What I Learned from Supreme Court Information Officer Jane Hansen This Week

The August break for the Supreme Court of Georgia is over. The Court is back in full swing next week with two days of oral argument to be followed by more argument the week after next. Earlier this week,famed convicted murderer Lynn Turner was found dead in her cell at Metro State Prison. What do these two events have in common? Georgia Supreme Court Public Information Officer Jance Hansen has reported on them both.

My ritual for Oral Argument at the Supreme Court of Georgia always include picking up on argument day and reviewing on the internet the fantastic case summaries that Ms. Hansen’s office provides. The summaries let me know who else is there and that kind of cases are going to be argued that day. I quickly figure out whether I want to go into the courtroom watch the cases before mine or stay in the lawyer’s lounge and monitor my turn in line from there. Invariably, the summaries make me want to watch them all, even the real estate and will contest cases.

The other thing I like about Ms. Hansen’s summaries is that she manages to make every case sound close and interesting. Every case is high drama in those summaries. Even when I am there with less than high hopes, those summaries make me feel like the case is close.

Back when Lynn Turner was on trial for the poisoning deaths of her husband and former boyfriend, Ms. Hansen covered those trial for The Atlanta Journal-Constituion. In the wake of her sudden death (cause unknown — toxicology tests pending), Ms. Hansen was interviewed by the AJC to recall her days covering Ms. Turner’s criminal trials.

Once again, she showed her command of the basic with her same open mind, remembering what it was like to consider the possibility of a defense verdict in both cases. She said:

I never presumed she was guilty or that she was going to be convicted. I always believed maybe the jury would hear something I didn’t know. Even when I talked to other reporters and they said, “you know she’s guilty,” I always presumed there might be something that would prove her innocence.

In this statement, I hear the voice of the person who writes those case summaries. Of course, she reports that Ms. Turner once offered her a piece of gum during a break at trial. And there we learned the limits of her open mind. She opted not to chew the gum.

What’s my point? Are you knee deep in a case that feels hopeless? Have you already made up your mind that you have a losing position but you’re headed into a trial or an appeal because your client insists or because there’s no offer on the table? Maybe it’s time to channel your inner Jane Hansen. Sit down and pretend you are writing a press release that conveys the story of both sides with just the facts. Are there two competing stories with a result still up in the air?

Maybe when you write it and read it, you’ll realize that it’s closer than you think. Jane Hansen does it with every case that’s argued, and they all look close on paper.

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