January 31, 2006

Abolitionist straight talk

From the annual conference of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, here are the astute comments of David Dow, "one of the smartest lawyers among those who represent people on death row.":

Number 1: Do not attempt to appropriate the mantle of innocence.

If the death penalty is immoral, as I believe it is, either in theory or in practice, it has nothing to do with the issue of innocence... [W]e do not want to have a contest with a death penalty supporter over whose list of innocent victims is longer, because we lose that contest seven days a week...

I do not think my clients should be executed, but those of them that have committed murder are not morally equal to their innocent victims. By representing death row inmates, I am not saying that they are.

In saying this, I think I am saying what many in the abolitionist community already say, and so I am not proposing a radical idea. What I am suggesting is that this truth be loudly acknowledged. I think this truth was embraced in Helen Prejean’s first book, Dead Man Walking, and even more so in the film adaptation of the book. But in recent years, the abolitionist movement has, for tactical reasons, begun calling attention to innocent people on death row, and to innocent people who might have been executed.

There has undoubtedly been some political value in this emphasis. But most people on death row are not innocent, and the excessive attention that this issue has received has crowded out the moral question of whether the state ought to kill. It has crowded out the fact that we have a system that favors the rich over the poor, and the white over the black and brown. It has crowded out the fact that constitutional violations mar virtually every case. The excessive focus on innocence has allowed some people to say that if we can just tweak the system to protect against error, then the machinery of death will have been repaired.

Executing someone who is innocent is wrong, but it is no more wrong that executing someone because of his skin color or the thickness of his wallet or the mistakes of his lawyers. I believe that we as a community have not succeeded in making that point...

We must say as a community that we know that murder is wrong; and we must say, simultaneously and just as loudly, that our death penalty regime is unjust, and that it is wrong for us, for our nation and our state, to kill.

Like the Abolish the Death Penalty blog says, "wow."

ID: a place to recover

Turning lives around - Jubilee House one step closer to reality

The dream called Jubilee House came to Vicki Adams two years ago when she got a phone call from a woman in jail.

Adams had met the woman one Sunday morning a year before when she walked through the doors of the Community Christian Church. The troubled young woman attended a couple more Sunday services and then disappeared. Adams didn't hear from her again until she got the phone call. She went to visit her at the county jail.

"She said, 'When I walk out these doors, I have no place to go. I have no job, no money and no one will take me in except my druggie friends and you know I can't make it. There's no place here for women and you need to do something about that,'" Adams said.

So Adams did do something about that. With the help of others in the community, Jubilee House, a proposed one-year, faith-based residential substance abuse program for women, is a step closer to reality...

I knew some of the people involved in this. Congratulations to them.

January 29, 2006

Rookie p.d. III: revenge of the sith

The much - awaited, much - dreaded third installment of "A Brief History of Charley Demosthenous" has rolled out, and it's a good 'un:

The $40 Lawyer - Judgment

I won't quote as much, since it seems that all of us are reading and commenting on this profile of someone who's far from the world's best public defender. Here's this little gem from defense closing argument:

"You have received your Big Mac. You have received your supersize Coke. But where's the supersize fries?"

The jury deliberates just six minutes. It must be some kind of world record. Barely enough time for them to hustle into the little room, sit and vote.

You really don't need to click through to figure out the verdict, but you ought to for the sake of appreciating this whole series (or not).

Bonus link
goes to Public Defender Dude, my original inspiration for starting a p.d. blog, whose increased posting on this and other topics has been consistently excellent.

January 28, 2006

ID: helpful hints for potential poachers

If you're planning to poach the birds and beasts of my home state, here's a reminder from the Weiser-Signal American - best not to pose for incriminating photographs.

Pair's poaching nets lifetime hunting ban:

Two Cambridge men found guilty of multiple poaching and other wildlife-related crimes have received lifetime hunting license revocations and been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines and restitution to the state of Idaho.

Richard Goodling, 61, and his son Scott Goodling, 30, also lost their hunting privileges in 20 other states for the remainder of their lives, received suspended jail terms, and must complete 50 hours of community service as a condition of their probation. Firearms used in the commission of the crimes were also surrendered, including a .300 Winchester magnum rifle, nicknamed “Thunder” by its owner, Scott Goodling.

Oh, and probably best not to nickname your favorite firearm, either.

The rest of the article, by Evin Oneale, Conservation Educator and aspiring novelist, reads like a true tale of the Old West, with colorful sentences such as

In a twist of irony, the arrests went down outside “The Gobbler” restaurant, an institution in the town of Cambridge.


