Episode Synopsis: Raised by two lawyers, Adam Hames was always told he was genetically engineered to be an attorney. With experience in federal court, state appellate court and in habeas cases, Hames talks about the importance of crafting a story in court, his creative pursuits in college and why he believes listening is a vital key in advocacy.
Podcast Transcript: The following is a transcript of Episode 9 of The Advocate’s Key podcast hosted by attorney Scott Key. Other episodes can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and Spotify.
Adam: Anyone can lay out what the facts of the case are, but if you can make a judge feel something, and especially as a defense attorney feels some sympathy or that there is an outrage, something went terribly wrong with this trial, you have a much better shot of getting some relief than if you just simply put out, “Here’s the case. This is what the case holds. You should really do something about this.”
Scott: That was Adam Hames, talking about the need to story tell in advocacy, the need to evoke some sort of feeling or human emotion in representing a client, and how simply laying out the facts and being technical is often not enough. I had such a great time talking to Adam Hames about his upbringing, his early time as an attorney, and the things that motivated him to be the great attorney that he is. I think you’re gonna enjoy listening to this conversation with Adam. You’re listening to the “Advocate’s Key Podcast,” a service of scottkeylaw.com. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 678-610-6624 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please, take a moment to subscribe to the broadcast, to leave a comment, or to give a like. And thanks for listening. Adam Hames, it’s so great to have you on the podcast. I’ve really been looking forward to this ever since we first talked about it. How are things?
Adam: Things are pretty good. How about you?
Scott: I am great. I’m finally fully vaccinated, and it’s weird to go in places without a mask.
Adam: No doubt.
Scott: I’m going maskless and looking forward to getting back into court really soon.
Scott: I’ve had some court appearances. I have a specially-set jury trial in mid-July, and so that’ll be the first time really doing a jury trial. How have you been during the pandemic?
Adam: You know, it’s one of those weird things where you have to try and figure out how you’re going to make a living while the courts are essentially closed. So, you know, I wound up doing a lot of small kind of writing assignments and that kinda thing, and then what’s known as a 3582 petition, which is the compassionate release petition for federal inmates with COVID. That became almost a little cottage industry. And I was able to do some of that stuff. So it was interesting to expand what I would normally do to other areas and other parts of the law to just put food on the table.
Scott: I do a lot of state habeas work. And I had a bunch of petitions. They were just out there. And you know because you’ve done some habeas work, I think on both sides, that the perennial challenge before pandemic for habeas was that you always had to coordinate getting yourself and trial counsel, and sometimes appellate counsel, and your opponent, and a judge, and sometimes witnesses, to some very far remote South Georgia courtroom to have court. And once the courts began to embrace WebEx and Zoom, I’ve been doing probably more habeas hearings than I’ve ever done in my life. I mean, there were a few weeks there where I was doing one to two a week for several weeks in a row. So I bet you habeas does not ever go back to the way it was before. I mean, state habeas.
Adam: I agree. You know, the whole system, beforehand, was so thick-headed, for lack of a better way of putting it. And it would cause, you know, people to lose hours and days of their practice. And so as you know, there would be times where you’d be an appellate lawyer, and you would get a call or subpoena from the AG’s office. And you were just hoping that it wasn’t down in Waycross or Coffee County or somewhere where you knew you would have to spend the night to show up the next morning, and maybe get out of there by, you know, noontime the next day. And in all regard, you’ve essentially wasted a full day and a half on cases you got paid on maybe three, four years ago.
Scott: A long time ago.
Adam: Right. I mean, that part’s been great. I mean, the Zoom and all of that. So, I hope to never do another calendar call in person again. I really hope those days are over.
Adam: Oh, yeah.
Scott: Although I think there’s still a ton of bad incentives that some judges have to make you come in and make your client come in as a way of coercing a plea. But I think, hopefully, those bad incentives are outweighed by the efficiency and the cost savings for, you know, you don’t have to run a courtroom to do a calendar call, or even routine non-evidentiary motions and things like that. So, I’m hoping that we’re in a whole different era.
Adam: I think COVID is probably going to change the way the justice system looks at so many different things, whether it’s a bond hearing or a motions hearing. And God, if we can just have an arraignment by video conference instead of having to go down there for 30 seconds worth of court time, that would make a lot of people happy, I think both on the prosecution side and the defense side, and probably make the judges just as happy to do it all virtually. So…
Adam: …I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see.
Scott: Well, let me back up. I always let guests introduce themselves, although sometimes this sounds like a bit of a philosophical existentialist question, but who is Adam Hames?
Adam: Who is Adam Hames? That’s a good question and one that I try not to think a whole lot about. I am a lawyer who primarily works in federal court. I also do a lot of state appellate work and state and federal habeas cases. That’s who I am professionally. Outside of that, I am the husband to Mary and the father to Lauren and Kelsey, both of whom are college-aged daughters. I like playing basketball, and I have a myriad of interests outside of the law that makes me happy when I am not deeply into a case or thinking about a legal process or procedure.
Scott: I know you because I think I met you when I was pretty involved in the appellate practice section of the State Bar, and I know you through Lawyers Club because I know you have… Are you the current president…? I know that you have been the president of Lawyers Club of Atlanta.
Adam: I am the president for another month, until the end of June. And then Judge Susan Edlein is going to be the new president, and I’ll now become, I think we call it the chairman, which is essentially somebody who’s there to provide kind of a long view of how the club works. And I’ll serve in that position for a year, and then I’ll rotate off of the executive committee in total.
Scott: What type of work do you do in federal court?
