July 24, 2006

WA: hotter than 10,000 suns

Greetings from Richland, WA, from the people who brought you the atom bomb, where yesterday it was 112 degrees. Yes, in the shade.

Next door is Kennewick, WA, home of the famous "Kennewick Man" and the somewhat less well-known "Kennewick Prosecutor." From NPR:

Buying Leniency: Small-Scale and Widespread

In the criminal courts of Kennewick and Richland, in eastern Washington, people arrested for offenses such as drunk driving could routinely get a lenient sentence by contributing money to prosecutors' favorite charities. The practice came under criticism recently when money donated in Kennewick, Wash., went missing.

But similar arrangements may be widespread; a prominent defense lawyer... calls it the "dirty little secret" of criminal courts in America...

Here at the northwesternmost reach of Zion, you can sense palpably the shift into a different cultural orbit. In a few minutes I'm off to cross the Idaho frontier, for which I've been preparing myself mentally, spiritually, and passive-aggressively. A happy Pioneer Day to those of my legal colleagues who might be celebrating the Days of '47 today.

July 23, 2006

Interruption of service notice

Posting will be strictly arbitrary and randomly capricious over the next ten days. I'm off to Idaho, first time back home since the most recent time I busted out, 19 months ago.

Best wishes to all you soon-to-be colleagues taking bar exams this week, wherever you may be.

July 22, 2006

WA: 30 months in prison, then "not guilty"

You know the guy here in South Sound granted a retrial by the state Court of Appeals, for reasons that one news outlet spun and minimized as, "a juror handed the judge a doughnut?"

Yes, he won the second time around. From the Olympian:

Children’s entertainer not guilty in retrial - DeGroff convicted of molestation in 2003

A former day-care entertainer was exonerated of child molestation charges Friday, three years after being convicted in the same case. James P. DeGroff said he was “extremely relieved and overwhelmed” after a jury returned a not guilty verdict in Thurston County Superior Court.

DeGroff spent 30 months in prison, and then was released under court-imposed conditions before the case against him finally ended in acquittal Friday. “In general, it’s just been a living nightmare,” he said. His plans for the future are, “just trying to rebuild my life,” he added.

The Seattle firm of Cohen and Iaria represented him through to acquittal.

Young and foolish

"all i need is five murder trials and then i'll get into a big law firm."

Careful what you wish for, young public defender. I've done one murder trial and handled two other murders, and you have no idea...

p.s.: You might want to scale back on the "big time drug user party guy" reputation, too. Just saying.

July 21, 2006

WA: things looking up in Ephrata & Moses Lake

From the Columbia Basin Herald:

Public defense system improving, report says

Grant County's embattled public defender system has continued to show signs of improvement, following increased criminal defense training and reduced attorney case assignments during the last few months, a report issued this week shows...

From the Yakima Herald Republic:

Grant County improving public defender program

Grant County public defenders have continued to decrease caseloads and increase face time with defendants, a new report concludes...

WA: mmmm, doughnuts...

For a retrial after a successful appeal, news coverage as twisted as a cruller. From Northwest Cable News:

Man once convicted for child molestation could go free because judge accepted a doughnut

James Degroff, once convicted for child molestation, is getting a second chance to prove he never molested a 6-year-old girl four years ago. What’s so rare about this case is not that it's going back to court, but the reason why. The answer lies in the back halls of the Thurston County Courthouse.

In 2003, the first trial judge unwittingly unraveled the case by accepting an ordinary doughnut. The trouble is, the judge took the doughnut from a juror deciding the case...

A bit more than a doughnut, actually. Back in 2005, the Court of Appeals overturned DeGroff's conviction:

“We cannot ignore such allegations when we consider the other undisputed events in this case,” the court wrote. “The undisputed ex parte contacts that occurred in this case undermined the integrity and reliability of the trial to such an extent that we are unable to say beyond a reasonable doubt that DeGroff was not prejudiced by them.”

Defense counsel is Neil Fox, of Cohen and Iaria in Seattle.

July 20, 2006

UT: waving the bloody shirt

Here's a real-life predicament worthy of a bar exam question: what happens when defense lawyers find a potential piece of evidence and recover it after police fail to do so? If you answered, "they're booted off the case!," you may be a Utah judge.

From the SLTrib:

Public defenders barred from case because of bloody shirt

Because public defenders found a bloody shirt and took it as evidence after police failed to do so, they will not be allowed to represent a Provo man charged with the murder in the case. Jesus Manuel Holguin-Albo, 27, is charged with first-degree felony murder...

