If you’d asked people who knew me before law school if I’d
be a criminal defense attorney, a good chunk probably would’ve said
yes. If you’d asked those who know me DURING law school—when
I interned at two different offices for the State of Indiana—if
I’d end up as a criminal defense attorney, that number would’ve
gone down drastically. So why did I join the Criminal Defense Team?
Early Life and Influences
Let’s jump back to my youth, to age 7ish to 12ish Sean, who was living
in New Jersey. A quick aside: I’m from the east coast. I was born
and raised in southern New Jersey about 20 minutes southeast of Philly.
I miss the ocean, prefer pro sports to college sports, and love hockey.
But since I moved to southern Indiana at age 14, I’ve grown quite
fond of college football and basketball, and I’m told my “accent”
is basically gone. So when people ask where I’m from, I proudly
say New Jersey and Indiana.
My dad was an attorney who worked in a variety of areas, but family law
and criminal defense were his two most common practices. I learned a lot
from watching him do both. From his family law practice, I learned that
incidents are rarely black and white, and rarely is one person completely
right. I also learned other things, like how and how not to treat people.
Regarding criminal law, my dad always had skepticism of law enforcement.
While I think he may have been a little overreactive to a few bad cops
and I never developed
that level of cynicism, the seeds for not accepting as gospel what authority
figures said were planted.
I enjoyed journalism in high school, where I had a column in the school
newspaper where I weighed in on various topics. I went to IU Bloomington
with the idea that I’d go into journalism, hoping to report on current
events and politics. However, I quickly learned that I didn’t have
the mindset and, honestly, the motivation required to make it as a reporter.
So I graduated IU with degrees in political science and journalism, a
minor in math, and not a ton of direction. Also around this time, I had
a few people (counselors, parents, friends) asking what I thought about
going to law school.
Life and Career After Undergrad
After college, I worked as the public relations, website manager, media
guy, scorekeeper/stat guy, jack-of-all-trades for the Dubois County Bombers,
a minor league baseball team in Huntingburg. This was a fun, tiresome
job where I learned to juggle multiple responsibilities at once as well
as continued to hone my communication skills. I followed that by working
on a political campaign in what was probably the most grueling and rewarding
job of my life up to that point, managing a field office working 7 days
per week—with the “short” day being noon to 8 pm on
Sundays—knocking doors, making calls, and recruiting a base of more
than 200 volunteers to do the same. This experience showed me I could
work ridiculous hours to achieve the desired goal, and I could be persuasive.
I chose IU McKinney School of Law for a few reasons, including their environmental
law program (I wanted to use my future law license to save the environment,
sort of like Marshall from
How I Met Your Mother, with whom I share a few other similarities apparently), their proximity
to a major market like Indianapolis, and their scholarship/financial aid
package. About two months into my first year, I joined the Hendricks County
Prosecutors Office as an intern. I worked there for about a year and a
half. I helped prepare discovery to be disclosed to defense attorneys,
did legal research for whatever prosecutor needed it, and won my first
bench trial—a HUGE case where I proved that someone committed the
infraction of passing on the right shoulder. (Which I also learned was
an infraction in certain circumstances.) The most important part of my
time in Hendricks County was getting a feel for criminal law in general
and for the courtroom.
In the summer of 2015, between my second and third years of law school,
I interned at the Office of the Attorney General in their Criminal Appeals
Division. Criminal appeals arise when a party, usually the defendant,
disagrees with a ruling by the trial court, often whether evidence should’ve
been suppressed/excluded or whether a sentence was too harsh. It was my
job to advocate the State’s position in these disputes. This was
a very fulfilling experience that allowed me to practice and improve my
legal writing and research. It also gave me a higher-level understanding
of criminal law concepts that you don’t necessarily acquire in the
In September 2016, I received notice that I passed the July 2016 Bar Exam,
and the next Deputy Attorney General opening in the AG’s Office
was in Tax Litigation. Well, that’s not totally true. The next opening
was in Criminal Appeals, and it was kind of assumed throughout the division
that I would get that position. When I was not offered that spot, I took
the next opening in Tax Litigation. I often wonder where I’d be
if I had been offered and accepted that Criminal Appeals position. Because
I did NOT fit well in Tax Litigation. I worked long hours just to scrape
by. The material just didn’t click, and I didn’t have a passion
for it. And that brought me to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office
and back to criminal law, which was obviously my passion.