Adam: So, in law school, I did a summer at the Securities Exchange Commission. And that really gave me kind of an insight into white-collar work, and securities fraud, and fraud in general. And so, I’ve done just about everything in federal court, from sex cases, to fraud cases, to child pornography, to violence, handguns, drugs, of course, guns. There was one time that I had so many federal drug cases I didn’t know what to do. I learned a little bit of Spanish as part of that. And so, I like doing the commercial or the white-collar criminal cases, but federal court, to me, has always been just kind of a different ballgame than state court is. And federal court, actually, is geared a little bit more towards my strengths as a writer and someone who thinks deeply about these issues, instead of just filing a generalized motion to suppress. You know, when I file a motion to suppress in federal court, it’s because I believe there’s some actual merit and that a wrong has been committed. So, that’s why I’m primarily in federal court
Scott: Before you went to law school, what did you do in college or, in fact, let’s go back a little bit beyond that. Where did you grow up?
Adam: So, I’m one of those people who can actually say I was born and raised inside of the city limits of Atlanta. I was born in Piedmont Hospital. I’ve never lived further than, like, three or four miles away from Piedmont Hospital, till I went off to college. Both of my parents were attorneys. My father was at Southland Hospital in [inaudible 00:08:54] his entire career as a tax attorney. My mother was a civil rights attorney of some note, having argued before the U.S., Supreme Court a case called Doe V. Bolton, which is the companion case to Roe V. Wade.
Scott: I don’t think I ever knew that.
Adam: Yeah. And she did other kind of landmark cases. She did this Atlanta school segregation case, and other cases that, you know, you don’t have a lot of notoriety with… Sorry, there appears to be a fire down the street. So if you hear sirens, that’s what that’s all about. For example, Hartsfield Airport, for many years, had women’s toilets and men’s toilets. The only difference was, the women’s toilets, you had to pay a dime to use, whereas the men’s toilets were free. My mother sued the Airport Authority to have them change that. And, of course, that’s not something that anybody is gonna pay any attention to, except for if you were a woman back in the ’70s when that was going on. So she did have a fair amount of notoriety.
Scott: So what was it like growing up in a household with attorneys?
Adam: You know, it was good in some ways, and in other ways, it helps form who I am in many respects today, and also in some ways, it was just plain scary. Well, I mean, as you can imagine, my mother also did a lot of civil rights work. And so most of my contemporaries don’t understand what it’s like to have a bomb scare called in on your home and having to kinda pack up when you’re a third or fourth grader, and go to the motel behind the colonnade because a credible threat has been made against your mother and father’s lives. You know, that was part of the background. But also, both of my parents were firmly against the death penalty. And so I grew up having that sense of the justice system and how it has profound consequences for all involved. You know, with my children, I initially said that I wasn’t going to cross-examine them because I grew up being cross-examined, especially by my mother. But that quickly went out the door when you’ve got a 4-year-old who has chocolate around her lips and says, “I didn’t eat any cookies.” And then you try and give them the opportunity to come clean, and they don’t want to come clean. And so, you know, instinctually, I guess, I’d start cross-examining them. “How do you explain this, and how do you explain the crumbs on the floor?”
Scott: It’s a bit of a circumstantial case that you’re bringing in a situation like that.
Adam: Exactly, exactly. So, you know, it was good in many respects. You know, having a father who was a tax attorney with a large firm here in Atlanta, that afforded us a level of comfort. With my mom, and having the civil rights stuff, mom could be on television one day, and, you know, I knew my father was never going to be on television. As a matter of fact, my father appeared in court, I believe it was three times in this entire career. You know, he was the furthest thing away from a litigator than I had imagined, but he was still a very good lawyer in his own right.
Scott: Did they meet in law school?
Adam: They did. My mother was actually the second woman ever admitted to the Vanderbilt Law School, and she did undergraduate and graduated in law school in five and a half years.
Adam: Yeah. Both of them were on Law Review. My father was one of those wickedly smart individuals. He had already gotten a masters degree from Duke in military history, while he was serving in the Navy, and then he went to Vanderbilt to teach military history to their ROTC school and was in the faculty lounge, and the dean said to him, “Hey, you know, you probably would make a pretty good lawyer.” He was number two in his class. And as my father would never admit to, but one of his classmates told me the only reason he was number two is because he had already secured a job and did not study for his last exam, and so he got an A-minus instead of an A, and the person who placed first, got the A. And that was the difference between being first and second in that class.
Scott: Oh my gosh. And I guess your mom was pretty high in her class as well.
Adam: Yeah. You know, it was a different time to be sure, but, you know, they didn’t have the women’s restroom in law school when she was there. So she would have to walk about three-tenths of a mile down to the nursing school, which is where the closest women’s restroom was. So she had challenges that are hard to imagine for many of my students, who I teach at Emory. But, you know, they both were very good students.
Scott: And what schools did you…? Were you in the Atlanta school system or…?
Adam: Yeah. So as I said earlier, my mom did the school segregation case for the city schools. I went to E. Rivers Elementary School, and then Sutton Middle School. And by the time I was through Sutton, the segregation case was over with. And frankly, I was too much of a bookworm, and I had some learning disabilities that really were not going to be addressed well in the public school at the time. So I did wound up going to private school for high school. And I went to Paideia School for high school. And I guess one of the better academic achievements I can say in my life is that I placed in the top half of my high school class. And when you consider where my high school classmates wound up going to school across the country, that still is one of the higher academic achievements of my life. So, there were a lot of really smart people there. That was an interesting time in Atlanta.
Scott: Did you struggle with issues with your learning disabilities when you got off to college and law school as well?
Adam: A little bit. So I have a processing disorder. And so, information comes in, but then processing… It’s kind of, like, having high-speed internet, but then a really slow computer, and then getting that information back out. So, let’s say I’ve had a whole bunch of reading to do. And in law school, you know, that’s what the first year is all about, is reading. You know, reading 30 cases didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me if I could get the general point of what the case was trying to be about. So, you learn strategies on how to be specific about what a case holds and what a case doesn’t hold. But law school also taught me how to pay more attention to the details and to figure out what the details were.