The evidence against the pair was overwhelming, and with felony convictions looming, the county-appointed public defender sought council with the Washington County prosecuting attorney in hopes of working out a plea agreement for the two men.

Would that I could've been a wall-fly at that particular parlay; sounds like a truly Western experience. Fun fact: the judge who was "unmoved" was a classmate of mine, college and law school.

January 26, 2006

"Tainted Trials" reporter on NPR

Here's the link to today's NPR interview with the San Jose Mercury-News' Fredric Tulsky, of "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice" fame.

I'm still waiting to hear the interview with the author of "The Ballad of Charley Demosthenous."

January 25, 2006

A progressive slap at public defenders

Assuming that you read Public Defender Investigator (and if you don't, you should), probably you've already scanned this dismaying and thorough San Jose Mercury - News series about the sad state of criminal justice in Santa Clara County, CA. If not, click, scroll through and view the shortcomings of the system up close.

If you were to read the Mother Jones magazine blog about it, here's something you'd take away:

... defense attorneys neglected to do even the most basic independent investigation... In some cases they didn't even appear to know basic criminal law. Note that this applies to both public defenders, who are notorious for this sort of behavior...

Good for the first commenter, who takes the blog to task. Maybe this is true of Charley in Florida, but put the broad brush down, Mother. Does it have to be repeated: just because you call yourself progressive doesn't mean that you won't stoop to a drive-by slur on public defenders? I expected a little better from Bradford Plumer. Thanks, MoJo.

Rookie p.d.'s rocky road, part 2

Thanks, thanks, thanks, to the Tampa Bay tipster who sent me an early link to the continuing saga of Charley Demosthenous, rookie public defender:

The $40 Lawyer - Penalty phase

"His juvenile clients call him names. The domestic violence cases are ugly and depressing. As he does his time, Charley wonders: Will he ever get a jury trial?"

As one of the office's last-chancers, Charley came desperate for a job and burning to prove himself. Now, midway through his first year, Charley wonders how much longer he can stick it out.

His workload is crushing. His learning curve has no top in sight. He worries that his clients are ill-served by his fumbling hands. And there seems no escape from juvenile court, where prosecutors dislike him and clients distrust him.

Yeah, it's not just the rookies who have days like that:

"How long you been a public defender? I was gonna call you a public pretender." The client, who has been holding his head tiredly in his hands, livens up enough to chime in: "That's what I call him too."

"About six months," Charley answers stoically. It feels much longer, like he's aging in dog years.

Gradually, if incrementally, things get better:

When Charley became a PD, he was queasy with ambivalence. Now, he calls his juvenile clients "my kids..." "I guess," he says, "I believe in what I do now." Still, his frustrations are crystalizing right along with his convictions.

Not that it's all sunshine and flowers when he moves up to misdemeanors:

By now, he knows a PD hoping only for innocent clients... is in the wrong line of work... What he's defending, after all, is the presumption of their innocence. Still, it would be nice if they didn't talk to the one guy on their side as if he were an idiot.

This installment ends on a cliffhanger, as Charley's first jury is about to start. By all means go read it.

Indefensible thinks this is an "appalling series" about such a "pathetic... stereotype." In addition to finding the "top law schools" brag tiresome, I'm reminded of this quote from Roman Hruska:

"Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?"

David Feige's right that this series isn't particularly good p.r. for us public defenders, but that doesn't detract from its worthiness as a interesting read. It's not as if we never hear about top-flight criminal defense lawyers who have TV legal pundit gigs or high-profile cases. Now and then, it's diverting to read about the progress of a young lawyer who isn't a hot shot (in this case, perhaps, if only to serve as a warning to others).

At Seeking Justice, Ken Lammers' prosecutorial nemesis Tom McKenna weighs in with a call for sympathy for the D.A. devils, with a hilarious photo line-up refuting the article's contention that p.d.'s hate D.A.'s because D.A.s are better looking. Of course he stacks the deck by showing only the good lookers: for every pretty p.d., there are a dozen schlubs like us.

January 24, 2006

One righteous Idahoan

My fellow Idahoan Sean Sirrine runs two fine blogs, Objective Justice and Idaho Times. I don't agree with him every time, but bless his Federalist Society heart, I respect the heck out of his contributions to the discussion.

