Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Herald Article on Sy last year.

It was great that the Herald and our own little legal community banded together last December and honored Sy on his 75th Birthday, with a wonderful article written by Susannah Nesmith and a party at Tobacco Road, where Judge Stan Blake made a presentation to Sy on behalf of the 11th Judicial Circuit. This was all about the best of our legal world honoring one of our own who truly deserved it.

Since that time, Sy was named one of the original eleven Legal Legends of Dade County by the 11th Circuit Historical Society. The award will be presented in November, but according to David Markus, Sy did receive the letter and was very proud.

It is all together fitting that we re-run the wonderful article written by Ms. Nesmith:


Attorney: I'm here on a mission of mercy for this poor innocent child, your honor.
Judge: How old is this 'poor child'?
Attorney: He's 23 years old, your honor . . . a babe in the woods.
Judge: If I recall, once you reach 18, you're not a child anymore.
Attorney: I have suits that are older, your honor.
Judge: You have speeches that are older. I've heard them all Mr. Gaer. Motion denied.

Ladies and gentleman, Sy Gaer, a little old man who is something of a giant in courthouse circles. Here is a lawyer who turns routine hearings into comedy theater, but also regularly wins trials, even though he refuses to prepare.

His lines are legendary in the Justice Building.
To Gaer, every case is a potential "miscarriage of justice, " all prosecutors are "persecutors" and every client a "poor innocent child" no matter how old, or how heinous the alleged crime.

He's been known to comment that a certain prosecutor had "his diaper wrapped too tightly." Gaer, 75, even has a favorite line for judges: "Just once before I die, I'd like to hear the word 'granted' in this courtroom."

"He's a throwback, almost a caricature. He practices law as it was practiced four decades ago, " said Circuit Judge Stanford Blake.

All humor aside, young prosecutors quickly learn not to underestimate the Korean War veteran from Queens.

"They see this bumbling Barney Fife type guy, and then he does a brilliant cross examination and they're shocked because they thought he was just a court jester, " said Circuit Judge Diane Ward.

For all his bombast in the courtroom, Gaer is humble in the hallway.
"I'm just a crippled, bent-over old man who can barely catch his breath, " Gaer said on a recent day.

He has the breathlessness of emphysema, the slow shuffle of a herniated disk and the paper-thin, liver-spotted skin of a man who has lived a long time. His suits hang crookedly on his thin, stooped frame.

Last year, he fought off colon cancer. But while he may be slowing down, Gaer shows no signs of giving up.

He'll do 15 hearings in a morning - a dozen more than most lawyers handling major crimes would ever schedule in one day. Gaer calls it "volume business." He charges less than most and handles more cases.
Gaer says he can do it because he doesn't prepare for trial like other lawyers do.

"I don't take depositions. I don't visit them in the jails. I don't take collect calls."
Instead, he goes to court armed only with a little black book, where he scribbles his case information in tiny, left-handed script.
"If he takes depositions, he has to tell us his angle, " explained veteran prosecutor Susan Dannelly. "What better way to spring a witness on us. Of course, not everybody can pull that off."

"Trial by ambush, " says Circuit Judge Leonard Glick. "He will find a little hole and expand it a little larger, then find another one and expand that one and before you know it, the entire thread of the case has come unraveled."

Prosecutors Tama Koss and Carolina Corona were ambushed by Sy this month. The charge was attempted murder of an 83-year-old man. Gaer's client was arrested driving the man's car hours after the beating.
Gaer entangled the lead detective in his own department policies, asking him why he didn't tape the victim picking his client out of a photo lineup.
The cop said that's not normal procedure. Gaer had him get the police department policy. It says photo lineups should be recorded.

