Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Contempt

Brian Rogers is reporting that Juan Leonardo Quintero's defense attorney, Danalynn Recer was held in contempt this morning.

Recer's co-counsel on the case told the Chronicle that the reasoning was that she "forgot a doctor's report at her office this morning, delaying the court about 10 minutes while it was faxed over", although I highly doubt that Judge Joan Campbell would have found her in contempt for something so minor. This is just me arm-chair quarterbacking here, but my guess is that Recer's behavior throughout the case (and perhaps her e-mail to the media) probably may have had some influence in Judge Campbell's decision.

I say good for Judge Campbell.

The hearing regarding the contempt will be held after the Quintero trial is over, but Danalynn has been put on notice that the judge is going to make her play by the rules.

I know I'm a day late and a dollar short with this topic, because Mark discussed contempt at length in the amusing Adam Reposa articles on his blog, but I think there is a tad bit more to discuss on the topic. By the way, I think that Reposa's 90-day sentence was pretty outrageous. I've heard about some of the things he's done in court in Travis County, and I'm not so certain that perhaps a night in jail might have been warranted, but ninety freaking days? Come on. That's like your whole summer vacation when you're a kid.

I digress.

Holding an attorney in contempt is often times the only effective way to curb "bad behavior" by the defense bar. Don't get in a tizzy, defense bar, because I'm not singling you out. I'm just saying a Judge has more remedies to curb bad behavior of the prosecution. Those non-contempt sanctions can run from calling your boss (and getting you disciplined or even fired) to granting a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct (thus barring a retrial).

The reaction to threats of contempt or even findings of contempt vary amongst defense attorneys. Most are very deferential to the court and have no desire to draw the ire of a Judge they will be practicing in front of for years to come. A small minority could care less.

For those who could care less, the reason is mainly because attorneys rarely (if ever) actually go to jail after being held in contempt. They are entitled to be released on a PR bond, and the sanctions usually work out in the form of a donation to a worthy cause (and no, that doesn't mean the judge's campaign). Normally the contempt charge dies a quiet and places like Star of Hope and the Houston Area Women's Shelter get a much-needed donation. The attorney apologizes. The judge accepts it. Life goes on.

Reposa's situation is the only account I've ever heard of someone actually being ordered to spend some time in the pokey after committing a "bad court thingy".

I doubt that Recer is losing any sleep over being held in contempt, and I also doubt it is going to change the way she has behaves in for the remainder of the trial. She's a true-believer, anti-death penalty advocate, and I would imagine she would wear spending some time in jail like a badge of honor (simply because it happened during a death penalty trial).

On a side note, as I've mentioned earlier on, one of my favorite Judges, Judge George Godwin, is retiring at the end of the year. Judge Godwin has always run his court in the utmost professional manner, and you can bet your rear-end that means that punctuality is a must. When he schedules a hearing for 8:00 a.m., everybody had damn well better be present and accounted for.

The first time you are tardy to a hearing, Judge Godwin will tersely, yet politely explain to you that you get "one free one" for being late. The second one "will cost you", meaning contempt. The part where it gets amazing is that he doesn't mean the second one in a week, month, year, decade or even millennium.

He means the second one ever.

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) in the defense bar had the misfortune to show up tardy for hearing in the last year or so. Judge Godwin told him: "Mr. ____, you were late this morning. My records show that you were late for a hearing on April 24, 1987. Do you care to tell me why I shouldn't hold you in contempt?"

Judge Godwin keeps his record in a book, and I'm sure it reads like a Who's Who of the famous and infamous attorneys that have practiced law in Harris County over the past two decades. Personally, I think that is one of those awesome things that gives our legal community character.

I know that when Judge Godwin retires, he will take "the Book" with him, but man oh man, if he were to put it up for auction (like for a good cause, perhaps), I wouldn't be surprised to see that thing sell for thousands of dollars.

11 comments:

Ron in Houston said...

I don't know the attorney in question, but I do know that when I'm in trial I feel like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

I know I could have easily slipped on faxing something like that; however, like you say, it likely is cumulative behavior that caused the contempt.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, the issue was more severe than merely "forgetting" the report. Apparently, she denied its existence at first. Of course, this is all hearsay to me, but that would certainly better explain the contempt ruling.