Lately he's been perfecting the art of the righteous rant. Many of you already know his law-related posts on Objective Justice; if you don't, go check them out - I'll wait. Meanwhile, at Idaho Times, in "Bigots for Idaho", Sean flames an anti- civil rights bill being introduced in the legislature, to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, not by some fringe right-winger, but by House majority leader Lawrence Denny:

He claims, (quite lamely), that he just wants "to give the public a say on this issue." Yeah, and I'm Elvis.

What, do you suppose, would have happened if "the public" had been given a say on segregated schools before Brown v. Board? Obviously, at the time the sentiment was that the whites wanted to keep those damned n***** away from their children. A vote would have easily shown that the will of the people was on the side of the bigots. The same thing will happen now.

That's Idaho Republican leadership! Warning: intemperate times can bring forth intemperate language, and Sean's pretty pissed off. However, he's absolutely right about this. Time for such libertarians and small-government conservatives that are left in the Idaho GOP to call b.s. on this freedom-denying project.

In other news, here in my new home, the legislature is on the verge of adding sexual orientation to the law that bans discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, religion and marital status. Yes, with Republican votes. Today I'm happy to be an Idaho political refugee, living in Washington State.

Bonus link goes to Red State Rebels, with more on the Idaho pro - discrimination legislation, a caption contest for a picture of Idaho's congressional delegation with a Spuddy Buddy - holding President of the United States, and the shocking revelation that Spuddy's done time in a Mexican jail.

Thanks for fighting the Patriot Act, Butch, now we could use your libertarian voice on the anti-gay bill. No, Larry, we're not holding our breath for you to come out against it.

January 23, 2006

Mo p.d. crisis

Crisis looms in the public defender system - Staggering case loads mean some may not get fair representation:

A recent study found that the Missouri Public Defender System is on the verge of collapse.

J. Marty Robinson, the director of the state public defender system, does not disagree...

Too many cases, too few defenders - State ranks 47th in spending on its public defender system:

Outside organizations like the Missouri Bar Association are pushing the public defender's office to do something about what they believe is a crisis. Spiraling case loads have exceeded the capacity of the legal system, and it is no longer certain that indigent clients are getting adequate representation.

"There are two ways to fix it," said State Public Defender J. Marty Robinson. "Either there's not enough people (attorneys) or there are too many cases. If we had fewer cases we wouldn't have a problem."

Time for a supply-side solution - let's try the filing-fewer-cases approach for a change.

(I'm a bit bummed this evening: I'm in trial in a case where my client was charged with three Class C felonies, and once he rejected the state's offer, the prosecutor thought it would be just to upgrade one of the counts to a Class A violent strike offense. Justice.)

NYC shiv-aree

In New York, an event like this seems not to be considered a major news item:

Lawyer stabbed as murder defendant leaves B'klyn court:

A man on trial in the killing of a 21-year-old college student used a homemade weapon to stab his defense attorney while his co-defendant reached for a court officer's gun...

Yeah, the p.d. brethren in Brooklyn are tough.

January 22, 2006

Mediocre p.d.'s need love too

Thank you to Erik for e-mailing me this great public defender story. Not great as in, this is a profile of a great p.d., or, this story is great for public defenders and our image in general. Instead, "great" as in how the reporter gets inside the skin of a "nobody" who's not a particularly great lawyer and takes us for a walk in his world:

The $40 Lawyer - In his own defense

"After passing the Bar exam on his fourth try, Charley Demosthenous wasn't exactly a hot property. Even his father thought he should go sell screwdrivers. Representing the poor and miserable was his last chance to be somebody."

This one's for the non true believers, for the ones among us who never wanted to be public defenders, but were given a chance:

At 27, two years out of law school and a year out of steady work... no one's eager to hire an inexperienced attorney who finished near the bottom of his class and failed the Florida Bar exam three times...

"Why do you want to be a public defender?" he is asked. "The State Attorney's Office wasn't hiring," he answers.

The bosses at the Public Defender's Office love an underdog. They know the qualities that make a good PD are more elusive than what a test can measure. Besides, the job burns lawyers out so fast - they stay about three years, on average - that they need a constant stream of new ones. They take a chance on Charley Demosthenous.

As he goes, he grows:

It's not that he has become a True Believer overnight... He's not like Lily McCarty, the apple-cheeked 24-year-old PD in his division who hugs her clients and cries for their terrible upbringings. This job was her Plan A, a way to practice social work with a law license.

Charley's different. Yes, he fights for his clients' future. But with every trial, every argument, his own future feels at stake. In his mind, the options remain stark: Be somebody, or be nobody.

What's more, he realizes, he just hates losing. He takes it personally. He has had enough for a lifetime...