But, Scott, to kinda give you an idea, when I graduated high school, my English teachers said to my mother that, you know, “He can be a below-average writer one day if he really puts his mind to it.” And, you know, that, frankly, pissed me off. So in college and in law school, I took a number of writing classes and wound up doing the work that I needed to do to kind of process faster and to just, frankly, know how to write a complete sentence and inform a thought and have an organized argument. And now, it’s what I do for a living, which is kind of ironic. And I think my high school English teachers would be stunned.
Scott: I’m just curious. As kind of an aside, what were the activities that you did to address being able to process information better?
Adam: So, for example, I’ll just use it in a modern-day setting with appeals and that kind of thing. When I was at the AG’s Office, I did non-death-only murder appeals. And most months, I would have between one or two appeals assigned to me a month. Now, there were times when we were low on staff, that I wound up getting as many as 10 appeals assigned to me a month. And so, when you have several appeals and transcripts and those kinds of things, you have to figure out what’s important in the case, and you have to figure out, you know, where things are in a transcript. You know, if there weren’t any questions or any issues about Wahere, why spend any time reading about Wahere? And then it’s just more of mental training. I’m also partially dyslexic. If I get to the point where the letters are dancing on the page or, you know, I’m not comprehending what I’m reading, you know, I just have to take a little break. And sometimes that break is as simple as playing a game of solitaire. Sometimes it’s getting up and walking around. Sometimes it’s getting some fresh air. Sometimes I can come back and get moving again, and then sometimes I just have to shut it down. So time management really was a big issue for me that college and law school taught me.
Scott: So you’ve learned to get to the essence of what you’re looking at and sort of separate what’s important from not important, then you’ve also learned the lesson that sometimes you just have to go do something else for a minute and come back to it.
Adam: Yeah. I mean, I think one of my strengths as an attorney is figuring out what’s the important issue in a case, what’s the important thing that I have to figure out. And, you know, so many lawyers get lost in the individual trees, and never see the forest. One of the things that I try and figure out is how I can deal with the big issue that’s in front of me. You know, it was easier when I was on the government side because you had the appellant’s brief in front of you, so you knew what the issues were that you had to deal with. When you’re trying to raise issues or come up with claims, it’s a little bit more difficult. You have to be a little bit more creative. That kind of brings in other parts of my personality and the creative side of trying to make an argument that might resonate with a judge or two.
Scott: Well, what are those other elements of your personality when it comes to being creative about finding issues?
Adam: So a lot of people don’t know this but, I was in the Atlanta Boys Choir for many years. I did two tours in Europe, sang for the Pope, that kind of stuff. And I’ve always had a love of music. And I was extremely fortunate to have parents who liked taking their children to art museums. And so I grew up going to the various art museums in Europe. And so I have an appreciation for the outside-the-brain kind of creative impulse. And I was a literature major in college. And it kind of is funny given my English teachers in high school. But all of that is part of, you know, anyone can lay out what the facts of a case are. But if you can make a judge feel something, especially as a defense attorney feels some sympathy or that there is an outrage, something went terribly wrong with this trial, you have a much better shot of getting some relief than if you just simply put out, you know, “Here’s the case, this is what the case holds, you should really do something about this.”
Scott: The plaintiff for the state called this witness, and then they called this witness. And then you just sort of have, like, a little summary of what every witness said, you’re crafting everything into a narrative.
Adam: Yeah. And to me, if a judge is going to sit down and read the brief, especially if I’m gonna ask for…or argument in a case, he has to or she has to be able to have some reason to rule with me. And if I’m just laying out, you know, a summary of a transcript, that, to me, doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t engage the reader, it doesn’t engage the mind of the reader, and it certainly doesn’t invoke any passion or sympathy or empathy for my client in any way, shape, or form. And I’ve represented some really horrible people. It’s a hard thing to have sympathy and empathy for some people. But part of my job is to try and make judges, whether it’s at the district court level or an appellate court level, see beyond whatever the problem is. And it’s not just a procedural issue. It’s something that made a difference in the outcome of my client’s case.
Scott: Well, what do you do? You know, this is sometimes a struggle. What is it that you do? Do you just hone in on the unfairness of whatever procedural thing might have happened, or do you really try to make the client personally sympathetic? I mean, I guess this is kind of a broad question, but what are some of the things that you do to engage that? Let’s just say you have a particularly horrible person. What are some things that you do?
Adam: So, one of the things that I do… And I do both actually.
Adam: And there’s a line. You know, I’m never going to make a serial child molester somebody’s best friend.
Adam: That’s never gonna happen.
Scott: And it might backfire if you try to do all that.
Adam: Exactly. But at the same time, I find that judges take their jobs extremely seriously, and they want to get to the right result. So if you refer to somebody simply as petitioner or appellant or respondent, or whatever the legal term is, that dehumanizes them, I think, in the court’s eyes. So I often put, you know, Mr. Wilson or Mr. Smith, or Miss. Jane said X, Y, and Z, and try and make sure that these people recognize that this is a human being. And if the case warrants it, and many cases don’t, try and get in some of the information that humanizes them in some way. I’ve had murder appeals where the person was otherwise a good individual, maybe had some anger management issues, but didn’t really act out. But on the worst day of the worst time, all these various circumstances came together and he or she snapped. So, trying to make sure that the court is aware of the difference between somebody who just has no sense of law and order or right and wrong, who I’ve also represented, and also people who just made a mistake. And it may be a colossal mistake. But to give them some perspective on what they’re doing. So, oftentimes, that’s not the calculus that opens legal to get a client a new trial or lower a client’s sentence, but if you don’t do those kinds of things, it’s easier for a court or a judge to find harm was there.
