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April 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The criminal trial courtroom hosts some of the best drama in pop culture. The contradictions of truth and performance, justice and revenge and logos and pathos come to a grinding head in front of judges, juries, loved ones and media.
In Boone County, Dan Knight, head prosecuting attorney, and David Wallis, district defender, represent the two sides of justice.Related Articles
Dan’s office sits on the fourth floor of the Boone County Courthouse. The view is as nice as any in town. His office is clean, organized, sanitary and brightly lit. He treats others with a straightforward demeanor and weighs each word he says carefully. His competence is striking. He smiles easily when talking about MU or travel plans compared to his cases.
David jokes that the biggest difference between the prosecution’s office and the district defender’s offices is the physical building. David’s office, in the messy process of being remodeled, is one humid or freezing block down from the courthouse, depending on the weather. He tosses around “Yo!” and “Shut up, man!” with his co-workers. He has an easygoing temperament that is evident in the way he thinks of his (sometimes hopeless) cases. He is good-natured and charismatic.
As heads of their offices, they act as generals preparing for battle, pursuing compromise and fighting to uphold justice as they see it. Both of these men have a small army of assistant attorneys, administrative assistants and evidence on their side. Dan oversees 44 employees, and David manages 12 others.
The way each side builds its strategy is inherently opposed to the other. David acts as a zealous advocate for his clients, the defendants, by fighting for the justice guaranteed to them by our U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, Dan acts as a minister of justice — his client is Boone County.
Criminal cases rarely go to trial, but when they do, David says they can be a lot of fun. Last year, David’s office tried 11 cases in front of a jury and currently has about 1,400 open cases. Dan’s office has an estimated 4,000 pending cases, not including traffic tickets.
Dan says that in order for a prosecution attorney to file a case, he or she must be certain beyond any doubt that the defendant is guilty. This, of course, means that David is usually fighting a losing battle for his clients, but he says success is measured in more ways than winning. “At the end of the day, if our clients are happy and we’ve done our best work for them, it’s going to be a win for us,” he says.
Even though the two men represent opposing sides of the legal system, each believes in the role of the other. David says the two sides maintain a laidback relationship for the most part, the kind where a chance encounter at McNally’s on a weekend night would be friendly, not frosty. “We have to have a level of trust between us, otherwise cases don’t move as quickly,” Dan says.