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Description

Our guest today is Julia Metts, attorney with Levin, Papantonio, and Rafferty in Florida.

Julia was born to a Pentecostal homemaker and a rebel atheist, and as the youngest of three children, often found herself the center of attention. From an early age, Julia exhibited a gift for persuasion. Between that and her father’s early problems with the law, her path toward a career as a lawyer was clear.

What Julia hadn’t expected is that much of that career would be spent in prosecution. After quickly developing a name for herself, some defense lawyers wouldn’t even dare face her in court.

In this interview, we discuss Julia’s experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community while attending a Baptist college, the loss of the first woman she ever loved, her biggest tips for prosecuting attorneys, and how being a parent has shaped her life.

A note to listeners: Julia and I will be discussing some disturbing court cases and personal experiences involving suicide and violence against women. While we won’t discuss graphic details, listener discretion is advised.

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Transcription

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Julia Metts:

I know how to try a case and I do it the right way. You communicate with the defense attorneys, right? We know what the issues are. When you watch some of the more recent trials happening on TV and you see the shenanigans, right? Good lawyers don’t try cases that way, right. And I think being a great lawyer means stopping with the technicalities and the little gotcha moments and just litigating the issues that need to be done and being open and honest about what the issues are. If I have to trick you or play gotcha to win a case, maybe I shouldn’t be winning.

Luke W Russell:

Welcome to Lawful Good, a show about lawyers and the trials they face inside and outside the courtroom. I’m your host, Luke W. Russell. I’m not a journalist, I’m not an attorney, I’m trained as a coach. I love human connection, and that’s what you are about to hear. My guest today is Julia Metts, attorney with Levin Papantonio Rafferty in Florida. Julia was born to a Pentecostal homemaker and a rebel atheist. And as the youngest of three children, often found herself the center of attention. From an early age, Julia exhibited a gift for persuasion. Between that and her father’s early problems with the law, her path toward a career as a lawyer was clear. What Julia hadn’t expected is that much of that career would be spent in prosecution. After quickly developing a name for herself, some defense lawyers wouldn’t even dare face her in court. In this interview, we discussed Julia’s experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community while attending a Baptist college, the loss of the first woman she ever loved, her biggest tips for prosecuting attorneys, and how being a parent has shaped her life. A note to listeners, Julia and I will be discussing some disturbing court cases and personal experiences involving suicide and violence against women. While we won’t discuss graphic details, listener discretion is advised. Julia, let’s start here. What’s better than getting dirty.?

Julia Metts:

The process of getting clean, right. Thinking about all the things. It’s every scratch, it’s every scar, when you clean the scuffs on your boots, it’s every little memory that goes along with that, right. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving so I shined my boots this morning. And I’ve had them for 20 years so I remember all of the little things that added the dents to them in life.

Luke W Russell:

I love that. What was your childhood home or homes like? Can you take me through the front door?

Julia Metts:

The very first front door, would’ve been a single wide trailer on a two-lane road with a canal on the other side, because the sugar cane fields were right there next to us. I don’t remember that one much at all. And then I remember we lived in another trailer park and the back of it, as my dad was starting his fish company, a seafood company because he was a commercial fisherman, I just remember from those homes, all of us around all the time, right. I remember fishermen being at our house all the time in their white work boots. And just the wildness of all of that. I remember my mom being a homemaker, right. Making sure we were all fed and everything was taken care of. When you walk through the front door, there would’ve been toys and people and lots of things happening.

Julia Metts:

I remember being the center of attention most of the time, I was my mom and dad’s first child together.

Luke W Russell:

Okay.

Julia Metts:

They each had a child from a prior marriage. And then I remember we moved across town to a much, much larger house when my dad’s business took off and things like that. And I remember that being different, right? Everybody had bigger spaces and we were separated by rooms and play rooms and piano rooms and toy rooms. And it’s that feeling of sometimes like you’ve made it, but maybe you haven’t, right. A family that used to all fit together in this really, really small space was now spread out over two stories and a few thousand square feet.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Is this the first time you had your own room?

Julia Metts:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes.

Luke W Russell:

You have two older sisters from your parents and then you have a younger brother, is that right?

Julia Metts:

I do, yeah. He’s nine years younger than I am.

Luke W Russell:

What was your relationship like with your little brother?

Julia Metts:

I was pissed that they were having him. I remember telling my… I was like, I don’t understand why you needed another one, you had me. How could things get any better than this kid? Look, I didn’t go to the hospital when he was born. I was boycotting his birth.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I had been the baby for nine years and I had two older sisters. It was very much the center of attention. And then the crazy thing is that he and I were, as he got older, extremely, extremely close, right. But I mean, I told my parents that I don’t understand why we’re going through this exercise of having another child.

Luke W Russell:

That’s too funny. What was your relationship like with your parents, and I guess maybe too, I’m curious is, did the relationship shift too between as your parents or dad’s business took off?

Julia Metts:

I was their first child together and they’re still married today. I was, by all accounts, my dad’s favorite, right. And so my sister Marsha used to get onto me all the time for being the favorite, right. For being mom and dad’s favorite, for being the grandparents’ favorite and things like that. From my perspective, that came with a tremendous amount of responsibility. What was initially a really neat thing for me as a kid to have all of this attention and all of this support and all of these things, became a tremendous amount of responsibility as I got older.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

As I went off to college and my dad called and said, you need to come home and take care of your mom, right? She’s battling depression, she weighs 90 pounds. And by the way, we’re not going to tell your mom the truth. You’re going to tell her that you need a break and that you can’t handle school because I don’t want her to think that she’s the reason you’re coming home.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. I think what started, and again, don’t come with manuals, right. What gave me a tremendous amount of confidence as a child was both of my parents believing in me. What turned into a tremendous amount of pressure as an adult was both of my parents relying on me. I took custody of my brother at one point, basically from my parents, whenever I was transitioning from college to law school, right. I took a year off in between college and law school so I could help raise my brother. I mean, they gave me tremendous gifts as a kid, empowering confidence and all of those things and loved me a lot. And then it gave lots of, I think, complex issues down the road.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Maybe, how did you get the nickname bug?

Julia Metts:

I want to say my grandma, my mom’s mom, maybe. It was Julie bug.

Luke W Russell:

Okay.

Julia Metts:

Yeah. It just became bug, and then it’s funny you say that. Everyone calls me bug and my… I used to manage the state attorney’s office and my mom would call and ask for bug.

Luke W Russell:

I love that. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. And so my secretary would be like, Hey, your mom’s on the phone. I was like, geez, Lois, come on. My teachers in high school called me bug, my family, my niece and nephew still call me bug. The kids at my house now call me bug. But I want to say it was my grandmother, and it was Julie bug.

Luke W Russell:

Julie bug. Yeah. And were your grandparents, did they live pretty close geographically then?

Julia Metts:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). My mom’s parents did. Claire and my Papa Tindle did. They lived in Clewiston where we were. And then my dad’s parents were in Winter Garden, which is in central Florida where he grew up.

Luke W Russell:

Okay. See your mom’s parents quite a bit then?

Julia Metts:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Yeah. Pretty regularly.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Was there la certain kind of food that she would make for you when you go to her house?

Julia Metts:

I don’t remember a certain… I remember she always made us eat every bite. Grandma T. was not about to let you waste some food and rice. She always made rice just because they didn’t have anything, right. And rice was a good filler.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

Anytime we had a meal at grandma T’s house, there was going to be rice and you were going to clean your plate. If you were hungry or not, those were the rules. That and you had to cut switches. If she was going to spank you, you had to go out the front and get your own switch.

Luke W Russell:

And I understand you loved being outdoors, whether it was four wheeling, fishing. What were your favorite things to do outside?

Julia Metts:

Anything. Anything that didn’t involve being indoors, right, which is crazy because I’m a lawyer now. I’m always indoor.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

But favorite though is probably fishing, right. Just being on the water, I think the water’s super calming, relaxing, peaceful. And there’s something really cool about being able to provide for yourself in that way.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What kind of fish were you often catching?

Julia Metts:

Freshwater fish. We grew up on Lake Okeechobee and my father was commercial fisherman. I actually ran Halsen crews trot lines, stuff like that. And then sports fish for bass.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And would you clean your own fish and cook it all yourself?

Julia Metts:

Oh yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Commercially. We had the nets and they would catch thousands of pounds of fish. Our job, my sisters and I, would work in the fish house in the evenings, clean fish, right. That’s how we made extra money.