Scott: I think if you don’t have an issue, you don’t have an issue, but if you do have an issue and all things are equal, if you don’t craft a compelling narrative… I always say that the statement of facts makes the court want your client to win. And the argument section of the brief gives them a way to do it.
Adam: Yeah, yeah.
Scott: And sometimes there’s not a way to do it. I mean, sometimes there’s no way to do it. And then sometimes you’ll have just the most unsympathetic client in the world, but a great procedural issue. And then I suppose then, your statement of facts is going to just hone in on the unfairness of what happened, or what’s so universally wrong with this procedural problem.
Adam: Yeah, I have a good example of that. I had a client who did some horrible things with two young ladies. You know, the evidence was bad. And he was really kind of unsympathetic, testified at trial, that kind of stuff. But the judge had made essentially a procedural issue, where he wouldn’t consider any amendments to the motion for a new trial, and said, “Nope, I’m not gonna consider any amendments to the motion for a new trial.”
Scott: Oh, so this is the kind of thing… So just for the listeners. What you’re talking about here is when you initially file your motion for a new trial, just to get it in under the deadline because you have a fairly steep deadline to get it done, you just file a form that says basically errors were committed. And everybody understands that you’re gonna get your transcript. And once you study the case, you’re gonna then come back and you’re going to amend it. And you’re allowed to freely amend it. And then that’s where you’re gonna put meat on the bone, and you’re gonna go back. So this judge wouldn’t even allow that.
Adam: Right. And what had happened was that it had been amended, and then the judge issued a scheduling order and just said, you know, “My scheduling order stands. I don’t care what the statute or the law says.” And so, my brief in that case, you know, the statement of facts, was probably one of the shortest statement of facts I’ve written, in part, because I wanted to cover the basis of what the claims…you know, why he got convicted or what he got convicted of, but at the same time, that wasn’t what was going to get him any kind of relief. So my procedural history was far more detailed. My procedural history was probably twice as long as my statement of facts. And, you know, that’s almost never the case, but that’s what that particular case tried out for. And the Court of Appeals ultimately agreed that the statute says you can amend that anytime before the judge rules.
And all that being said is that to say this is how you do it in every case is a little misleading in that, you know, each case is a little bit different. There have been times where I have, you know, just a really great client, who I don’t think committed the crime in the way that the state or the jury found, and I’ll spend a lot of time with the facts. But going back to something you said, Scott, what I have found more frequently than not, is that just sometimes that there isn’t an issue to be had. And no matter how much I want to try and find something for a client, the issue really is…you know, when you look at it from a legal perspective and an objective perspective like a lawyer is supposed to, yes, this may not have been fair, but the law is what the law is at this point in time. And you can always argue for an extension or overrule and past precedent, but you need to make sure that your client’s aware that that’s an uphill battle on the vast majority of these kinda things.
Scott: So I’m gonna go back just a little bit. I know that we talked about crafting a compelling narrative, and then you talked about the opportunity to be exposed to the arts at a young age, and then you went off to college. And I know you said you were a literature major. Talk a little bit more about that. Where did you go to college, undergrad? And talk about why you selected literature and how you came about becoming a literature major.
Adam: So, I went to American University in D.C., and I guess the thought was is that I would go into government or politics. Well, to back up just a little bit. You know, with both parents being lawyers, in high school, I was kinda teased I was genetically engineered to be an attorney.
Scott: Right. I don’t know how I would take something like that.
Adam: Right, right. And initially, I didn’t know how to take it either. Then I went off to college.
Scott: Well, at that point in time, were just resistant to the idea? I mean, did you love the idea of maybe being an attorney?
Adam: No, no, not at all.
Scott: Or being raised in a house with two attorneys, were you thinking, “This is the last thing I’ll ever do?”
Adam: Right. I was more interested in government and policy, and that, kind of, thing. So I started off with a government major, and that, kind of, thing. Then I discovered that there was a world of information and knowledge out there beyond, you know, the law and government. And I cannot remember how many different majors I had, but everything from philosophy to art history, to music history, to psychology. The only reason I don’t have a degree in psychology is I didn’t really wanna take statistics my last semester. I have all the credits for a psychology degree, other than that. But, you know, what wound up happening is that I really loved, even in high school, reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald. And my father loved, kind of, the classics, like “The Odyssey,” and “The Iliad,” and also Shakespeare. And my father could quote various passages from plays and that, kinda thing. And I always felt that was it… You know, it was annoying when you were a kid, but as you get a little bit older, you have an appreciation for the ability to drop a little bit of Beth on somebody if you wanted to.
Adam: So I took a Shakespeare class and an American writers class. And I was, kinda, hooked. It was a struggle for me. To give you an idea how I… You know, because reading Shakespeare is no joke.
Adam: That kind of stuff. But I would go to the library… And BBC had done these productions of all of the Shakespeare’s plays and done, you know, kind of, verbatim from the Riverside Shakespeare. And so I would take my book. I would read along as the play was coming along. So I had a visual as well as an audio and reading along at the same time. And that greatly helped me, kind of, figure out what was going on. And the inflections that maybe you don’t pick up from a whole page were there so that you could see it and you could feel it. So that helped me a great deal. That’s really how I got to be, kind of, a literature major.
Scott: Well, it’s very interesting that your two main interests in literature were Shakespeare, and then I know you mentioned American literature, and then the two authors that you specifically mentioned were Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It’s interesting that you had this very densely, you know, 17th century Elizabethan English, but you also had a love for the very spare writing of an Ernest Hemingway, with sometimes three-word sentences, and very, very bare and basic writing. That’s a very interesting set of interests that you had in terms of your favorite literature.