Tarian said...

AHCL, you hit the nail right on the head when you said that, as a "true believer," Recer probably considers the contempt a badge of honor. There is a certain set of anti-death penalty activists who seem to think that ANY CONDUCT, legal or not, is acceptable if it combats the imposition of the death penalty. To the lawyers who think this way, the ethical rules, rules of criminal procedure, their attorney's oath to uphold the law, can all be broken as a matter of convenience if it helps a capital murderer go free or escape the death penalty. And yet this is the same set who will loudly complain and call for the prosecution of ADAs who inadvertently violate the smallest rule. Hypocrites.

Like you say, probably nothing much is going to happen to her, but you wait and see: When all is said and done, she will probably find a way to brag about it on her website. I can see it now: "Willing to go to jail to save a client's life!"

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

If a person does not have a personal code of honor and respect for themselves as well as others, they have n-o-t-h-i-n-g. They are as worthless as is any cause or case that they in turn associate their name with.

IMHO - Reposa's sentence was just and was done to set a president. His reputation doesn't reach the bounds of Houston but in Austin, it precedes him daily.

God bless Judge Godwin and the likes of him. He is a class act and will be missed. Interesting to see who will occupy his bench come January. Perhaps he will include his little book of names in his memoir? :-)

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that every time the Chronicle mentions the Quintero case, they call it a "death-penalty trial" instead of a capital murder trial. Like it's all about the death penalty, not that this guy murdered a police officer. I find it very annoying!!!

Anonymous said...

Recer could use a few days in jail, but it won't make any difference. She is obviously a true believer, who believes at winning at any cost, as belied by her antics with the pre-trial recommendation press release and now this.

I know Reposa as well. Too bad he didn't have the cajones to admit on the stand that his actions were directed towards the judge. Interesting that one of my friends is a busy, up and coming Austin defense attorney, and I've never heard this defense attorney say a bad thing about anyone. But boy, you should hear him go on and on about Reposa. Based upon what he told me, the defense bar in Austin likes him less than the TCDA's office. That is saying something.

Tex

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Those here who portray Danalynn as "obviously a true believer, who believes at winning at any cost" are only half right. She's a true believer, but you're wrong to question her ethics.

As for Mr. Reposa, that's a different breed of cat.

If what Danalynn did merits a contempt citation, many prosecutors deserve the same treatment. Look at how the state is handling the YFZ Ranch polygamy case - dredging phony statistics and hyperbolic allegations in the media nearly every day (then issuing unpublicized retractions of discredited claims a week later). Don't you think they're doing that to influence public opinion and any possible jury pool?

If you think defense counsel are the only ones who try cases in the media, you've got another think coming. And the Harris DA's office is no exception. Chuck Rosenthal in particular was a huge media hound.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast - I have to assume that you didnt attend the trial. If not, then I'm not sure you are qualified to tell anyone they're wrong to question Danalynn's ethics. I was there. Both defense attorneys were unethical. They both deserve contempt citations in my opinion.

On the other hand, the prosecution team did a fantastic job. Very professional. They owned the defense team at every stage of the trial.

All I can say to the defense team at this point is..."Welcome to Harris County. You've just been shown how real trial attorneys are supposed to do it." :)

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Grits,
I have to agree with Anon 12:15 p.m. Danalynn's behavior was extremely unethical through multiple incidents during the trial. There are many members of the Harris County defense bar who are able to zealously and effectively represent defendants on difficult cases who do so ethically and admirably. Danalynn -- not so much.

Anonymous said...

Year elected or appointed: 1988

Previous legal experience/area of practice before becoming a judge and with whom:

* 7 1/2 years as a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney's office.
* Five years private practice.
* Board certified in criminal law with the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Why am I not surprised that he's your favorite Judge?

/Terry

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

"IMHO - Reposa's sentence was just and was done to set a president."
5-07-08 1:37pm

Of course, I meant, "precedent".. not president! LOL Someone pointed this out to me. Busted by the grammer police! No, I'm not a permanent resident in Faux Pas City, just an occasional visitor! I guess that reveals my brain being in election year mode and blogging during the work day when I should be attending to, well, kinda more important matters! LOL