Luke W Russell:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

They would catch several thousand pounds of fish and we would be there until we got them all cleaned with the cleaning crew.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And what about sports? I think you played softball among other things, right?

Julia Metts:

Yeah. Softball, played baseball up until high school. My dad wanted me to play Pony league baseball and stuff like that because they didn’t think the girls were competitive enough. I played baseball and then switched when I went into high school and played softball until I got injured.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay. Tell me about your injury.

Julia Metts:

Stupid, Luke. Four wheelers, right? For as grown up as I am right now, I was a super reckless, hotheaded young child. If it went fast, then I wanted it to go faster. If it could jump hills, I wanted it to jump the highest hill, right. My sisters and my parents used to joke that I was going to be dead by the time I was 30, I was either going to have a stroke because I was so intense or I was going to wreck something and it was all going to be over. My response was like, that’s a cool way to go out. We’re going to live it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

But yeah, I wrecked a three wheeler. I was driving a three wheeler down the road that didn’t have any brakes on it because that seemed like a good idea at the time. I think I was a freshman in high school. And a Winnebago turned in front of me and I plowed through the side of it, ended up in the hospital, concussions, broken arm, lacerations down my face, my legs.

Luke W Russell:

Wow. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Yeah, that was a wild ride.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And was religion part of your household growing up?

Julia Metts:

Sort of and sort of not, right. My mom’s family is Pentecostal, right. And my dad’s family is Mormon, but my father is atheist. My mom sort of desperately wanted us to go to church and to make good choices and to do those things. We went to Sunday school and we did those things and there was always this overtone of faith. And my father openly mocked it, disregarded it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Talked about faith being a weakness, right. And people who believe in something other than themselves are by definition, weak or not believing in the power of themselves. I think a lot of that was shaped by his childhood and being brought up in the Mormon faith and having to attend seminary and having to do those things. And he just didn’t find a lot of… I don’t know, he just didn’t find a lot of purpose in it, right. There were these competing interests.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

My mom would tell me stories, like when I was a baby, she would get mail from anonymous people about how I needed to be baptized, right. The anonymous people was my grandma, my dad’s mom, because they were adamant that despite what my dad thought, he believed that he was wrong and I needed to be baptized immediately so that bad things didn’t happen to me. Yeah. The relatives would send anonymous mail.

Luke W Russell:

And how were you soaking and handling that? Was that more pressure or…

Julia Metts:

At the time, because of my relationship with my dad at the time, I believed it was a weakness, right. And I have since shifted and life has a way of waking you up and in teaching you new lessons, right. But I idolized my father.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

It was the fact that he was Metts and I was mini Metts and those were our identities, right. This idea that I needed faith to me was just, at that age in life and even my early college years, was ridiculous to me. I was like, well, who needs that when they obviously have themselves? Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, duh. That type of mentality and then as I navigated life, it became much more clear to me that it wasn’t a weakness at all, right. It’s very much a strength, and kindness and vulnerability are strengths. My relationship with my father was that win at all costs relationship, right. That look back and see all the people that you stepped on to get to the top. And then later in life, that’s not who I am.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. That’s not who I want to be. And then, so my faith and my journey with faith became very different.

Luke W Russell:

Your cousin, Amber, she said you could talk a dog off of a meat truck. Were you ever talking your way out of trouble?

Julia Metts:

Every day of my life. And I was also always talking our friends parents into letting us do things that they probably knew that we shouldn’t be doing, but they trusted me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right.

Luke W Russell:

Interesting. Yeah. Do you have an example?

Julia Metts:

Anytime we went out. It’s a small town, Luke. I mean, we were driving my mom’s Lincoln Town Car and everybody was drinking and we should not have been, but all of our parents were convinced that if I was there, because I had talked them, that everything was fine. Of course, we were just studying, of course we were hanging out, of course, these… No, nothing bad could ever happen.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And then just being able to charm my mom. Even if I did something wrong or if I aggravated my sisters or if I got in trouble, I could convince my mom that it was entertaining or it was funny or we should go shopping, mom. That will make this all better for us.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. When did a future as a lawyer, was this something that started later? Were you starting in high school to look at your future and think about lawyering?

Julia Metts:

Probably middle school. I mean, I was late elementary, middle, maybe fifth grade, the first time I told him I was going to be an attorney.

Luke W Russell:

What inspired that?

Julia Metts:

My dad was always in trouble. Right. There were always lawyers in and out of our lives. I was either in middle school or early high school when I gave my first deposition in a civil case for him. He was a commercial fisherman so he always got in trouble with Florida Fish and Wildlife, right. And it was a game to him, right. They would stop and arrest him and charge him. And then he would go to trial and he would get off. And then he would joke about wallpapering his office with the not guilty verdicts. And he just loved to defy them. It was just an interesting part of my childhood, but I very much knew at a young age that I was going to litigate. This is what I was going to do. I didn’t anticipate at that time that I would spend the majority of my career as a prosecutor, but as my view shifted, it came away from this whole cowboy esque, let’s see what we can get away with, into no, no, you pains in the asses. You need to be properly dealt with. But yeah. I mean, that shaped a lot of it. There were attorneys around for various reasons.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. 2001 is when you head off to Mississippi College. When you showed up at college, did you feel in your element or a bit out of place?

Julia Metts:

I don’t know if I felt out of place, it was different, right. But I feel I’ve always been able to adjust to whatever it is, right. My mom was very prim and proper.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. And my dad was very just country and crazy, right. I had to morph between two worlds. I think when I got to MC, I just recognized, all right, this is going to take some skill, right? I’m going to have to charm these people to make them love me, but I can do this, right. They’re not going to love me off the bat because I have short hair and I have a nose ring. And they don’t have anybody like this from Florida up here.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. But I will win them over. And so new environments were almost like a game.

Luke W Russell:

You mentioned earlier stepping out of college for a period to help take care of your mother. Was that during your undergrad or was that during…

Julia Metts:

That was undergrad.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You get a phone call at college and your dad’s saying you need to come home to help take care of your mom. And that’s when you… Was that a semester, a year? How long were you out from?

Julia Metts:

A summer and a semester. And then I doubled up, I had to take back to back 21 hour semesters and then a summer session to get caught up-

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

After that so that I could still graduate on time.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

Looking back on it now, it seems like it was standard.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

If there was a problem in the house, I dealt with it, I fixed it, I handled it. From a very, very young age if my parents had conflict in their marriage, then it was communicated to me and then I dealt with, and I handled it. If there was conflict with my sisters, then I would be asked to communicate with them about what the issues were or what my parents’ frustrations were, or my mom’s relationship with her parents, right. All of those things were communicated to me. At the time looking back, dad calls and says, this needs to happen. I’m like, cool. Right. It’s going to be a bit of work, but I got it. And then it didn’t even occur to me that I was lying to my mom and she could one day resent this because I mean, my dad had been lying to her all along and telling me, right.

Julia Metts:

I thought it was normal because providers protect women, right. And that was one of the lessons always was that, and he would tell me, he said, you’re not like them, right? Your mother’s one of the women that have to be taken care of. And he’s like, you’re not, you’re a Metts, and that’s different. He empowered me because I was his, not because I was a woman and women should be empowered, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And so it was just this… I never second guessed it when he called, because I’m a Metts and that’s what I do.

Luke W Russell:

Thinking about your time in undergraduate, you show up, you have your short hair, you have your nose ring. Was Mississippi College, was that a Baptist college?

Julia Metts:

Oh yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What did you learn about yourself during this time? How were you changing as a person?

Julia Metts:

I don’t know. I met Julie while I was in college, Culver, who was my first girlfriend, but I don’t know that anything changed, Luke, because it was still very much this culture of you don’t tell anyone, right? We’re roommates or we’re best friends or we’re whatever, but we don’t tell anyone. And I think looking back, hindsight, if I learned anything in college, it was exactly how deadly silence is.

Luke W Russell:

Tell me more. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That was the beginning of seeing her inability to be who she was as a person start to kill her. When you look back and, I can see the progression of so having to hide in that moment, in that space and then me not knowing what to do, right. Well, why can’t we just tell everyone to kiss our ass and do whatever we want to do, right? This is what I do.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That was the first time I loved someone enough to change who I was to make them feel safer, right. I think high school me and younger me would have just been like, no, we are going to be out, we are going to do this my way, we’re going to do whatever I want to do or you’re not along for this. But learning to love someone more than you love yourself-

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I think that was the very biggest lesson that I had in college. It was the first time in my life that I start to see this shift from who I was molded to be with my father and then who I ultimately wanted to be, right, which is someone who helps other people grow, right? If we are not loving and leaving love, then what function do we have on this earth, right?