Adam: It’s kind of, like, I love opera. And, you know, there are some operas that are sung by first sopranos that I just could never imagine reaching those notes ever again. But they’re are also arias done by tenors and baritones, which are more in my range. And so it’s one of those things that I feel, you know, “Well, I can sing along with that.” Part of the Hemingway and Fitzgerald was that, “I can do something like this, maybe not as eloquent, maybe not as polished as those writers, but, you know, that’s something I can do. Shakespeare, you know, if he gave me 10,000 monkeys and 10,000 typewriters, I still couldn’t come up with it.”
Scott: With a sonnet or something like that.
Adam: Yeah, yeah. So, that’s how I generally try and deal with this. If I can do something, I have an affinity for those who do whatever that is really well. Basketball is another example. I don’t worship Michael Jordan and Dominic Wilkins and all the high flyers and that kind of stuff. You know, the people I, kind of, admired were the…
Scott: John Stocktons.
Adam: Well, I love John Stockton. You know, the funny thing was I liked Magic Johnson. And I grew up in the era of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. And you were either one of those sides. And I was clearly on the Magic Johnson side. But what I liked about Magic Johnson was that he could do so many things. He could rebound. He was 6’9. He played center the first time they won the finals. His hamstring got hurt. But he was also a point guard. And he would play above-average defense. And he did so many things really well, but he always made the people around him better.
Adam: Bird did it in different ways. And I have an appreciation for Bird. But if I’m rooting for somebody, you know, it’s probably a Magic Johnson, or a Joe Dumar, or somebody like that, that isn’t going to be the focal point of the press and that kinda thing. But the Pistons don’t win two championships without Joe Dumar, you know.
Adam: So those are the kinds of things that I take some appreciation for.
Scott: Well, did you play basketball in high school?
Adam: Well, sort of.
Scott: That’s sort of like the way I play tennis.
Adam: Yeah. So I was young. I graduated high school at 17. So I was young anyway. But I never picked up a basketball in my life. My mother, interestingly enough, was a semi-pro basketball player back in the dark ages. And what semi-pro basketball meant for women was that they would have half a court, and you could have two games going on at the same time. And each team was sponsored by the local mom-and-pop stores or that kinda thing. And so, you know, while it was competitive and that kinda stuff, it was not what we would call professional basketball nowadays. But she taught me how to shoot. And so I learned how to shoot. And I walked to the first team my freshman year. In high school, I was going through a bad time, and really just… My parents were divorcing, and so it was one of those things that I couldn’t figure out who I wanted to be or what I wanted to be. So I got a little mouthy with the coach and got… Actually, it’s one of those kind of embarrassing things looking back on it. I got kicked off the team twice.
Adam: Yeah, twice. Once my sophomore year, once my junior year. But to kinda give you an idea, the tallest I ever was in high school was legitimately 6’1. They [inaudible 00:35:03] 6’4. And I was our starting center my senior year. We got creamed on a fairly consistent basis. We had a really good guard play, but when you’re starting center is 6’1, and as slow as I am, it’s just not gonna be a good recipe for anything. And, you know, we had one or two kids who wound up playing in college. It was always one of those things where I saw the game better than I could play the game. But soccer and that were the two sports that I played in high school.
Scott: Did you continue to perform musically beyond when you were in the boy choir? Did you do college choir or solo work, or did you stick with the music?
Adam: No, that’s one of the great regrets of my life, Scott. Is that I hit 14. I went to a brand new school, I didn’t know anybody there, and I didn’t request to be put in the choir. But somebody found out that I had been in the Atlanta Boys Choir, and they put me in the choir, right? So I can tell you the exact moment that my singing career came to an end for decades. Is I was 14 years old, and the school, even though it wasn’t very large, had a Monday morning meeting where the entire high school got together, and then you would have announcements for the school, that kinda stuff. Well, some of the senior guys decided that it would be a lot of fun to put on a musical/dance number for the entire high school. And so we did Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons,” and with a dance number attached to it. And I quit the choir the next day.
Scott: I’m trying to imagine choreographing that song.
Adam: It was something else.
Scott: You can’t choreograph something with the words 16 tons in it.
Adam: I know. And, you know, there was a lot of lifting the stuff over your shoulder, like we were actually loading 16 pounds of something, you know?
Adam: But from that day, I didn’t sing in public again until my daughter, who also went to Paideia, her senior year… Every year they had a Christmas concert, and they invited people from the audience to come up to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. And, you know, of course, I’d sang that forever when I was a kid and knew all… Of course, I also did all the first soprano parts. So I am nowhere near a first soprano any longer. And her freshman through junior year, I said, “Yeah, I’m just not doing it.” Her senior year, she said to me, “Dad, this is the last chance you’re gonna get.” And that’s all she really had to say to me. And so I got up on stage and sang in front of people for the first time since I was 14 years old. Then that kind of spawned, “Well, you know, that was scary, and that was frightening, but I’m glad I did it.”
And so then the Atlanta Bar Association has a show that they put on which is a musical satire, called The Bard Show. And I tried it out for that kind of on a whim and got in. And I’ve done the last two Bard Shows, including… And this is probably gonna be on my tombstone no matter what else I do in life. I danced in my underwear in front of the entire legal community in Atlanta, for a “Risky Business” like number of…
Scott: Once you’ve done that, there’s no oral argument that’ll ever worry you again, I suppose.
Adam: Right. You know, I saw a lot of [inaudible 00:38:29] that I know almost immediately after the show, and she said, you know, “That was truly frightening.” And I said, “I completely agree with you.” So, I’m at a point in my life, Scott, where I’ve stopped worrying about what other people think about me, and what other people want me to do, and it’s time to kind of push the boundaries and figure out what I enjoy and what I find fun.
Scott: So how did you come full circle? So you thought the last thing you’ll ever do is be a lawyer, and then you majored in literature. How did you end up in law school?
