March 31, 2006


With the transfer to Juvy coming, I've been sorting the loose paperwork on my desk: filing, shredding or recycling. I came on this post-it note in my own handwriting, undated, unmoored from any casefile, and with no identifying marks:

Please do NOT drink any cough syrup or anything else containing alcohol during the break.

I presume it was to a client, but it could have been written to myself.

WA: gunshot fired in our courthouse (?)

News from the Olympian:

Inmate attacks corrections officer in county courthouse; two injured

I got to the building after it had been evacuated, so I don't have much to say beyond, light a candle for the officer.

Update: Like I say, I wasn't there and I didn't hear it, but I talked to people who were inside the courthouse when it happened. I know the officer and I've seen the inmate in court. Here is coverage from Northwest Cable News and KOMO. The Olympian is updating its online article as more details are made public.

Update: Officer _______ was released from the hospital Friday night. She deserves a lot of commendation for battling this guy for 5, 10, 20 minutes and holding him at bay while the sally-port elevator was stuck between floors. Additional credit should go to the court personnel who were able to pry the elevator door open and extract her and Carl Vance, the offender, who, if he wasn't a 3rd strike guy before this, ought to be going away for the rest of his natural life now. I have my own opinions about short-staffing, handcuffs-only versus belly chains, and firearms in the courthouse, but I don't want to make policy hay out of this bad act tonight, just to voice relief that everyone came through it alive. The official inquiry is continuing, as they say.

Update 04/01/06:
Here is the most up-to-date information from the Olympian:

- Prisoner attacks officer in courthouse elevator - ‘She struggled until the very end. ... She did everything she was supposed to do'

Sam Meyer and Robert Jimerson of the Thurston County Office of Assigned Counsel are quoted.

- Inmate, a former police officer, has violent past

- Attack puts spotlight on security concerns with jail, courthouse

WA: a moving story

PD Stuff scoops me again, and in my own state even! This reminds me of the time my current office became nomadic:

From the Bellingham Herald -

Courthouse squeezes workers - Public defenders moving; others jockey for space

For workers, the Whatcom County Public Defender's Office is completely out of office space...

I love Bellingham - it's my dad's home town - and I was really impressed with Jon Ostlund and the Whatcom County Public Defenders when I interviewed with them years ago. Sadly I wasn't so impressive to them; could've had a tiny bit to do with spending the night before stuck in the snow near Snoqualmie Pass, never the best way to prep for a job interview.

March 29, 2006

Downside, upside

One of the great things about public defender blogs is that, if you're feeling like you're the only p.d. out there who's facing a particular ethical dilemna, you can click on a colleague's blog and find out you're not alone.

It's uncanny: just this month I've had to deal with the "would it be better for him if I testify that he knew or if I say he didn't know?" question.

(I've also heard, "I've been talking to some guys in here, and you always should reject the first plea bargain," which, when you draw a prosecutor who only makes one fixed take-it-or-leave-it offer, may be just about the exact opposite of good advice.)

Check out the comments to Blondie's post, too; an interesting back-and-forth going on there.

But after that, head over to Gideon's Guardians for a upbeat reminder of why we keep doing the job.

March 28, 2006

SoaP = S.O.P.

Trial practice pointer:

When you are in front of a jury in a trial that shouldn't have gone to trial, and the prosecution (and the facts) (and the law) are pummeling you mercilessly, your subconscious may try to deliver you some relief by momentarily filling your mind with "Snakes on a Plane."

(accursed intrusive Internet meme!)
(yes, the verdict was guilty.)

March 27, 2006

WA: “a cantankerous elderly gentleman”

From the Port Townsend Leader:

86-year-old acquitted in traffic tiff
(shown here with his p.d.)

To think that law enforcement was on the verge of Tasering him (the 86-year-old, not the public defender)...

March 26, 2006

ID: perjury convictions from McMillan murder case

From Moscow, by way of the Seattle P-I:

Man convicted of perjury in UI football player's death

The brother of two Seattle men convicted in the shooting death of University of Idaho football player Eric McMillan has been found guilty on two counts of perjury.

