Which Side is the Dark Side?

posted by on Friday, September 06, 2019

McKayla is the newest and youngest employee at GRL Law.  Prior to coming to work with the GRL family, McKayla interned at the Polk County Attorney’s Office, the largest prosecutor’s office in the state of Iowa.  This experience has given her a valuable perspective into both sides of our criminal justice system.  We asked her if she would be willing to share.  Fortunately, she agreed.  This is what she wrote:   

After graduating from University of Northern Iowa in May 2018, I started an Internship with the Polk County Attorney’s Office. During my internship I worked with Juvenile Court and assisted with the prosecution of Operating While Intoxicated cases. While at Polk County I thought that cases where black and white, right and wrong, Good Guys against the Bad Guys.  A person got behind the wheel of a vehicle and drove it while they under the influence or committed some other crime.  They were wrong, they should be punished It was simple.  At the time, I did not have an understanding or appreciation of what defenses could be made or how thorough defenses were utilized to protect and preserve the rights of an accused. 

In my mind, Prosecutors were the Good Guys.  I wanted to be part of the Good Guys team; after all, they were on the side of justice.  I enjoyed my time and experiences at Polk County Attorney’s Office, but a full-time position was not available at the end of my internship.  As my time with Polk County ended, one of the Assistant County Attorneys told me about a job opportunity that she felt would be a good fit for me.  Cue, GRL Law.  

Being the savvy college graduate that I was, I did a little background research.  It did not take long to learn that they defended people accused of crimes.  In fact, they defended A LOT of people accused of Operating While Intoxicated offenses.  I wasn’t about to take a job without getting my parent’s opinions.  I remember telling both my mom and dad, that this job opportunity was at a law firm that did a lot of criminal defense, much of which was defending Operating While Intoxicated cases.   I also remember telling them that I could never see the point in someone driving drunk and that in my opinion, there was no good excuse someone could give for doing so. I was worried that I would have to sacrifice my values if I worked for such a law firm  

My dad gave me a great piece of advice as I headed in for my interview.  He said: “Ask them how they represent someone that they believe is guilty or wrong, and if you like the answer go for it.”  I walked into my interview completely unsure of what I was getting into.  I was pretty sure that this would not be the place for me but figured I’d give the interview a go.  A little extra experience never hurts.  As I sat in the conference room and listened to the attorneys give me some background on the firm and explain to me what they do and why they did it, my black and white world started to get a little grayer.  I asked them the question my dad said to ask.  “How can you represent someone that you know is guilty?”  Matt Lindholm responded: “We aren’t in the business of placing judgement We are in the business of protecting someone’s constitutional rights Ware here to make sure people get the rights they deserve.” Apparently, they liked me, and I liked that answer.  They offered me the job and I accepted.   

I still wasn’t completely sure about how I would handle helping people accused of crimes, especially drunk driving.  The more I worked with everyone in this office, the more that I got to know them, and watch them take care of their clients, my previously clear black and white lines began blurring more and more.  

A few months into working here, I remember getting an email from one of the attorneys who needed the help of the entire firm to roundtable a case that would be going to trial in a few weeks.  Walking into that meeting I had no idea what was about to go on. We sat down and were instructed to think of someone that we knew well, and to think like them as we discussed the case. We then spent the afternoon brainstorming the case, checking in with how each person felt about various issues and facts in the case.  We worked as a team to answer important questions that jurors may have with the case and to create the most persuasive case possible.  More importantly, I began to see these cases from a completely different perspective.

This was just one of many roundtables that we have had at the firm for both criminal defense and personal injury cases. After each roundtable, I still ask myself if other firms do this, if other firms will gather everyone and discuss a case for hours to iron out what areas need to be worked on to provide the best possible outcome for a client.  I wonder to myself when you hire an attorney somewhere else do you hire the attorney or the whole team, to me there is a significant difference.

The attorneys and staff that work at this firm care about each client as if it was someone in their family. They don’t let people get bullied by anyone and they aren’t afraid to step on toes to do what is right. The more I have experienced, I don’t feel that any side is always wrong, and any side is always right. I feel that each case no matter how simple or how extravagant needs to be broken down to be sure that rights are upheld on both sides, that people do their jobs in the correct way, and that justice is ultimately served.

I now find myself in conversations with people close to me who don’t understand how I can do it, how I can sit next to and help someone who is accused of committing a serious crime. My response has changed significantly over the last year and I have a feeling that it will continue to change. It is easy to point fingers and think negatively about someone who is accused of committing a crime.  My time at GRL Law has taught me that even if someone intentionally commits a crime, they still deserve a defense and the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.  I have also learned that most people don’t set out to intentionally commit crime. A lot of what we see are simple lapses in judgement that anyone could have during a rough time in their life.  I would hope that if myself, or someone I loved, made a mistake someone would still be there to stand by and help.  

Now that I have experienced the other side, I understand the importance that the defense role plays in evening out the playing field.  They care and they work hard to defend each and every one of their clients.  That is what this team does They fight to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected.  The attorneys and staff at GRL Law understand that mistakes happen.  We aren’t here to judge.  While we can’t change what has happened in the past, we can help improve the future.  We Care. We Fight. You Win.  

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