There is so much insight and attention to detail in this story, it's as if the reporter is giving away some of our secret not-so-noble motivations:

From the defense side, it's easy to despise what seems an air of privilege and hauteur around the opposing table. The young prosecutors believe God is on their side...

Or at least that's how it feels from across the room. It doesn't help that whereas PDs look like ordinary people, by and large, their state attorney counterparts are uncommonly good-looking, the kind that used to make classmates feel weird or fat or gangly. Beating the state becomes sweet on so many levels.

Some months back, in another courtroom, a young female prosecutor struck the PDs as particularly snooty and unreasonable. The PDs decided to teach her a lesson. They swamped her with depositions, besieged her with motions, double-teamed her at trial. They kept up the barrage until, one day in open court, she dissolved in wretched sobs. Point made. And even if it wasn't, it felt good to do it...

Dang. Read this remarkable article, and hope there'll be a Part 2.

Bonus links: this article is being discussed, here, here, here, and here. And on Fark, headlined "Terrible law student matures into terrible lawyer. Here is his story.", tons of comments:

"It's like teaching, social work or the clergy. It doesn't work if you're just doing it until something better comes along."

Update: Welcome visitors from ACS Blog! There are many more entertaining and interesting reactions to the article via Metafilter:

"PD is a tough job. The workload is almost always twice what any human can bear, so stuff goes undone. Yet the cause is noble as the defendants need an advocate as they negotiate their way through a legal system where the odds are stacked against them... I think a lot of the PDs fall into it like Charley, it is one of their last options, yet I still have a lot of respect for them and the good they do for society. For all that, society looks down on them, perceives them not as defenders of the downtrodden but shysters looking to allow criminals to escape justice. Go Charley."

Arabic-speaking p. d. needed overseas

Management Sciences for Development, Inc. (MSD), a USAID implementing partner in rule of law, seeks an Arabic-speaking public defender for long-term assignment in Egypt to help develop and implement a Public Defense System. Candidate must have a law degree with a specialization in Criminal Justice. Experience in strategic and program planning and ability to lead effectively in team situations, particularly multicultural teams are required. Previous related experience in the Middle East preferred. Project start-up expected summer 2006. Interested candidates are encouraged to respond to rol@msdglobal.com.

I know just the man for the job.

The Seagulls are going to the Super Bowl!

And all around the Sound there has been much rejoicing...

Seahawks 34 - Panthers 14.

January 21, 2006

UT: stepping up for an injured colleague

Public defender grateful for help after accident

Public defender Tony B. Miles chokes back tears as he talks about all the help he has received since he accidentally cut off two fingers and a thumb two weeks before Christmas. "How do you express how grateful you are," said the South Weber man, trying to check his emotions.

For the past month and a half, the five other public defenders in Farmington have taken his cases, appeared in front of judges, and either had cases continued or worked to resolve the cases for his clients...

Miles is also grateful the injury does not mean the end of his career. "I honestly love the public defender work," said Miles, who has practiced law for the past 10 years...

I liked this:

Rich Gallegos who coordinates the Davis County public defender schedules said it has always been an unwritten agreement among the public defenders if one of them needs time off either because of an illness, a family matter, or even a vacation, they cover for each other. But this is the longest period that any of them has needed help.

"We all just asked how can we help. Everyone, the judges, clerks, even the clients have been great," Gallegos said.

I hope that you have the same understanding where you work.

January 18, 2006

WA: pd funding's bad, it's statewide

News from Yakima:

Justice cause — County pleads with state for more money

Yakima County to plea for more money from governor

Saying they are one death penalty case away from bankruptcy, Yakima County commissioners are going with hat in hand to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

It's a stark statement about the impacts a costly death penalty case could have on county finances, but not an understatement, commissioners argue...

Yakima isn't the only county to face the problem of rising court costs in recent years. Depending on the complexity, trying a death penalty case can cost up to $1 million. It's a problem recognized by state and local officials alike.

In his state of the judiciary address before the Legislature on Wednesday, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander noted that Washington ranks 50th of the 50 states in terms of the percentage of state support for its trial courts, including the cost of criminal prosecution and public defense...

January 17, 2006

GA: attorney hostage released unharmed

Family and friends of a local lawyer are thankful after a more-than 24 hour hostage standoff with police comes to an end in Statesboro. Two people were arrested Tuesday after police say they took attorney Mike Hostilo hostage... 43-year-old Robert Brower and his wife Connie surrendered just before 10:00am Tuesday morning...

