When an angry 12-year old child made rape accusations against her mother’s boyfriend, she started a multi-year spiral of pain, drama and suffering. Before he discovered the true story, Haytham refused to take the case.
Can you tell me a little about your client and the case? Sure. He was in a relationship with a woman who had three young kids when they met. They were raising the kids together, they would go on trips together, they disciplined the kids together, just a family without the formal marriage papers. Right around the time that the middle child turned 12 she became interested in boys. Her Mom said she was too young to start seeing boys. The girl was upset because she got a call from a boy and they took away her phone. The mother asked the boyfriend to talk to her, thinking it would sound different coming from a guy. He talked to her for about 20 minutes and she said she wanted to speak with her mom. The boyfriend went into the living room to watch TV with the other two kids. Within a few minutes, Mom came into the room and said that the girl told her he had touched her inappropriately. He didn’t know what she was talking about, he insisted it didn’t happen and asked if they could both go in there and talk to her. She said, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe you should leave.” Of course he was going to leave, there is no way that he was going to stay in a house where he’s accused of something so ugly. A couple days later Mom calls the boyfriend and says she is sure her daughter is lying because she couldn’t give her any facts. She asked him to come back instead of breaking up the family. He said, “No, I need for her to say that she was lying about all of this.” The daughter refused to speak to him, but they started seeing each other again outside the home. He never went back home. About a year and half later, Mom and daughter are in a fight again and she tells her biological Dad that the boyfriend raped her. Dad loses his mind, calls the cops and they begin an investigation. They interviewed the girl and she said it had been going on for five years. A typical police investigation ensued. They started to fabricate evidence where none existed. They interviewed her over and over again and the story evolved. Then they brought in the Mom. The Mom said that she never saw anything but she told them that he was abusive, he yelled at them and he was controlling which is why she didn’t say anything for a year and half, because she was terrified of him. They interviewed the sister and she said she never saw anything but what her mom said was true. They were always afraid of him. They interviewed the little boy and the little boy said he never did anything to him. He never saw him do anything bad and he loves him. After two and half years of investigation, lots drama, pain and suffering, we went to trial and got an acquittal on all 17 counts of predatory sex abuse on a child under 13 for a period of five years. Unbelievable story — but probably happens more than we know. What was it like when you first met with your client? I don’t like these cases. A typical response from people when I say I acquitted a guy of 17 counts of predatory sexual assault on child is – “How could you, how disgusting, that’s awful”. You probably felt that in your gut too. That’s the same way I felt when he came to me with his family and said “defend me”. I told him “I don’t like these cases, I don’t take them, I’m not your lawyer.” But he was so earnest. He was an Arab immigrant and we were communicating in Arabic and English. He told me he had seen other lawyers but couldn’t explain himself because of the language barrier. One of the reasons I ended up discovering the story with him was the fact that he couldn’t just leave my office and go find somebody else that could understand him. So I decided to just listen to him. We ended up doing several hours of discovering the story in Arabic. What I discovered was his story was credible and he appeared truthful and genuine. The thing that moved me the most was when we got to the point in the story where he was moving out of the house and I asked him how he felt about that, he started to cry and said he loves the kids and misses them. The emotion was real. That’s when I felt like he was somebody I could represent. How has the experience of working this case made a difference to you? It reinforced how much I hate these cases. Walking into court with so much bias and prejudice against me, it turns the presumption and the burden upside down. That is one of the reasons why I don’t like them. It’s not because I’m afraid of the challenge, but the burden of representing someone who is innocent and knowing that there is so much bias and prejudice. That is something that weighs heavy on me and other lawyers that do this work. It’s such an ugly accusation that the accusation by itself becomes sufficient proof to prove the case. We presented our case and people were saying, “Why would she lie? If she lied about all of that and he already left the house, why would she keep lying? Why would she say he raped her when he didn’t?” So the short answer is that it reinforced why these are such difficult cases — and how grateful I am to the “discovering the story” skills I learned at TLC to be able to get thru the prejudice and bias and know and tell the story in such a way that the juries can see thru to the truth. They are very difficult. Was there a part of the case that just felt like it was all TLC? The entire approach. At TLC, we teach turning things into action. In the courtroom, I put parts of the story into action during cross examination to show the lack of logic in the accuser’s story. I try to actually have people act out what happened right there in the