Conversation with the Honorable Judge Randall, Part 2

May 10, 2022

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How does one move from being a lawyer to a judge? What does it mean to appeal a case? What advice should judges give new lawyers? This episode of the Lady Lawyer League podcast features the Honorable Judge Gary Randall. Judge Randall talks about his journey from lawyer to judge and how the two professions are different and similar at the same time. He also breaks down some of his most highly profiled cases during his tenure as a judge in Nebraska.

Learn more about Judge Gary Randall and his career here.

Podcast Transcript

Susan Reff: On today’s episode, we’re continuing our conversation with Judge Gary Randall about his life as a judge and as a lawyer. And we’re doing this in chambers. 

Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers in an all-female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law, share real-life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. I’m Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Susan: And I’m Susan Reff. And we’re going to jump right back into our conversation with Judge Randall, where we’re going to talk about the legacy case that really was part of a huge part of his time on the bench. And we’re also going to ask Judge Randall for some of the advice that he would give to young lawyers and potential clients.Welcome back.

Susan: I’m going to assume that you’ve had some of your decisions overturned on appeal.

Judge Randall: I hate to say this right now, because there’s probably some still sitting there. Where some would. Is this really wood on this table? Yes, I have. I don’t know that I ever had anything completely reversed and retried.

Susan: Like you got it 100% wrong. We’re vacating everything. Start fresh.

Judge Randall: I don’t believe that ever happened.

Susan: And I’ve heard from some judges that’s the worst feeling in the world.

Judge Randall: To get reversed.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: It’s not.

Susan: Great. But it comes back to you, right? The case comes back to you and you have to do it and deal with it again.

Judge Randall: But, you know, I always assumed I’d be better at it the second time.

Susan: Sure.

Judge Randall: So the, I understood why, almost always that the court took that position. There were a couple I didn’t, but almost always I understood it and some, you look for that. I mean, they say that a lawsuit or a case is a search for the truth. Well, I already thought I found the truth. So? So sometimes it’s a little rough.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: But I could usually figure out why. And some of it is just. I mean, I thought the law was something different than what it, in fact, was. You know, there are some quirky little pieces of the law that not everybody knows. And, you know, a lawyer is very likely to take that position in defense of their client and move it forward. And you have to decide whether that’s real or not.

Susan: Yeah. Tell us about your experience on the bench with things that were kind of a feel-good thing, like drug court.

Judge Randall: Oh, it was amazing. I loved drug court. I loved it. But I actually was fortunate. Drug courts started with Jim Murphy, and I started watching Jim Murphy do drug court as a lawyer. I loved it. I have always been involved in chemical dependency treatment issues. I don’t mean personally, but chemical dependency treatment issues and the ability, like I was on the board of directors of Santa Monica. My mother was one of the founders of Santa Monica. I always believed that providing members in the community with resources to deal with their treatment, their alcohol or drug treatment was really an important component. So I felt that way as a lawyer. Then Jim Murphy starts to do drug court. And I was in his audience watching it because it was good theater and people were getting better. And I always thought if I ever get the chance, I want to do that. And I was able then to fashion that once I became a judge.

Susan: Tell us what the best part about drug court was for the people listening that don’t really understand what it means when we say drug court. How is it different?

Judge Randall: Well, it’s different because the sanctions are only for the purpose of trying to get people to realize that they’re not doing what they need to do to get better. You know, because I’m actually providing treatment for them if they’re in drug court, I am making sure that they have resources available to them to help them stop using drugs or alcohol and stop destroying their life.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: And I think that they, actually I know most of them knew it. They would tell me, you know, when they graduated or they would tell me later, I could tell that you really cared, you know, that you wanted me to get better. And the answer is that I did, even people I didn’t personally like, I wanted them to get better because I knew it was going to improve their lives and the lives of their family members going forward.

Susan: And the result then of drug court is upon graduation, their crime is absolved.

