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Mar 23 2011

Kid Prosecutor in Indiana Wants to Do Away With Felony Jury Trials!

Scott Greenfield writes the best criminal defense blog in the country: Simple Justice. It is the only blog I subscribe to and read on a daily basis.  Today Scott posted a story about Nicholas Bourff, the newly elected District Attorney from Starke County , Indiana.  Scott reports that only three months into his new job Bourff has an idea to speed up the criminal defense system in Starke County and save taxpayers costs:

One of the proposals I’ve made is to try, even if it’s with the C and D Felonies, to see if a case is going ahead to trial, and we know it will, to see if we could get a bench trial set, which just involves the Judge, instead of a jury trial,” said Bourff.

Scott then reports that the reason Bourff came up with this great cost-saving tool was based on his experience: In my experience as a defense attorney, the majority of my clients would not have had a problem with going to a bench trial. Say what?! Scott found this statement as  ludicrous as I did so he checked into Bourff’s “experience.” :

What can we learn about Bourff’s legal experience?

Name: Nicholas Allen Bourff
Practice In: Administrative Law, Adoption, Criminal, Corporate, Business Organization, Collection, Construction Contracts, Contract, Dissolution, Divorce, Education, Estate Planning, Family Law, Juvenile Law, Land Use & Zoning, Landlord-Tenant, Mediation, Misdemeanor, Municipal, Wills & Probate, Property Damage, Public Schools, Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, State and Local, Traffic, Wills

A bit, how shall we say, diverse for such a new lawyer?  But see, right between “adoption” and “business organization,” there it is: criminal. Later on it says “misdemeanor,” though nowhere in the laundry list is felony mentioned.  It should have been squeezed between “family law” and “juvenile law,” but it’s not there.  Significant?

Not only is this description all over the place (never mind that it mentions every practice area EXCEPT felonies) but Bourff gained all of this experience in less than four years of practice! This DA was admitted to practice law in 2007! That means he graduated high school in 2000! Are you kidding me? The good people of Starke County elected a guy with less than four years of experience as their chief prosecutor? Who was his opponent – Justin Bieber?  I dug a little deeper and found that on his campaign website he boasted that “To date, he is unbeaten in jury trials.”   There is an old saying among trial lawyers that I impart to all of my law students: “Show me a lawyer who never lost a case and I will show you a lawyer who never tried a case.”  There is no way you can be an experienced trial attorney and not have lost a case. It means you never were forced to go to trial on a difficult case or never tried to advance a novel theory or claim or maybe you only tried two cases and won them both.  I know that I have learned so much more from my losses than my wins -its not even close.

But at least The Boy Wonder is aware of that pesky document called the Constitution:

The one major drawback there is that if a defendant wants a jury trial, he or she has that right.

Yeah, that’s a drawback alright.  So apparently Bourff’s great idea to save money requires defendants and their attorneys to give up perhaps the single most important criminal defense right granted in the Constitution.  You know, we’d really save money if the defendants also gave up their right to counsel.  That would speed things up as well.

But then again, if the jury has to be made up of the people of the county that elected this puppy to be DA, maybe waiving a jury is not such a bad idea.

 

 

 



11 comments

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  1. David

    Mr. Michelen, do you really find it necessary to be so condescending to your readers that you would resort to name calling and questioning the intelligence of the people of Starke County for electing Mr. Bourff? Maybe people elected him because they were sick of your everyday scumbag lawyers (oh, sorry I should not resort to name calling). And the last time I checked that pesky little document, the Constitution, gave us the right to elect whom ever we saw fit. I have known Mr. Bourff or should I say the Kid, Boy Wonder, or Puppy, for more than 15 years and I find him to be quite intelligent and approachable, unlike most of the pompous, self righteous, ambulance chasers that usually fill our courtrooms.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      David: I see no scenario where it is wise to entrust the criminal justice system of an entire county to someone with so little experience. Nor would I suggest entrusting it to an “everyday scumbag lawyer” or an “ambulance chaser.” But the proof is in the pudding and when a DA’s first major policy idea is to try and do away with felony jury trials (check out what your latest copy of the Constitution says about that ) I would say that my position that he is in over his head is vindicated. There is no way that after having been admitted to practice for only four years that you have the experience and perspective for such an important job. His bio showing that he proclaims to have acquired knowledge and experience in over 25 different practice areas is equally disturbing. Top that off with his claim that he never lost a jury trial and I am even more concerned. Finish it off with his ridiculous and indefensible statement that most clients (based upon his world of experience) would not have cared if they did not have a jury trial and anyone can see where I was coming from. So yes, I seriously question the judgment of anybody who is not a relative of Mr. Bourff who voted for him as DA of Starke County. I am disappointed that the County could not find a more qualified candidate for this important position. You may think poorly of lawyers and that’s fine (because the Constitution gives you the right to express your opinion, though it is silent as to the qualifications for a local DA) but it takes many years and many trials to be experienced enough to make the types of policy decisions required by the DA of the County. Judging from Bourff’s first policy statement, Starke County is in trouble.

