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VOL. 122 | NO. 115 | Thursday, June 21, 2007

Legal Community Gets Chance To Dissect Winkler Case

By Amy O. Williams

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Mary Winkler, center, is accompanied by her attorneys, Leslie Ballin, left, and Steve Farese Aug. 15 after being released on bond. -- Ap Photo/The Jackson Sun/Andrew Mcmurtrie

Attorneys are said to practice law because that is exactly what they do - constantly practice to learn more about their craft and the law itself.

So when a high-profile case such as the recent first-degree murder trial of Mary Winkler comes along, it offers a unique opportunity for attorneys to take a look back and see what can be learned.

Lawyers will get that opportunity from the defense attorneys who argued the Winkler case, in a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course next Thursday. The course, "Strategies in Litigating a High-Profile Case: Lessons From the Mary Winkler Trial," is slated for 2 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel at 185 Union Ave. Downtown.

"We're expecting a lot of interest in this event because with this trial being so high-profile, we are expecting a lot of interest from lawyers and non-lawyers," said Amy Worrell, law clerk for Judge Diane K. Vescovo of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and a board member of the University of Memphis Law Alumni Association. "And even though the CLE is based on a criminal trial, there are still lessons to be learned that can be applied to civil trials."

Following the CLE will be a Young Lawyers' Division Happy Hour event at a Memphis Redbirds game at AutoZone Park beginning at 6 p.m.

The event is being hosted by the University of Memphis Alumni Association's Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Chapter and the Young Lawyers' and Senior Lawyers' divisions of the Memphis Bar Association (MBA).

Lesson to be learned

Winkler was charged with first-degree murder in the March 2006 shooting death of her minister husband, Matthew, in their parsonage home in Selmer, Tenn. In April, a McNairy County jury convicted Winkler of voluntary manslaughter.

She was sentenced to three years in jail at a hearing earlier this month, but with credit for the 143 days already served last year, Winkler will end up serving a remaining sentence of 67 days either in the McNairy County jail or an approved mental health facility.

Winkler's defense attorneys, Steve E. Farese and Leslie I. Ballin, will participate in two panel discussions about the trial.

The discussions will focus on trial management and the strategy behind the trial, the latter of which will feature attorneys' perspectives and a judicial perspective from retired criminal Judge Bernie Weinman, now in private practice at Weinman & Associates.

Farese said he and Ballin will discuss how they dealt with the onslaught of media attention by getting their message out while abiding by the rules. The case captivated the nation and seemed to dominate national media coverage, from television networks such as CNN to newspapers and magazines across the country.

"We'll talk about handling the media and the different kinds of media - the Nancy Graces and the Greta Van Susterens - and there is a huge difference," he said.

Preparation - for all kinds of trials

Farese explained the difference between the two talk show hosts, describing Grace, who hosts shows on CNN Headline News and Court TV, as trying to provoke emotion in her guests. Van Susteren, who hosts "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" on Fox News Channel, on the other hand, asks more direct questions about the law.

"You have to know what to expect when you go on those shows," Farese said.

Farese said he and Ballin also will discuss the assignment of roles in the trial.

Farese, for instance, questioned witnesses he felt better suited to question, such as a firearms expert, while Ballin might question a psychologist because he has more experience with those types of witnesses.

The two also will talk about the costs of litigation - in time and in money. Ballin and Farese defended Winkler pro bono. Farese estimated the expense to both he and Ballin was about $25,000 each. The time each attorney spent on the case amounted to about $250,000 apiece, Farese said.

Civil aspects

In addition to Ballin and Farese, U of M law professor Janet Richards and assistant law professor and county commissioner Steven J. Mulroy also will participate in the panel discussion. Barbara Kritchevsky, professor and associate dean of the law school, will moderate.

Richards, who teaches family law at the U of M, will discuss the civil aspect of a high-profile case. She will discuss the implications of Winkler's conviction on the civil aspects of the case, such as the wrongful-death suit brought by Matthew Winkler's parents that Mary Winkler now faces, along with a custody case concerning her three daughters, Patricia, 9, Mary Alice ("Allie"), 7, and Brianna, 2. The Winklers have been taking care of the children since their daughter-in-law was arrested.

Mulroy will discuss, along with Weinman, sentencing issues, bond, venue (location of trials) and the suppression of evidence.

For Worrell, who graduated from the U of M's law school in 2006, the event poses an exciting opportunity. She said she learned so much in law school, but since becoming a lawyer has had little chance to apply much of what she learned.

"We're just thrilled to have Leslie and Steve," Worrell said. "It will be especially exciting for me, being a new lawyer, getting to see those two talk about the Winkler trial."

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