Judge Randall: Yeah, it is absolutely absolved. It’s, it comes off of their record now. There. If somebody wants to look at their record carefully, they’ll see that they were involved in drug court. But it doesn’t show a conviction.

Susan: Yeah. Do you think that was the ultimate goal for people or was it getting better, the people involved? I mean, maybe when they walk in the door in the beginning.

Judge Randall: I didn’t care. I didn’t care because if they graduated, they were getting better.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: I didn’t care. I would not, if their ultimate goal was just not to have a felony on their record, if that’s what trips your trigger and is going to make you healthy. I’m okay with that.

Susan: It’s not a cakewalk to go through drug court.

Judge Randall: It is not. And it takes a long time. I think the shortest period of time somebody can do it in is about nine months.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: And the, it could be a year or so.

Susan: Yeah. Well, tell us about your legacy case. Which one as a judge, which one is, do you have multiple? Yeah. Tell us about the one you want to talk about.

Judge Randall: Well, obviously, the one people people like to hear about is the Garcia case because he committed five murders and was then obviously convicted of five murders. It was one of two six-week trials that I had during my tenure as a judge. The other one was the ConAgra case, you know, and they were both significant, interesting, taxing, I say, with a sense of dread. I mean, I worked until probably 10 or 12 at night, virtually every night, you know, in some of those cases.

Susan: And they’re both jury trials.

Judge Randall: They’re both jury trials.

Susan: Which adds a whole element.

Judge Randall: And they both had at least six lawyers involved.

Susan: And one civil and one criminal, correct?

Judge Randall: Yeah. So they were both at the top of their of the rung in terms of what demanded my attention. I mean, the ConAgra case was $183 million judgment, the largest judgment, I still believe, in Nebraska at this point in time. And it was affirmed.

Susan: So the largest number of murders and in the highest judgment were all in front of you.

Judge Randall: I got both of them.

Susan: Yeah, well and I am not familiar, as familiar with the ConAgra case on like a play-by-play. But Garcia had so much media coverage and not only the local media, there was national media involved at some point.

Judge Randall: And The Washington Post reporter was there.

Susan: I was watching the Twitter string about the Anthony Garcia case.

Judge Randall: It was it was very well covered in the courtroom, was full almost every day. It was incredibly interesting. I mean, not all lawsuits are interesting. I’m sorry. Some of them I thought about going to sleep during, but I didn’t. But this was one that, you know, is I would never in my lifetime see another one like.

Susan: Right.

Judge Randall: You know, and some of it was the bad behavior of some of the lawyers. Some of it was just the salaciousness of the crimes itself. I mean, they occurred five years apart.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: Two of the murders happened, you know, initially.

Susan: And there was a child.

Judge Randall: And then a child and then three of the murders happened five years later. And you talk about a grudge? Yeah. Dr. Garcia had an incredible grudge that he came back and he was still fighting when he committed the last three murders.

Susan: And his personality was I mean, generally, when someone is on trial for a crime, their personality comes out. But his was so interesting and so dark, too. And that played another part in the trial, I think, too. And the fact that he was a doctor was sort of, I don’t even know.

Judge Randall: I mean, he was a doctor. He had a license, a medical license. Absolutely.

Susan: I knew he’d gone to medical school. I wasn’t sure if he actually got licensed. He did. I think a lot of the media and I was sometimes in the gallery, in the audience, because our office was across the street from the courthouse. And it was one of those cases, if I had an hour in between two hearings, I’d slip in there and sit in the back. And a lot of the media would just report on his mannerisms during trial, just like, how is he sitting? Is he paying attention? Is he sleeping? Is he taking notes? Is he not taking notes? And he’s taking notes and they’re all sideways and crooked. And it was fascinating.

