"This year, I'd love to see some personal growth in the ability to look at another persons' circumstances. If you have a particular attitude about race, can you make room for the possibility that someone else has a different attitude and allow yourself to actually listen to it? Having empathy for someone that maybe you really disagree with? That’s the challenge. That’s what we, as a nation, are not doing right now. But I would like to have us do that at Trial Lawyers College and I also hope that we can get there." - Greg Westfall, TLC Faculty Member & Co-Leader of In Defense of the Damned, TLC's Criminal Defense Seminar
Greg Westfall attended his first TLC Criminal Defense Seminar in 2001 when the course first started. He graduated from TLC's 3-Week College in 2002 and became a TLC Faculty Member in 2005. At the time when TLC started the then named 'Death Penalty Program' in 2001, there were a lot of people being put on death row, nationwide, and it is the reason the program was created in the first place. "The first course was mind-blowing. It was my introduction to Psychodrama and was the first TLC thing I’d ever done, and it was mind-blowing. I had just won a capital murder death penalty case and I arrived and learned a whole different approach to telling a story. These very impressive lawyers, lawyers who really care, with a lot of war stories came together and it was just better."
TLC's Criminal Defense Seminar is a week-long seminar. It equips lawyers with the critical skills needed for all phases of the most difficult trials, where everything is on the line for LIFE, DEATH, AND FREEDOM.
Since this course has been available to TLC Students, it has consistently sold out fast, and this year was no different with course registrations turning to waitlists in February. Greg explains the structure of this years course,"We do two days of psychodrama and the remainder is skills. There may be a demonstration or two in addition to an appearance of judges as well. So, it’s really, very small group heavy, roll-up-your-sleeves sort of stuff, but that’s what the students want." This seminar focuses on the TLC methods of mitigation in the penalty phases of a case and the punishment phase of guilt innocent cases.
Greg has been organizing this course for five years now and has seen the growth and need for this course over the years. One of the big reasons this course began in the first place was the number of exonerations around the nation at the time. Criminal defense lawyers are becoming much better at trying death penalty cases to where they have started to win a lot of their cases. "One way or another, the death penalty has been in decline nationwide, for several years now." Since that number has decreased, TLC decided to retool the course to look at the guilt innocent cases since there are roughly 100,000 people incarcerated across the nation doing life without parole, which to most people equates to death. "When the state waives the death penalty, what usually happens is the person on trial will get an automatic life sentence. In Texas, if the state waives the death penalty, which it does in the vast majority of cases, then the punishment is automatic. There’s no punishment phase. There’s no story to be told. There’s a standup, you get life without parole." Greg explains that the focus has shifted so that students can work more on the guilt or innocence phase rather than the singular focus on the punishment phase that is appropriate in teaching death penalty defense.
"Criminal defense lawyers are a different breed and have a kind of stress that’s unique among lawyers. That makes the work in Defense of the Damned all the more intense. There’s a lot of camaraderie, which is very important in a profession that can be isolating. The look on the students’ faces when they get what we’re doing is amazing. Everybody comes together, everybody stays up late and just enjoys the atmosphere and company. It’s a great bonding experience for a bunch of folks that really need it."
We look forward to seeing the criminal defense attorneys at this year's seminar. Remember to register early for next years if you want to attend and learn how to win justice for your client in the criminal defense world.
Greg lives and practices law in Fort Worth, Texas at Westfall Sellers Attorneys. He graduated from the inaugural TLC Death Penalty Seminar in 2001, and then from the 3-week College in 2002. He has been on TLC's faculty since 2005. Greg's practice was strictly criminal (with 15 years of death penalty work) until 2010 and it is now 50/50 criminal and civil, with emphasis on complex litigation in both worlds. He is married to Mollee and together they have two children. He is also a published writer, songwriter, and photographer.