Former U
(of) I student Aaron Wells, 23, was on trial for lying under oath during a grand-jury investigation into the Sept. 19, 2004, death of McMillan. Prosecutors said Wells lied about the whereabouts of his brothers on the day of the shooting and his cell phone usage...

March 25, 2006

Badger, badger, badger

Today's legal lesson comes from Northwest Trek in Pierce County, WA:

Many of our popular cultural sayings relate to animals. For example, in a courtroom, it is not allowed to 'badger the witness.' This is probably based on the tenacious behavior of badgers and other members of the weasel family.

Maybe so, but not based on this sacked-out badger:

March 24, 2006

Friday cat 'n' spaniel blogging

Trev and Bubb in the peaceable kingdom:

Bonus link goes to the Prison Pet Partnership Program of Gig Harbor, WA, which

rescues and trains homeless dogs to provide service dogs for persons with disabilities and operates a boarding and grooming facility to provide vocational education for women inmates...

A most decent cause.

(There are also some good Washington prison pet pictures here, but you might want to turn down your speakers first before you click over there.)

(No, Bubba, I haven't forgotten the prison kitties.)

March 23, 2006

WA: Grant County updates

Here's the latest court-appointed counsel news from the Channeled Scablands:

Dano to represent victim's parents in upcoming murder trial - Appointment unprecedented in county, maybe state:

The mother and father of a special-education student at Ephrata Middle School who was brutally killed more than three years ago will be provided with a publicly-funded defense attorney during what is expected to be a six-week murder trial beginning April 3. Moses Lake-based attorney Garth Dano was appointed to represent Chuck and Lisa Sorger, whose 13-year-old son Craig Sorger was killed in February 2003...

Court upholds public defender payments - Opinion rules drafted attorneys should be paid judges' rates:

Grant County must pay judges' rates to eight central Washington attorneys who were drafted as public defenders during a two and a half month period in 2004...

The case is State of Washington v. Buckley James Perala, (Court of Appeals Div. III, 03/16/2006) (pdf file):

In these consolidated cases, many of the appointed attorneys were asked to defend defendants in a number of cases. One attorney was assigned at least 14 cases. In such circumstances, asking an attorney to defend multiple criminal cases without compensation would be an onerous burden that could unduly impoverish the appointed attorneys and would likely lead to a great reduction in the number of attorneys willing to accept such appointments. The trial court did not err when it determined that appointed counsel did not have an obligation to take on all of Grant County's public defense work pro bono.

(Sure, maybe Greg at Public Defender Stuff has scooped me again, but can he say he's ever spent the night in Ephrata?)


This morning's guilty verdict came fairly rapidly after the jury was informed that our co-defendant had changed his plea.

March 22, 2006

More on lawyers and depression

Ray Ward of "Minor Wisdom" does us all a service by keeping us aware of depression amongst the profession, and of ways we can ease it.

Trying times

Started one jury trial on Monday, got a guilty verdict Tuesday, started a second trial today - Wednesday - which is going so swimmingly that our co-defendant is changing his plea to guilty tomorrow, Thursday.

March 21, 2006

MO: M*A*S*H p.d.

I see that other people use this analogy to describe what we do; from the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Meatball surgery

Last fall, a young lawyer earning $33,700 a year as an assistant public defender in a medium-sized Missouri county took a second job to help pay off his law school loans. The job he took was delivering pizza.

One night, he tucked a hot pizza under his arm, drove to a customer's home and rang the bell. When the door opened, there stood one of the defendants he'd been assigned to represent in court.

"The guy's mother called us and was very upset," said Cathy R. Kelly, director of training and communications for the Missouri Public Defender's Training Division. "She said she wanted her son to have a real lawyer, not a pizza guy..."

See also Rights on the verge of collapse, with "grave doubts that Missouri is meeting the constitutional standard of providing effective counsel to the poor."