"Here we are in the year 2006 when things are so technologically advanced and you don't have a tape recorder or a video recorder?" Gaer asked.
"No sir, " Det. Magdiel Armenteros responded.
"Wouldn't it be fair to document those sorts of things?" Gaer continued.
"It is documented in my supplemental report, " the officer responded.
"But isn't it true that a police officer can put anything he wants in a report, that he can get cute with the facts if he wants and no one will know?" Gaer asked.
"No sir, there's nothing cute about my job, " the officer replied petulantly.
After questioning why there was no DNA or fingerprint evidence, Gaer had given the jury reasonable doubt.
His client was acquitted of attempted murder and convicted only of auto theft. He was facing 30 years in prison but got just 10.

"What can I say? Sy's a hero, " Circuit Judge Julio Jimenez said after trial. "I thought this case was a slam dunk."
Jimenez worked in Gaer's office in the early 1980s, a time he recalls as exhausting.

"Sy's like a professional gambler, " he said. "He knows all the possible combinations that might come up. He's seen it all before."

So why keep doing it?
"I find it mildly amusing, " Gaer said one day, sitting in his office a few blocks from the courthouse. He's been there for years. He redecorated in 1977 and hasn't seen a need to change the orange-and-cream shag carpeting on the wall.
Though he's had several high profile cases over the years, he tends to shun the media. He adamantly refuses to discuss any but the barest details of his personal life.

Born and raised in Queens, where his father was a taxi driver, he went to school on the GI Bill - first Queens College, then the University of Miami Law School.
He's been married but won't say how many times. Circuit Judge Scott Silverman was briefly his stepson, back when Silverman was 4.
"Every judge who's in that building now, the day they walked in, Sy Gaer had already been there 10 years, " Silverman said. "He came with the building."

Gaer was overwhelmed and a bit embarrassed by all the attention he got on his birthday. Three different judges interrupted court to sing Happy Birthday.
The Miami-Dade criminal defense bar put on a party that night at Tobacco Road that drew a few hundred Justice Building regulars.
"I can't believe this turnout, " Gaer said. "It's not like I'm Mother Teresa or something. I just made a good living."

Lawyers and judges traded Sy stories. Like the one about the young prosecutor who carts a box of files into the courtroom, ready for trial. Gaer walks in without even a briefcase. He asks the prosecutor if he can borrow a couple of pieces of paper.
Gaer won.
"After that I used to bring in extra pads for Sy, " Assistant State Attorney Philip Maniatty recalled.

State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle arrived with a big bear hug for Gaer: "He was one of my first teachers. I used to watch him talk to jurors. It was impressive what he could do with them."

Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz said Gaer "understands the psychology of a jury."
"People think he wings it. He doesn't. He knows the law better than anyone in the building probably, " said defense attorney Phil Reizenstein.

Gaer is the first to point out he doesn't win anywhere near all of his cases. Asked why he didn't seem to have any enemies in a building built on confrontation, he said: "I had one once, but he's dead now. I guess I've outlived all my enemies."

WHAT COLLEAGUES SAY ABOUT SY GAER * Assistant State Attorney Philip Maniatty: "He will go through an entire trial and refer to his client by the wrong name and the jury will acquit anyway." * Defense Attorney Richard Sharpstein: "He kicked my a- as a young prosecutor a couple of times. I thought, 'this guy hasn't taken a single deposition.' " * Circuit Judge Julio Jimenez, who once worked with Gaer : "There are people who can't afford Roy Black, but they want to hire their own attorney. He's told me before, 'People are proud. There's no better feeling for some of these guys than to be able to pay for their own lawyer.' " * Assistant State Attorney Bill Kostrzewski: "There's so many curmudgeons out there that are real curmudgeons and nasty people, but Sy's a really nice guy." * Circuit Judge Diane Ward: "He represents people who no one has ever fought for before. When Sy is fighting for somebody, the whole courtroom is listening. That's a nice thing for somebody who's scared." * Assistant State Attorney Kionne McGhee: "I saw him beat down a colleague of mine. I mean, beat down into the ground." * Circuit Judge Norman Gerstein: "We used to joke at one time that he had as many cases as the Public Defender's Office."