Of course you know that all of Brower's problems were his lawyer's fault:

Through the daylong drama, Brower mainly wanted a new hearing on a charge stemming from a 1995 assault he says was unfounded...

So much for finality of judgments. Guys like Brower make judges reluctant to take Alford pleas. Strangely, his victim thinks the charge had a factual basis:

...Eleven years ago, police arrested Brower for attacking his brother-in-law with a hammer. He pled guilty, but has denied he did it ever since. And his says his attorney--Michael Hostilo--did him wrong.

...Brower said he didn't attack Billy. But Deborah Eskins-Nessmith says she saw him do it. "Billy's blood is on the hammer, the police officers have the hammer, they had the evidence," she said. "He even requested to have the hammer returned to him. To me it sounds like he's guilty."

Brower hasn't given up his contention that he was wronged. That was obvious when he took his former lawyer in the case hostage yesterday. "When I heard it was him, I was like, 'Why, after all this time?'" said Deborah.

This isn't the first time Brower has protested this case. In 1997, he staged a hunger strike outside the Chatham County Courthouse. But it didn't last long. Police came and asked him to leave. "Stupidity," said Deborah. "Get out of jail comes up here and decides he's not going to eat because he was wrongly accused."

There's a link to news video of the end of the siege on this page.

Do I lose my public defender card if I say it wouldn't break my heart if they throw the book at this guy?

January 15, 2006

P.D. mom

Congratulations on the blessed event, Mrs. Why:

I used to think my job as a public defender was hard work...
But parenting? That's a whole new ball game...

Mom and kids are doing fine.

ID: the "das Boot" cure for prison overcrowding

I'm always proud when one of my fellow Idahoans makes it into Boing Boing:

Prison inmates to sleep in shifts?

Robert Geddes, Republican president of Idaho's State Senate, suggests that one way to deal with limited space in prisons would be to make inmates share beds by sleeping in shifts...

That's Idaho Republican leadership! Dummkopf: go rent some submariner movies, and spare us your penological insights. At least one professor warns that "courts have tended to frown on prisons that are crowding their inmates, whether they have a bed or not." And if Geddes had bothered to ask, the head of the Idaho Department of Correction would have told him, "prisons are not submarines."

Geddes sounds delighted that his bold idea is getting Idaho lots of worldwide attention. Unfortunately and as usual for my home state, it's not positive attention. Says one libertarian:

Dude, I’ve spent over a decade in the Army, and I can tell you that hot-bunking is a morale killer and is to be avoided whenever possible. People need their individual space. That is unless you wish to create a climate where inmates are more likely to riot...

Thanks, Senator, for that torpedo amidships to my nostalgia for Idaho.

Update: 43rd State Blues' take on the pride of Soda Springs - Geddes 'hot-racking' prisoners idea makes Drudge: Idaho looks even more stupid

A new public defender blogger

Welcome Defending Those People to the fold:

Coming from sunny south florida (though its windy as heck right now), this blog will highlight not merely the bad, but also the good things from defending poor people accused of violating the law. Contrary to popular opinion, many heartwarming things occur...

January 13, 2006

Anti-PD screed, recycled

This week public defender hater Kirsten Anderberg has renewed her call for all public defenders to abandon their posts, in a post to Portland indymedia.

In fact, her January 12, 2006 essay arguing for a general p.d. strike is the very same one she posted in December 2004. Come on now, surely we evil minions of the State must have improved a tiny bit in that time! I talked about this Anderberg rerun the first time it aired. It turns out that there have been some positive developments around here since then.

But I suppose incremental improvements are inconsequential to the Revolution, or when there are personal issues to be worked out in a public forum. I really, really wish "Sam" the Seattle public defender had treated Anderberg better so long ago.

The entertainment (in a masochistic sort of way) in Anderberg's warmed-over PDX post is in the comments it's inspired:

"...the article above mischaracterizes the work of a public defender. Its not their job to fix someone's entire life problems, or even explain to mothers why their sons are incarcerated. Its their job to do what their clients want them to do-whatever that may be- and give them the best advice possible. I only wish we could have equal funding then we could do a better job."

"What happens to the 85% - 90% of the accused while the PDs are on strike? Do they just sit there waiting for their "equal representation"? My point was, I wouldn't want to be one of the sacrificial lambs stuck waiting in jail for the strike to be resolved in your scenario. It's quite noble of you to volunteer others for that."