March 20, 2006

ID: city prosecutor's ill-gotten guns

Big capricious thanks to Serephin of 43rd State Blues - Democracy for Idaho for remembering what I like: stories about home, and stories about lawyers behaving badly. They're two great things that go great together! From KIFI:

Charges Filed Against Former Idaho Falls Prosecutor

The Idaho Attorney General is filing formal criminal charges against former Idaho Falls City Prosecutor Kimball Mason.

The complaint charges Mason with two counts of grand theft and one count of falsifying a public record...

I thought the article's banner ads for "Boston Legal" and "In Justice" were an especially nice touch.

The news release from the AG's office is here.

March 19, 2006

ID: "whole lotta murder"

Done that... just never this much. Sounds like I picked a fine time to leave Twin Falls:

(From the Times-News)

Honing in on homicide - Multiple murders in 2005 creates busy trial schedule for county prosecutor

In 2005, Twin Falls County saw more homicides than it had in a decade. Starting in June, those cases are scheduled for trial, with four men standing trial in the deaths of five victims...

Inside the prosecutor's office on the third floor of the Twin Falls County Courthouse, a small magnetic board hangs behind the receptionist's desk. Small black letters have been arranged to say: SHORES BRINK PINA NOT A NICE NEW YEAR WHOLE LOTTA TF MURDER...

Of course not only for the prosecutors: the public defenders office has three out of the four defendants. You can imagine how that article would read.

March 18, 2006

Skelly's secret identity revealed!

In cyberspace, no one can tell you're a cat.

NM: recognizing the signs

Been there...

Public defender considering leaving desk for more time at defense table

Canon Stevens' passion is the courtroom.

Her frustration, she said, is the rampant bureaucracy that goes on before she even walks through the doors of justice -- wrangling that keeps her juggling far more paperwork than any caseload schedule.

It's why Stevens is considering stepping aside from her administrative duties as the 12th Judicial District public defender. She wants to spend more time defending.

In an office with over 600 clients per lawyer, this could be trading one set of overwhelming frustrations for another. I feel for this colleague and her personal search...

"Three years ago, Stevens left the district attorney's office to return to public defense, hoping the change would give her more time for a life."

... but in a trajectory from line p.d. through capital defense, through switching sides and prosecuting murderers, to switching back and managing a p.d. office, with a pause to briefly consider working in Baghdad, a change in job title alone won't fill the space. Trust me on this one.

March 17, 2006

Homage to Feddie

Let me say, I respect the heck out of Southern Appeal's Steve Dillard for what he has accomplished in this habeas case (pdf file), and as pro bono counsel no less.

Noble work and a fine win, my RC brother. Sorry about that insult I threw your way back on Election Day.

WA: stuck with each other

From the TNT:

Mall shooter must keep his lawyer:

The 20-year-old man who shot seven people at the Tacoma Mall in November will have to deal with the lawyer he has, like it or not.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Linda Lee denied Dominick Sergio Maldonado’s motion for a new attorney Friday afternoon.

“I think we’ve established, Mr. Maldonado, you don’t have legal training to make your own shots,” Lee told Maldonado. “You do not know the law. The defendant’s motion for a new attorney is denied.”

Maybe "make your own shots" wasn't the best turn of phrase for this case.

March 16, 2006

Take two aspirin...

I did the work of two lawyers today, so I'll direct you to some bloggers whose brains aren't mush:

Public Defender Stuff has taken up the mantle of being your one-stop source for information about troubled p.d. Arthur English, so I'll just let the poor guy be, and send you over there.

While I'm directing traffic (away from my own blog!), I could encourage you to check out Judging Crimes with the entertaining story of Duckman, public defender pugilist and criminal contemnor.

Or, if you wanted to eavesdrop on some pretty good reflections on what it's like to be a public defender of juveniles (my next stop, in two weeks), you could read Monica's post at Buzzwords, together with thoughful comments from Blondie and WotL.

Finally, with the death of Milošević, if you're curious at all about the continuing legal fall-out from the wars in former Yugoslavia, turn to the recent posts in East Ethnia, by Professor Eric Gordy, who despite his disclaimer ("although I do own a briefcase, I am not a lawyer. Merely a talented amateur, like Emma Peel.") is a very knowledgeable guide.

