January 30, 2009

WA: Grant County - style p.d. work will cost you more than your bar license

Big news from the Spokesman-Review:

$3 million verdict for wrongly accused man

A federal jury in Spokane has awarded more than $3 million to Felipe G. Vargas who spent more than seven months in the Grant County jail, falsely accused of child molestation. The judgment was awarded against the former Grant County public defender, Thomas F. Earl, who provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” to Vargas...

Verdict rebuffs flat-fee defender contracts

A $3 million jury verdict in Spokane is sending a message to Washington counties, ending their practice of flat-fee contracts for public defenders, legal experts said Friday... Three days after (Felipe Vargas') arrest in November 2003, the alleged victim recanted. Police and prosecutors knew that but took no steps to free Vargas from jail. His public defender apparently was too busy with 500 other cases and didn’t adequately represent Vargas.

Grant County, also named defendant in Vargas’ 2006 civil rights suit, settled last month by paying him $250,000, based on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Moses Lake attorneys Garth Dano and George Ahrend filed the civil rights suit... “The importance of this case is it said, ‘Stop lying to the judges and each other, and don’t put your financial interests ahead of your clients,’” Dano said Friday.

John Strait, a legal ethic professor at Seattle University, testified as an expert. Flat-fee contracts, he said, “are all illegal and unethical for any attorney to enter into... “If there really are 17 counties left, and I doubt it, the lawyers who signed those contracts are subject to immediate discipline,” Strait said. “If you can identify any for me, I will file those bar complaints...”

January 28, 2009

Me and that train

From the public defender at Preaching to the Choir:

I want off this train

By the time a case gets to me, the train wreck has already happened...

This part of the job is like a scene in Housekeeping, watching the train slide off the railroad bridge into the lake.

Bonus link goes to Patty Larkin singing "Me and That Train."

January 24, 2009

Rah-rah vs. nah-ah

How to best describe us criminal defense types?

"Turbo" from South Carolina says we're cause lawyers.

"Cynic" in Arizona says we're broken lawyers.

Here's one vote for acknowledging our own brokenness. I'm closer to Arizona, geographically and otherwise.

January 22, 2009

ID: city on the hill

The Idaho State Journal is running a series on the Women’s Correctional Center:

City on the Hill

Pocatello has a City on the Hill that is part of our community but is a mystery to most of us. It is the Idaho's women's prison that overlooks the city and is largely a world onto itself...

Women offenders do community work

Local women inmates learn woodworking

I've been there. I have a few old clients who are still there; one is mentioned in the articles.

NC: she was the kind of p.d. I wish I'd known

From the Winston-Salem Journal:

Amy Byrd fought for the indigent but lost her life to cancer

If you knew Amy Byrd, you are either a lawyer, you know one or you have been seated on the wrong end of the defendant's bench in the Forsyth County Hall of Justice. Whatever the case, you probably came away admiring her...

Byrd was smart, friendly and funny... She was also very sick. Barely 30 years old, already a cancer survivor and married for just over a year, Byrd got bad news a few days before Christmas...

Via The Road Less Traveled.

January 21, 2009

WA: going in-house in Grant County

Great news from the channeled scablands, from the Columbia Basin Herald:

Grant County creates public defender's department - Defense attorneys to be employees

Grant County is changing public defense into a county department. Grant County commissioners hired Rafael Gonzales to lead the Grant County Department of Public Defense...

Gonzales’ goal for the public defender’s system is to provide the best service for the client and get the best result possible. He said the county has pursued this goal. “I think that this office is the next step,” Gonzales said... “We are set to open the doors on March 1,” he said.

January 19, 2009


This post by Drucie, the former public defender in Temecula who blogs at Thanksgiving Feast, put me in mind of my own clients who've died.

WA: has the BBB heard of this?

Eastside colleagues (Bellevue and Spokane): Rich Eden of RC Eden Carpet Cleaning will do p.d.'s offices; however...