Adam: So I kind of secured this route. My last semester in college, I hadn’t really thought about law school. Of course, you know, you’re getting a degree in literature, and what are you gonna do? Work in a bookstore for the rest of your life? So that was something that crossed my mind. And, of course, you know, being young, dumb, and full of great ideas, I thought, “Well, I’ll be the next Hemingway, and I’ll write a great American novel, and that’s how I’ll make lots of money,” and all that kind of stuff. And those were the thoughts that went through my mind, until that last semester of college. And then for the first time in probably four or five years, the thought of going to law school was attractive again. But at that time, the jobs on the Eastern Seaboard… I was still up in D.C., really went kind of into a crash. And the moment I knew that it was going to go bad is I interviewed for a cashier’s position at a deli, and the reason I didn’t get the job is because according to the owner, I didn’t know how to deal with black people in the proper way.
Adam: And I just said, “You know, this is clearly not the place for me to work.” So I then moved back to Atlanta. My mom was very involved in politics. I worked for the Fulton County delegation during General Assembly for… When I say worked, I volunteered down there and did some work for some of the representatives. And then one of the representatives said, “I’m running for Congress. Do you want to do some work for me? I’d love to have you.” And maybe two and a half months later, I was deputy campaign manager, which is more saying how poorly run the campaign was than anything else.
Scott: But, I mean, that’s the case with political campaigns. I mean, there aren’t most political staffers even today, or campaign people that are very high up in campaigns, they’re generally people in their 20s and 30s.
Adam: Yes. And, you know, it’s becoming a little bit more professionalized because there’s so much more money involved. That congressional campaign, my candidate won the party nomination with a grand total of about $36,000 to $40,000.
Scott: Yeah, you can’t do that now.
Adam: No, you can’t do that now. And the only real media that they had was radio ads. So, you know, those days are gone. And so you’re having more people who are professional candidates or professional elections individuals now. But especially back in those days, if you had the ability not to have to pay rent or wondering where your next meal came from, you could get a job on a campaign and work your way up fairly quickly if you were willing to put in the time and the effort, and had half a brain.
Scott: So how did you end up in the Attorney General’s office in Georgia?
Adam: I went to Tulane for law school and had started my third year. The career advisor said, “Well, what would your dream job be?” And by that point, I had stopped having such kind of an ideological, “Oh, I’m going to go big firm,” that kinda stuff. That wasn’t really what I wanted to do. And I had been, in some ways, chasing my mother’s ghost doing Supreme Court arguments and that kinda thing. And in Georgia, lots of times, the state was represented by the Attorney General’s Office. Now, it’s the Solicitor General’s office, which is part of the AG’s office. And so I thought, “If I’m going to get to the Supreme Court, the best way and the best place to do that is at the AG’s office.” So I said to the career counselor, “That’s my number one goal.” At the time, the AG’s Office had a policy that they wouldn’t hire anybody directly out of law school. And then they hit a period where they had a lot of need for lawyers. And, actually, it’s my understanding that Judge Paige Whitaker Reese was the first person that they hired directly out of law school. I may be wrong on that, but that’s what I’ve been told. But I was the second person to be hired directly out of law school. So that’s how I got to the AG’s office.
Scott: And what did you do when you got there? What kind of assignments did you get?
Adam: So I was assigned to what we called at the time the Post-Conviction Section, which was non-death-only murder appeals, which the state in Georgia, the Attorney General’s office becomes a party to every capital felony witness on appeal. So every murder case, whether it definitely is sought or received or not, the Attorney General’s Office is a party to it. And I did also state, and then later on, wound up doing federal habeas as well. So that’s primarily what I did for about four and a half years.
Scott: And then, how long were you at the AG’s Office?
Adam: Just under four and a half years. I left probably a few months after Governor Paduak became the governor, and then went to a small firm that taught me a lot about how not to practice law.
Scott: Well, when you were in the AG’s Office, I’m assuming that you were going around and you would be in various counties, kinda doing everything that… Were you part of that thing? Because I go to like Reedsville and Waycross, and you have an AG that’s there to cover things for that day. And that person is gonna cover every habeas that’s on the calendar, which can be quite voluminous. Is that kind of the similar work that you did when you were in the AG’s Office?
Adam: Yeah. So the AG’s Office was great training for me in many ways. I thought I was always gonna be an appellate lawyer and would never enjoy trial work, but, you know, one of the things they said is, “Hey, you’re going to be doing these hearings, which are essentially mini-trials.” And I’m like, “Okay. Well, let’s figure this out.” And I appeared before more than 35 different superior court judges throughout the state. I became pretty good at hearings and that kinda stuff. So, most of the time they wouldn’t allow people to do… For example, Reedsville became a two-day calendar, and it was thought that doing two straight days of habeas hearings was just too much. They allowed me to do two straight days. And, you know, you could have anywhere from 10 to 12 cases on a calendar. And each of those cases, maybe two or three of them were getting continued or making some other announcement or had a procedural flaw in them. But the rest of them had attorneys as witnesses, at least, and a couple had attorneys that were representing the petitioner. So those were the ones that you actually looked forward to a little bit.
Scott: Well, you would have gotten exposed to a good bit of stuff. I mean, you would have gotten exposed to a bunch of trials, at least, by virtue of reading transcripts. And you would have met a ton of attorney witnesses and petitioners attorneys, and then you’d have gone to so many rural courthouses that, I think, you know, in private practice, it would be… Sometimes it’s more intimidating to go to some rural courthouse than it is to go to Atlanta. And so you would have gotten past all of that.