Anonymous said...

Rump, what did you mean when you wrote "1" at the end of the last post. Sy was a legend in the black community. I wonder if some one did step up and take cases for 500 or 1k for poor people if other lawyers would badmouth and call him a hack and say he's driving down the market. Probably they would, right Rump?

Anonymous said...

I can not believe Sy was only 75.

Rumpole said...

1 is for me to know.

I have seen lawyers come and go who thought they could do it Sy's way. To a person, they were disaters who ended up poorly serving clients. Sy could do what he did because he had the experience to handle the difficult situations in court. That being said, I am sure there were times he would have been better off taking depos. Just like there are times I would be better off not taking depos. Every case is different. But Sy also knew the law cold. And he had an appellate lawyer with him when he needed one, so most of the times he covered all the bases and did a great job. And as many have said, there were countless times when he did what no one else could have pulled off. Other lawyers taking cases for $500 are going to jam pleas down their client's throats. Sy never did that. Plus, his fees were a bit higher than that I believe.

Anonymous said...

If "1" is for you to know, then why write it? And you're already setting up the excuses for why the next SY will never happen, other lawyers won't let it. Peer Pressure is not to be underestimated. In the REGJB world, nothing matters more.

Rumpole said...

Excuses? I am just commenting on what I have seen. I think most clients are better served with a PD then some lawyer who is hustling a grand. I will know the next Sy when I see him or her, but truth be known his likes will not soon be seen in these parts again. He was one of a kind.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear Rump de la Rump.


Anonymous said...

Amen to that Rump!

Anonymous said...

You guys are a bunch of prima donnas. i'm gonna take cases from everywhere for super-cheap b/c the PDO sucks--why do you all think you know better than consumers, many of whom have had pd's before, went to prison and do not want any more pd's --they want their own atty-which will be me. You'll see and you'll hate an so will all other attys, but its the RIGHT thing to do-- SEE YOU IN COURT DEFENDING THE UNDERDOGS NON-STOP!

Anonymous said...

dear 6:52

get help soon. your brain is all washed up.

Anonymous said...

Then you musta hated Sy's style, his verve, you douchebuckets. I'm tired of lying about this shit--no more sell out-Sy was a light, why are you trying to squash it so soon. But you're so cool and urbane and sophisticated and.....progressive, right??? Phonies!

Rumpole said...

easy...this is about Sy and only Sy. Save the crap for Friday. Tomorrow we say goodbye to a Friend.

Anonymous said...

Sy Gaer was "everyones Attorney".As Roy said he was a throwback;willing to do battle and not run to the presecutors for a plea he is deemed it not in the clients best interest.
Yes,he did it "on the cheap",but he was not in need of Rolex watches,Porches etc.He was willing to help the downtroden,those without wealth,forget wealth;little money to have their own attorney and their "day in court".
We all owe Sy respect and fortunately,he received some of those accolades before his demise.
some of us had the pleasure of trying cases with hime either as prosecutor or defense counsel;some of us had the pleasure of Sy appearing before us as trial counsel;some of us may have even watched Sy as a spectator,or even a juror.In each case he did his sctick;doing an excellent job for
the "misunderstood""Child".
May his legacy at REG expand a little in each of us.

Rumpole said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

I believe when Rump posts 1 it's because he has removed another post.

rest in peace Sy.

Anonymous said...

As a "kid" prosecutor and admirer of Sy's work I am saddened by his passing. I was guaranteed a smile at least once a day when Sy shuffled into the courtroom. My former judge told me yesterday, "there will never be another Sy", and I couldn't agree more.

But what I mourn most are not just the lack of quips about prosecutors and miscarriages of justice, but rather the learning that took place by seeing Sy at his craft; one I hope to hone for many years to come.