Police collected evidence from the apartment but for some reason left the bloody T-shirt there, said Gunda Jarvis, who was the attorney for Holguin-Albo until Wednesday. The shirt purportedly was used to pick up the knife used to kill Gonzalez.

From the Desperate News:

Lawyers barred in Provo case

Debate over a forgotten bloody shirt moved a judge to exclude lawyers from the Utah County Public Defender Association from representing a Provo man accused of murder.

July 19, 2006

Blogging p.d. semi-anonymous no more

The public defender blogging at "The Wretched of the Earth" has been exposed in his local courthouse:

Then, of course, my bailiff wanted to read it to, so I actually just gave him the web address...

Hmph, p.d. bloggers got it so easy these days! In my day, getting your blogger cover blown was a big deal!

Sympathy for the public defender

From The Panda's Thumb:

When pressed... to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty, (Pensacola evangelist Kent) Hovind said he wished to enter a plea of “subornation of false muster...”

...I would just like to say that everyone here at PT would like to express their sympathies to the public defender assigned to Hovind. I suppose public defenders see all sorts of weird things, but Hovind will be a handful.

I was pleased to see that the article points to this recent opinion from the Washington Court of Appeals (Div. II) for a footnote on “subornation of false muster.” The opinion is of the "DO NOT CITE" variety, so this sort of mustering at arraignments won't be gaining ground in courtrooms up here.

Update: The case is State of Washington v. Michael John Didier, No. 33376-7-II (07/11/06). Didier was convicted of residential burglary and violation of a restraining order:

Mr. Didier considers himself a 'citizen of heaven' rather than a U.S. citizen and works with Remedies at Law, which he describes as an 'ecclesiastical law firm' staffed by non-bar members...

Mr. Didier's own testimony before the jury included assertions that he was a 'citizen of heaven,' not a U.S. citizen or Washington resident. He objected to being subject to Washington's courts at all.

You can connect the dots from Michael Didier to Kent Hovind in two moves: for example, Didier's employer and Remedies at Law's director, Glenn Stoll, has been named by Kent Hovind as the manager of his church property in Florida.

"False muster," or calling "here" for an absent soldier at roll call, is listed as an offense in the 1778 Articles of War. An attempted plea of "suborning false muster" seems to suggest that answering "present" when called on would not only be submitting to the jurisdiction of the court, but would be participating in perjury. The inferrence is that the defendant believes himself to be under martial law or in a military court, and not subject to the court's authority. Perhaps the flag in the Pensacola courtroom is edged in golden fringe.

July 18, 2006

Justice yes, law school no

It's entirely possible to make a difference through working in a public defender office, without going through three years of hell to get a J.D.

July 14, 2006

Thinking too much about blogging...

... when I'm sitting in court listening to a probation violation kid tell the judge,

"You know, where it says, 'lack of participation?'
It's mostly just lack of interest."

and my first thought is, "how can I turn this into a post?"

July 13, 2006

LA: libera me

See, what happened was, down in New Orleans, someone unseen seems to have sent the juvenile clients a few deliverers:

We've spent time doing juvenile public defender work (lots of motions, lots of interviewing) over the past few weeks. The regular guy, the one who says "I try to plea all the kids guilty because it saves time"...he's been on vacation, so our office has been subbing for him...

If the guy checks in, tell him to take his time getting back.

Off-topic: an arbitrary menagerie

Trevor, Antenna, Bubba, Miss Kitty

You're welcome, Sancho.

July 12, 2006

ID: do the cat crime, face the cat time

From the Twin Falls Times-News:

Owner of cat resort pleads not guilty

A woman found with 323 cats at her business pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 19 counts of cruelty and 51 counts of neglect...

If you hurry, you might still be able to adopt Dharma, this great Maine Coon cat in the picture, by visiting People for Pets - Magic Valley Humane Society (the place where they knew our shepherd-heeler mix by name).

Update: no more calls please - we have a winner.

ID & TX: anywhere but there

The good news is that no more Idahoans will be going to the Black Hole of Newton County. From the Idaho Statesman:

Idaho inmates will leave Texas prison and some Idaho jails

Idaho inmates housed at a private Texas prison that has been criticized for prisoner abuse will be moved elsewhere because the prison canceled its contract with Idaho. And more Idaho prisoners will be headed out of state soon.

It's unclear where the 419 Idaho prisoners currently housed at the Newton County Correctional Center will be sent, but the private prison in Newton, Texas, notified the Idaho Department of Correction that it needs to move the prisoners to make room for Texas inmates, department spokeswoman Melinda O'Malley Keckler said Tuesday. Keckler said the decision had nothing to do with recent reports that Newton prison employees abused Idaho prisoners...

Well, okay, if you say so...