"You seem to really hate and disparage the PDs. I agree that they are underresourced, and going on strike might be a good idea, but it's really not a good strategy to tell them you hate them, their work sucks, and that they're only part of the problem and will never be anything but."

Read and marvel how Anderberg flips out at her commentators.

A field guide to the hard-ass judge

In its native habitat, the species assumes its full bright-red coloration when this happens:

At one point in the docket they caught a fresh-faced prosecutor with a brit-pop haircut implying certain things about the trial record which were not, strictly speaking, actually there...

January 12, 2006

FL: not much better than Babelfish

Freedom nearly lost in translation
- Interpreter errors come under scrutiny:

Unable to speak English, Juan Ramon Alfonzo stood before a judge and expected to receive probation for stealing a toolbox. To his surprise, the judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation, for stealing a dump truck valued at $125,000.

Now, court officials agree Alfonzo entered the wrong plea because his court-hired interpreter, Marianne Verruno, provided an incomprehensible translation. Two weeks ago, a circuit judge tossed out his plea and sentencing to allow Alfonzo to start the court process over...

"Maybe, if he got 5 percent of what was said, he was lucky."

Interesting examples in the article sidebar of what was said in English, how it was translated, and what the client presumably heard.

January 11, 2006

FL: withdrawing to better help the client

Public defender withdraws from police slaying suspect's defense

An attorney for a Wisconsin man charged with killing a Panama City Beach police officer has withdrawn from the case, saying he can better help Robert Bailey avoid the death penalty by being a witness.

Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith told Circuit Judge Glenn Hess on Tuesday that he expects to be a witness at a future court hearing to determine Bailey's mental condition.

"This whole case is about killing Robert Bailey, that's what the state wants and that's what this whole community wants. I'm saying, 'Time out. You can't kill a mentally retarded person,'" Smith said after court...

January 10, 2006

Prison talk - public pretender

Prison Talk Online is an excellent website for us, our clients, and our clients' families, with tons of information resources and forums presented in a supportive, straightforward, straight-shooting way.

When I googled "public pretender," I found this recent exchange:

"My public PRETENDER is a sellout!... (A)lls my attorney wants to do is make a deal for me. He doesnt give a shit."

And a reply:

"As an outside observer, I have to think that the real reason you are in so much trouble is that you seem to have knowingly surrounded your self with folks who have substance abuse issues and who sell drugs; rather than your Pretender being the source of your troubles. Also, I have to think that maybe your Pretender would care about you more as a person if you acted like (you) recognized that their doctorate in law meant they might know a thing or two."

Thank you for that, observer. Like I said, straight talk.

Check out the main site for a

web community... conceived in a prison cell, designed in a halfway house, and funded by donations from families of ex-offenders, to bring those with an interest in the prisoner support community a forum in which their issues and concerns may be addressed by others in similar circumstances and beliefs.

OH: ex-p.d. compelled to testify

Attorney agrees to testify in Erica Baker case

A former public defender has agreed to testify about what a former client may have told her about the 1999 disappearance of 9-year-old Erica Baker.

In announcing what ends a 3 1/2-year legal dispute, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias H. Heck Jr. said Beth Lewis' lawyers contacted him before noon Tuesday and said she was prepared to testify before a grand jury...

(Lewis) lost another legal fight on Tuesday in her effort to avoid testifying about what a former client may have told her regarding the missing 9-year-old girl.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 3-0 that federal courts do not have jurisdiction in the matter and sent the case back to state court, which found Beth Lewis in contempt for refusing to testify in the disappearance...

Ohio is one of the few states that allow a surviving spouse to give permission for an attorney to reveal privileged conversations between lawyers and clients.

January 09, 2006

Niche marketing

Here's the latest entry in the burgeoning field of LDS public defender fiction -

God's Executioner by Roger Terry:

“The courthouse called first thing this morning,” Tanya tells me. “They’ve got an oddball on their hands.”

“Don’t we all,” I philosophize. I’m a public defender, and oddballs in my line of work are something rare and wonderful like golf balls on a driving range...

We public defenders are a peculiar people.

TN: p.d caseload crisis explained

The Shelbyville Times-Gazette shines some light on the situtation in "Public defenders overloaded, but less so locally":

Public defenders across Tennessee say they're overloaded with criminal cases, but the case load is down slightly in the Bedford County area for at least two reasons. "A lot of that was a result of multiple conflicts of interest," explains Donna Orr Hargrove, the elected public defender...

Another reason for a slightly lower public defender case load locally is the office's newest lawyer, Haley Fults. "We were one of the few districts where the legislature gave us a new defender," Hargrove said, describing Fults as "an excellent attorney."