Judge Randall: And that was getting reported on by Todd Cooper and whoever else goes to do it. I mean, CNN was in there. Yeah. You know, the local media was there every day. And it was the back of the courtroom. I was in courtroom number 13 at the time and courtroom 13 had chairs in the back of the courtroom that were then separated by a walkway. And then the rest of the of the rows were the courtroom. The normal ones were in front of it, and the media filled all of the seats in the back and some of the regular public seats. We had media meetings every day in that trial. And my reporter, Sonia, just did an amazing job because she was doing dailies for the attorneys so that they could have the testimony that, oh, my God, the day before. Wow. In addition to that, at the end of the day, she would lay out all of the evidence that had been admitted on the bench. And she and I would watch as they came up to look at it to see what the evidence really was so that they could do an accurate story.

Susan: Wow.

Judge Randall: And the media was. Well. I hate to say this, but I will. I was kind of the darling of the media at that point in time because I was giving them access.

Susan: Sure.

Judge Randall: And many judges get frightened by that. And I was not frightened by it. I decided that what was in evidence was available to the public to be seen in news broadcasts.

Susan: And there’s no excuse for fake news. Right, right, right. That’s true. The good news is true.

Judge Randall: And this was a heavily, I mean, The Wall Street Journal was there, you know, there was national media there. And they needed to know that in Nebraska, we did these things professionally and to a certain standard that needed to be held up.

Susan: And how many pieces of evidence were there?

Judge Randall: I don’t even know.

Susan: Thousands?

Judge Randall: No, but hundreds.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: Yeah. I think we might have gotten to 200. Because for some reason I remember 183. I don’t know why.

Susan: What was 183? We need to see. I had my first courtroom experience with Judge Moran when I was in the legal clinic at Creighton with Kate Maher. And the, it was a divorce. And the other side, the husband was in jail for domestic abuse on the wife and his entourage showed up, but he doesn’t because he’s in jail. And they wanted to make, they wanted to put on testimony from the benches in the back. They were shouting out and Judge Moran said numerous times, “I will not let my courtroom become the Jerry Springer Show.”

Judge Randall: I believe I might have even picked up that phrase from him because I used it more than once. Yeah.

Susan: You have to be in control, right? I mean, you’re the, you have to take all the evidence and hear it and decide. But you also are in control of what happens day to day.

Judge Randall: And if you decide that you don’t want to abide by my rules and my regulations as long as I’m doing, using the right ones. Yeah. Then you can leave my courtroom or I’ll have you removed. And sometimes they leave with the deputy, in handcuffs. And I don’t mean somebody that was there to be sentenced for another crime. Yeah. I mean people that are behaving inappropriately in the courtroom. I held them in contempt and had them removed.

Susan: Have you ever had an attorney held in contempt in your courtroom?

Judge Randall: Yes. But I.

Susan: Were there deputies involved? Were there handcuffs? I just want to know if there’s handcuffs.

Judge Randall: No, but I threatened it.

Susan: I’m sure that that might be good enough for some people. And is there really a red button under the desk?

Judge Randall: Absolutely.

Susan: Yeah. Did you ever accidentally hit it with your leg or anything?

Judge Randall: No, but I hit it on purpose multiple times. No, I did hit it, I guess accidentally once.

Susan: We had a hearing reset.

Judge Randall: And different benches have them in different places. And that’s kind of the problem there.

Susan: We had a hearing recently where the two attorneys were arguing loudly at the table and all of a sudden the sheriff showed up and I was like, the judge just hit the red button. I know of that because there was no other reason for the deputies to come in.

Judge Randall: That’s correct.

Susan: You see it a lot in county court. Yeah, it happens in county court. Criminal court a lot.

Judge Randall: Yeah. But that’s kind of the court of the great unwashed and they don’t necessarily know how they, how they have to behave. Yeah. And county court judges have to figure out how to get their attention.

Susan: Yes, yeah, yeah. People like sit up taller when the sheriff walks in, or sometimes they don’t care. I mean, sometimes if they’re that far, if they’re willing to be super disrespectful to a judge, to the point where they’re like, “I got it. I got to get some muscle in the courtroom.” Yeah. I think by then that person is usually pretty far gone. That reason isn’t going to work well.

