Advice for the Young Prosecutor
by Francis Schultz, District Attorney, Crawford County
This week, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association presents its Basic Prosecutor Course for new assistant district attorneys. Crawford County District Attorney and former PDAA President Francis Schultz opens the course with guidance on the best approach to this career, public service, and doing right by the cause of public safety.
Congratulations young prosecutor. You are just beginning a noble career that I hope is a life –long career. Our goals as prosecutors are to achieve justice for crime victims and their families, to be fair to every criminal defendant that we prosecute and to protect the citizens that live in our communities. To be your best and do your best, here are some words of advice from a veteran.
Your prosecuting career will come with its ups and downs. Remember your fundamental values and motivation for joining the few that are called to serve in this way. Always, Do the right thing for the rights reasons.
The fundamental values of prosecutors are integrity, honesty and professionalism. The onus of ethical charging, is on you. Always remember the Rules of Professional Conduct. We are ministers of justice. We are the seekers of the truth, not just convictions.
Show up for everything on time. This includes the start of the workday, meetings and hearings. Always act with professionalism at the workplace. Be a team player. Treat your colleagues, support staff and defense counsel in a respectful and courteous manner. Treat everyone in the courthouse the way you want to be treated. Dress for success; appearances matter. First impressions last a life time.
Communication and teamwork are as important to a great prosecutor as great writing and trial skills. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation is never a waste of time.
You will make mistakes. If you forget to admit a piece of evidence at a preliminary hearing and the case gets dismissed-tell someone-it can be corrected. Your boss would rather hear about it from you than from someone else. Be accountable. You can compound a mistake if you fail to disclose sit.
Always remember that you are an ADA 24/7. That means you need to always be mindful of the law. Pay your parking ticket on time. Make sure your inspection on your car has not lapsed. Simple things, but important things. Be mindful of what you post and what you “like” on social media.Don’t get yourself in a jam over something on Facebook. The same goes for email – the ‘E’ stands for evidence and you cannot control what happens to your email once you hit send. Choose your words and your tone carefully. Your District Attorney does not want to be in the news because of something you posted on Instagram or because of an email you sent to a citizen. A screenshot lives forever.
Make sure you understand the rules of professional conduct regarding what you can say and what you cannot say to the media regarding a case you are prosecuting. Do not let your ego get the best of you and say something to a reporter that sounds really good, but will get you in hot water with your boss.
Strive for greatness. As Bruce Springsteen once said: “More than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great.” Decide today that you are going to be a great prosecutor.
There will be days and cases that will bring you down. There will be times when it seems that the law, the facts and the judge are aligned against you. During these hours of darkness and despair dig deep, suck it up, dominate the situation and always remember that we do the right thing for the right reason.
Take pride in yourself and the work that you do. Regardless of the outcome, fight the good fight, fight the honorable fight and remember that this is the business you have chosen – and it’s not a business for the meek.
You are a Pennsylvania prosecutor, among the finest in the nation. Now get to work!
Francis Schultz was first elected as Crawford County’s District Attorney in 1999 and is currently serving his fifth term in office. He served as President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association 2011-12 and Chair of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute in 2013-14. Prior to his election as District Attorney, he served as Crawford County assistant district attorney from 1995-1998.