Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Defense Bar As Police

Rick Casey wrote a column earlier this week about the difference in sentences for disgraced ex-TSU president Priscilla Slade, and her (arguably less culpable) co-defendant, Quintin Wiggins. I think that the article brings up an interesting topic, although I think it makes an incorrect assessment in doing so.

Priscilla Slade, earlier this week, pled to a 10-year Deferred Adjudication with a significant amount of restitution. Her former chief financial officer, Wiggins, on the other hand, got ten years "to do" in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Casey acknowledges in his article that Wiggins had a criminal history (while Slade did not), and he even ventures that new District Attorney Ken Magdison may be a factor in plea deals without prison time (I'm not sure I agree with that premise much).

Casey, in my opinion, overlooks the biggest factor on why Slade was offered deferred adjudication: the case had already gone to trial and resulted in a hung jury after weeks and weeks of testimony. That may be a good topic for another day ("The Effect of a Hung Jury on Plea Bargain Negotiations"), but it's not what I want to address at the moment.

Casey writes:

The main difference: In hiring a defense attorney Wiggins went low-rent and Slade went name brand.

Slade had Mike DeGeurin. Wiggins had a lawyer that I'm not familiar with named L. Mickele Daniels.

Now, call me picky, but I'm always highly suspicious of our legal brethren that have the one letter initial at the start of their name. Casey is more than just suspicious, and he lists a series of grievances and concerns about Mr. Daniels.

I'm not going to address his competency to try the Wiggins case, because I wasn't there and I don't know what kind of job he did.

But as a broader, farther reaching topic, we all know that there are some attorneys that dwell in the CJC hallways that don't have any business being there. I'm not going to name any of their names, because I don't want them to sue me (and quite frankly, I would only be able to hire someone of their caliber to defend me). But, I do feel comfortable in pointing out the legendary C. Tom Zaratti as a classic example of exactly what I'm talking about.

NOTE: To those of you who aren't personally familiar with the CJC, none of the attorneys that I'm thinking about are allowed to do criminal appointments. They are much more likely to be roaming the hallways, soliciting clients, or using other unethical means to wrangle in the ill-advised.

They cause problems for both the defense and the prosecution. Believe it or not, prosecutors don't like trampling over a Defendant's rights just because they can. Prosecutors have to go above and beyond their usual duties and actually hold the hand of an incompetent defense attorney to make sure that a miscarriage of justice doesn't take place.

The Defense Attorneys hates what the incompetent attorneys do to destroy the reputation of the Defense Bar and the Criminal Justice System in general.

I can personally guarantee that every defense attorney and prosecutor that is reading this blog knows exactly who I'm talking about, too. (NOTE: But please don't post their names on the blog. Like I said, if one sues me, I'll have to hire one of the others to defend me!)

So, I guess the big question is, who should police the bad and incompetent attorneys?

Can anyone do something to stop them?

If so, what?

If "so" and "what" is identified, then who should be the ones who do it?

If the prosecutors do it, they will be labeled as "going after the defense attorney, because they just can't get the defendant".

If an individual defense attorney does it, he or she could be regarded as a traitor within their profession.

And is it all the Sound and the Fury signifying nothing? (Yes, I really like using that phrase).
Can a case be made? Can the State Bar do something? Will they do something?

Dare I say it (cue Superman theme song), Is this a job for HCCLA?

2 comments:

CJ Social Worker said...

What I think is sad is when some poor family scrapes together money to hire a bad lawyer - when they had a really good lawyer who was appointed and FREE.

They assume that the court appointed lawyer is bad - when the opposite is true.

We've probably all seen people fire some of the best lawyers in Harris County - who happened to be court appointed - to hire the likes of the lawyers AHCL is describing.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, some of us first initial defense lawyers who go by our middle names use the initial so that when clients etc verify our credentials they're not confused like every school teacher we ever had who we had to explain to that we've always gone by our middle names.

Secondly, many of us don't seek court appointments, not because we're not qualified, but because we either don't need them, don't want them, and don't want to be part of what we view as a flawed appointment system. I do not mean to knock many appointed lawyers. I have freinds and know very good, even great lawyers, who take appointments and have seen many subbed out by lesser litigators.

Generally, when I am contacted about taking over a case from another lawyer, I ask what's wrong with the existing one. If I believe they have good counsel, I tell them that. If I don't, I say nothing. I also do it to gauge whether someone's expectations or attitude is reasonable.

All too often, good lawyers are not good communicators or clients/families don't make the effort to communicate with the lawyer either because of their own misconceptions about appointed attorneys and all of this causes part of the myth that all appointed lawyers are hacks.

That being said, there are hacks all around the courthouse on both sides and in all stripes and varieties.