Adam: I loved going to rural courthouses. And for the most part… I’ll give you a quick story. When I was at the AG’s Office, I appeared in the [inaudible 00:46:20] Mogi circuit, I don’t know, hundreds of times. And all the judges there knew me very well. And one of the counties we did have a whole lot on was the Putnam County calendar. But Eatonton has this beautiful old courthouse right there in the town square, and the judges bench sits, kind of, up against the back wall, but the office for the judge is back there. And I happened to sit in the jury box. I’m sitting there. And it’s a general calendar call, so you had all the lawyers from about 100 miles around coming in to make their announcements and that kind of stuff. I was sitting in the jury box. Nobody pays any attention to me, nobody’s talking to me, that kinda stuff.
And then the judge, whose since passed away, but Judge Klein, walked past and saw I was sitting in the jury box by myself. And he popped into the courtroom real quick, and said, “Mr. Hames, ‘Yes.” “Come here.”‘ And went back to the area right between the courthouse and the back offices, and he said, “Do we have habeas today? I said, “Yes, Judge, we do have habeas.” He goes, “All right, I’m gonna take your case first. How have you been?” “I’ve been fine, Judge. How about yourself?” Doing well. Good see again. All right.”‘ I go sit back down, right? Suddenly, I was everybody’s best friend, and they all wanted to know who I was, and “What tips can you provide me about Judge Klein?
So, I recognized that there is a certain stench to Atlanta lawyers when you go into a small courthouse. And if you treat people like you’re an Atlanta lawyer and you think you know something, you’re gonna be put in your place real quick. But if you treat people with kindness and respect and dignity, I think that’s what judges and attorneys and people throughout the profession, bailiffs, you know, whoever, that’s the, kind of, thing that translates. And I’m not afraid of going into to a courthouse in Karita or in Tift or Habersham or that, kind of, thing, in part, because I’ve been in those kind of courthouses before. And if you get over the fact that they put on the pants the same way that you do and they have the same, kinda, fears and frustrations that you do, you know, you can get down to trying to figure out what’s the important thing in the case.
Scott: I’ve never experienced… I mean, I’m not from Atlanta. I live in Griffin, and my office is in McDonough. But I think if you’re north of Main you’re an Atlanta lawyer at some places [inaudible 00:48:43]. But I’ve never experienced… I’ve never felt like it’s been used against me or been a problem. And it’s just because I did the exact thing that you’re talking about. It’s just the way that you are toward courtroom staff. And I do enough habeas, where, you know, the Tattnall County Courthouse begins to feel more like your local courthouse than a local courthouse does. So what are you doing these days? I know that you left the AG’s Office and you were with a small firm for a little bit, but talk about what you do. I mean, I know you’ve mentioned it a little bit. But what are the things that you’ve done since you’ve left the AG’s Office, and how do you think those skills that you’ve, I guess, acquired as an Attorney General, but then, you know, also all the way back to being a musician and having an interest in art, and being a literature major, how do you think you use all those things today?
Adam: So, I started my own law firm, I guess, maybe as much as 15 years ago. I tell you it’s, kinda, I’m getting old, and time is flying, and my memory is not so good anymore. But I’ve been a sole practitioner for a long time. And for a while I didn’t really wanna do habeas. Obviously, for the first little bit, you’re conflicted out, that, kind of, stuff, but clearly, enough time passes, you start doing some more habeas and that, kinda, thing. But I found that I enjoyed doing appeals. And I do both criminal and civil appeals. Most of my civil appeals are ghostwritten. Civil litigators have a tendency to want to have their name on a case, especially if they believe they’re going to win. And so they’ll pay me to write a brief, essentially, and help them if argument comes up. I do some civil work on my own. But the vast majority of the cases that I deal with are criminal appeals.
And maybe 12 years ago, I got on the Criminal Justice Act panel. It’s the panel for appointed lawyers in federal court in the Northern District. One of my first cases was the Phil Hill mortgage fraud case. My client wound up going to trial. And, you know, it was one of those great experiences. There were 10 defendants, and 12 lawyers, and then prosecution, and we were in a ceremonial courtroom in the Northern District, which is a big, old courtroom. And that was my first federal trial by myself. And that really caught the bug for me, in terms of, I’ve always known that to be a good appellate lawyer, you had to have a sense of how trials work and how courts work, and that kind of thing.
And that really cemented it for me. Is that I could do both trial work and appellate work and that I was actually pretty good at both. So I started doing more trial work level, and mostly in federal court because the writing there is so much more involved than it is at state court, and the issues tend to be a little bit… I won’t say grand. But you have a lot of really big policy kind of… You know, you get 10,000 feet arguments as opposed to whether it was a good stop or not. And coming back to something I said earlier, federal criminal defense forces you to figure out what’s important fairly quickly. And if you do that, you can position your client in a way that they can maybe mitigate some of the damage done to them. Sometimes, you know, there are clients and cases where the evidence just screams the other way, and you need to take it to trial. And I went through a phase for a while with the Northern District, where if you had a client that couldn’t stand their current attorney, “Give them to Adam, and Adam will either take it to trial or get them to resolve the case.” And that was one of those periods where I tried a lot of federal cases.
Scott: Oh, gosh. Let’s go back to that a little bit because, you know, I think everybody that does appointed work, whether it’s CJA work or conflict work or they’re a public defender, you know, inevitably has this point where, you know, with a fairly substantial number of their clients, where they want a new lawyer or something like that. And so you kind of were known as the person that would kinda take on the difficult client.
Scott: Now, I wanna hear some of these secrets. Tell me what it is that you did so well to manage those kinds of difficult clients?
Adam: Part of it is trying to figure out what the other attorney wasn’t doing. And now, the vast majority of those cases, the attorney was doing the proper thing, and doing the, you know, “No, I’m not going to file that motion for you because it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s not based on the law and on the facts,” that kinda stuff. But sometimes it’s just as simple as, I took over a case from a lawyer, who the client was a 19-year-old African American man, who had been in and out of the foster system, had had a rough life. And the previous lawyer tried to strike up a conversation with him by quoting some rap lyrics. And, of course, the previous attorney’s knowledge of hip hop was extremely limited and…
Scott: That probably came off condescending and patronizing.