But case load doesn't tell the whole story. "We're definitely over the number of clients the American Bar Association recommends," Hargrove said.

Another factor is the nature of the public defenders' client. Although some might debate the point, public defenders' clients are generally indigent...

(emphasis added)

January 08, 2006

OR: some coincidence

Oregon police say cold drug registry cut meth making:

The new state pseudoephedrine registry appears to be making a dent in the illegal drug trade built on turning the over-the-counter cold remedy into methamphetamine, authorities say.

The number of meth labs found in Oregon fell by one-third the month after pseudoephedrine was moved behind the counter while state officials crafted the registry rule last year. It fell again by nearly half after the registry began in April, according to Oregon State Police figures...

MO: p.d.'s underfunded

Public defense system in dire state, report says:

Statewide, the Missouri public defender system is in crisis from a lack of funding, according to a report by the Spangenberg Group...

Salaries are “pathetic,” with public defender trial attorneys earning from $33,792 to $52,452. By contrast, state prosecutors typically earn from $40,000 to more than $100,000...

The cumulative turnover rate for public defenders over the past five years was nearly 100 percent and “exceeds that of any other public defender system in our experience,” the study’s authors said.

“If public defender salaries aren’t increased and workloads decreased, it is only a matter of time before the criminal justice system crashes,” Jackson County Public Defender Joel Elmer said. “It’s a matter of when, not if.”

There is something wrong, he said, when some of the best and most experienced defense lawyers “barely make half of what brand-new lawyers make at the big firms.”

Tikkun olam

Public defender strives to give clients ‘cloak of humanity’

Four years ago, attorney David Bell worked at a Kansas City civil law firm and made profitable use of his costly East Coast education. Then, to the shock of family and friends, he quit his $82,000-a-year job to become an assistant Jackson County public defender...

Bell said he left because he wanted more contact with clients, wanted to see more immediate results of his work and wanted to try cases. “I always had an interest in getting in front of people,” he said. “I once thought of becoming a rabbi...”

His job is to take people “who are viewed as subhuman or animal and make them appear as they are, which is human beings, to put that cloak of humanity back on them...”

There is always something to argue in defense, he said. It all goes back to a spark he sees in the eyes of almost anyone, he said, a spark called humanity, soul, God, or whatever you want to call it.

Even if that spark is not there, he said, “I’ll be able to say what possibly could have happened to this human being to extinguish the spark...”

Go you and do likewise.

January 05, 2006

They're playing my song

Yow! It's as if the ABA Journal called me up and asked me for my picks! Methamphetamine, clinical depression among lawyers, Twin Falls, Idaho... it's a veritable Skelly hit parade!

Flying Under the Radar
- These Little-Noticed Legal Developments Could Be Making News This Year

To make our list, we first determined the most underrated, underreported and unappreciated issues affecting lawyers. And then we thought about how these topics are likely to play out in the future.

Among them:


If you live in a small town and run into problems with the law, methamphetamine may be the first cause that authorities suspect. Some rural justice system officials estimate that the drug is a factor in up to 80 percent of their caseloads...

Drug courts also seem to help, mainly by reducing the number of repeat offenders. These courts focus on intensive programs to help defendants quit meth rather than do jail time.

In Twin Falls, Idaho, the county has operated such a program for three years. Prosecutor Grant P. Loebs says that about 50 percent to 60 percent of those who complete the program are staying clean. Still, he sees usage of the drug in about 90 percent of the county’s presentencing reports....


It may not quite be the disease that dares not speak its name, but in the legal profession it comes pretty close.

Where depression is concerned, there is clearly a tendency for individual lawyers, and the profession as a whole, to let it languish in the shadows rather than acknowledge its prevalence and confront the terrible toll it takes.

In a very real sense, the story of lawyers and depression is the quintessential “under the radar” item...

Big arbitrary and capricious thanks to ABAJournal.com and reporters Stephanie Francis Ward and Steven Keeva.

ID: Twin Falls man arraigned in triple homicide

From the Times-News:

Jim Junior Nice, accused of killing his children, was arraigned in 5th District Court this morning on a grand jury indictment charging him with three counts of first-degree murder...

Here is a link to an unsteady video of the actual arraignment, mistakenly labelled "Pretrial Plea".

Here is a link to the KMVT story about the case, which mistakenly states that "Nice had his preliminary hearing..." and that "It's not clear if Nice's defense attorneys will file for an affirmative action defense..." You'd think this case would be serious enough for the journos to make a better effort at getting it right.

