Dotty Winters talks zombie apocalypses, plot spoilers and women speaking their mind with top attorney Susan Simpson.
Susan Simpson is a US-based attorney focusing primarily on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. She graduated from the George Washington University Law School and works as an associate with the Volkov Law Group.
To fans of real crime media and wrongful conviction cases she is better known as one of the three presenters and investigators on the Undisclosed podcast, and the person who discovered a key piece of evidence which was part of reopening the Hae Min Lee murder case initially covered by Serial.
I eventually caught up with Simpson by Skype after my computer, my beanie hat, British Summer Time and one of my cats all conspired to prevent us.
One of the things I like about listening to you is that you aren’t afraid to express your opinion on things. It doesn’t always fit with the way I am used to hearing lawyers talk. Does it ever get you into trouble?
Not really. I’m used to expressing an opinion in all walks of life. I mean, I definitely have a courtroom demeanour that I use when I need it, and a different approach when I’m not. That said, there are things I would say to Colin and Rabia [Miller and Chaudry, Simpson’s co-presenters] that I wouldn’t say on a recording.
Usually it’s not my opinions that people complain about. People seem to complain when I show any sign that I’m human. I get complaints if I laugh, for example. There’s a degree of sexism sometimes to the criticism. You see that elsewhere. I heard someone saying that the presenter of Accused has been described as aggressive, and so when I listened I was expecting to be able to hear where that accusation had come from, but I just couldn’t, I don’t hear it at all from her.
After a while, you’ve read enough complaints and see that they contradict each other. The same person will say I am overconfident and too anxious. At some point, I realised that there was no way to make all these people happy. You just can’t thread that needle, so you move on.
You do a lot of things. What was it about the initial Hae Min Lee case that made you want to take it on?
I’ve always done this. I get interested in a case or cause and then I want to understand it, to learn about it and see if I can make sense of it. I pick up ‘stray’ cases, even now. I like to be busy, and I enjoy what I do, but I also think sometimes I should say ‘no’ more. At the moment I am pretty much at the limits of what it is manageable and sane to take on, but when season two of Undisclosed finishes, I definitely plan to step back a bit.
I don’t know you well, but when you say you might take it easy I’m not sure I believe you…
I suppose I mean more that I am looking forward to some time without deadlines, time to get into a new case, read some more, maybe have an occasional Netflix binge.
I’ve heard you are so bad at sitting still that you’ve been known to make cat armour out of ring pulls. Is that true?
I’ve only made one set of cat armour, and it was out of aluminium rings. The ring pulls were for an outfit for myself.
“If we do make a difference, I think it will be in jury education – making people more aware of the things to look out for, and how the system does and doesn’t work.”
Phew, glad we cleared that up.
I am pretty bad at just sitting though. When I watch telly I am really glad of the advert breaks because that’s when I can talk about what I’m watching. Without them, I just talk all through the shows. I’m probably the worst person in the world to watch telly with. My husband is a saint. I see something about to happen and I shout at the telly, “Hey, no, don’t go there, because if you do, that thing is gonna happen.”
Are you some sort of human spoiler?
I do that too – sometimes the script of something you are watching really gives you a signpost to what is about to happen next, so I talk about what is about to happen, even though it hasn’t happened.
Yes! For this reason I am going to be amazing when the zombie apocalypse comes, because I know all the storyline markers that mean you are going to get killed and I won’t do any of those things.
No looking at a picture of your sweetheart that you keep in your wallet?
So, zombie apocalypse aside, what impact do you think your podcast is having on listeners? Are there things people who listen should be doing, or is passive listening enough?
Being passive is fine, I think. Sometimes you just want to learn, and you never know when in your life that learning is going to come in handy. If we do make a difference, I think, as Colin has said, it will be in jury education – making people more aware of the things to look out for, and how the system does and doesn’t work.
Jurors in the Ross Harris case [covered in the Breakdown podcast] were asked if they had listened to Serial or Breakdown. Maybe that is a sign that it is making a difference, if it is being asked about in jury selection. I suspect as time goes on, we might see a bit more of that.
Has your involvement in these cases changed how you view law enforcement?
Yes, how could it not? But people might think I am more anti-police or anti-prosecutor than I am, because of the specific cases that are being talked about. There are a lot of cool people in law enforcement or prosecution. There are definitely a few who I would describe as bad actors, but mainly this is about structural issues. How do we fix the systems that allow this to happen? There are no happy endings in wrongful conviction cases; a lot of what we can do is about preventing this happening to other people.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.