how some barristers both prosecute and defend criminal cases, sometimes during the same day. This report assumes you are familiar with his. And so, instead of revisiting well-trod ground, I focus on some unique experiences from my own journey.
It began in Church Court Chambers, the chambers of 2014 English Pegasus Scholar Colin Witcher. A relatively new set, Church Court Chambers has a broad practice that includes criminal, civil, and family matters. Since I am a public defender in the United States, I spent my time there working exclusively on criminal cases. Much to my delight, my first day working in London was spent at the Old Bailey, one of the most famous criminal courthouses in the world. Literary buffs probably recognize the name, memorialized by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities and John Mortimer in his Rumpole novels. Some of England’s most notorious criminal cases have been tried in this magnificent courthouse that has sat in the heart of London for hundreds of years. To this day, that tradition continues.
My arrival in London couldn’t have been better timed. Church Court Chambers’ head of chambers, Kerim Fuad QC, and his colleague, Kevin Molloy, were nearing the end of a double murder trial at the Old Bailey. Both welcomed me with open arms and treated me like an old colleague. And despite being in the middle of a murder trial, they spent time during their breaks making sure I understood what was happening in court. Kevin was even kind enough to make sure I understood seemingly everything there is to know about his homeland, Ireland. Closing arguments (or “speeches” as they call them in England) were supposed to start shortly after my arrival, but a juror fell ill and the trial was adjourned for several days.
Because of that adjournment, I spent most of my remaining time at Church Court Chambers with Colin, who was kind enough to allow me to shadow him on an almost daily basis. As we dashed from courthouse to courthouse to make one of Colin’s handful of daily appearances, he gave me a crash course on England’s legal system. Luckily, Colin had just spent six weeks in the United States learning about American law, so he had a deep understanding of the similarities and differences between our legal systems. Even better, he was a great teacher. After spending just one week with him, I felt as if I had studied the English legal system for a year. When we weren’t in court, we would spend our time in chambers. As mentioned above, my office overlooked Temple Church, which once belonged to the Knights Templar. For me, this was one of the most remarkable parts of working in London. In Los Angeles, where I work, all that can be seen out of my office window is a condominium complex and a coffee shop. Thus, as minor as it may seem, having a view of a one-thousand-year-old church where the Knights Templar used to meet is something I’ll never forget.
My time at Church Court Chambers ended where it began, at the Old Bailey. On my last day at Church Court Chambers, I observed Kerim deliver, in defense of his client, one of the most powerful and eloquent closing arguments I have ever seen. Dressed in his silk robe, with a wig on his head, Kerim commanded the attention of the courtroom in grand fashion. He spoke with force and grace, and seamlessly wove the facts of the case into a cogent argument that had many jurors nodding in agreement with him. His client, I later found out, was found guilty. Sometimes even the best lawyering can’t overcome bad facts.
The second barristers’ chambers where I worked was 3 Hare Court, a leading set in several areas such as civil fraud, civil litigation, and employment. A few barristers from 3 Hare Court also, however, work on death penalty appeals heard before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the court of final appeal for the United Kingdom’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and for some Commonwealth countries. Several justices from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom sit on the Privy Council. James Guthrie QC was my host at 3 Hare Court. Consistently recommended in the main law directories as a leading “silk” in civil liberties and human rights work -- “silk” is the term used to refer to barristers who have attained the prestigious ranking of Queen’s Council, or QC -- James frequently undertakes Privy Council appeals in capital cases. He is one of the most prominent death penalty lawyers in the United Kingdom, someone whose record of success speaks volumes about his legal acumen and skills.
Working with James and his colleagues was a revelatory experience. Since I work on capital habeas cases in the United States, many of his colleagues asked me to read their “skellies” (what we call briefs). We would then discuss the different ways in which our countries handle capital cases, and there are many. For instance, in a Privy Council case called Pratt and Morgan, 1993 UKPC 1, the Privy Council held that any delay of over five years between sentencing and execution constitutes inhumane punishment. Accordingly, defendants whose death sentences are not carried out within five years can apply to have their sentences automatically reduced to life without parole. In some of my capital cases, my clients have been on death row longer than I have been alive.
But even though there were many differences between their cases and mine, I found that those differences were dwarfed by the commonalities. For instance, although their cases arose from Jamaica, Trinidad, or Mauritius, the underlying substantive criminal law was very similar to our own. Similarly, many of the constitutional principles being litigated on appeal were like ours, despite the fact that those countries’ constitutions differ from our own. But I gave it more thought and realized that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. We have based our common law system on England’s, as have many of these Commonwealth countries. And many of our constitutional rights, especially those enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are now regarded by the international community as basic human rights that must be protected. Accordingly, these rights are now enshrined in constitutions across the world.
