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Nevada DECA Interview Series - Mrs.Jeannie Hua Ferguson

1. Could you describe your typical workday as a previous Criminal Defense Attorney?

I have court starting around 7:30-8am. I go to Clark County Justice Court for status checks for my clients. Those status checks are for clients would pleaded guilty for misdemeanors and agreed to fulfill requirements such as payment of fines or attending counseling. Then I go to Clark County District Court on felony cases either set for trial or have pleaded out to felonies. After finishing District Court, I go back to Justice Court and do preliminary hearings or misdemeanor trials. After I finish with hearing and trials, I either take a coffee break or go to lunch with a friend and complain about my job. Then in the afternoon, I go and visit my clients in custody. My clients are either housed at Clark County Detention Center or the North Complex. After jail visits, I go back to my office and return calls. Then I pick up my kids in school. Make dinner. Help with homework. Go work out. Read to the kids. Put them in bed, watch TV and pass out.

Sometimes if I have to visit a client in prison, I have to drive to Indian Springs in the morning. Prison visits need to be scheduled beforehand. It’s about a 45 minute drive. Once there, I sign in, go through door number one, go through a metal detector, go through door number two, I get patted down by a female prison guard. I go through door number 3. Tell the guard there my name and wait for my client to be brought to me. When I’m sitting there waiting for my clients, I’m in the same big room as lay people visiting their inmate friends and relative. I see little kids playing waiting to see their mom and dad. I see loved ones talking or playing cards with the inmates. And when time is up, there are hugs and kisses then every one files out of the room. The inmates through one door, the lay people out the other.

During the day, whether I go to court or go to prison, I may make trips to my children’s school, to deliver lunches forgotten in the morning rush, to volunteer to read or bring snacks to a party or run errands that couldn’t wait until the evening hours.

Once in awhile, I go with my investigator on investigations for cases proceeding to trial. We always end up in a terrible neighborhood where in interview people distrustful of outsiders. But with the right approach, people open up, and we see another slice of life we usually drive past quickly when going to other destinations. Whether it’s Summerlin or the Westside, people live, work and eat and go through the same paces of life.

When I’m in trial, I don’t go to different courts or stop by my kids’ schools, I’m in one courtroom all day until night falls. We start with voir diring the jury panel, pick a jury, proceed with opening statements, then the State’s case in chief which consist of direct examinations of State’s witnesses followed by cross examination of each State’s witness followed by redirect. Then when the State has run out of witnesses, then the defense proceed with their case in chief. After defense runs out of witnesses, we settle on jury instructions in chambers, not in front of the jury panel. Then the judge reads the jury instructions to the jury and then the State gets to go their closing argument. After the State finishes, the defense does their closing. After the defense finishes, then the State does their rebuttal. Then the case gets submitted to the jury and the jury deliberates until they arrive at a verdict. During the entire above, there are objections made by both parties, there may be hearings on the evidence and in chamber discussions regarding witness availability and scheduling. It’s intense work but I love it because research before hand during trial preparation is required but I still have to think on my feet constantly. It doesn’t just test your intellect but also your courage.

2. What preparation, in addition to education, would you recommend for someone who would like to advance in this field?

There are many solo criminal defense practitioners who would love to exploit free labor. Intern with them.

3. What parts of your job did you find the most challenging?

I’m not very patient with people. But I learned how to explain difficult legal issues to people who often dropped out of high school or have learning disabilities. When you explain legal issues to others, the act of explaining makes you understand the subject even better.

4. How did your responsibilities as a criminal defense attorney differ from your responsibilities as a former deputy attorney general?

I prosecuted insurance regulation violations as a deputy attorney general. Instead of trials, as an administrative prosecutor, we had hearings before a hearing master instead of criminal trial. It’s a similar process but the rules of evidence is much more lax because no person’s due process rights are at stake.

As a criminal defense attorney, you’re protecting a person and you’re protecting their rights in the criminal justice system. If you mess up, your client could go to prison for many years or even their lives if they’re charged with murder and the State is asking for death penalty.

5. Can you share with us your most interesting memory as a criminal defense attorney?

I have too many. Every day is interesting.

6. Although you are no longer practicing, how did you juggle running your own practice and handling your cases as an attorney?

I found that I devoted more time to being a business person and an administrator than an attorney sometimes. I learned with trial and error as to how to run a business. But I love the freedom and autonomy that came with running my own business

7. I understand that you are a member of the Asian Law Caucus. Can you tell us a little bit about this organization and what your responsibilities were in the organization?

I joined when it first started and it was a great networking group. We got together for mixer and talked about common issues facing Asian American Attorneys. We also provided legal forums for the public to ask us questions facing the Asian American community.

8. During the College Readiness Boot camp, I remember learning that you serve as a justice pro tem in Clark county justice court. Can you share with us a little bit about what this position entails? Also, in this position, the ability ot make tough decisions is very important. Do you have a certain process that you go through, in order to come to your final decisions?

I sit as a judge and do that judge’s calendar for the day. So my first calendar would be the in custody bench warrant returns. I find out why people didn’t show up to their court dates and decide what to do with them. Then I have a calendar for out of custody status checks. Those status checks are for people who pleaded guilty or were found guilty of misdemeanors and I check on their progress on completion of requirements such as counseling, community service or payment of fines. Then the next calendar would be in custody and out of custody preliminary hearings for felonies and misdemeanor trials. There’s also usually a Temporary Protective Order calendar where I do hearing on whether to grant TPO’s.

The difficult decisions would be whether to impose suspended time or remand someone into custody because they haven’t done their requirements. But knowing that they were advised by counseling and agreed on the record to do the requirements they ended up not doing, make the decisions easier.

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