Friday, October 19, 2007

Judges appoint cronies over more experienced lawyers in Houston juvie courts

Why do Harris County juvenile court judges refuse appointments to board-certified juvenile attorneys while giving lucrative assignments to their less qualified friends? That's the question Rick Casey asks in his Houston Chronicle column this morning, and it's a good 'un. Reports Casey:
Since somewhere around three-quarters of defendants in juvenile court get court-appointed attorneys, such cases are a major source of income for more than a few lawyers, especially those who are tight with the judges.

John Devlin, for example, is Judge John Phillips' campaign treasurer and former law partner. Devlin had been paid $167,475 for work in the three juvenile courts this year, as of Aug. 1. More than $90,000 came from Phillips' court.

Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland has done even better, earning $187,056 this year as of Aug. 1.

Neither of these lawyers is board-certified in juvenile law, a level of recognition earned by demonstrating experience in a specialized area and passing a rigorous exam.

Harris County has just 14 board-certified juvenile lawyers. One is Judge Pat Shelton, two are associate judges and two are prosecutors.

Only nine are defense attorneys, meaning that in one fell swoop the judges deprived Harris County juveniles of the services of one-third of the county's board-certified attorneys.

Why? All three of the attorneys said they have been given no reasons, though they have theories.

The three juvenile judges last spring published new procedures for being added to or removed from the list of eligible attorneys. It sets some basic qualifications: one year in practice, observing various types of hearings, demonstrating "professionalism and reliability when interacting with juvenile court judges and staff."

And they must be "approved by a secret ballot by a majority of the Harris County Juvenile Judges.
The three board-certified lawyers denied appointments, Casey reports, believe they're being retaliated against by the judges for diligently doing their job. One of the attorneys "said it was possible her offense was too aggressively representing her clients. The judges like to 'move' their dockets and prefer lawyers who arrange quick plea bargains."

In any event, aren't juvenile cases subject to Fair Defense Act? I thought that 2001 statute was supposed to stop this kind of foolishness. I don't understand how these judges get to avoid using a "wheel" or other neutral selection process for juvie lawyers. Giving disproportionate appointments to your own campaign treasurer or the county chairman of your own political party certainly strikes me as presenting an appearance of an ethics violation, and possibly an actual one.

Read the whole thing, and also Casey's column on Wednesday about the kind of lawyers these judges DO like to appoint.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Board certification is an advertising gimmick used by lawyers mainly for advertising.

I agree that standards should be applied and experience is important, but you can get board certified after only a few trials. I've got enough trial experience to be certified in three different categories (and think I could pass the tests just fine), and know lawyers with less than half of my trial experience who tout their certification like it means they've been touched by God himself.

Anonymous said...

Most, if not all court appointed attorneys are only there because they have to be. They are just a warm body sitting there. Whatever the judge wants to do is fine with them. Court appointed attorneys are useless. They are in the judges pocket. I have heard them get together and laugh about some of the cases they are suppose to be on. They could care less.

Anonymous said...

Defense in this day and age is about a plea bargain.

Guilt and innocense do not matter, it is all about protecting the justice system from appeals.

Anonymous said...

I thought the legal system was run by checks and balances. What is this secret ballot stuff? Once again, it is all about the $MONEY$.

Anonymous said...

Despite anonymous 10:32's assertions, board certification is not a gimmick. To qualify for the test you must have more than "a few trials". And the tests are not easy. The pass rate for some topics is as low as 27%. There are only 9 non-govt employee lawyers certified in juvenile law in Harris County and only 2 in Dallas County.

If a judge is kicking a board certified lawyer off the wheel, there better be a good reason!

See www.tbls.org to see who's certified in what and in which counties.

Anonymous said...

You've just hit the tip of the Harris County Criminal Justice iceberg!
Keep digging, you'll find more than this blog could expose.

Monty said...

"Board certification is an advertising gimmick used by lawyers mainly for advertising."

Gee, what else would you use an advertising gimmick for? What an excellent example of your writing skills, and likely proof of a sour grapes mentality.

The fact is, the requirements to even be permitted to sit for the exam are quite lengthy and detailed. If you are allowed to take that test, fewer than one third pass.

It's only the attorneys not qualified to take the test, or those afraid to take the test, that perpetuate the lie that the credential is meaningless.

Anonymous said...

It's only the attorneys not qualified to take the test, or those afraid to take the test, that perpetuate the lie that the credential is meaningless.

3rd in my class at Baylor, scored just a couple of points behind the high score on the bar. Ten years with a major firm in downtown Houston, left as a junior partner to start a small shop with a few friends that are still partners after eight more.

My clients are corporations that could afford any firm they wanted. I can assure you that I have no sour grapes.

Fewer than one third pass because the standards are not high to take it. Few trials, few references, and you can sit. That simple. Places like S. Texas and Weslyan (let's not even begin to discuss Thurgood Marshall), lower the bar for the profession.

Go to a white collar crime CLE someday. I'll be one of the ones teaching you board-certified chumps how to represent your clients.

Anonymous said...

Harris County has the most corrupt Judicial system in the State. They eat lunch with the Judges and DA's and decide the case outcome before the case is tried.

I wish the Feds would look into what really goes on there. Boy, would they be surprised, but half of them are in on this also.

What a horrible judicial system we have in Texas.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying. But my question before I place judgement would be. How good do those defense attorneys represent their clients.