Judge Randall: And if it’s a, I mean, if it’s a civil case, it’s probably just in the regular county courtrooms. But the courtroom they have in the jail takes care of a whole lot of those problems now that it didn’t use to be able to be handled as easily.

Susan: Yeah. I want to know as we kind of wrap up a little bit, what is some advice that you would give to lawyers? Maybe the ruffians, the baby lawyers, and then also advice to domestic divorce clients and how they act and should act in court.

Judge Randall: Well I’ll go for the baby lawyers first. The baby lawyers need to be in communication with the judge, and they can communicate with the judge through the bailiff. And if they want to come in and talk to the judge about how the judge is going to do things, the other side is going to have to come in too. But they can come in. And I would absolutely give them that time. Any time.

Susan: And most judges would say, yeah.

Judge Randall: Yes, because we want it to run smoothly. We want them to know what it is they’re supposed to be doing. We’re just helping them be better.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: You know, and I don’t believe that holding them in contempt or ridiculing them or embarrassing them is the right way to do that. That’s just making an enemy. And I don’t need to do that.

Susan: And those baby lawyers on that piece of advice should become friends with the bailiff, or at least be friendly and kind and respectful to the bailiff. Yeah, sure.

Judge Randall: And if the baby lawyer isn’t sure what it is on a particular part of what they’re doing, then they should get the other attorney and call the bailiff and say, “Can we talk to the judge for a little bit? Can we have a pretrial in this case?” And then it’s all above board. Nobody’s trying to stab anybody else in the back. And it’s the right way to go about it.

Susan: Yeah. I think there’s a big intimidation factor, especially for the ruffians calling and saying, “Can I talk to the judge? And I don’t know what I’m doing.” And I think one of the things that I learned from the beginning, because I didn’t do moot court and I didn’t do trial practice, is unless I’m admitting I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to make a fool out of myself, you know? And it’s really helpful, I think, for you to just say I need help.

Judge Randall: Yeah, absolutely. To summarize, this is my first trial.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: Is there something that I need to do for you specifically?

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: You know, then you make it about the judge and he’s going to tell you, he or she’s going to tell you about what they want.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: And I don’t think anybody has a problem with that.

Tracy: Yeah. And I have over 10 years of practice and Susan has over 20. And we still often say, I don’t really know what I’m doing on this type of case. Well, and recently, a lot of the rules have changed as far as evidence. And I have made it a point to try to reach out to every judge through their bailiff and court reporter and say, “How do you like it?” Because what we’re learning is everybody is a little bit different. And I think that’s just going to be my practice before any trial is, “How do you like it?” And, you know, and then passing that information to as many different lawyers here as I can, like “This judge likes it like this.” Yeah.

Judge Randall: Yeah, that’s a very wise practice. Yeah. Because every judge is going to want their own way. And we get to do that.

Susan: Yeah. All right. Tell us about advice for parties in a case and decorum in the courtroom.

Judge Randall: Your clients hopefully have a good enough. Hopefully your client, not, I don’t mean your clients. I mean any attorney’s client is being sufficiently represented so they know what to expect. But the bottom line is, if you’ve got a lawyer, your lawyer’s going to make your points, your lawyer is going to make your argument. And you really aren’t, as the party to the case, probably shouldn’t speak unless you’re spoken to. You know, and.

Susan: Number one.

Judge Randall: The right thing to do.

Susan: Yes. Yeah. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Judge Randall: And if you think that somebody doesn’t know that you’re angry about a decision or something because you haven’t said anything, you’re getting read all the time, your facial expressions, your body language. You know, I’m watching all of that as the judge, you know, and some of it’s just self-preservation from the judge’s perspective. Sure. You know, because I need to know if somebody’s going to blow up.

Susan: Yeah, right. If you need to hit the red button.