Now I'm off for a date with some over-the-counter pain meds.

March 15, 2006

UT: D.I. = dirty indigents?

Seeing as how Draper is home to "The Point" - the Utah State Prison - and all, it's a little rich that the town is putting on airs about a new Deseret Industries store attracting the wrong element:

Every place has potential; bad neighborhoods only exist because some elitist moron(s) decided to draw an arbitrary line in the sand. Wherever they are, standing proud and turgid in new jeans purchased with old money, that’s the right side of the tracks—it must be kept free of dirty indigents in their D.I. dungarees. Otherwise, they might find themselves a few inches into the wrong side of the tracks, juxtaposed with hardworking white trash whose presence and perseverance will bring out their ruddy complacency and snobbery.

And yet, that’s exactly what Draper has brought upon itself.

(So far Deseret Industries' parent company, the LDS Church, has not commented on the controversy because they simply must be stunned to silence.)

You know, some of my finest go-to-court neckties come from D.I...

March 12, 2006

WA: 5th, 6th Amendments overwhelm harried prosecutor

Parity sounds nice and all, but it would seem that to one player in the Grant County criminal justice system, the reality of a new constitutionally sufficient public defender office is just unfair:

Prosecutor says office outgunned

Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell on Tuesday asked the county's board of commissioners to fund eight new positions in his office...

"I understand that there are essentially three public defenders, with some retained counsel (in juvenile court)," he said. "With the numbers of public defenders... we are simply outgunned..."

"My office is holding the line against the increased strengthening of the public defender system," he said.

NC: top billing

From the Charlotte Observer:

Lawyer's strong work ethic not questioned, but her billings are - Earnings raised concerns; over 20% of her claimed jail visits not in records

In August 1996, Charlotte defense lawyer Chiege Okwara went into labor while delivering closing arguments in a juvenile court trial. That didn't stop her. She asked the judge if she could complete her remarks while sitting down. Hours later, she gave birth to her fourth child. Okwara's supporters say that illustrates her commitment to defending the poor. But some judges and state officials have questioned her billing...

In recent years, Okwara has been among the highest-earning indigent defense lawyers in Mecklenburg. She topped the list in 2004, collecting more than $250,000 in state and federal money. Some of Okwara's bills raise questions.

The Observer reviewed about 260 of the jail visits she claimed, and found more than 20 percent didn't appear in jail records. She contends the jail records are unreliable and that her records are accurate... Also, Okwara billed four times -- an hour each -- for the time it took her to travel to Mecklenburg's Jail Central to visit four clients on Oct. 7, 2003. Sheriff's records indicate Okwara's visits to those inmates occurred at roughly the same time that afternoon. The Observer found that on nine other days, Okwara appeared to visit two or more clients at the jail and then bill multiple times for travel...

In a related story:

Lawyers' billings get closer scrutiny in Mecklenburg - More detail required to account for work; public defender's staff could be expanded


Cascade County names temporary chief public defender

As the days of a county-run public defender system draw to a close, having to fill two new vacancies in the public defender's office appeared a daunting task for the Cascade County commissioners.

The state takes control of Montana's public defender system on July 1, and there is no guarantee people hired now by the county will keep their jobs. Randi Hood, the state's new chief public defender, said the county employees will transfer to the state after July 1, but will be subject to a six-month probationary period.

Between now and July, Carl Jensen, an assistant in the county public defender's office since 1997, has agreed to run the Cascade County office....

March 10, 2006

Attorney-client relationships

* The other day I met with a client who was extremely frustrated and pissed off: at the world, at the system, at me, at the railroad job of the former offer of two months transmuting into nine months, just for getting another drug charge and a bail jumping charge (strenuously denied in the teeth of the court minutes).