Again, my timing could not have been any better. After spending about two weeks with James and his colleagues, engaging in fascinating conversations about capital punishment and murder trials, I had the privilege of seeing James and his head of chambers, Peter Knox QC, argue a case before the Privy Council. They were, interestingly enough, on opposite sides despite working in the same chambers. That, as Tyler notes in his report, would never occur in the United States. Also, unlike here, where appellate oral arguments are limited to a set time period, usually 10-30 minutes per side, appellate oral arguments in England can last hours, sometimes even days. This oral argument was apparently on the shorter end of the spectrum -- it lasted just a day. It was impressive to see James and Peter deftly respond to hours of questioning while displaying an incredible mastery of the record. It was also interesting to see how the justices and lawyers all seemed to be working together, almost as if they were all on the same team, to ensure that a just result was reached. You rarely, if ever, see that type of collegiality in American proceedings.
My final two weeks were spent with QEB Hollis Whiteman, one of London’s most well-regarded criminal defence barristers’ chambers. As I soon found out, I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the entire two weeks helping Edward Henry with his cases. One of the most skilled trial advocates I have ever seen, and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, Edward made sure I ended my trip on a high note.
During my last two weeks, I primarily assisted Edward in his defense of a man accused of a serious felony. Edward had just begun cross-examining the complaining witness when I arrived. While in court, I marveled at Edward’s advocacy skills -- he was a masterful artist, and that might be selling him too short. On breaks, he and I would discuss strategies and he would refine his upcoming questions. The trial was one-of-a-kind. Cross-examination stretched on for days, largely because every time the complaining witness was caught in a lie, or unable to explain away a prior inconsistent statement, she would storm off the witness stand. At one point, she charged the dock where the defendant was sitting, spewing profanities and vulgarities. At another point, during one of her many tirades, she kicked a courtroom door with such force that the door broke. Eventually, the prosecution realized that it would be unable to carry its burden and conceded the case. The trial judge directed the jury to return a verdict of acquittal, and Edward’s client was released from custody less than twenty minutes later. It was the type of trial that frequently occurs in the movies, but rarely in real life.
Although most of my time abroad was spent working directly with various barristers, as already mentioned, my co-scholar and I were frequently invited to spend an entire day with judges and justices. Specifically, we had the privilege of meeting: Judge Poulet, a Senior Circuit Judge at the Old Bailey; Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Pitchford of the Royal Courts of Justice; and Lord Hughes of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. We also ventured outside of England and met Judge MacFarland, the Recorder of Belfast, and Lord Justice Gillen of the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland. Every judge and justice was so generous with their time and so welcoming. They would spend hours with us in chambers. Over coffee, tea, sometimes even lunch, we would talk about our careers and discuss the development of the law in our respective jurisdictions. Everyone made us feel as if we were doing them the honor of granting them an audience, when the opposite was true. Judge MacFarland even gave Tyler and me a personal tour of Belfast and Lord Hughes gave us a personal tour of his courthouse. I truly appreciate everyone’s generosity.
In addition to visiting various judicial chambers, we also visited the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Faculty of Advocates is a body of independent lawyers who have been admitted to practice before the Court of Scotland. All advocates work out of their library, which we toured. The Clerk of Faculty invited us into her office which was filled with books older than the United States. Over a splendid cup of afternoon tea, she shared delightful stories with us about what it’s like to be an advocate in Scotland.
Of course, not all our time abroad was spent working. One of the great things about working in London is you have ready access to the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. I was fortunate that my co-scholar had an adventurous spirit. A few weeks after arriving in London, we took a weekend trip to Brussels. We spent our days exploring the city, visiting well-known sites such as the Grand Place (Brussel’s central square) and the Palace of Justice. Nights were spent drinking Trappist beers and mingling with locals. After visiting with the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, we drove up to the Highlands where we stayed in a quiet lodge nestled in the countryside. When the sun was out, we ran along technical trails in verdant forests that were as lush as those in the Pacific Northwest, with nothing but secluded lochs and towering trees to keep us company. The nights were spent sitting by a hearth, sipping Scotch; I read books, Tyler began writing the next great novel. During another weekend, we went to Cumberland Lodge, a 17th-century country house in Windsor Great Park, for a law student advocacy training. We spent most of the weekend socializing with soon-to-be barristers and judges (including our new friend, Lord Justice Moore-Bick), and participating in late-night dance parties and Fleetwood Mac singalongs. All English law students, or at least those we were with that weekend, apparently love all things Stevie Nicks. I spent a weekend by myself in Dublin exploring the medieval part of town and wandering along streets that served as inspiration to James Joyce. When you live in London, some of the greatest cities in the world are just a short flight or train ride away; Tyler and I took full advantage of our fantastic geographic location.