So this weekend I cleaned the Public Defenders office... Even pictures can't do this office justice...

So the thing I guess to do is take pictures of the p.d.'s private property and share them (password - protected) with your carpet cleaning colleagues. Apparently this does not violate the carpet cleaners' code of professional responsibility. I hope that the p.d. didn't leave any files lying around.

January 16, 2009

Friday cat blogging

Just because it's been a while since they've visited the blog.

All hail glorious people's blog of eastside Olympia!

I just met the heroic Stakhanovite behind Oly Ost: Rolandovich looks much different in real life.

January 14, 2009

WA: medieval ordeal in Ephrata

Professor Turley pays a visit to my favorite old-timey Washington county:

Grant County in Washington has settled an exceptionally disturbing case involving false allegations of child abuse, allegedly ineffective representation by a public defender (later disbarred), and the holding of an innocent man for seven months after allegations were disproved. The $250,000 with Felipe Vargas seems quite modest given the abuse that he encountered in Grant County, which seems to maintain a criminal justice system on a model from the Thirteenth Century...

Profe hasn't kept up with all the changes; Grant County's in at least the Nineteenth Century by now.

CA: I'd hang it on my wall

From SFGate.com:

We'd prefer a calendar from the fire department

A lot of, um, unusual press releases and publications cross our desks every day, but this is a first: a 2009 calendar featuring lawyers and clients with the public defender's office.

I want one, but it's not available on the p.d. website.

LA: "fortunately there were plenty of public defenders around"

A report from Kevin and Stacy on the state of justice and hospitality in Louisiana:

(T)hings went pretty good (those little sandwiches they had were GREAT!) until Kevin asked the Chief Justice if her daughter still had that tattoo on her thigh...

Skelly Wright and the endowed chair

Happy Skelly Wright's Birthday. Judge Wright would have been 98 today. The night school grad probably would be pleased to find a professorship named after himself in the most elite law school in the land.

January 13, 2009

WA: "I don’t see a lot of accountability for case mismanagement"

They pull stuff like this all the time, but how often do they get spanked for it? From the Spokesman-Review:

‘Careless handling’ draws ire of judge - Prosecutor’s office fined for late change to charges

The Spokane County prosecutor’s office was sanctioned Monday and fined $8,000 by a judge angry over mishandling of a critical detail surrounding a home-invasion case that could send several men to prison for the rest of their lives.

At issue was a last-minute change Monday by Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz, who altered the date – from April 15 to April 17 – that the robbery and attempted first-degree murder occurred on, effectively gutting defense preparations for the trial...

(C)hanging something as critical as the date of the crime, on the morning the trial was set to begin, was too much, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen said. Further, prosecutors had known for months that they wanted to change the date of the crime but waited until the day of the trial to do it...

January 12, 2009

WA: we live in a political world

The lege is back in town. From the Spokesman-Review's Eye on Olympia:

(B)y tradition, Washington’s top lawmakers choose theme songs for the upcoming session... Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown read from a Bob Dylan song.

“Broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows,” she read. “Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.

“Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking, everything is broken.”

1 out of 311,549

Today I considered myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth...

Dear Skelly,

Congratulations! You have been nominated as a Best Lawyer in South Sound by LegalForce Media Publications. Click here (http://www.legalforce.com/ and some other letters and numbers) to complete your nomination process...

...then I saw that I wasn't so unique.

January 09, 2009

FL: orderly transition

Odd news out of Sarasota: newly-elected public defender takes office, no employees summarily axed, no police throw a party for the p.d. or search the p.d. premises. From WWSB:

Larry Eger sworn in as Public Defender

For the first time in more than three decades, someone other than Elliot Metcalfe holds the position of 12th Judicial Circuit Public Defender. Republican Larry Eger took his oath of office Friday in Manatee County...

He's taking over for Elliot Metcalf, who's held the position for 32 years. "We were all kind of lulled into this belief that he would be a permanent fixture, so I can't say it was ever my ambition that someday I am going to replace this man," says Eger...