Luke W Russell:

Eventually your girlfriend took her own life. Was that why you two were still dating?

Julia Metts:

No. At that point, so we still lived together and we had custody of my niece and nephew. It had gotten to the point where I felt I was killing her, right. This crazy relationship where… We had separate beds, right.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

We were in college, we graduated, I go to St. Pete law school, she gets a job in Tampa so we can live together and be together and things like that. And even still, she’s not comfortable, she can’t tell her family, she can’t, any of these things. And then I graduate from law school and then we move up to central Florida. And she’s like, it’ll be better there. We can do this. But then she’s like, no, we can’t. We need to go back to just being friends. She’s like, I don’t know how to do this, but I don’t know how to lose you.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

She’s like, you are what’s keeping me a lot. And at that point, I had never experienced… My mother battled depression, right. And people in her family had and I’ve seen it, but in my mind at this point, I was like, there’s nothing I can’t fix. I had never failed at anything. In my mind, I’m like, all right, cool. If I’m keeping you alive, let’s keep you alive. Let’s get this done.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And then, so it was like, that’s fine, right? We can live in the same space, we can raise the kids, we can do whatever. We will find a way to have separate houses or to do these things, right. And then, so I started dating someone else.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And then within six or eight months of that, she’s dead. And I remember, so like one of the last conversations we had, she was going to her doctor’s house and she’s like, I’m going to lose you in this process. And I said, better to lose me than to lose yourself, right. I will always be here and I will always love you and if we are supposed to be together, then this will always all work out, but heal you, right. Learn how to tell your family that it’s not that you’re in love with me, it’s that you’re gay, right. And I happen to be the person that you love. But it can’t be that you just want to be with me, right. You have to face this with them. And so we’d add a number of suicide attempts in there.

Julia Metts:

And her family wanted to send her to a Christian rehab center. And I was adamantly against it because they didn’t want to come to terms with that she was gay, right. They wanted it to be me, they wanted it to be my fault because I fit the picture.

Luke W Russell:

Right.

Julia Metts:

Right. I was the person who was nonconforming so I must have made their beautiful angelic Bible school teaching Mississippi daughter gay.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

When they found out that I wasn’t the first girl, they were shocked. when they found out that she came onto me, she kissed me first, they were shocked. But that was one of our last conversations was, I was like, I am in a relationship now, because if I’m not in a relationship, you are never going to move on. You are never going to get better. And that was horrible of me to have done that to another person, but that’s kind of where we were. But I believed it, right. I believed that if she would learn how to face this, then we would always be together. And in the process, she died, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I have a question and feel free to pass on it. Is there any value in agonizing over the question that all people who lose someone to suicide ask themselves, which is, could I have done anything to prevent the loss of my loved one?

Julia Metts:

That question has shaped the last decade of my life, right. And it’s made me a better person. There are 1,000 things that I could have done to help her, to raise awareness about mental health, right, to raise awareness about the way we demonize sexuality. And it’s so crazy, right, because people talk about being gay or things like that. And they’re like, wow. I don’t want that around my kids. I’m like, you sexualize the babies in the princess outfits in your little hetero way. I am not sexualizing your children, that’s you. But yeah. I mean, I think there’s tremendous value in asking that question. The healing comes though in the saying, I’ve answered the questions. These are the things that I could have done, and these are the things that I’m going to do moving forward to help more people.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

But I have to cut it off and I have to move on to my healing.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Because got to be a space between asking the question productively versus shaming ourselves.

Julia Metts:

Yeah. I mean, it takes… Gosh, Luke, I mean, it’s a different journey for everyone. I mean, I spent the first 18 months after she passed away in a complete fog of life. I would wake up in the back corner of the closet and I would’ve chewed holes in the collars of my shirts.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And have no real recollection, just shaking, horrible nightmares, right. I had this idea that I had killed her, right. If I had never moved on, then she would still be here. Some of which is made worse by my mom having to hold me that I should have taken better care of her. I would have these crazy nightmares, right, of being naked and having vultures take my flesh because I didn’t deserve it, because I didn’t protect her-

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

From the world, right. But you have to go through that. And then in the middle of that journey, trying to heal and trying to figure it out, I had the most amazing people in my life. One of my boss’ Rick Ridgeway came to me at the state attorney’s office and he’s like, Hey, he’s like, number one, you’re not superwoman. Number two, your work doesn’t get to kill you. He said, go home and heal, right. Work has always been the place that made the most sense to me. I went back to work, I was trying cases within a week of putting her in the ground. Because that’s what I knew how to do. And he’s like, no. He’s like, I’m taking your cases from you, right. Not because you’re not a good lawyer, but because you need to heal. That was really valuable.

Julia Metts:

And then just friends who understood how much I loved her, and then friends who understood how deep her depression was, right, because she was the person who could fool you, right. She’s the Sunday school teacher, she’s the high school teacher who they’re like, she was so happy. And I’m like, it was so fake.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Because she was a people pleaser.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

She made everyone feel amazing about themselves. And then years later, one of my very best friends growing up, her son committed suicide. And he committed suicide on Julie’s birthday. And so I got the phone call from her and she’s like, it’s a gunshot wound. And I was like, did he shoot himself? And she’s like, that’s not what I’m telling myself right now. And I said, no. I said, we are telling ourselves the truth from the beginning. And so I look back at the trauma of Julie’s suicide. And then I look forward to Timmy’s suicide, and I think I wouldn’t have had what I needed to help Vicky and Tim and to be there for that family had I not experienced what I experienced with Julie, right.

Julia Metts:

And then the number of people in my life who reach out to me constantly about a family member or friend who’s committed suicide that they haven’t been able to be honest about yet. And then just helping them find their way towards truth, right. There’s healing and truth and hope and silence and all of those things are so deadly, Luke. When we don’t talk honestly about the impact of all this stuff, it’s so deadly. And it took me a couple of years to realize the power of talking about how much I struggled during that time because people thought that I just had it together and that I was just kind of piecing it along. And I’m like, no, I was at… No.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

No, I was a shit show.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You graduate in 2001 and you head off to Stetson Law School. Do you still have custody of your brothers, you’re going to law school and kind of, what is your framework and perspective on your future at this point?

Julia Metts:

My parents didn’t ask me to take my brother. He was failing in school and couldn’t read and wasn’t functioning at home because I was gone, my sister Marsha was gone. We were pretty stable forces in the house. It was just dysfunctional, right. He wasn’t getting what he needed so this is what I’m doing. I mean, I sat my parents down and said, this is what we’re doing.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Figured out what paperwork I needed, how I needed to get him enrolled in school and all of those things. And Julie was a school teacher, so it made perfect sense. We got him caught up, we got him reading well, we got him back on grade level. We did all those things. And then he wanted to go back home to my parents’ house. We did that. I was in law school. Law school was just the… I mean, I said I was going to do it so I needed to do it. Took a little hiatus to do what I needed to do for the family, now I needed to jump back in and do this so that we could check this box. I remember my dad didn’t come to… He was out of town for my high school graduation. Something happened, he wasn’t at my college graduation. I remembered making a joke to my sister. I guess I need to get one more degree so he’ll show up for something. I can’t count the number of times that he ever said, I was proud of you, right. I was like, all right. If I do law school, then you’re proud of them for some… Sooner or later, one of these degrees is going to equal something, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That was kind of the mindset going into it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And you ended up on the Stetson’s trial team going on to be a finalist at a national trial competition. Was this part of your discovering of how much you loved trial advocacy?

