TLC Sept ’13 grad, Bobby DiCello, obtained a $22 million jury verdict for his client, Arnold, who was brutally beaten by an East Cleveland police detective, locked in a storage closet with no toilet for four days, and given nothing to eat or drink except for a carton of milk.
Bobby, Congratulations! You must feel great for your client! What was it like when you first began working with Arnold?
Thank you! At first, I was afraid that Arnold was lying. I didn’t believe what he was telling me. I mean it was impossible for me to initially accept it. I live in northeast Ohio and I thought what he was talking about was something out of a sci-fi thriller movie. But there was something in Arnold’s eyes which said “trust me”, and I did. I felt his integrity. I felt his honesty. It motivated me to get to the bottom of it. I’ve jousted a lot of windmills in my career. There was no windmill there, it was a monster.
How do you prepare for a case like this?
Extreme preparedness was number one. Number two was receptivity. Not being shut off or presumptuous. Number three was courage.
Was there any part of the case that felt like it was all TLC?
TLC taught me to lean into those moments, to say what needs to be said, and to share what needs to be shared. And to honestly confess my own position and feelings toward the case. To just be real, super real. Get away from trying to protect, present or offer an idea. And to listen to their honest responses as well.
What do you think are the best practices for a trial lawyer?
I have a personal philosophy that TLC helped me cultivate which is, “love defeats argument”. It’s not love-thy-neighbor-as-they-spit-in-your-face kind of philosophical stuff. TLC taught me to start with the notion that it all stems from us — the trial lawyer. We love ourselves, then we do loving things to the people in the courtroom – like listening. Listening is an act of love. When you go to a jury and you put your belt buckle against the rail and you start hearing their answers. There is a real moment of connection when you give in to that moment and forget where you are. It’s really hard to do, but TLC helps me do that. TLC’s faculty member in San Diego, Ken Turek (Class of ’98) is such a model of inspiration for me. He taught me to be present and forget what else happens. “Don’t go in with your checklist. Just go in there”.
What motivates you to return to TLC courses since your graduation two years ago?
I love the environment, the actual physical space at the ranch, the detachment from electronics, and getting back to my own DNA. TLC helps me see what I’m not doing for myself. Since my partners — my brother Mark being one of them — are also grads of TLC, we live this together. We understand the power of reversing roles and getting out of your own head.
Do you have a ritual before you head into the courtroom?
In preparing for the trial, I ritualistically do story-boarding and work the case based on an approach I developed from the study of persuasion science and dramatic story structure to frame the case and build it to reveal its power and truth. I also meditate. I practice being aware of what I am reacting to, and how I feel. I ask myself, “Where is the emotional power of this story?” Not, “What does the jury want to hear about this case?” I also spend a lot of time free-writing, working the facts into a compelling structure and giving myself permission to express what stirs in me without judgment. I also do lots of focus groups. Then I review and refine it all and, in trial, speak from my gut. I’ve given years to studying story, not in the literary or theatrical sense, but in the context of how it persuades jurors in the competitive storytelling environment of the courtroom. But always, at that moment right before I’m about to step into the courtroom, I tune in with myself and make sure I know where I’m at, make sure my internal state is right. Then throughout the trial I react. I commit myself to not being the judge of what comes out of my mouth, I trust the insane amount of preparation I do, and I listen and allow myself to be real.
Would you say that this case changed your perspective on the world?
Yeah, I realized something pretty big. I used to think that I only needed to apply my own experience to decide what to do with a case. I thought I was pretty well rounded and only needed to trust that. I mean, I’ve been a professional guitarist, worked in a factory, done construction, taught school, and other things. But now I accept the fact that my singular understanding of this world offers a very limited perspective. Its a good and necessary start. But it’s like seeing a room through a peep hole. There’s only so much you can see. So, to expand my understanding and get to the universal truths, I ask for the input of many voices to reveal the story of the case. I get that from focus groups, input from fellow lawyers in the firm, ideas from my wife and even my kids. I now happily accept that I don’t need to have all the answers. It’s freeing, really.
Robert F. DiCello graduated from the University of Dayton with a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master’s Degree from Northwestern University. He attended the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, at Cleveland State University where he was named The Editor-In-Chief of the Law Review.
After graduating from Law School, Robert accepted a position as Assistant County Prosecutor in the largest prosecutor’s office in the State of Ohio, The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office where he tried over 40 jury trials involving a variety of major felonies from financial crimes, crimes of violence, theft and drugs. Robert eventually left that position to join his brother Mark at The DiCello Law Firm. While participating in mass tort and class action litigation, he has also dedicated a substantial amount of his practice to ending police abuse and curbing police misconduct. He currently represents victims of police abuse around the Country. Robert is a member of the National Police Accountability Project, the Ohio Association for Justice, and a number of local bar associations. He has been admitted to practice in the State of Ohio as well as a number of Federal Court including the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, The United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, and The United States Supreme Court.
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