Interviewer: How often, when you’re in court, do you know at least some of the players that you’re up against – the judge, the prosecutor?
Sam Sachs: Almost always, and if I don’t know who they are, then I check with one of my colleagues. Obviously I’ve been practicing and teaching for a long time and I have a network of people that I’ll speak to. There are over 500 municipal courts in the state and we have all the county courts. There are some that I appear in more regularly than others, but if I’m going to a county where I don’t know the particular judge or it’s a new judge, I’ll call one of my colleagues and find out what the lay of the land is or what the prosecutors are like. That’s how we all network. People ask me the same kind of information.
Interviewer: When someone’s considering hiring you, more often than not, you’ll know who they’re going to be up against and the personality and the particular bias or flavor of those people, right?
Sam Sachs: Yeah, I pretty much can tell what the outcome’s going to be based on who the judge and the prosecutors are, especially if I deal with them frequently. I’m not talking about trial. I’m talking about the pre-trial outcomes, whether or not they’re going to make a reasonable offer or not make a reasonable offer, those kinds of things.
Advising Clients on Potential Outcomes
Interviewer: Do you feel like people are penalized if they take a case to trial? Do the judges get mad?
Sam Sachs: Lawyers always joke about a trial tax, and whether they take a case to trial is ultimately up to the client. I believe that attorneys have an obligation not to tell the clients, “Maybe this could happen, or maybe that could happen. You never can say for sure.” You don’t need an attorney to put that down in your mind. They’ve had that doubt from the day they were arrested. What you have to tell them is, “This is the way I see it. This is what I think the likelihood of success is going to be. I recommend taking this to trial, if you want to put yourself through that, or you can accept what the state has offered and what we negotiate,” or, “I don’t think you’re going to win at trial, but it’s your decision.” I’m not always right, but I always give them guidance.
I’ve tried some cases where the chances were slim to none, and it’s always a wildcard when you try a case because you don’t know what’s going to happen during the trial. Sometimes I tell clients, “Based on its face, unless something happens during the trial that nobody anticipates, you’re probably going to be convicted,” or, “I think I have a very good chance of winning this at trial,” or maybe, especially from a matter emanating from municipal court, “You frequently win those cases on appeal because the appeals go before Superior Court Judges that are tenured rather than Municipal Court Judges that frequently are looking to keep the and the police happy and the prosecutors and convict people and collect money for the townships.”
I think attorneys need to give their clients solutions, not just, “Maybe this, maybe that.” When I argued State v. Chun before the New Jersey Supreme Court that was the way I introduced my take on my argument. I’m not here to tell you “maybe this, maybe that.” I’m here to tell you what the issue is and how you can solve it.