(For Josie Daniel, whose brother, inmate Eddie Daniel, has reported abuse at the Newton prison, the news of the move is a relief. Josie Daniel said her brother has been threatened by prison staff for speaking out and was recently placed in solitary confinement. "I'm happy because I know they're going to be out of that horrendous facility," she said.)

... but you might want to check with your own director to get your stories straight. For whatever reason IDOC's not sending Idaho inmates to Newton County any more, you're still shipping them far from home and family to serve their time. From the Houston Chronicle (and other news outlets):

Idaho will move 100 more prisoners out of state

Beset by overcrowded prisons, Idaho will transfer 100 more inmates out of the state, bringing the total prisoners who will have been sent elsewhere to about 550. Idaho also plans to send 419 prisoners now in a private Texas prison to an undisclosed facility after allegations of prisoner maltreatment emerged there and because that state's prison officials said they wanted the space for Texas inmates.

Though Texas prison officials have asked for the space in Newton County for their own prisoners, (Idaho Department of Correction Director Tom) Beauclair said Tuesday an important reason for the move is he's become dissatisfied with the situation there, including the prison's trouble hiring qualified staff. "The problem with Texas was, we have a culture clash going on," Beauclair said. "That's why we're looking at moving."

July 10, 2006

Now for something happy

By the Seat of My Skirt: cartoons from a colleague newly graduated from law school and about to take the bar.

(in medieval iconography, I think the billy goat symbolizes a bar examiner or bar grader, or possibly the devil)

WA: 26 years for 12-year-old murderer

In Grant County, Evan Savoie has been sentenced to 26 years in prison, the top of the standard range, for the murder of Craig Sorger.

Savoie is now 15. He was 12, and Sorger 13, at the time of the crime.

TX: grieving in Austin

An Austin criminal defense lawyer and blogger, Jeff Wilson, has died, rest him, a week after being struck by a drunk driver. He was 32.

July 09, 2006

Retired, His Honor speaks his peace

Here's an insightful and well-informed contribution to our ongoing discussion, a voice I hadn't heard before: Loose Robes, from a retired judge who's had experience on all sides.

Here's a long essay, "Justice by Accident," about "maverick bureaucrats", "gonzo judging", and "the courtroom work group."

And here's a poem on being careful what you wish for: "Court-appointed Counsel."

Cops also exercise bad MySpace judgment

Ken Lammers of CrimLaw has a point:

for every minute I look for police trolling MySpace for the baddies' self-incriminating posts, I should spend two minutes looking for police who write their own posts on MySpace and get themselves in trouble.

July 07, 2006

Animals in court, humans on trial

From the Washington Post:

Justice Gone Wild - In Animal Court, It's the Humans Who Misbehave

Forget Judge Judy. Forget "The People's Court..." The wackiest, most dramatic show in town happens the first Monday of the month, in a small white room in Millersville next door to the county pound....

Bonus link goes to Dogs in the News:

"Here are the results of today's national sheepdog trials...
All the sheepdogs have been found 'not guilty.' "

July 06, 2006

AS: indigent defense, fa'a Samoa

Casey and a few other former co-workers know that for years I've harbored a daydream about being a public defender in the south seas... American Samoa, for instance.

This looks pretty sweet:

A friendly game of bocce ball outside the Tafuna Correctional Facility. Part of a going away party for a Public Defender many of whose clients are currently incarcerated in said Correctional Facility and were watching the Public Defender barbeque sausages while these four played bocce...

But there are rumblings of trouble in paradise (scroll down a bit):

A resignation letter from an attorney in the Public Defender’s Office cites... that the Public Defender Tautai Aviata Faalevao is maintaining a private practice. Assistant Public Defender Lawrence Wilson says in his letter that the Office of the Public Defender exists to protect the peoples rights and this means elevating the public’s concern over the Public Defender's own personal interests. He told Tautai... "instead of vigorously advocating the people’s rights, you continue to use your time, and the court’s, representing private clients... (S)erving two masters, drawing a government salary as an advocate for the indigent all the while maintaining a private law practice on the side, works a great disservice to the people of American Samoa..."

Rats! Why do there always have to be snakes in Eden?

On p.d.'s., everybody's an expert

"Hi! I'm K.A. Ray, professional writer. You may remember me from articles such as "Memory Foam Contour Pillow," "Spraying, Chewing, and Clawing; Correcting Bad Behavior in Cats" and "How to Get Rid of Silverfish."

"Now I'm here to give you the benefit of my law-talking wisdom in "Should I Hire the Public Defender? Don't Gamble on Your Freedom""

The "takeaways" :

Unless you want to gamble on your freedom, find the means necessary to directly hire an attorney.

