I have found that the person who is making the argument wants to impress upon the listener that they care about their subject matter. However, they don't want to be too passionate or appear to be too much of a zealot," says Vista Courthouse judge Joseph "Judge Joe" Brannigan. On Tuesday, May 3, Brannigan will be giving a lecture at the Encourage Mint motivational club entitled How to Form Winning Arguments. Brannigan has been a judge for three months, but he has practiced as an attorney for 30 years and has argued hundreds of cases. "You must begin on a positive note, exuding confidence but not arrogance."
Brannigan explains how he applied this rule in a 1987 El Cajon case of vehicular homicide where he prosecuted a driver who, by inadvertently turning in front of a motorcycle, killed the motorcyclist. "I let the jury know that I sympathized with the defendant. This could happen to any of us; we could all make a mistake. But if it did happen to any of us, we would be liable for our actions."
In City Heights in 1989, Brannigan prosecuted a defendant who ran a methamphetamine lab in his house. "In addition to the explosive nature of the lab, he had guns in close proximity to children who lived in the house." In this case, Brannigan was confident in the righteousness of his argument. "This person is one that the jury will feel good about putting away. You want the decision-maker to feel that your side is the just and equitable one and thus a ruling for you is the one that will be fair. Anyone tasked with making a choice between two arguments wants to feel good about their decision. I argued that this was an intentional act, that it was well planned out. The methamphetamine lab had to be constructed -- there are items that you need, parts and beakers that had to be brought into the house. He put himself, his neighbors, and his children at risk."
According to Brannigan, the "first rule for losing an argument is to give the listener the feeling that you are more concerned with attacking your opposition than presenting the validity of your position." He has witnessed this in drunk-driving cases where a defense attorney would begin his argument by attacking the officer who had testified against the attorney's client. The better way to handle this kind of case would be to respect the officer by assuming his testimony is accurate and truthful, but to suggest that the officer's account of the events could be interpreted in another way.
Brannigan says one should explain his position by contrasting, and not directly attacking, his opponent's position. In 1998 he handled a drug-possession case in Golden Hill in which the defendant, accused of being a "lookout" for his drug-dealing friend, claimed he was simply standing on the street corner and that he believed his friend was simply collecting money that was owed to him and therefore was unaware of the illegal transaction. In this case Brannigan agreed with his opposition that the defendant was standing on the corner where he claimed to be during the drug deal, but he urged the jury that "common sense" would dictate that if the defendant thought his friend was just collecting money from someone, why would he have walked to the corner and looked both ways? "No one is denying he was there, but what did it mean?"
Brannigan suggests more argument-winning tips. "Some of the basics are: you need to show up on time for your argument, dress appropriately, and be prepared. Have your argument outlined on paper or in front of you so you have a cogent presentation," he says. "Someone came into my courtroom this morning in shorts. I cannot hold that against the person, but I did take note of it. You know the old saying: first impressions are lasting." -- Barbarella
Lecture: How to Form Winning Arguments
Tuesday, May 3
Carlsbad Village Magee Park's Heritage Hall
2650 Garfield Street
Info: 760-754-1954 or