Judge Randall: Exactly. So, I mean, that’s my job as just the observer of that. Yeah. And you know, we’re able to do multiple things at the same time and we do it all day long.

Susan: I had a recent trial where I was representing the wife and the husband showed up with his lawyer at their table next to ours, and the husband pulls a Bible out and he sets it on the table. And my client said, “He’s only doing that because he thinks the judge is going to look better at him.” And I said, “There’s no way, this judge doesn’t care if this man has a Bible sitting on the table or not.” And at some point during the trial, he opens the Bible and starts highlighting things in the Bible during her testimony. And I said, “The judge does not care about that.” You know, and frankly, the judge probably thinks it’s weird. Yep. Yep. So it’s our clients really see all those little things and they think, oh, he might win because he’s got the Bible sitting out. Yeah. And I think it’s, we get those good stories. Yes. Well, that’s maybe no, your judge maybe. I actually had a two-day trial where both parties were holding their rosaries during the trial. And my client was literally like it was like her calming thing.

Judge Randall: And they had doing the beads.

Susan: She was going through the beads. Yeah, I’m assuming. But it, it got to the point where like, they were like knocking on the tables for both of the parties. And I mean, obviously that was an important thing for both of them and had been part of who they are. But I hadn’t known it until trial. And I’m like, Huh? But I tell people, when you’re in trial, you’re a human being. You know, the judges see this all the time. They see people come in front of them at all stages of their life, like, it’s okay to be nervous. It’s okay to, you know, people are like, “Can I bring a water bottle and can I take notes or is there going to be bathroom breaks?” You know, and it’s like telling people what they can expect is a huge part of our job.

Judge Randall: But I think the number one thing to make sure you tell the clients is you may be angry, but don’t let the court know that you are angry. It’s not going to do any good. Yes, because when you get angry, you are no longer in charge of how you are communicating your story, which you want them to have.

Susan: Yeah, some emotions are okay, right. I think when people, you can tell they may start crying on the stand. I think just let it, you know, let it happen. You’re going to, this is an emotional time. But I agree. I think that anger just can cloud a lot of.

Judge Randall: It doesn’t win anything. Yeah, because you’re angry doesn’t mean I’m going to rule in a certain way. Yeah, it’s just not going to happen.

Susan: Yeah, they win the anger factor.

Judge Randall: You know, and I don’t necessarily want to make people angry, but I know I do, so I’m not worried about it.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: I mean, if that’s, if that’s the emotion you feel because I did what my job was and I did it the right way. I’m not responsible for that.

Susan: Yeah.

Judge Randall: You know, now, if you want to express that anger in certain ways in the courtroom, I can stop that because I’ll have you removed.

Susan: But yeah, with the red button, never get the red button pushed. Those are the two good closing pieces of advice. If you’re angry, don’t let the judge see it. And don’t get the red button. Yeah. As a lawyer or a litigant.

Judge Randall: Well, no, actually, not if you, the piece of advice isn’t don’t let the judge know if you’re angry. Don’t act in a manner that’s going to get you in trouble.

Susan: There you go. Yeah.

Judge Randall: Control your anger from that sense. If you want the judge to know that you don’t like what’s happening, hey, 50% of the time, somebody is not going to be happy, right?

Susan: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good advice for life in general. If you just always picture if someone can hit a red button at any moment, don’t act that way. That’s the life advice that we’re going to leave you. You never know what’s going to happen. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for being with us today. This has been such a fun conversation and I think we could, it could last for 8 hours and we could tell stories and maybe mostly off the record.

Judge Randall: But yeah, you wouldn’t be able to, nobody would listen to it that long except you guys.

Susan: Yeah, right. Thank you. Judge Randall, this was really great.

Judge Randall: Thank you for asking me.

Outro: Thank you for listening to the Lady Lawyer League. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would like to learn more about our firm, visit us at hrlawomaha.com. We’ll see you next week.