Adam: It did. It did. And so, I found that out before I met with the client. And, of course, the attorney recognized his error and that kind of thing. And so when I went in, the very first thing I did was I established… I called him Mr. Johnson or whatever his last name was, and, you know, “How do you want me to refer to you? Do you want me to call you Mr. Johnson? Do you want me to call you Bob?” And he never said, so I just stuck with Mr. Johnson. Now, here I am late 40s, and here is this 19-year-old kid who could easily be my son, and I’m giving him a level of respect and listening to what he has to say, that, you know, the previous attorney just didn’t.
And so part of it is listening and filling in. One of the things, Scott, that I think that lawyers sometimes forget, is that one of our most important qualities that we must have is the ability to listen. Sometimes we don’t hear what our clients tell us, or sometimes we think we know better that the client. And sometimes we do, but we need to at least acknowledge what the client’s interests are, what the client’s desires are. I’ve had some cases where the client wanted me to file some kind of ridiculous motion or make some ridiculous argument. And there are ways of doing that, alerting the court that this is an argument that counsel doesn’t necessarily think has a lot of merit, but has been requested of him or, you know, there are artful ways of doing so.
Scott: So in a situation where you have a client insisting that you file something that’s probably not proper… I mean, not proper is probably strong. But, you know, probably is not something you would want to file, your tendency is to go ahead and file that motion, but maybe you’ll give the court a heads up or you’ll word something, or you’ll drop a footnote to make the court aware that this is not necessarily your motion?
Adam: Right. And that’s not every case. You know, I’ve had cases where the client wanted me to make, essentially, a civil argument in a criminal case. And the only legal support he had was a district court case in a civil case. And I had, well, a lot of circuit cases that I had right on point that said the exact opposite of what he wanted to say. And he was young and stubborn, and I think also a little mentally ill. And that also kind of plays on it. You know, in the criminal justice system, we see a lot of people who have mental health issues. And sometimes that’s as simple as being depressed and anger issues and those kind of things, but sometimes you have people who are acting under delusions. And that young gentleman was certainly acting under a certain level of delusion. And putting him at the USP Atlanta only made that worse.
Scott: So it sounds like, if I’m hearing, two things that you might do to manage the difficult client. Number one is, there’s good listening. But I hear within good listening you’re saying that you accord that client a certain amount of dignity. I mean, doing things like saying to a 19-year-old, “Do you want me to call you…?” I don’t remember the client’s name. But Scott or Mr. Key, and listening. And then sometimes, rather than just reaching some impasse over a motion that probably the court’s gonna know wasn’t your idea anyway, there are times where you’ll just go ahead and file that motion for the client. And that kinda gets you past that impasse.
Adam: Yeah. And part of it is, sometimes the client recognizes that’s their only hope. And so, if you say to them, “No, I’m not going to file this motion,” they feel like there’s no hope. And as an attorney, I might recognize that their situation is, in fact, fairly hopeless, but most of the time what it is, is I’m saying, “Hey, you have some hope, but it’s not in the way that you’re thinking it is. If you do this, we can mitigate the damage to you. If you do that, you’re going to make it worse for you. I know the judge. The judge is going to jack you up with some type of sentencing,” those kinds of things.
And so, probably the most interesting, difficult client I had, he was kind of a combination of a sovereign citizen, and just plain stubborn, and had lived the largest caches of child porn on the Eastern Seaboard that had ever been covered. And he was so difficult that he showed up for trial… Well, showed up. He didn’t have a choice, he was brought to trial. But he refused to change into civilian clothes and informed me before court that he was not going to participate in this farce of a proceeding. And so he was kept down on 16 at the marshal’s office, and I sat at trial the entire trial by myself. I did ask the judge to instruct the jury that I was not the defendant, and which the judge gladly did so, but during breaks, after direct examination, I’d go down to the floor below, and talk to him about what issues he wanted me to cross-examine the witness on and those kinds of things.
Then as a professional, you have to make a certain judgment call on those kinds of things of, “I’m not going to ask them questions that have no relevance whatsoever.” But there are questions that I ask that I probably would not have asked otherwise, in that case, in particular, because I was trying to give that client every benefit that I was still working for him even though he had cursed me out, and he done all sorts of stupid things that no lawyer should actually have to put up with. But trying to deal with those kinds of clients is a challenge. But the vast majority of my clients are generally people who just made a bad mistake or got into some bad circumstances, and thought they could get away with something that ultimately caught up with them.
Scott: Right, right. Well listen, Adam, it’s been great. I’ve kept you for a while, a little bit even longer than I typically do these interviews. But it’s been great catching up with you. I’ve learned some things about you that I never knew, which is often the case when I do these podcast recordings. First of all, thank you for the time, and it’s a real honor to have you on. I’ve always thought of you as one of the best appellate lawyers. You’ve been doing it a little longer than I have, and I know that you were a name and a person that I looked up to when I was starting out, and so it’s just an honor to have you. And beyond that, it’s just an honor that you shared and opened up and told me some things that I never knew about you. And it really makes me respect you even more. So I really appreciate all of that.
Adam: Well, I appreciate it, Scott. And, you know, when you invited me, I was like, “Hopefully, I don’t embarrass myself in front of a true appellate lawyer.”
Scott: Oh, gosh.
Adam: But, yes, I appreciate the opportunity. And you got me to talk about my least favorite subject, which is me.
Adam: Anyway. Thank you again, Scott.
Scott: Thank you so much. Thanks for listening to the “Advocate’s Key.” For more information and content like this, including a transcript of this episode, be sure to visit scottkeylaw.com. And please rate, review, and subscribe to this show wherever you get your audio content.