A public defender might not be free. If found guilty, you'll have to pay in more ways than one.

It's in your best interest to dismiss the public defender and hire an attorney willing to fight.

"But wait, there's more".

Type a letter to the court requesting the dismissal of the public defender. You don’t have to go into details as to why you want the public defender dismissed...

There are many attorneys who are willing to take credit cards...

(And be assured, K.A. delivers the kiss-off phrase "public pretender" not once but twice. Colleagues of mine, there's a place to leave your comments, and to click on a scale from 1 up to 5 to rate the post. I gave it a 1 - you can too!)

TX: crim def lawyer / blogger among 5 pedestrians injured by DUI driver

From the Austin American-Statesman:

Young defense lawyer among those struck by suspected drunken driver

Jeff Wilson once wrote in his blog that his "strong realization that life is finite"... drives him to pack into life a lot of the things he loves... Late Wednesday, the 32-year-old music lover and up-and-coming Austin criminal defense lawyer was in critical condition in a coma... (H)e was among a crowd hit by a suspected drunken driver two days earlier outside the Backyard, a concert venue... Wilson was leaving a Black Crowes concert ... with his wife and some friends when a Mitsubishi Eclipse crashed into the crowd...

Link via Austinist: Austin Lawyer in Coma Following Accident at Black Crowes Concert

The 32 year-old lawyer was a rising star in the criminal defense field and Austin... Wilson is a huge lover of music and the outdoors and had recently been sharing his thoughts on life and the world through his blog.

The driver blew over a .14 BAC. Get well soon, and may justice be done.

Update: blogger Steanso has seen Jeff Wilson in the hospital. Keep a good thought.

July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Profiles in courage for the 4th of July:

From The Age (Melbourne) -

The military lawyer who won't be tamed

David Hicks’ US military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, or Dan as he prefers, has carved out an extraordinary profile as a low-level US marine who speaks out in regular criticism of the military commissions set up by President George Bush, the Commander-in-Chief...

Becoming such a public defender of the rights of David Hicks is a precarious career move for Mori. His superior, air force Colonel Will Gunn, who was chosen as lead defence counsel in the trials of the detainees, thought at the time someone was out to torpedo his own career. “It occurred to me that there would be people who would not be able to understand how I could represent individuals who are characterised as enemies of the United States,” Gunn said in 2004...

The key to understanding Mori is his training as a marine; by appointing him to defend Hicks, the US military unleashed against itself the US Marine culture. Mori, who signs his emails “sf” — semper fi delis (always faithful) is the Marine Corps motto — sees it as a noble thing to stand up for someone who may have no one else on their side.

“Marines love underdogs, he says. “I’m a marine.”

From the P-I (Seattle) -

Gitmo win likely cost Navy lawyer his career - 'Fearless' defense of detainee a stinging loss for Bush

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift -- the Navy lawyer who beat the president of the United States in a pivotal Supreme Court battle over trying alleged terrorists -- figures he'll probably have to find a new job.

Of course, it's always risky to compare your boss to King George III.

Swift first represented Hamdan two years ago in U.S. District Court in Seattle... "I may be one of the most influential lawyers in America," the Seattle University Law School graduate said, "but I won't be in the military much longer. That irony did strike me..."

Swift clearly believes that his vigorous defense of Hamdan was, in a very real way, a vigorous defense of military justice and the Constitution.

"If they are calling the commissions (tribunals) military justice, it's got to live up to what military justice is. It means something. It's about the law, not what the leaders want. The greatest thing about the JAG Corps is ... I had the opportunity to work every day in a system I believe in..."

JAG defense counsel: the sound of freedom.

July 03, 2006

WA: "he was just a kid, after all"

This is a few weeks old from the P-I, but it's still good:

Growing up behind bars - Jailed for murder at 13, Jimerson talks of lives denied

At 13, Willard Jimerson Jr. was sent to prison for 23 years, convicted as an adult of murder. Now 25, he tells his story...

Recent research on the developing brains of young people has led some legal experts to question the tough stand taken toward children such as Jimerson...

"I was incarcerated six weeks after my 13th birthday," he said in a telephone interview from the McNeil Island Correctional Facility. "And that person, honestly, does not exist any more..."

July 02, 2006

Off-topic: otter blogging

From the Seattle Aquarium:

It is exhausting to be this cute.

Bonus link
goes to Respectful of Otters.

Another helping of p.d. spam

Words of encouragement from one of the zombie blogs:

While it is easy to become dispirited while you're looking up public defenders webpages, understand that you will run across the kind of info you are trying to find before long... Currently, there are a greater number public defenders web pages than ever before.

Which is true.