In our previous discussions, my client had been on the outs and in civilian clothes. This time in jail orange, I saw something I hadn't noticed before. Inked on the right side of my client's neck were the words


* Today in attorney visiting I finally got to see an actual issue of the "Presumed Innocent" publication that's been going around the jails. My client brought it to our meeting. Rather than a newspaper, it's a glossy magazine with lawyer ads (out-of county ones) and pages labeled "Bails and Bonds," "Legal Research," "So You Want to Generate Conflict with Your Court-Appointed Lawyer?" and so on (okay, so I didn't see that last page, I inferred it). I was dying to leaf through my client's magazine, but I had to stay on task and review discovery. Instead of getting my own copy, I got a long list of cases and statutes to copy off for my client. I left the lock-up with a new confidence-building task of sorts, and a new appreciation of "Presumed Innocent" magazine's target audience.

March 09, 2006

Rusty's dad explains it all for you

Prof: "So does the fact that private lawyers have such higher acquittal rates than public defenders mean that private lawyers are more skilled?"

Me: "Well, not necessarily..."

March 08, 2006

CA: get what you pay for

Some county officials are starting to wonder whether they're getting value for money from their contract public defender system, yet they stick with the same old bidder:

Board approves defender contract despite problems

People are staying in jail longer than necessary at times because of inefficiencies in public defender services in Amador County, the Amador County Board of Supervisors heard last week. At times, attorneys for indigent inmates don't show up in court when they're needed.

But John A. Barker & Associates of Madera, the firm that handles the county's public defender services, wants a raise and a three-year contract.

"I've been on the board for about 11 years," said Chairman Richard Vinson at last week's board of supervisors meeting. "I think we have renewed this contract every year. I think I have heard the same problems with these folks every year, and I'm not at all convinced these are going to be corrected."

County Administrative Officer Pat Blacklock said the only way the county could have complete control over the situation would be if it started its own public defenders' department...

And with that, the supes approved the contract once again.

AK: Waterman kudos

Let me join the other fans of Alaskablawg in saying,

"Nicely done, Mr. Wells."

March 07, 2006

CA: stories from jury duty

A San Diego juror blogs "the petty criminal trial" of "a stout unhappy man by the first name of Donald":

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

WA: hiring hall

The Yakima County Office of Assigned Counsel is hiring one Senior Attorney and two Attorneys. Initial assignment and duties for two of the positions will be in the Superior Court working adult felony cases... Initial assignment and duties for one position will be in the Juvenile Court. The final filing date for this position is Friday, March 17, 2006. Apply to Yakima County Human Resources, 128 N. 2nd Street, Room B27, Courthouse, Yakima, WA 98901, (509) 574-2220. For more information, go to

I lived in Yakima for three years and have a soft spot for the place still: orchards all around, four distinct seasons, and the best produce stands and Mexican food in the Northwest.

March 06, 2006

Book minute

This month's Washington State Bar magazine has a review of Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse, by Steve Bogira, entitled, "March of the Plea Bargains". The book is now out in paperback.

David Feige's review is here.

There are radio interviews with Steve Bogira here and here.

March 05, 2006

CA: exercising the (disen)franchise(d)

Mr. Brightside republishes a guest editorial by a Bakersfield public defender, calling for greater participation in politics by gang members, a la Gerry Adams and the IRA.

However, I suspect that the accompanying campaign flier may be Mr. Brightsides' own contribution.

March 04, 2006

Much music

Thanks to the people who wrote in about public defenders in music, from Springsteen to Ice Cube to Agnostic Front. In my ramblings I've learned about the band Public Defender of "I Hate Cops" renown, the famous-in-Calgary Bif Naked single, "Singin":

Perhaps I’ll study law,
Be a public defender.
But I’ll need a lot of maalox.
I couldn’t take the pressure.

a cutting remark from Connie Kaldor:

You justify all like a public defender
Your heart's like a butter knife delicate tender

Blue Mountain's friendly warning:

You better watch out boy, you're gonna get censored,
or knocked up side your head by a public defender.

a song parody, "I Am the Public Defender":

I am the public defender.
A good verdict I can render.
I'm all that you can hire
pull your ass out of the fire.

and most unexpectedly, the fabled p.d. musical, "Real Lawyer":

Real Lawyer was a very unusual undertaking. The music in this soundtrack was created by a public defender and investigator in the State of Connecticut. This is an original soundtrack from the production performed for all the public defenders in the State and the cast and voices are of individual public defenders, social workers, investigators, and secretaries all working within the division. These are not professional singers, but nonetheless individuals dedicated to the noble, though often difficult task of defending the indigent.