Julia Metts:

Yeah. I mean, when I entered law school, I thought that I wanted to do corporate work. My home life was, so outside looking in, pretty picturesque, right. Entrepreneurial dad, he’s got a wife that’s 11 years younger than him and very attractive, right. Right, she’s on all the field trips with us, we check all the boxes.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

He provides for us, we go to Disney and we do all the things, stuff is good. And it was very dysfunctional internally. I wanted calm in life. I wanted predictability. And I thought doing business law, corporate law was a way for it to be predictable and still be an attorney. I stuttered as a child. In school I would put my head down and I couldn’t read out loud. I would stick words and things like that. And even now, a word will hit that I can’t pronounce so I have to think really quick, what was a different word? How do I get a work around? And so trial team was a way for me to figure out or just to face my fears, right? I’m afraid of public speaking. I was afraid of it. I knew that people listened to me because I mean, my father had told me that my entire life, you’re a leader, you’re these things and people listen to you. Trial advocacy and trial team seemed to be a way to meet what people had always told me I was supposed to be and get over my fear of being what people told me I was supposed to be, which was a trial lawyer.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And so in around December 2004, you complete law school. Were you excited to actually go take this and put it into practice in the real world?

Julia Metts:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had done, at that point, trial competitions, second place, national champion, we had done all of these phenomenal things. We were still ranked number one. And so being able to walk into a courtroom and to have all those skills was exciting.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And so you graduate and you’re working as the assistant state attorney in the fifth judicial circuit, where I believe you were trying misdemeanors, felonies, career criminal cases. Can you first talk to us a little bit about just how the state attorney’s office works and kind of what your role was within the system there?

Julia Metts:

It’s the unit that’s responsible for following up after law enforcement does their arrests and stuff, right. Law enforcement’s job is to identify the bad guys, find them, build the cases. And the prosecutor’s job is to take it from there and figure out what we can prove, what we can’t prove.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And make sure that we come up with sentences and that we’re pursuing cases that do the right thing, right. That’s kind of the goal or that’s my goal anyway, when I’m doing it, right. You may have some prosecutors who think my goal is to check stats and to get convictions and to lock people up for as long as possible. I think the goal is always justice, right? And you can serve justice by dropping a case just as well as you can serve justice by putting someone in custody, right. It just depends on what justice needs in that moment, but that’s the goal of the state attorney’s office. And then initially when you go in, you are thrown to the wolves in county court with the judge and you get hundreds of cases and they’re like, Hey, here you go, figure it out. And you try a lot of stuff, you lose a lot of stuff, you win some stuff, you learn what to do, what not to do. And then you work your way up into trying more significant cases as you go through that process.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What was your mission in life at this point?

Julia Metts:

Checking boxes, right. At this point entering, we didn’t have a ton of female attorneys and I wanted to know how fast people got promoted, right. When I interviewed, they were like, do you have any questions? I’m like, yeah. How long til I’m in felony, right? It was important to me at that point that if the average lawyer is in misdemeanor for a year and a half before they get bumped to felony, I needed to do it faster than that.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

It was still very much how many cases can I win? What can I do? My work was my worth, right. How do I prove it by performance?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You’ve been described as a first rate felony lawyer. What does that mean to you?

Julia Metts:

I know how to try a case and I do it the right way, right? The last murder trial I did, we had two to three objections in a week long trial. And the reason, Luke, is because you communicate with the defense attorneys, right? We know what the issues are. When you watch some of the more recent trials happening on TV and you see the shenanigans, right? Good lawyers don’t try cases that way. I’m not asking someone about their right to remain silent in a trial because I respect the constitution, right. That’s what a first rate lawyer should do. We should be following the law and we should be getting convictions if that’s the right thing to do in the right way. And we should be able to be cordial and professional with opposing counsel, right? This is about doing the best thing for the system and the people involved in it. None of this is personal between any of us.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Thinking about your relationship with judges, just thinking about what you just said and your relationship with opposing counsel judges, how did you approach or show up? And maybe also, what are the ramifications of actually building good rapport with the people you’re trying the case in front of?

Julia Metts:

One of the ramifications of… I went in a really long time without a trial, right. Because people wouldn’t try cases against me. I went over a year, right. I had to go to other jurisdictions in second chair cases. I had lawyers tell their clients, Hey, I can win against a lot of people, but I can’t win against her. And at that point, I craved trial. If I was in trial every day, I was a happy person, but I was avoiding, right, the chaos at my home, right. Julie is deep in a depression at this point, I have custody of my niece and nephew, I didn’t want to be a parent. I have my brother back again.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

But I’m really good at trial. I’m really good at being a lawyer so just let me lawyer. One of the consequences is that you sometimes don’t get what you want, but the upside to that though is a win for the system because people know that you are who you say you are, right. If I offer you a plea, you know that I’m not bluffing you, I’m not lying to you, I’m not hiding evidence from you. If you need a continuance, I’m going to give it to you because I want to beat you on your best day, not your worst day, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I don’t need gimmicks or gimmies, right. And I think being a great lawyer means stopping with the technicalities and the little gotcha moments and just litigating the issues that need to be done and being open and honest about what the issues are. If I have to trick you or play gotcha to win a case, maybe I shouldn’t be winning.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What do you think… You said other lawyers would say I can win your case, I just can’t win it against her. What is it that made you so special as an attorney that actually you were going to win, where these people could win against a different attorney?

Julia Metts:

Preparation. Look, it’s nothing special. It’s not. It’s…

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I’m going to look at all the videos. I’m going to look at every ounce of evidence. I inherited a murder case from a lawyer and we were three weeks out from trial and it came to me and it was in, I want to say three quarters of a banker’s box, right. By the time that I was done breaking it all down, we had three full bankers boxes, right. Because they had not printed out the call logs, they had not gone through, they didn’t match them up, right. They didn’t look at the text messages compared to the call logs to figure out where they were and what was going on. They hadn’t broken down the surveillance yet, they hadn’t figured out that the time on the surveillance was wrong. And then I had 15 minutes of unaccounted time, right. They didn’t realize that we had a witness in Texas, right.

Julia Metts:

And so how are we going to do interstate compact in time to get that witness in from Texas? And then it turns out that the floating judge in Texas’ grandmother grew up in Inverness. He’s like, I don’t want to murderer on the street. Yeah, I’ll get this guy for you. Just being a good lawyer, you don’t have to be the smoothest talker. You don’t have to be what people think of as Ken and Barbie, right? You don’t have to look like them or anything. You have to be authentic., and you have to be willing to outwork them.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And that’s it. Be who you are, right. Be authentic with who you are and outwork them. And it works every single time.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What’s it like to lose a case that you think you should have won?

Julia Metts:

Earlier in my career, it was devastating to my ego. And then later in my career, it was devastating to my heart because someone trusted me to be their voice, someone trusted me to be their advocate and I didn’t get the job done. And at the end of the day, that victim, that person was going to own that for themselves, right. They weren’t going to blame me. They were going to blame themselves, right, because that’s what victims do. They continue to blame themselves. Some early losses in cases that had tough victims made me really reanalyze cases that I took to trial at times, to think long and hard about I can weather a loss in this case, but can my victim weather a loss? Is it better for me to make a decision early on about an appropriate plea or about a trial strategy and to protect this person down the road and send them on their healing journey.

Julia Metts:

How can I get justice for the system, and then how can I also help this person in their healing? Because they’re not evidence, right. As a young prosecutor, I thought victims were evidence. And they’re not, they’re people.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Just finding that balance in life, and it’s the same in civil, right? We want to win the cases. Here, right, no one wants to lose, but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, is it worth what we’re about to put these people through?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. Is it worth having women who have cancer and can no longer have certain relationships with their spouses, is it worth putting them through those questions, right, for just a little bit more money or not a little bit more money, right? What’s the balance of all of that? And recognizing that my ego should always take a third and fourth seat to the needs of the real people involved in the litigation. And that’s a lesson that I think a lot of trial lawyers, since some of them are still practicing and haven’t learned it. My heart kind of breaks for them, but maybe one day.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I’m told you’re particularly skilled and conveying complex legal issues in an understandable way to a jury.

Julia Metts:

You just have to talk to folks the way that folks want to be talked to. No one understands how a gas chromatograph works for telling us what a drug is, but they know if I put coke in and I get coke out, that’s cocaine, right?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Meet people where they are. And complex legal issues don’t have to be complex, right. Rico’s sound really complicated, continuing criminal enterprise sounds really intense. All it is people getting together with a plan to make bad things happen, that’s it. That’s a continuing criminal enterprise, right. Did we have an agreement to do something bad? Yes, we did. All right, well we’re a criminal enterprise, right. Do we have to have matching logos? No, we don’t, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I think it’s a willingness, Luke, to be human. Lawyers love to use our lawyer words, right. And I love to never use our lawyer words. I want to talk to people where they are and meet them where they are and educate them where they are and never make them feel like they don’t belong because they don’t understand a word that I used or phrase that I used or something like that. It’s an area where professionals and where people in society go really wrong is talking down to other people. Everybody has worth and everybody has value. And we should treat people well, even in our communications, and not making them feel they’re dumb or less because they don’t know a legal phrase.

