I am a mother. First, foremost and most importantly. I have always been a mother, even before I had children. I perceive that mothers are those women who insist on trying to make the world safer, better, more fair and a caring place. Mothers teach and share and balance responsibilities, obligations and prerogatives. I became a biological mother much later in life than most women my age.
For more than forty years I have also been a lawyer. There are many types of lawyers. Most are cerebral and draft business agreements, contracts, wills and trusts, deeds, offerings, settlements and other complicated paperwork. The minority of lawyers are trial lawyers. People who go into court to advocate for their clients’ position. Of those, only a few lawyers try cases to juries. That takes confidence, preparation, ego and perhaps a bit of talent. Sometimes it involves faking the confidence and ego.
I started my career while still in law school working at the maximum security prison at Jackson, Georgia in prisoner legal counseling, advising convicts about their rights. I was the first female to work behind the walls. At the same time, I taught business law at the UGA business school and legal writing to first year law students. Herschel Walker played football for UGA as I sat in the law library studying. I never got to see him play.
Through the years, I represented many criminal defendants as a defense lawyer. My first case was a death penalty trial in Claxton, Georgia. I represented a homosexual black man who was alleged to have killed two white prison guards and a white inmate during a prison riot. He was sentenced to prison but did not receive the death penalty. I was known to all as “Miss Diane” during the trial as the transcript will reflect. Jesse Mae Whitaker was not my last murder case as a defense lawyer, but he has always been a part of my life. If I had let him down, he would have been executed in Georgia’s electric chair. I was twenty-six years old and the weight of that possibility changed me in many ways.
As I matured in the law, my criminal cases became more complex including alleged tax and securities cases, with many involving drug smuggling. I lived in Miami, and there was no shortage of high paying and high profile cases. I loved defending these cases because I believed that many of these clients were factually or legally innocent. But I always wanted to prosecute criminal cases. The allure was not clear. The comradery, which I believed existed in the United States attorneys’ and state prosecutors’ offices, was part of it. Using my talents to put away violent criminals was another. But my dad was a prominent, nationally known criminal defense lawyer and the opportunities for me to become a prosecutor were limited.
After more than ten years of practicing law, I represented a dear friend, also a lawyer, who was charged with conspiracy in a drug case. He had allegedly given advice to a drug ring that assisted them in their smuggling. I was and remain convinced of his innocence. When the jury in Hammond, Indiana convicted him, I was done with the law. I had no faith in justice. I considered quitting but had to support myself. I joined a civil law firm when I handled judge trials about money. Always about money.
After several years, I met my husband, a Hoosier engineer. We moved to Indianapolis to be near his family. I was hired by the newly elected Attorney General to work in the federal litigation, civil rights section of her office. It was there that I learned, for the very first time, to type as we did our own work with little help from secretaries or paralegal staff. I met some of the best people I had ever known. Dedicated, hardworking, underpaid lawyers. It felt great. But we only handled bench trials and I missed presenting cases to a jury.
Eventually I left the attorney general’s office and joined the Marion County, Indiana prosecutor’s office. I was ready to test the reliability of justice again. I was hired as the chief arson prosecutor. Later, I was asked to serve as a community prosecutor and felony court supervising attorney. At the prosecutor’s office I was able to select some of the most difficult cases to prosecute. My bosses, including the elected prosecutor, Scott Newman, gave me the freedom to try cases that many other prosecutors may have declined. Several were closely followed by the press. I was terrified and thrilled.
My husband came home from work one day reporting that his boss suggested, “Perhaps if your wife would keep her face off of the news and out of the papers, you wouldn’t have to take care of the kids and could get to the office regularly.” There was no crime with which I could charge his boss, although I spent a bit of time thinking about it.
I eventually left the prosecutor’s office and returned to civil litigation. After forty years, every day remains an adventure, but I truly miss the enormous satisfaction of convicting a criminal who might otherwise have gotten away with their crime.
I decided to write my first nonfiction book about one of the cases that I prosecuted at the urging of a former detective with whom I had worked. “Sharkeyes” was well received. I found that writing about the investigation and trial was challenging and yet I was able to share what I was thinking, feeling and worrying as I put together, brick by brick, an arson murder case. I was hooked. Shortly after finishing that manuscript I purchased the transcript for State of Indiana versus Michelle Jones. It wasn’t until I learned that Michelle Jones was about to be released from prison that I was able to finish Inconvenience Gone.
I still work everyday as a trial lawyer with a firm in Los Angeles. I live with my husband in Florida and commute to California a few times a year. Our children both became therapist/counselors. I suspect Freud would have much to say about the reason they chose that field. I remain a proud mother.