Who knew you could hear it on streaming audio? And buy the CD?

March 03, 2006

ID: a shame about Ray, again

My former criminal defense colleague Ray Peña has received an interim suspension from the practice of law from the Idaho Supreme Court.

He was indicted last year on two counts of procurement of prostitution; the news article doesn't mention the status of the pending criminal case. Peña will remain suspended until further order of the Supreme Court. Suerte, Ray.

CA: "the wicked accuse; the godly defend"

A very fine profile of one of our public defender sisters, from Tidings Online -

Christine Rodriguez, defending the public

Christian compassion isn't something you learn in law school or get by reading legal journals, according to Christine Rodriguez, an attorney who works in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office. But that's what she tries to practice every day, along with delivering good legal advice, as she juggles a daunting caseload...

"At night I pray for not only the strength to be able to do my job well, but in order to comfort my clients," says the 29-year-old Culver City woman. "Not just tell them legally what they need to know, but to offer them some sort of comfort to console them for whatever they might be going through pending the outcome of their case...

Rodriguez's job would likely make an agnostic pray...

CO: itching like a man on a fuzzy tree

An interesting description of how methamphetamine makes your body feel, from the Montrose Daily Press:
With proper treatment, motivation, meth addicts can kick habit -

“Pretend you have hundreds of mosquito bites and just drank five extra-large lattes.”

March 02, 2006

Historic exoneration

Like a number of bloggers, I've been asked to link to the story of Clyde Kennard, an African American man who attempted to integrate the University of Southern Mississippi in the late 1950s, and after being denied three times, was framed and sentenced to prison. The site seeks a posthumous pardon for Kennard.

In Washington State this week, the legislature recognized a historical injustice:

126 years too late for Louie Sam, but appreciated nonetheless...

Drum beats and tribal chanting echoed through the capitol rotunda on Wednesday, as members of a Canadian Indian tribe accepted an "expression of regret" from state lawmakers for the mob killing of a 14-year Canadian boy more than a century ago...

This follows the exoneration of Leschi, a Nisqually leader hanged in 1858, whose conviction was vacated in 2004.

In Montana, the Pardon Project is an effort of journalism and law students seeking posthumous pardons for 74 people convicted of sedition during World War I. (link via CrimProf Blog)

March 01, 2006

ID: law of unintended consequences

Because the best thing you can do for at-risk Idaho moms starting out is to saddle them with a felony:

‘Meth mom' bill clears Senate by 18-16 vote: Get-tough measure sparks controversy

The so-called “meth moms” bill that could lead to pregnant drug users serving jail time in Idaho squeaked through the Senate Tuesday by a mere two votes... The bill, which passed by an 18-16 vote, would mean pregnant mothers convicted of doing marijuana, LSD, methamphetamine or other drugs could face up to five years in jail and a $50,000 penalty. If the option is available to them, the guilty mothers could choose to attend drug court instead of going to jail...

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, the bill's sponsor, acknowledged treatment programs would be a preferable alternative to law enforcement intervention, but said... “Shouldn't it be a crime for a mother to induce those chemicals into her baby?”

But the controversial get-tough measure worries care providers and women's groups who fear it could lead to higher abortion rates and less pre-natal care... Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he'd like to see drug dealers publicly stoned, but voted against the bill out of a fear of unintended consequences. “It is my great fear that these mothers will not come forward because now they've got felony charges waiting around the bend for them,” he said.

...(O)pponents of the proposal blasted the “meth moms” bill on Tuesday as a reactionary solution to an ever-widening social problem. “The bill does nothing to address the problem of addiction,” said Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise. “Being addicted to meth is not a crime, it's a disease...”

So it's up against the wall, you guilty mothers...