Luke W Russell:

When we come back, Julia will discuss how she learned to fully understand the humanity of victims in her courtrooms, why she loved teaching students at her Alma mater of Stetson Law, and the finer points of cross examination. Stay with us. I’m Luke W. Russell, and you are listening to Lawful Good.

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This show is made possible by the following sponsors. We are happy to partner with Milestone Foundation. Milestone Foundation provides the financial assistance plaintiffs and their families need to pay for basic living expenses during litigation. They offer non-recourse advances with low, simple interest, so people in need can go the distance against deep pocket defendants. Learn more at themilestonefoundation.org. A big thank you to Hennessy Digital. Jason Hennessy uses SEO to generate millions of dollars in results for law firms across the country. In his book, Law Firm SEO, Jason takes you behind the scenes to see what actually works to rank on Google. Pick up a copy of Law Firm SEO on Amazon, or download it on Audible. Are you interested in learning trial skills from some of the best attorneys in the nation? Check out Trial School, a not for profit collaborative effort to provide free trial advocacy training for lawyers who represent people in groups fighting for social justice. Are you a personal injury attorney who’s looking to get high value cases? Our team at Russell Media has been doing social media marketing for PI lawyers for over a decade. And we’re pretty comfortable in saying we’ve cracked the code because for years, we’ve been generating six and seven figure cases for law firms through social media advertising. Curious? Head over to 7figurecases.com. That’s the number 7figurecases.com.

Luke W Russell:

When we left off, Julia was noting the importance of detail preparation and speaking to juries in plain language. As we pick up the conversation, she explains why she doesn’t like the idea of so-called natural skill in the courtroom and how she’s turned her own history with sexual abuse into what she calls a superpower. Julia, you described some of the ways you had to be strong as a child and young lawyer, and you also said that later you came to view vulnerability as a strength. When did that shift start to occur?

Julia Metts:

I was prosecuting felony cases and I was in Citrus County at the time. I don’t remember what year, I had a case, the gentleman’s name was Charles Grow. He had beat his wife pretty severely. And I remember going into the victim, it was domestic violence case. And we got in, it was a half page report. And I’m like, what is this, right? I remember going in and talking to the victim advocate and the victim advocate telling me, Hey, you really need to talk to this victim. You need to understand her, you need to be whatever. And me telling the victim advocate at the time, was like, listen, she’s evidence, right? I just need you to get her in here, get some photos, get a statement and get me what I need so I can go forward.

Julia Metts:

This is not the end of the world. And the victim witness at the time, her name was Judy McBride. And I just remember the glare. She’s like, how dare you? And I remember that time still very much being that, women don’t get abused. You have a choice, you stay or you don’t. Because in my mind, the way that my dad had raised me then, you just leave.

Luke W Russell:

Right.

Julia Metts:

I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. And then looking back, it makes complete sense to me, right. The level of emotional abuse that was happening in the house that I grew up in.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

Right. The amount of telling my mom that she’s not good enough, she’s not going to be good enough and he’s the only person who can provide for her and take care of her. Do I now completely get it? Yeah. Did I get it then? Absolutely not, right. She ended up, they arrested as a misdemeanor battery. And it turns out that he had kidnapped her and put her in the house. He had taken all the cards from their marriage, right, because she was going to divorce them. And he had sharpened all of his knives and he had the cards laid out with the knives and he was going to kill her. And he kept beating her and punching her. And so she was apologizing to him. She was like, no, I love you. I’m sorry. Just let me clean my face, let me put some ice on it. It’ll all be okay, da, da, da, da, da. And then, so she was able to run out of the house and get in her vehicle and call 911. And so he snatches her back out, beats her head in the concrete and is punching her in the face and he starts making comments about cutting her face because he is like, if I can’t have you, I’m going to make it so no one wants you.

Julia Metts:

She gets down the road to the bar and the bar’s closed. She beats on the door and they let her in. And she tells all of this to law enforcement, right. And they write it up as a misdemeanor battery. She’s like, no, he held me in the house, right. He wouldn’t let me leave, right. This is all of these things. She’s like, he was going to kill me, this is what he said. He told me he sharpened the knives. They cleaned her face before they took photos, right. They wiped all the blood off and they arrested as a misdemeanor. They didn’t go to the house and take photos, they didn’t do a search warrant. They let the defendant’s brother go in and clean the house.

Luke W Russell:

Wow.

Julia Metts:

And so he’s currently doing life in prison because I charged an aggravated battery with the deadly weapon. He always wore these really ornate rings. Designer brass knuckles in my mind, right. Right.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

I charged the rings as weapons.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And then the injury to her face, but I remember in closing arguments, telling the jury that if you’re not happy with the job that law enforcement did, join the club, neither am I. But it doesn’t mean that this didn’t happen to her. And that case opened my eyes that look, we just don’t believe victims sometimes, right. And there’s no good reason why. All the physical evidence matched her story, everything lined perfectly up and even the law enforcement was just like, maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe it’s a misdemeanor and not a life felony. Maybe it’s okay, I don’t know. But it took… We had to call the Sheriff’s office and get them to go and do a search warrant a week later. And so, a bunch of the evidence was cleaned up, but we were able to put it together and it worked out, right. She testified against him and he’s still doing life in prison. Yeah. I mean, I have no doubt that he would’ve killed her. If he’d have done a misdemeanor battery and he would have gotten out in six to nine months or whatever, he would’ve killed her.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That was my turning point.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. As you start shifting and growing as a lawyer in your perspectives, how did this change how you showed up to your future clients and your future cases?

Julia Metts:

I think as lawyers sometimes, we choose ease over vulnerability, because we don’t want to deal with the emotions of it all. And I guess I would rather feel all the feelings than to be empty. What can happen sometimes, Luke, is that you have all these feelings for your clients and you want to help them and you have the victims and these cases and the things that you want to do so that it blurs your objectivity, right. And that’s not okay, because then you end up taking a case that you legitimately shouldn’t because you’re not going to be able to help them, right. Giving somebody false hope is no hope at all, right. And that’s not something that we need to do. We have to be really honest from the beginning about what we’re capable of. For me, I have to be brutally objective, almost cynical from the very first time that we meet until I realize that, okay, we can do this, right. And then I get to flip into, all right, I got you now, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I’m your advocate, we’re going forward, we’re going to crush this and this is how we’re going to crush it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

But having those really honest conversations with people in the beginning, especially with sex assault cases and victim cases, domestic violence cases, even in the civil world, right, where you have patients who have cancer and they’ve been injured by devices or in pharmaceuticals and things like that. You have to be honest with them, right? We have this gap where we don’t know if this is what you took or what you didn’t take, right. They’re going to come after you for this. They’re going to want to know this. Or if you have got cancer, but your family has a history of it, listen, we have to talk about these things. We don’t owe them toxic positivity, right. We’re going to fight everybody for you and it’s going to be great. That’s not helpful to people in their healing, right?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And I think we owe them the bravery to step out of our egos and into who we are as human beings to help them relate to us, because to be honest, it makes them better clients. You have much more control. I very have rarely had a victim or law enforcement officer or anybody tell me, no, you can’t do that in a case, because we spend a lot of time building trust in the beginning. I’m going to be honest with you, I need you to be honest with me. I’m going to tell you things that you don’t want to hear, you tell me things that I don’t want to hear, right. But we’re going to get there together. If I go in and I say, Hey, this is the deal that we need to take, this is the thing that we need to do.

Julia Metts:

It’s not coming out of left field, right.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

I think building trust. And so when you put your ego aside and you live in this place of vulnerability, it makes building trust so much easier because you are who you authentically should be in that moment, right. It doesn’t mean that you carry their problems home with you though, right. All of your clients, all of your victims have backpacks. You give them these tools to help them on their way, but you put the backpack back on them when you send them out the door, you don’t carry the backpack home.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

There’re lots of effective tools for lawyers to be able to be, I think, vulnerable and honest and clear and kind with their clients if they would just practice some of those skills.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. And while you were still at the state attorney’s office, you also start working as an adjunct professor at Stetson. You were balancing a whole lot of things.