court room. I had several statements that I knew if she went outside these statements I could impeach her. She did exactly that. She began to fabricate stories in the trial and I was able to use that very effectively in closing. Do you have a ritual before heading into the courtroom? My only ritual is running. I run throughout the trial, I run before the trial. I form my closing argument during a run. I do my opening statement during a run. I go over voir dire during a run. So that’s my ritual. I don’t pray. I don’t meditate. I guess running is a state of meditation. I overcome my fears by thinking of the client and the terrible fear that he is experiencing. I tell myself that I have to be strong because he has put his life in my hands. If he sees weakness that is going to break him down and I can’t have him break down. What does “being strong for your client” mean to you? Showing emotional and moral courage in the courtroom and throughout the trial. That we are in this together and we are going to fight this. By showing strength, I think it communicates the belief in your case. Which means credibility, which means the jury looks to you because you appear more in command of the facts, more in command of the courtroom, and therefore more credible and more believable. What is some good advice you could give to other trial lawyers heading into their first trial? Inexperience leads some lawyers to believe that being a trial lawyer means that you’re good on your feet, that you can stand up and talk. I disagree with that. I think a good trial lawyer is a lawyer who is always better prepared than the other side, and being better prepared means one knows the facts better, knows the law better, understands the case law that supports where the jury instruction comes from, how courts analyze them, and understands or at least has an idea of what witnesses might say. And then has the ability to put all of that together in a credible fashion to tell a story that is compelling. I just described in seven sentences what needs to be done, but all that requires a tremendous amount of work and energy. I was in the military so I think of trials as almost real military operations. Not training, but warfare. At the conclusion of a combat operation, one side is defeated, sometimes dead, and the other side prevails. In trial, somebody will go without receiving compensation for an injury, which means you could destroy their life or someone could lose their liberty in a criminal case which means it destroys their life. So it’s combat. It is full-on combat, life or death. If we’re going to think of a trial as combat, then I think one of the best books ever written on combat and combat strategy is Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. He says “if you know yourself and don’t know your enemy, you’ll win 50% of the time. If you don’t know yourself and don’t know your enemy, you’ll lose every time. If you do know yourself and know your enemy, you’ll win every time.” That tells me that he who is well prepared and better understands the facts and the law will more often succeed or almost always succeed. I recently won a $21 million civil case, yet in many ways, this case defending my client’s honor was a bigger victory for my client. If he had $30 million to not have this allegation, he would have paid it. He was looking at 30 to 60 years for every count stacked, and had he been convicted, he was looking at over 500 years in prison. Not to mention he was innocent. You saved his life! You just brought up the “Art of War”. What is the most influential book that you’ve ever read? I think one of my favorite books is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Is it the most influential? I don’t know. It’s one of my favorites. I think it should be required reading for every human being. It’s a massive book. It’s huge. But the message – the takeaway is, we all end up repeating the same experience that is experienced by everyone else around us. We always think that we are unique and if we step back and realize that we have a shared human experience, we begin to understand how to talk to people without being presumptuous, understanding that people have had experiences that inform their decisions, and we are not that unique. The book is about a lot more than that, but that’s the bit that always resonates with me. I would say the other really important book for trials is Gerry Spence’s, “Win Your Case”. It’s one of the most influential books to me because it first motivated me to become a better trial lawyer. What was it about the book that motivated you? It left me with the understanding that, again, with proper preparation and learning the story, connecting with the emotion, and learning to speak to juries — every case can be won; Gerry says it all the time and teaches that at the Trial Lawyers College. It was the book that I read very early in my career and taught me that this is how I want to prepare and try cases. It was this book that brought me to Trial Lawyers College.
About Haytham: Haytham Faraj is a 2009 graduate of the College with over 25 years of professional and legal experience. He practices civil and criminal law in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. Haytham participates in a number of seminars every year throughout the country to constantly hone and improve his trial skills. His active participation in the Trial Lawyers College, his commitment to its mission, and his effective application of their techniques have all led to his selection as a faculty member. In addition, Haytham is the proud recipient of the 2014 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award from ADC. Haytham is the author of several published articles and a book entitled “No Time For Truth”.