A Tale of Two Recordings
The mentor who made a better lawyer out of Leo Monterrey
Published in 2019 Mid-South Super Lawyers magazine on November 7, 2019
Growing up in Wisconsin, Leo Monterrey didn’t know much about the South. He knew baseball. He played the sport in high school and junior college, and was recruited by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to play Division I baseball. “More than anything, I saw it as an opportunity to grow,” he says of the move.
He’s certainly made it that.
Monterrey practices immigration and criminal defense law in North Little Rock. When he started, his focus was on the Hispanic community. “There’s no one there to speak their own language to understand what’s going on,” he says.
The criminal cases eventually led to immigration cases. Non-U.S. citizens who ran into trouble with the law, after all, were going to have issues with immigration. “I almost started a niche in the market,” he says.
But it was a 2014 drug case in Batesville, Arkansas, that brought his career to a crossroads. The police forgot to read his client his rights until five minutes into the recorded interrogation, and Monterrey filed a motion to suppress those five minutes. “In my opening,” he remembers, “I tell the jurors, ‘You’re going to listen to a recording, and you’re only going to listen to half of it. I can’t tell you why [you won’t listen to] the other half.’”
When the case ended in a mistrial, Monterrey realized he shouldn’t have mentioned the recording at all, since it sowed doubt about his client. Monterrey wound up doubting himself and his abilities, so he sought help from John Wesley Hall, Jr., a veteran criminal defense attorney, whom he’d met in court.
“We met a couple of times and we frankly talked about strengths and weaknesses,” says Hall. “To get started, I made him read the Trial Handbook for Arkansas Lawyers, cover to cover. While he was doing that, I was finding other materials for him: videos, audio, books. … This is not light summer reading. These are the keys to your future.”
“His guidance and experience with criminal law changed my life,” says Monterrey, who calls the tools of cross-examination taught by Hall “weapons of mass destruction.”
“As a young attorney, you think the right way to [cross-examine] is argue in somebody’s face, but that’s the last thing you want the jurors to see,” he continues. “If you expect them to answer the question yes, but they say no on the stand and you have proof they said something else to somebody else, you don’t have to argue with them. That’s something John taught me: focus on the main thing and let the little things go.”
In 2016, in one of his first trials after training with Hall, Monterrey was appointed to defend a client charged with kidnapping, first-degree battery, and attempted murder.
One of the co-conspirators, who had given a deposition in Monterrey’s client’s favor, decided at the last minute to plead the Fifth. Monterrey tried to get a previous recording of her testimony admitted—to no avail. Later that night while the prosecutor was going through her notes from that co-conspirator’s interview, she discovered information that she failed to disclose to Monterrey and could be helpful to his client’s defense. She suggested Monterrey ask for
“That case was so important for me because, first of all, it was in front of my colleagues in Pulaski County and Little Rock,” he says. “Secondly, it was my preparation that won that trial.”
After seeing Monterrey’s cross-examination in this case, his questions, tone, and sincere follow-up, Hall knew his work was done. “He didn’t need me anymore,” says Hall. “An exuberant young lawyer showed in nine months that he had what it takes to be a really great trial lawyer. Law school doesn’t teach that.”
Legal Advice from Mentor and Mentee
- “Plan for the unexpected. With everything, consider alternatives to admissibility.” – Hall
- “Learn your trade 100%. Don’t take any shortcuts.” – Monterrey
- “Make and preserve a record for appeal. Lawyers in Arkansas don’t get the gravity of that until they’ve been victimized by it.” – Hall
- “Ask for help from experienced attorneys. You’re not born knowing these techniques. You have to learn it through experience and from those who have been there before.” – Monterrey