  2. David

    Mr. Michelen, you are obviously an intelligent competent lawyer. You make some good points about Mr. Bourff’s experience, but my point is that you come off as some high and mighty New York Lawyer that has to resort to name calling to get your points across. Starke County is not New York, and while there will be growing pains for Mr. Bourff, he will have to prove himself over the next four years. At that point the good people of Starke county will be able to judge the job that he has done and if he is worthy of another term.

  3. Oscar Michelen

    OK David, maybe I was too flippant in referring to him the way I did, but frankly those (and worse) are all names that people are likely calling him behind his back. I was at least open and up front with my opinion and I would tell Mr. Bourff all of these things to his face. Lets hope no one involved in the criminal justice system (victim, defendant, police, court staff)gets hurt while Mr., Bourff goes through his growing pains.

  4. Sheila

    I would just like to say that I too am from Starke county and do not agree with Mr. Bourffs new rules or changes he proposes. I too think he has too little experience to be in the position he is in and no I did not vote for him because of his lack of experience. I will not name call because I am above that but just wanted to voice my opinion. To take a jury trial away is ludicrous this just shows how backwards our criminal justice system is today and has been for many years here in Starke County. We need change and we need it now before some other stupid changes are made to make our County look bad. Sheila

  5. Oscar Michelen

    Thanks for the Comment Sheila – I agree!

  6. Kristine Kroft

    Sorry to say I voted for Mr. Bourff, based on his parents reputations……. I’ll go with the saying, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me….. This article has enlightened me to the treatment of a man who asked for a jury trial….. It explains a lot… It also explains the treatment of me, when I went into the prosecutors office looking for a paper that should have been in the Knox City Court file, but was not…. Took me a week, but finally got the paper after being treated like I was in a high school elite group to which I did not belong…. You are a most insightful individual who could see this coming, before we saw it ourselves…. Unfortunately, there are people being hurt by his growing pains, but maybe its our own fault for having faith in someone….. We were looking for a change in our county for something better… I can say I won’t make that mistake twice…… Very nice to hear of you, Mr. Michelen…… Please keep doing what you do……

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Thank you and please keep us posted here on the goings-on in Starke County.

  7. kevin

    Nick Bourff’s administration in Starke County has lost over twelve felony jury trials; including several months in a row. They also dismiss half of the cases they file; most of the time right before trial. Oscar, you are also right nick bourff lied to the public and said he was undefeated but he did not tell the public that he had only done two jury trials in his life. Once elected, he proceeded to lose to a pro se client.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      It might be interesting to analyze Starke County’s conviction rates (trial and plea) against other counties in the state and region. Here in NY Most of the DAs have a conviction rate in the high 90% area due to plea bargaining. I have personally never heard of a prosecutors office losing felony jury trials for months in a row. If that statistic is correct, that means one of two things – he is bringing cases to trial without sufficient evidence or his office is not properly trying cases. Certainly nothing about the County’s demographic or voting records seems to indicate a jury pool prone to acquitting criminal defendants. Thanks for the info, keep us posted here!

  8. bernadette dingman

    I too have had one case dismissed right before trial and another case against a criminal contractor, who stole over $40,000 of our money and insurance money to repair our damaged home, while Nick the prosecutor refused to even look at all the evidence we had gathered on this man. We could not even get a phone call back from this man who is suppose to work for ” the people ”. Starke County needs help and needs to do a clean sweep of the clerks office too. They are Sooooo crooked in that office it would make your head spin!!!!

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