I joined MCPO in May 2017 and was thrust into Court 10 handling general
misdemeanors. There was a pretty steep learning curve and I had to hit
the ground running to manage my two to three days per week in court and
the related caseload. After about a year in Court 10, I handled OVWIs
in Court 7 for three months before being promoted to STRIKE, MCPO’s
drug prosecution unit, doing Level 6 felonies in Court 25. This is where
I met Kathie Perry and another attorney or two from the Criminal Defense
Team. Finally, I was promoted to prosecuting major drug felonies before
I was recruited by Kathie to join the Team in May 2019.
I really enjoyed what I did at MCPO, and I learned a lot. I did dozens
of bench trials (trials where the judge, not a jury, gives the verdict),
multiple suppression hearings, and six jury trials. My cases ranged from
first-time thefts from Walmart or possessions of marijuana to major felony
drug dealers and violent felonies. The cases I tried in front of a jury
included batteries, thefts, resisting law enforcement, and possession
of a handgun by a serious violent felon. I also enjoyed other aspects
of being a prosecutor like doing “ride alongs” or serving
search warrants with various officers; these were instrumental in my understanding
of what’s written in police reports, allowing me to better visualize
what I was reading.
What did I like about being a prosecutor? Prosecutors’ credo is to
do justice. I appreciated the autonomy, the importance, and the ethics
of that credo. To me, doing justice meant doing what’s right, whether
that be to dismiss a case where I thought the defendant was innocent;
offer pretrial diversion to a first-time offender; not settle for a soft
plea on a defendant who I believed was a true danger to society and/or
whose crimes were particularly offensive; or trying a case where I believed
the defendant committed the crime even if I thought I was going to lose.
Doing justice did not mean “get the harshest sentence I possibly
can.” There was a lot of discretion, and I genuinely tried my best
to do what I thought was right.
Sean Moved from Criminal Defense to Prosecution
So why did I leave MCPO, join the Criminal Defense Team, and become a criminal
defense attorney? Contrary to popular perceptions of slick defense attorneys,
it wasn’t really for the higher earning potential, although that
was, of course, a consideration. One reason was I thought learning criminal
law from both sides would make me a better and more well-rounded attorney,
and that’s been true so far. Just like doing ride-alongs with police
gave me a better perspective on how to prosecute cases, seeing the other
side of criminal law would provide similar context and balance. I was
also looking forward to experiencing courtrooms outside of Marion County.
Another reason was I wanted to help people. I mentioned above that I learned
early on that life is rarely black and white. Even when I was a prosecutor
I empathized with some defendants and defense attorneys. (More than once
I walked defendants through pretrial diversion agreements when they didn’t
think they could afford attorneys and I didn’t think they were appropriate
for the most aggressive prosecution, so I guess I had a little practice.)
I thought that a lot of defendants—what I called them as a prosecutor;
they’re “clients” now!—are just people, and people
make mistakes sometimes. Additionally, our justice system requires zealous
advocacy to make sure the State does its job properly, from police up
And finally, I liked the Team. I’d worked well with Kathie on a couple
of cases, and I appreciated her approach and the manner in which she dealt
with me—professionally, respectfully, and genuinely. Then I met
the other partners and some of the rest of the Team, and I felt very comfortable.
I liked the team approach, that they workshop things, bounce ideas off
one another, and take advantage of the variety of skills, connections,
and experiences they have. Plus, everyone just seemed welcoming and fun.
So I joined the Team after Memorial Day 2019, and I’ve loved it so
far. I’ve been in two jury trials, and our clients have both been
acquitted of the felony charges against them. I’ve worked out some
excellent resolutions for clients who needed it, and I look forward to
continuing to do so.