Julia Metts:

Just a little bit. I have the heart palpitations thinking about it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Talk to me about eventually you went on to be full-time at Stetson. What did you love about being part of training and educating young law students

Julia Metts:

At its very core, we have always been a service occupation, right. And I think that servant leadership is a real thing and is the way that we should lead. And when you look at the way that attorneys were started and the beginning of our profession, we were there to serve our communities. It’s why so many of presidents and members of Congress and house and all of those things, our leaders have been attorneys because they’re there to serve the community and to help and to do those things. And then helping students realize that when you pursue your purpose with the law instead of pursuing profits, you’ll be fine.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. You will find a way to make a good living and to support what you need to do, but if you are in it to pursue money, you are going to be miserable. Instilling to know sometimes, Luke, the courage to figure out what they want to do as opposed to getting caught in the traps that so many young lawyers get caught in, right. When you read the articles from the ABA and you read the journal entries and they’re like, our suicide rates, right, our depression rates, our addiction rates, alcoholism, drug addiction, all of those things. And it makes zero sense to me because you can do so many different things as a lawyer. If I want to hop up and run a not for profit, great. I have a JD, right. I’m an attorney. They would love to have me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

If I don’t like what I’m doing right now, then cool, go in house, change your hours, do something else, right. If I don’t like this thing that I’m doing right now, then jump into something else. If I don’t like civil, jump into criminal. If I don’t like criminal, jump into probate, right. If I don’t like that, jump into contracts. But giving them the power to recognize that they don’t have to go the route that all the other lawyers did before them, and you don’t have to give up your family and your life and all of those things to be a good lawyer. I think that’s the most rewarding part of helping law students is just empowering them to make the best decisions for their lives. And so that they can be healthy, happy lawyers for as long as they want to be.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I love that. How much of being a good trial lawyer is innate ability versus learned skill?

Julia Metts:

I think it’s all learned skill. Confidence is a skill.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Speaking is a skill. I think some people catch on quicker than others. I think there are things that people can do to get there faster. I tell people all that… You’re just a natural speaker, right. Or when I’m teaching a class and they’re like, oh, you’re just naturally good at this. And I’m like, well, I was the kid who stuttered and would cry myself to sleep or would put my head down in class and refuse to speak in Ms. Douglas’s class and Ms. Iree’s class and got sent to the office because I couldn’t read out loud. Don’t tell me, right. I’m the person who, if I am in trial, I don’t hold anything in my hands because my hands are shaking.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. Doesn’t matter that I’ve been trying cases for 15 years, it doesn’t matter that I’ve done hundreds of trials, right. My hands shake, cool. That means it matters to me. But when people tell me that I have a natural ability, I just disagree with them. You don’t get to cheapen the work that I have done to get to where I am by telling me it’s natural, because all you’re doing is telling me you’re not willing to do the work. I think that if it matters enough to people that they’ll find a way, and then that’s the significant thing for especially women, right. We are really good at advocating for other people. We are not great at advocating for ourselves. I have found with motivating young female attorneys and motivating women who want to be trial attorneys, it’s the power of knowing that we are doing good and setting this example for other people. And if you’re nervous, that’s fine, but it’s bigger than you, right. Push through it and do it for them.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And that helps people kind of get through those moments and things like that. But it’s skill to me. There are days that I wake up and don’t want to get out bed, right. It’s scary. The world can be scary. There’s a lot and it’s intense. And guess what? My habit is I get up and I get going.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What lessons have you picked up along the way about effective cross examinations?

Julia Metts:

Not to be a jerk in the beginning. The easiest way I know how to describe it, Luke, is that you don’t get to have an emotion that you haven’t given the jury a reason to have yet.

Luke W Russell:

Ooh.

Julia Metts:

That’s my cross lesson.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And it’s different for men than it is for women. And it’s different for people of color than it is for people who are not of color, right. And the reason I say it like that is that we have lived with these people this entire case, right. If we went to deposition with them and they were super shady or they didn’t answer the questions the right way or we know they’re hiding something, we walk in guns a blazing. And the jury’s looking at us like, why are you so angry today? Because this person looks really calm and you look very angry today. Now they’re focused on trying to figure out what you’re angry about, which what we know about the brain tells us, they’re not listening to your questions, right. They’re paying attention to how you’re making them feel, but they’re not getting any of the facts that you want them to get because they’re caught in the feeling.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Now they’re like, why are you angry? If you want to get the jury angry with you, and I believe at some point we should, right? We sometimes make this mistake of leaving them in sympathy and we forget to move them to an action emotion to get verdicts the right way. But for cross, we have to make sure we build the moment and give the jury a reason to have an emotion with us. Make eye contact with them, connect with the jury and let them know before you have that moment, why it matters, right?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That’s, for me, the biggest lesson on cross. The second biggest lesson on cross is due a cross, not a closing. Stop trying to do your closing argument in the middle of your cross examination. Number one, the witness will find a way out of it. The defense will then find a way to fix it in their redirect examination or rebuttal or whatever, but having the patience to finesse it, as opposed to the ego that bulldozes. Cross examination to me is ninja mind games, right. And lots of lawyers want to go up to a witness and they just want to bludgeon them with the hammer. And I want to side knife them. I want to cut them in the… I don’t even want them to know they’re cut.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. I want them to slowly, slowly bleed. And then when it’s all done, they’re like, oh wow. That’s a lot of holes. I didn’t even know they’re there, right. I think as a woman, right, as a woman that can be very assertive and aggressive. That works for me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I can’t walk into a cross examination and be Mike Papantonio. There is not a jury in this world other than Mike, right, and then the male lawyers who really support me that would be like, we love this. Just being aware of some of those things in cross and slow down.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Speaking of Pap, in 2020, you joined Levin Papantonio Rafferty. Did they reach out to you or did you apply to work at the firm?

Julia Metts:

I was teaching Mike’s daughter, Sarah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay.

Julia Metts:

In Stetson.

Luke W Russell:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And I had met Mike several times and things like that. When I came to Stetson, I told them I would give them three to five years that I wasn’t really ready to be out of a courtroom yet. I had told them, so at the end of the three years, Hey, I’m out.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

I need to get back to lawyering.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And then Mike called and said, Hey, come up here and interview. This could be fun.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I love that. I’m guessing at this point, we’re out of the checking box focus in life. Is that accurate?

Julia Metts:

Yeah. I would say so.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. When you, looking at you’ve had fun teaching and you’re looking at what’s next, this is totally different than what you’ve done. Were you excited, were you a little nervous? How was it going into that?

Julia Metts:

Tons of imposter syndrome. Tons of just, why me am I worthy? What have I done? The fact that I was a professor in my thirties didn’t seem like a big deal to me. What?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Looking back now or people will say, Hey Julia, have you ever tracked your career? You were managing offices, like within a couple of years. You’ve tried all that you’ve done. And I was like, no, I’ve never, because it was never enough boxes, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And so at that point it was… And you walk in and you’re like, whoa. And it’d never had an office with the resources and the support. And so there’s do I belong kind of sense about it. And then when you get down to it, you realize, Hey, we’re all human and it works, right. You find a way to make it work. You find a way to get past the insecurities and the not feeling like you belong and recognizing the power of the platform that I have, right. I get to do an entire series for paralegals right now with MTMP and Paralegal College and all those things. And then the outreach that I get to do with reaching young lawyers and female attorneys and the LGBTQ community and getting them engaged in mass torts and diverse population to mass torts like we’ve never seen. And sometimes it’s sitting back and going, what is my purpose in this moment, right? My purpose in the past has been to be a phenomenal trial lawyer. Is that my purpose right now, or is my purpose in this place that maybe I thought was about trying cases is about empowering different people to occupy this space with me.

Luke W Russell:

Ooh, that’s really beautiful. What an interesting space to find yourself in your forties now. You’ve done a lot in your career, in my opinion. And you’ve had your focus and now you’re kind of settling into kind of a different mode, and you have a lot of people, in a very white male dominated industry, who are supporting you and giving you space to kind of find and pursue that mission.

Julia Metts:

Yeah, it’s funky.

Luke W Russell:

Okay. I’d like to do our high velocity round, which is this thing we do in some of our interviews where we have created a variety of yes, no questions, but the only rule is you’re not allowed to answer just yes or no. You got to give me more than that.

Julia Metts:

Okay.

Luke W Russell:

Okay.