Frank Wilkinson, 1914-2006

Frank Wilkinson led a remarkable life as a courageous, curmudgeonly champion of the right to dissent:

Frank Wilkinson, a Los Angeles housing official who lost his job in the Red Scare of the early 1950's and later became one of the last two people jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee whether he was a Communist, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 91...

After doing his time, he founded the National Committee to Abolish HUAC – the House Un-American Activities Committee (NCAHUAC), later renamed NCARL - the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation.

Wilkinson had sued the FBI in 1980 for documents about himself and his organization, the Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee, founded in the 1960s. Members of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who had a close relationship with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, cited informers who said Wilkinson was a Communist. On that basis the FBI had amassed more than 130,000 pages of documents concerning him and his associates...

It turns out that he was a Communist, or at least was for part of his life. Wilkinson joined the Communist Party USA in 1942. He quit the party in 1975, far too late, but at least he made the break. I didn't ask about it the night he spent under my roof - it didn't come up, and his biography, "First Amendment Felon", was yet to be published. He came to the Palouse on a speaking tour in my last year of law school, and I drove him around in my beater car to speaking engagements and interviews in Moscow and Pullman. He slept in my dumpy basement apartment on a twin bed, and ate my student spaghetti. I liked him immensely. Eternal rest grant unto him.

Bonus links:
Here is a link to a PDF file of a Loyola-LA law review article by him, "Revisiting the McCarthy Era: Looking at Wilkinson v. United States in Light of Wilkinson v. Federal Bureau of Investigation."

And here is more about him from LAist, a post titled, "Fear of the Red Menace in Chavez Ravine," a link to the Chavez Ravine documentary, and other links to the new Ry Cooder album "Chavez Ravine", with a song about Wilkinson, "Don't Call Me Red."

January 04, 2006

ID: transportation problem

From the Boise Weekly -
Stuck in the System -
How Idaho's traffic laws lead to ruin for the poor:

If you're like one of over 68,000 Idahoans, in 2005 you found yourself with a suspended drivers license. Maybe it was revoked for driving under the influence (5,971 suspensions), or perhaps the ex is tired of waiting for a child support payment (2,259 suspensions), but whatever the reason (refusal to submit to Breathalyzer testing? 1,640 suspensions), you found yourself in a sticky situation--and if you're poor, living paycheck-to-paycheck, the more you struggle, the worse it seems to get...

It could be worse, and was. Way back when in Idaho (less than ten years ago), do it often enough and you could get tagged with Felony Driving Without Privileges. I represented one of the last individuals in Idaho to go to prison for this offense; I don't think the sentencing judge liked my client's proposed probation plan for truck driver school.

(disclosure: as a measure of how small and close-knit Idaho is, I'm related to one to the people quoted in the story.)

January 03, 2006

Hard civics lessons

Can I tell you how discouraging it can be to bring bad plea bargain news to a client? Particularly to the client who pleads with me, "why doesn't that prosecutor want to help me?" What can I tell my client about how rare that kind of prosecutor really is, and that how by luck of the draw, he didn't draw one like that?

Abitrary. Capricious. Not typical of most of my dealings with the local D.A.'s, but the hard edge gets exposed often enough to notice, like the time a prosecutor blew off my version of how my client's witnesses would testify by saying, "any scumbag can get any other scumbags to say whatever he wants them to." "They're right here, would you like to repeat that to their face?" said I.

I feel bad for the clients, but it's worse I think for the family members who haven't done anything - even by such a prosecutor's moral calculus - to deserve this treatment. They sit in court hearing their loved one villified on the record, and joked and laughed about by the lawyers and cops when the judge is off the bench. Worse probably is the social trust that's broken when it's the family who've set this awful machine in motion, calling law enforcement to get sons or daughters "the help they need," and getting nothing but warehousing in return. Worst yet, in my home town, such a call got a beloved child killed by the police.

Bonus links:

Indefensible may be on to something: too much Law and Order, not enough Perry Mason.

Jay Farrar could be singing about half the addicted and homeless clients in my caseload:
"where's the crime in a streak of bad luck?"

January 02, 2006


The Court Interpreter describes the various characters in court -

Public Defenders: They don’t make huge salaries and get assigned to defend people with little or no financial resources. Great people.

"What not to say at sentencing"

Here's Indignant Indigent with breaking legal news from New York, "proving once again that a defendant's right to address the sentencing court is not all it is cracked up to be."