Being a Pegasus Scholar was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This type of experience lends itself so well to professional and personal growth. While working and living abroad, I learned a great deal about our legal forebears and now have a much more profound understanding of the way our legal system fits in with the rest of the world. The experience also forced me to reexamine, or in some situations confront, certain premises underlying our own legal system. Having worked in a different legal system, I feel that I now have a greater appreciation for my own. Equally important, being a Pegasus Scholar is a privilege. I knew that when I accepted the position, but didn’t fully grasp it until I was abroad. It’s hard not to feel blessed and honored when you experience the types of things I experienced in London.
Which brings me to what I believe is the most important part of this report, the part where I can express my gratitude to those who played a role sending me on this great journey. First, thank you to all members of the American Inns of Court who helped me get to London. To the Selection Committee, I will be forever grateful that you selected me to join your prestigious ranks. To Cindy Dennis, the American Inns of Court’s Awards & Scholarships Coordinator, you shepherded me through this program. Your guidance was always invaluable and I greatly appreciate you being available as a resource. Lastly, to American Inns of Court President Chief Judge Carl Stewart and board member Tom Leighton, thank you for spending time with me and Tyler while you were in London, for your kind words of encouragement, and for your continual support. I hope to see every one of you in October at the Celebration of Excellence Gala Event at the Supreme Court of the United States.
To all the members of the English Inns of Court who took time to show me and Tyler around your lovely campuses, thank you so much. A special thanks to Eamonn O’Reilly of the Inner Temple Inn of Court, who was chiefly responsible for creating my timetable while I was in London. I am deeply grateful that you took the time to tailor the program to my unique professional background and for putting together a phenomenal schedule for me. I could not have asked for better placements. Thank you also to Francesca Ellis for hosting us at Cumberland Lodge. We had such a great time that weekend.
To Colin Witcher, Kevin Molloy, and Kerim Fuad of Church Court Chambers, you three are remarkable men and I consider myself quite lucky that I had the opportunity to work with you. To James Guthrie of 3 Hare Court, I learned so much while working in your chambers. Thank you for having me; it was a privilege. And to Edward Henry of QEB Hollis Whiteman, we formed a strong bond in our short time together. I look forward to the day when you join me in California to start up Henry & Weinstein, LLP.
To all the members of the bench who invited us into their chambers, it was an honor to meet such extraordinary people. We swapped stories, shared laughs, and learned from each other. Your hospitality was top-notch and the memories we created will last a lifetime.
To my co-scholar, Tyler Garrett -- when I first heard I’d be sharing a flat with a cowboy from Wyoming who moonlights as a lawyer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Luckily, I ended up getting paired with someone who is incredibly kind, smart, and funny. You were a great ambassador for the American Inns of Court. I’m so glad we shared this experience with each other, and look forward to our friendship continuing to grow over the years.
My bosses and coworkers at the Office of the Federal Public Defender deserve much gratitude. To Hilary Potashner, Acting Federal Public Defender, and Margo Rocconi, Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit, thank you for allowing me to take time off from work to participate in this program. Margo, a special thanks to you for backing me from the first day I expressed interest in this program. To Deputy Federal Public Defender Marta VanLandingham, I would not have been selected without your support throughout the entire application process. And last but not least, thank you to my mentors, the Honorable J. Spencer Letts and the Honorable Philip S. Gutierrez. Judge Letts, though you are no longer with us, I know you would have done everything you could to get me to London and that you would have loved hearing about my adventures. And Judge Gutierrez, you have been one of my biggest supporters ever since I clerked for you; I never would have become a Pegasus Scholar without your guiding hand.
Thank you, everyone, for everything.
Michael D. Weinstein, Esquire is a Deputy Federal Public Defender working in the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California. Weinstein earned his undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley while pursuing a diverse course of study including philosophy, art history, and astronomy. He earned his J.D. from UCLA School of Law, where he served as Student Note Editor on the Journal of Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity and co-chair of the student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Subsequent to his graduation from law school, Weinstein served as a judicial law clerk to Judges J. Spencer Letts and Philip S. Gutierrez, both of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He has also worked as a law clerk at the National Lawyers Guild, where he developed legal theories and drafted appellate and amicus briefs. In his current role as a public defender, Weinstein works mainly on death penalty appeals, litigating cases at both the trial and appellate levels, in state and federal court. He is a member of the Los Angeles Criminal Justice American Inn of Court.