Julia Metts:

I can do that. I think I can do it. Let me see.

Luke W Russell:

All right, all right. Sweet. Do you ever beat around the bush?

Julia Metts:

Yes, absolutely. If I don’t have a relationship with someone and I’m afraid of hurting them, right, then I will sometimes beat around the Bush to see if I can make a connection with them before I give them the news that they don’t want.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Would you describe yourself as a workaholic?

Julia Metts:

Yes, but trying to transition to no. I’m obsessed with the work of getting better. With the recent addition of the two new kids and what they need from me, I am trying to learn to be more present.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Do you consider yourself an introvert?

Julia Metts:

Yes. I fake extrovert pretty well, INFJ, but at the end of the day I am an introvert. People exhaust me. And I think as an empathetic human, I take on so many of their emotions as an introvert. It’s hard. It’s hard for me to be in a space where I can feel people hurting.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Do you have any birthday plans for this evening?

Julia Metts:

Driving to St. Pete to be with my girlfriend’s family for Thanksgiving. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Do you have an affinity for collecting traffic signs?

Julia Metts:

I do have an affinity for collecting traffic signs. Some say clueless in city limits, some say, no wake zone, some say dangerous curves, some say men at work.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Can you own too many doggos at once?

Julia Metts:

No, absolutely not. There’s never enough.

Luke W Russell:

Would you compare yourself to a bulldog?

Julia Metts:

I prefer, so no. I prefer honey badger, right? I mean, that’s my spirit animal.

Luke W Russell:

Yes. I love that. Is there any particular topic off limits right now?

Julia Metts:

Not at all, no.

Luke W Russell:

You are a gay woman, good gay woman. You don’t fit social gender norms for a person with a vagina. You lost a girlfriend to suicide, as we discussed, and you were sexually abused as a child. Can we go anywhere with any of this? Where would you like to start?

Julia Metts:

I think the easiest is the nonconforming, right. I don’t know that I ever intentionally was nonconforming other than I just always knew that I felt different, right. And there wasn’t a name or anything for it and I always knew that it upset my mom, right. I tried very hard to be what she wanted me to be, but then I also hated it, right. There’s pictures of me in my Easter dresses with my Bon on and stuff like that and I’m bawling my eyes out.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And then years later when it came time to do my senior pictures for high school, she was like, you can do them any way you want. I’m in camo and I have my gun because we hunt, right. This is what we’re, duh. This is what redneck kids do, I guess. I don’t know.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

She kind of found a way to be supportive of that. My dad didn’t really talk about it one way or the other, except for he liked that I told the world to kind of kiss ass my because he’s like, that’s my kid.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. He’s like you walk in and you just do whatever you want to do. And I remember him telling me, he was like, the only thing that you can’t do that a boy can do is piss standing up. And if you tried it, I bet you can. And I remember trying.

Luke W Russell:

I love that.

Julia Metts:

Right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

As a little girl, all the fishermen would be outside patching the nets and doing those things. And they all walked around in shorts with no shirts. I’m five years old, I immediately walk outside, take off my shirt. My mom puts my shirt back on. Immediately go, I take it off. I’m like, no, they don’t have shirts on, Lois. I don’t understand, why do I have to have a shirt on? I don’t understand this. Being raised with the power to be who I wanted to be was really, really good. And it wasn’t until the world made me feel I wasn’t who I was supposed to be that it became different, right. When the Dean at my college called me in and asked me about Julie and I, and she says, well, perception is reality.

Julia Metts:

And then I made some smart ass comment to her about not caring about people’s realities, right?

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I give zero shits, basically-

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

To the very conservative Dean of the very conservative Baptist school. And we had a rule book of the things that we were not allowed to do and I highlighted and wrote the days that I broke them. But had I not had a dad who made me believe that I could do anything in the world, then I don’t know that I would’ve had the power to get through the parts that I’ve gotten through, right. But professionally, it took a toll on me. My hair was longer when I was actively trying cases. I didn’t cut it all off until I started teaching at the law school and I wasn’t going to be in front of a jury.

Julia Metts:

And then I’ve made the decision not to grow it back out because no one sees me any differently. I mean, I have just as many people who like me now as I did and strangers still like me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I don’t know. But the nonconforming thing is interesting. My girlfriend and I talk about it a lot because she, if you didn’t know, she was gay, you wouldn’t know she’s gay, right. Except for when we’re in photos together. And she’s like, I love you. And I’m like, okay, I love you too, right. But we often talk about the way that it makes us navigate the world differently, right. She sometimes is uncomfortable with people knowing that she’s gay in very conservative areas. She finds comfort in being able to hide. At this stage in my life, I find tremendous comfort in making the wrong people uncomfortable, right. If there is something about my appearance that makes you uncomfortable, good, at least you’re thinking.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

That’s kind of my feelings on the conforming. I just refuse to do it at this stage. And it will hurt my career, I get it, but it will make my soul sore. And that’s more valuable.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Have you ever asked yourself at any point in your life, just that question of maybe I can just go along with the expectations people have for me and it won’t kill me, but… And maybe it’ll make things a little easier.

Julia Metts:

Yeah. I tried, right. I tried with Julie. And it did kill her. And that was for me, one of the biggest wake up calls, right. And the woman that I was dating at the time, we were together and everyone knew we were together, but we didn’t advertise it, right. She had her own private practice and now she’s a county attorney. And so we did things together, right? We took the kids to events and we, but we didn’t advertise it. And I remember reaching a point in the relationship where our silence and unwillingness is killing young kids, right. They need to be able to see that these two accomplished attorneys in this small Southern red little town are perfectly accepted and perfectly good doing what they’re doing.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And it was a hard no, right. She had concerns about if it would jeopardize her ability to be a judge and all these other things. And I had a belief that then maybe she wasn’t meant to be a judge, but saving a life was more important, right. And so obviously we disagreed and things are what they are, but I flirted with that the entire time that Julie was together. And my biggest lesson from that is that hiding kills people.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Hiding is deadly and silence is deadly and conforming to something that you are not, it slowly kills you every day because it just chips away at who our creator made us to be.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I was talking to a lawyer the other day and she was saying how female lawyers are expected to be masculine at times, whether it’s aggressive, assertive, or dominant, but then when those women are that, they’re called a bitch. Have you experienced that?

Julia Metts:

Oh, 100%. There’s so much a no win situation for women at the office, right. We tend to believe that, well, women are supposed to be hyper-organized and they’re supposed to be good with people, and they’re supposed to be able to do the spreadsheets and we want them to manage the tasks. They have to be brilliant project managers, they need to organize the office events, they need to organize the morale building., They need to organize the pep rallies, they need to do, but also do it with a smile. But then it’s like, wait a minute. I want you to go do this deposition and I want you to be super aggressive, right. But you got a little bitchy there at the end.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

They want you to be assertive until you’re assertive with them, right. And then you’re caught in this thing of setting boundaries, right. I am more than a cleanup person, right. Women often get sent in to clean up messes in projects and litigation and in law firms without getting the credit for it, right. Women don’t get recognized for how they organize projects and put things together and how they will ask women to do the work that paralegals and legal secretaries often do, while never requiring our male counterparts to do the same.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Why would we ask him to do that, right? But surely Joy, you can handle this. It’s all of these gender norms that we have come to kind of accept. It’s like wanting to have this generation, Luke, of young women coming up saying, listen, my gift is X. I don’t want to organize your potlucks. I am not here for your office pep rallies. I want to run this shit.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Stop taking women and putting these in these gender norm roles, and then being upset when they leave your companies. Because right now, we are in such an entrepreneurial age. They will just leave and start… I mean, I have so many friends right now starting all female law firms.

Luke W Russell:

Yes. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Because they want to be around people who empower them. And then if a guy takes a break to go to his kids play, then what a good dad Johnny is. Look at him stepping up.

Luke W Russell:

Right. Right.

Julia Metts:

If a woman takes a break, is her priority her children or her office? I’m so confused.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Those are all still normal things that are happening. And the law is really 30 years behind catching up to this idea that we don’t have to operate that way. And the more women are actively speaking up about it and refusing to play some of those roles and setting boundaries, the more that we’re addressing it in the legal profession, but it’s exciting to watch.

Luke W Russell:

A friend of yours said that if you could end childhood sexual victimization, your life work might be complete.