There's just one thing...

January 08, 2009

Don't need to convince me

Latest response to the "How can you defend those people?" perennial, from Austin Defender:

How Do You Do It?

... I don’t know whether my client is guilty. I know what he says, what the police say, and what the evidence shows. I may have an opinion, or a guess, or even a pretty good idea. But I don’t know. Unlike in the movies, I didn’t get to see what happened...

January 07, 2009

FL: cops and p.d. sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g

Lest we forget Matt Shirk, another Floridian just elected p.d., John Wesley Hall Jr. at Law of Criminal Defense reminds us:

Jax Public Defender has "induction party" thrown by FOP

When the elected Public Defender getting sworn in has a party thrown for him by the Fraternal Order of Police, something is seriously wrong with the Public Defender's Office...

January 06, 2009

FL: "gimme that meat ax!"

Damage assessment from the Pensacola News Journal:

Public defender cleans house

Layoffs began this morning at the Public Defender’s Office in Pensacola. Thirteen employees, including two attorneys, were laid off by noon...

Assistant Public Defender John Nugent was set to pick a jury... on Monday morning, but the trial was delayed because he was unsure whether he’d have a job today. His instinct was right. “It’s a good thing I asked for a continuance or my poor boy would be sitting up there right now with a jury and no attorney,” Nugent said.

“All you were doing was trying to protect your clients,”
(fired p.d. investigator Clint) Merritt said. “And I got the ax,” Nugent said...

Update from the News Journal:

Public defender hires 12, fires 14 employees

Public Defender James Owens fired at least 14 of his 125 employees and hired 12 attorneys on Tuesday, the day he was sworn into office...

January 04, 2009

MO: it is what it is

Early entry for headline of the year, from Missourinet:

System for people who can't afford to hire lawyers can't afford to hire lawyers

FL: Shirk disease spreads to Lower Alabama

More tomfoolery from Florida, land of elected chief public defenders, from the P'cola News Journal:

Owens shaking up office - Incoming public defender sniffing out staff threats

Public Defender-elect James Owens says "credible threats" have been made to his safety, and he will have police dogs search the public defender's Pensacola office when he takes office Tuesday. Owens, who will replace 36-year Public Defender Jack Behr, said Saturday the threats come from employees in anticipation of upcoming layoffs in his office.

He refused to be specific about which employees made the threats, the number of threats or the nature of the threats. But he said he expects law officers to search for weapons and dogs to search for gunpowder...

Owens himself will lead the search for the duplicate key to the p.d. office icebox from which a quart of frozen strawberries was stolen.

At 4:59 p.m. Friday, the more than 100 employees in the Pensacola office received an e-mail with the subject line "IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM MR. OWENS..." The e-mail... instructed the Pensacola employees to remove their personal belongings by 5 p.m. Monday. It further said security key cards that allow employees entry to the office will be deactivated as of 5 p.m. Monday. The employees were instructed not to report to work earlier than 8 a.m. and were told that they will have to enter the courthouse through metal detectors like the general public...

Via Progressive Pensacola, who seems to underplay how bizarre and unprofessional this shake-up is.

Update 01/07/09, from the PNJ: Bizarre beginning

January 02, 2009

OH: ensuring effective assistance trumps hurrying the docket

Good news from John Wesley Hall, Jr.'s Law of Criminal Defense:

OH11: Brian Jones contempt case reversed

Where the public defender was appointed the day before trial and requested a continuance to prepare, it was an abuse of discretion to deny a continuance and hold defense counsel in contempt for not proceeding to trial where he would have been ineffective per se...

Previous items about the wrath of Plough here.

Update from the Record-Courier: Plough ruling overturned by appeals court. Second time Portage judge overruled in two weeks

January 01, 2009

WA: now or later, pay the piper

Local criminal defense lawyer Alex lays out the cost of cost-cutting:

Law and Order in Thurston County

In short: cutting public defense could lead to more expensive litigation for the county...