June 18, 2009

WA: client in court makes a run for it - what would you do?

From the Spokesman-Review:

Municipal court brawl leads to arrest

A brawl that began when a man tried fleeing a courtroom this morning ended with the man, a deputy and three attorneys falling onto a bench of bystanders, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Micah W. Hasselstrom, 34, ran when Spokane Municipal Court Judge Tracy Staab ordered him jailed with increased bail after he said he didn’t plan on appearing in court again, a news release said.

Hasselstrom’s public defender, Tony Tompkins, grabbed his leg to hold him in place as Deputy John Pederson tried handcuffing him, and a struggle ensued... Public defenders Francis Adewale and Andy Hess joined the struggle, and the group fell onto the bench, knocking a 68-year-old woman to the floor...

There's a lively discussion taking place in the Washington criminal defense bar over the lawyers' actions in essentially effecting an arrest, roughly dividing into "respect the client - let him be free to make his own mistakes" and "protect the client - let him be free at least from a new felony escape charge." Myself, I think I'd go hands-off, but not having been in a moment like that, I'm hard-pressed to second-guess.


Anonymous said...

i've heard of things like this - but i'd never want to be caught in a position where i might have to make a decision..

i'd like to think i'd fall on the side of let the client make that mistake - at least he'd trust you in the future, otherwise, even though i can see it would be in his best interest, he's never going to trust you in the future..

tough call.

Jeff Gamso said...

I'm not sure it's so tough.

He was trying to flee. Bad decision, sure but then our clients make bad decisions all the time. That's how they get to be our clients.

What's important though is that he wasn't hurting anyone. Indeed, nobody got hurt until his lawyer AND TWO OTHER PDs decided to join the deputy and tackle him.

It's not about letting him make his own bad choices (though there's that, too), it's about being a lawyer, HIS lawyer, not a cop.

I'm an officer of the court, not a law enforcement officer. That's a crucial distinction. When his lawyer crossed that line, when two other PDs crossed it, they changed jobs and created a deeply serious conflict of interest.