Julia Metts:

It wouldn’t be done Luke, because the next mission would be the healing.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. It’s one thing to stop the hurt. It’s the next thing to empower people to heal, right. I’m super open about my childhood and how dysfunctional it was. We put the fun in dysfunction, but there were some amazing gifts that I got out of that. And it was, I think confidence and this belief that I could do anything. And there have been times that the world has tried to take that belief away from me and I have let it. And then there are times it creeps back in, but people get hurt. And we sometimes dwell in being a victim without realizing that we can transition to survivors and do so much good. I’ve had my niece, I’ve had my nephew and now I have two additional kids in the house.

Julia Metts:

And so, one of the things we talked about, and it’s just because it’s what it’s done for me in my own life is that I am not a victim.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

Bad things happened to me. Bad things happened to a lot of people and bad things happened again. And grownups didn’t do anything to stop it or to protect me, even though they knew about it, right. But I have the power to protect other people. And I have the power though, to not just stop it from happening, but to help people heal and figure out how the things that have happened in their lives can make them more powerful, right. If we kind of flip the script on our trauma, then it becomes a superpower, right? I can get a rape victim or a sex assault victim, or a child victim to do things on a witness stand that other people can’t do because I know what they’re feeling, right. I know what they’re going through. And I know what the jury’s thinking, because that’s the same thing that the grownups thought whenever I told them what happened to me.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

There’s a reason that I’m good at those cases. And it’s because I lived it. The same thing with being a woman and not always feeling safe, right. We have to look around a room sometimes. And I’m always wondering, what is someone thinking? Do I get to show up as who I am today or do I have to be Southern, do I have to be charming, what accent do I use today? That’s a superpower because when the jury is feeling sideways about a witness, I feel that before the men in the room do, because they don’t have to worry about what anybody thinks about them, they just walk into a room and do what they do. Being a victim or having things happen or having a different journey, it doesn’t define us. It’s a superpower, right. Being a nonconforming gay woman is a superpower for me because I read people really well and I know what they’re thinking. And men look right past them and don’t even notice. Being a child sex assault victim, multiple times by multiple people, it was a bad thing that happened, but it’s given me an incredible ability to help other people and to just help them heal, right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Yeah. You said you have four children under your roof at the moment, earlier in the interview, you said when you took custody of your brother, you didn’t want to be a parent. Was that a momentary thing or was that kind of your general looking ahead on life, you didn’t think you wanted to be spending your time parenting in the future?

Julia Metts:

Yeah. I did not want that standard, popped out. You’ll get dogs from me, right, but you’re not getting kids from me. And you know what it… Looking back, it’s that fear of failure. I know what it’s like to be let down as a kid.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I knew what it was like not to have the grownups be grownups and to have to be the grownup. And I remember being, I don’t know, nine or 10 years old the first time my dad told me that I had to grow up, right. That the family was my responsibility and that once he was gone, then I needed to provide and take care of my mother and my sisters because they were going to be too weak to do it, basically, because they were women. And I remember not wanting to be responsible for fear that I would get it wrong. I didn’t want to hurt kids the way that I had been hurt. I didn’t want to choose between my work and children because I thought that I would get it wrong. I didn’t want to disappoint them or let them down or not care for them the right way. Tons of fear of failure. And so it was easier for me to be like, no, I just want to be a prosecutor, right.

Julia Metts:

I just want this career. I want to do these things, but underlying all of that was I knew what it was like to be a kid wanting to be taken care of and wanting to be safe.

Luke W Russell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia Metts:

And I seriously questioned my ability to provide that safety and that security, because it had never been provided for me, right. I created my own sense of safety.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Have you surprised yourself as a mom?

Julia Metts:

Yeah. When I bought a silhouette and started crafting.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

They made me more human. People are all the time, right. Because my niece was eight years old, my nephew was 16 months. Now she’s in her twenties and she’s in Oregon, he’s 16 years old and he just got his second class rank for Boy Scouts and stuff like that. And then I got engaged and then people all the time, they’re message, they’re like, oh my gosh. They’re so lucky to have you. And I’m like, you don’t get it at all. They have saved my life, right. They have made me human, they have taught me what matters, right? They have opened me up to what unconditional love is. Kids forgive us for so much.

Luke W Russell:

Yes. Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

And we put so many conditions on friendships and relationships and so and so didn’t text me back and they didn’t do this, and da, da, da, da. And kids just embody unconditional love in a way that’s beautiful, right. It restores your faith in so many things. Yeah, no, they saved my soul, they saved so much of what I thought family relationships should be and could be, and then wanting to break some of those generational curses. And there are lots of things that I got wrong. And I have asked for forgiveness lots and lots of times from them. And I’ve said, I’m sorry, but there are lots of things that I think that we’ve done really well together.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Yeah. Are you capable of retiring?

Julia Metts:

I don’t know. No. Retiring from, yeah, no. It wouldn’t even matter what, plug in a word. No. I don’t know how to not help people.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. And I don’t know if it’s a savior complex or it doesn’t feel like it, it feels like I know what it’s like to feel helpless and to not have anybody in my corner who protects me. I don’t know at any point that I’m ever going to be able to look at someone and say, I’m not willing to help you, right. I am getting better at what the boundaries look like in that helping process, right. I had a murder case years ago. I was prosecuting the guy on a gun case. He got out on bond and it was a strangulation case against his mom. His mom came in, dropped the charges and was like, Hey, he didn’t mean it. He’s just crazy, he’s off, whatever. I had to drop case, right.

Julia Metts:

She’s like, I wasn’t really afraid of him, he was just acting out. Okay. I can’t go forward at that point. I didn’t remove to revoke his bond because I knew my judge was judge Stansel at the time, wasn’t going to revoke his bond. And then while he’s out on bond for the original gun case, he murders his girlfriend in front of their, I want to say four or five month old baby, could have been three months old. For years, years after that case, I had really vivid nightmares. And she was at my window with the baby. And I haven’t thought about it in a while. I could hear the baby in the window, right. And I could get her close enough to see her face. I could get her arms and then he would come right behind her shoulder and he would shoot her, right.

Julia Metts:

Every time, same spot, recurring. And I had to call the defendant’s dad to testify against him. I remember apologizing to the dad after he testified for having to put him through this, to testify, to help me convict his son. It was just an emotional case for me. I’m asking a parent to testify against their child. I didn’t save this woman, I should have saved this woman. I could have, in my mind. And realistically, I couldn’t have. I did everything that I could have done to check all the boxes, but I don’t know, somewhere in my mind is this idea that she died alone without someone helping her. I don’t know that I’m capable of suffering.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

Right. I don’t know that I ever retire or that I ever quit whatever business or job it is at the moment that’s helping people have a voice and have an advocate in their corner or finding the ability to help themselves heal, because I know what it’s like to be alone.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Julia Metts:

I don’t know.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Okay. Julia, it’s your 80th birthday celebration. We’re fast forwarding a few years, 37. People from all throughout your life are present. A gentle clinking on glass can be heard, and then a hush washes over the room. People raise their glasses to toast to you. What are three things you would want them to say about you?

Julia Metts:

That I left the world better than I found it, right. Or that I’ve done better on this earth than what was done for me, right. That I’ve made it better. That I love even when it hurts or that when it’s inconvenient, I want them to say that I was a good mom. If I get to 80 and I’ve made the world better than it was when I got here and I have loved people and I’m a good mom, I’m good.

Luke W Russell:

Julia’s story is one of triumph and heartache, addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts. These are real things that don’t indicate a weakness. If you or someone you know is struggling with any of this, please contact a mental health professional. We have created a list of mental health resources to support attorneys because mental health is just as important as physical health. You can find this on our website, lawfulgoodpodcast.com.

A few notes before we wrap up, please check out our season three sponsors. Be sure to check out Jason Hennessey’s book titled Law Firm SEO if you want the best knowledge available in the industry. To any plaintiff’s attorneys who have clients in need of simple interest loans, check out themilestonefoundation.org. If you’d like to join a growing group of attorneys that are actively working to improve their trial skills, head over to trialschool.org. For personal injury lawyers looking to acquire big cases through social media, visit 7figurecases.com. And if you want to experience rich human connection, join our LinkedIn group by going to joinbettertogether.com. Thanks so much for listening this week. This podcast is produced by Kirsten Stock, edited by Kendall Perkinson, and mastered by Guido Bertolini. I’m your host, Luke W Russell, and you’ve been listening to Lawful Good.