You have the choice to either adopt or reject the thoughts your brain sends your way. That choice has a pronounced impact on your physical and emotional well-being. In light of the colossal importance of selecting thoughts wisely, and given how difficult it can be to choose our thoughts instead of allowing them to choose themselves, I offer a formula. The rest of this book is dedicated to that formula.”

Here’s one of his tips with an unforgettable story. 

“…take a deep breath. Now do it again. Breathe through your nose, fill your lungs with air, and then exhale through your mouth. Studies have shown that deep breathing improves your mental and physical health. Deep breathing can reduce stress and buy you time to think of what to do next. Taking a breath when you feel any emotion that doesn’t serve you well will make the difference between a healthy response and an out-of-control reaction.

The Time I Failed to Breathe

My client was facing a life sentence for burglary with assault and armed robbery. She had been a prostitute most of her life and based on her extensive criminal record, she was labeled a “habitual violent offender” by the prosecutors. These charges stemmed from an incident in which she and a friend had allegedly entered her client’s house and held a machete to his throat while her accomplice took his wallet. She could have gotten a life sentence for this.

I was excited and a little nervous about going to trial because we would be before the infamous Judge Ellen “Maximum” Morphonios. Having been featured in stories by 60 Minutes and People Magazine, Judge Morphonios was known for dishing out thousand-year sentences. She was also known for bizarre behavior. After sentencing a rapist to a life sentence, she reportedly stood up, lifted her robe to reveal her shapely legs, and remarked, “That’s the last time in your life that you’re going to see a pair of legs like this.”

It was evident that the judge had taken a liking to the victim, who was in his late 90s.

Testifying through a Spanish interpreter, the victim revealed that he had been paying for sexual services from my client, three times a week for several years. They had engaged, he said, in both oral and regular sex. Judge Morphonios appeared astonished and envious.

Her eyes popping in disbelief, she interrupted the prosecutor’s questioning and, in her booming southern accent, asked the victim, “Sir, what do you eat for breakfast?”

“Cuban toast,” he answered.

“Well, then I got to get me some Cuban toast,” she said.

The victim testified that his last encounter with my client had been very different. After he had opened the door to his home, the defendant and her female friend had forcibly pushed their way inside, he claimed. According to him, my client had grabbed the victim’s machete and held it to his neck while the co-defendant removed the victim’s wallet, which contained only a few dollars.

During the victim’s testimony, the veteran prosecutor ran into a problem. When she asked the elderly victim how he had felt with a machete at his throat, he gave only a one-word response. In Spanish, it sounded like “ee-mah-hee-neh,” which was translated as, “imagine.” Realizing that this response would be insufficient to establish on the record that he had been in a state of fear, she persisted. “Sir, were you scared when the defendant held the machete at your throat?” With passion, the victim repeated his original response: “Ee-mah-hee-neh.”

Despite my strenuous objections to staying focused on one question for so long, the judge continued to allow the prosecutor to try leading the witness into saying he was scared. Finally, the impatient judge intervened; she not only put up with the prosecutor’s insistence, she contributed to it!

“Let me give this a try,” she told the prosecutor. I was caught in a game of “tag-team prosecution.” The judge turned to the victim and said, “Sir, you must have been petrified when she put the machete to your throat.”

I vehemently objected to putting words in the victim’s mouth. I was outraged. The judge had forgotten her oath of impartiality and had joined forces with the prosecutor to help her case. The only person in the room whom the jurors trusted had assumed the role of prosecutor. What a gut punch! Of all the things I had foreseen happening in this case, I had never envisioned this.

The judge refused to stop. “Sir, when she put that machete to your throat, you must have had the fear of God in you.”

All she could elicit was an increasingly vehement “Ee-mah- hee-neh.”

I was livid.

The judge kept overruling my numerous objections concerning her improper conduct. Feeling out of control, I felt a tightness in my chest. I needed to breathe but didn’t. I was losing it. What the judge was doing was incredibly improper, something I had never seen a judge do before. Emotional, I chose to react in the moment. I forgot about the many spiritual tools I had at my disposal. What I needed to help me deal with this judge gone wild was a big deep breath. Had I simply taken that deep breath, I would have realized that the judge’s behavior was so out of line that the appellate court would surely reverse any ruling against my client. I let my thoughts and emotions blind me.

The judge gave up on the witness and turned to the jury: “I’m making a finding that any reasonable person, upon having a machete at their throat, would be afraid.” This was the most egregious breach of judicial conduct I have ever witnessed. I lost it.

Because I had failed to take a deep breath, the scene tumbled downhill. We went back and forth. I told her that such partiality from a judge was unacceptable. She told me to back down.

The way she responded to my over-the-top objections showed the jurors that the judge was against me. As a trial lawyer, that’s the last thing you want to see happen. Letting my emotions run rampant, likely hindered my ability to win the case.

Fortunately, the Third District Court of Appeal threw out my client’s conviction and remanded the case for retrial. “The judge’s comments unduly prejudiced the jury against the defendant,” the appellate court said. As time dragged on, the case against my client grew weaker; the victim became older, sicker, and less mentally coherent. As a result, the prosecutor offered my client a plea bargain of six years in prison with full credit for time already served. A short time later, she was out courtesy of the eccentric judge.

When stressful moments happen, take a deep breath. Tell yourself, “This will all work out.” Go a step further and envision an outcome that is even better than you could rationally hope for. It all starts with one deep breath.”

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