For all the bickering and badmouthing that goes on between prosecutors and the defense bar on this blog, the readers should never forget the impact they have on the practice of law. The fond memories about Sy shared by judges, his colleagues, and prosecutors alike are a reminder of that. For those who stopped to watch and listen, Sy touched our lives and sharpened our legal skills.

The next Sy will not be the one who charges the least and "drives down the market". The next Sy will be someone "kids" will learn from.

Anonymous said...

When Mr. Gaer was referred to as a throwback what was meant by reading between the lines for those young lawyers who did not or barely knew him who have written in hoping to achieve some of what he did. For those of you practicing in the 21st century here are some basic guidelines if you want to come anywhere near the trial excellence that he achieved. 1. Constantly keep your research and writing skills sharp by filing motions with memorandum of law and reading the Fla.Law weekly. If you cannot write a motion that at least includes reference to a specific rule of criminal procedure, the evidence code, or supporting case law you have no business defending people facing prison time so stick to traffic and misdemeanors and stay away from DUIs because they are more complicated, if you go to trial, than half of the felony cases. 2. Start building a law library and the cheapest way to start is to invest $150 and get a copy of the Florida cases notebook. 3. Never lie to a judge about your schedule, whether a plea has been conveyed etc. 4. If your client is incarcerated visit him and at a minimum cover the following which means you will be there at least a half hour in the room with your client, if this is a problem see the end of 3 above. Tell your client it is his constitutional right whether to testify at his trial, take a plea or turn one down, have a speedy trial and have a trial. Summarize the discovery and give copies if requested but first warn against having them in jail when charged with a serious felony, ask if their are defense witnesses to interview and list and if there is a possible alibi. Convey any plea offers in person, do not discuss the case over the phone if the call is from jail. Tell your client that you must do what he wants in regards to taking a plea or going to trial but you do everything else. He does not tell you how to pick a jury or what to say in opening. If you really want to establish credibility with difficult clients or if you are replacing prior counsel visit them, explain, have a paper trail(motions) and document IN YOUR FILE the most important events such as the date a plea was conveyed and turned down, a speedy trial request, telling you he has no alibi or defense witnesses etc. This will come in handy for your rule 3 because almost none of us will get the acquittal rate at trial that Sy got and that is why he was Sy and you aren't.5. Trial preparation is hard work-the harder you work the more comfortable you will be and the more breaks will come your way. Invest in a cheap 3 ring binder and put together a trial notebook and come up with your own organizational system of folders with headings. This is expecially true if you endeavor to solely handle murder, cap.sex.battery, williams rule, etc. cases where discovery can take several years and the trial over 1 week.6. Keep notes during trial of appellate issues and make sure you object and make a record for your client of requests denied, inappropriate juror , judge , or attorney conduct etc. You most likely will not be doing the appeal. 7.Have the most recent West's criminal law edition handy, buy a trial briefcase(u know the big ones) and buy Ehrhardt's evidence. 8. Figure out a way to not be distracted by the media and the attorneys from the state who gang up on you in felony trials-you know the six that come to watch, bump into you in the hall, make fun of you etc. to try to get a competitive advantage. 9.Prepare your client to testify at trial even if you don't like it, he has priors or he does not want to so you can say you were diligent at the rule 3. 10. Find a way to deal with the stress you type A person and remember almost noone on their deathbed said they should have spent more time at the office. This was written by an attorney that Mr. Gaer considered a colleague.Good luck to you, young lawyer as you defend the poor. If you can do it successfully for a few years many lives will be positively affected by your dedication- if you do it for 40 years they call you a LIVING LEGEND or Sy for short.

Anonymous said...

Sitting at an airport, reading these comments and tearing up. I can't believe I will miss his service. Some people are thrilled that they experienced Woodstock or saw the Beatles live. I am happy that I had the opportunity to know Sy. At the same time, I am sad for the judges and lawyers coming behind us who never will. I can't think of any other lawyer who has positively affected so many people from so many walks of life. A portrait of him should be hung at REG.