Monday, January 28, 2013

Harris County plea mill alive and well: Huge caseloads reported for favored lawyers

Several must-read blog posts emerged recently from Houston-area criminal defense lawyers regarding court-appointed attorneys handling massive caseloads, sometimes three and four times the maximum number recommended by American Bar Association guidelines. Attorney Robb Fickman posted the complete list of appointments from FY 2011, arguing that:
The Harris County Criminal Appointment system is controlled by the judges. It is their creation and it is a wretched creation.  Favored lawyers who are known to move cases are given an obscene number of court appointments.  Lawyers who work hard on cases, who do their job are given a much smaller number of cases.  The result is a small group of lawyers, handling an exceedingly large number of cases.  Likewise, the result is a large group of lawyers,  who are competent, are not given enough cases.
Fickman does not take state appointments, he noted in the comments at Murray Newman's blog, so this isn't just sour grapes from someone who wished they got more cases. The following posts do a fine job of fleshing out the issues so rather than opine further, Grits suggests you immediately go read what lawyers on the front lines had to say:


Anonymous said...

Patricia Hart tried her best to expose the corruption there in her two-part series. But no one care then, and no one will care now.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems in Harris County is the unspoken contest of keeping their dockets down. Easiest way of doing that is extorting pleas out of defendants via the attorneys working for a judge. If they used attorneys they couldn't control then they couldn't get rid of cases. A former judge kept his docket down through trickery tolerated by the DA's office. Pleas reduced to 1244A, terminating probation cases at the end of the year regardless if they finished their conditions. They are still trying to reach the unattainable, fictitious docket amount he had.

Anonymous said...

Grits wrote: "Favored lawyers who are known to move cases are given an obscene number of court appointments. Lawyers who work hard on cases, who do their job are given a much smaller number of cases. The result is a small group of lawyers, handling an exceedingly large number of cases. Likewise, the result is a large group of lawyers, who are competent, are not given enough cases."

There is an analogy with private criminal-defense lawyers. The ones who coerce their clients to accept a plea agreement, even wrongful or onerous plea agreements cut corners and do less work to increase their profit, and the judges and prosecutors favor them. In contrast, the criminal-defense lawyers whose motto is "Not Guilty" don't cut corners and do more work for less profit, and the judges and prosecutors don't favor them.

Also, Harris County courts supposedly "abate" all criminal and civil cases that do not have a hearing set. As a result, their monthly and annual Judicial Performance Measures by the OCA look better than other counties by several orders of magnitude.

In Dallas County, the district courts do not report monthly data at the individual court level, but only at the total county level, so there is no way to use the OCA reports to determine the Reversal Rate for individual courts and judges. It is a result of one political party or the other currently in office seeking to prevent the reversal rates from being made public information.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, I'm happy to see that you picked this bullshit up and slung it a lil further than the lawyers did.

I learned about this old news via a Real Board Certified CDL (Mr. Mark Bennett) of Defending People. Where I brought up the plea bargain rate dilemma not mentioned in his attempt to garner support to get the judges to stop what I see as - court sanctioned (MIAC) Mass Ineffective Assistance of Council & the Benches’ (Ds’& Rs’) attempt to do away with jury trials.

Hell yes it's OLD NEWS but with a twist. It names the names of only a few of the degreed culprits that have been allowed to infiltrate the courts as appointees’ (aka: Bench Buddies). There’s no way in Hell that these folks are responsible for the entire Texas TapOut Rate. But they darn sure deserve everlasting credit for selling-out the clients'. Conspiracy in the courthouses', WTF?

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, With Texas celebrating a 90 + / - TapOut Rate, it would be easier to name the names of those that DO NOT Take TapOut cases in the first place. Right now, I can't think of one single attorney / lawyer in Texas that isn't in on the game. (OK, for those that Don't take them, the 'game' includes TappingOut via deceit). If you haven't and don't, then come forward and advertise it. As of today the war on Dabblerism and its eradication includes those in the Dog Pile Docket Klub.

*Since, it took a crooked Judge (worm dirt - Charles J. Hearn) to allow a 'Fake' CDL to infiltrate the system in order to represent me in a felony jury trial (til lunch recess) in order to needlessly TapOut, I'll be camping out in ‘this’ GFB Comment Section until you ban me. (Not to screw with you Grits, it's more like a show-down between the VOTS (victims of the system) & the
f-ckwads in the Harris County Criminal Court system, the goofy-ass Taxpayers & the Voters that know it's business as usual (Unwarranted plea changes at trial to Nolo Contendere just for being on probation at time of arrest, Mass {side-by-side} Plea-Offs & this dog piling of cases) but just don't currently give a rats' ass. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This demonstrates the need for a statewide public defenders office. Such an office should be funded at the same level as the DA's office. An even better system would be to do like the British and combine the public defender's office with the DA's office. Make them work some cases as a prosecutor and some as a defense attorney. Then they'd see it from both sides. Also, then both the prosecution and defense would have access to the same resources.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Today’s Challenge -
REAL CDLs' are hereby challenged to take the following Pledge.

On behalf of the client’s and the Industry as a whole -
*I will not participate in any 'Criminal' cases’ beyond the Consultation that presents a Plea Bargain scenario.

*I will quote & charge fees that include the intent to take the case all the way to verdict, including intent to file the proper pretrial discovery motions & will not file Ready for Trial notices until I have *thoroughly investigated the client’s side of the incident & received the Courts Orders (filled out in full).

*I will not advise clients’ to avoid and / or stop a jury trial in order to Plea Bargain just for being on probation at time of arrest on a new unrelated charge.

*Prior to any & all trials, I will visit with clients’ more than just the one 15 minute initial visit.

*I will refuse to Dabble in areas of law that I have no specialized training or experience in.

*I will only refer out to fellow qualified CDLs that refuse to Dabble.

*I will seek to become Board Certified in Criminal Defense.

*I will not allow infiltrators to take over the criminal defense niche.

*I will do my best to do my duty and when I no longer feel like it, I’ll get out of the business.

*I will take (Pro bono) at least one Wrongful Conviction claim case that is devoid of DNA, Death Row and being Open / Active before I retire.

*I will provide mentorship to the young CDLs of Texas as a way to insure that the profession isn't bastardized any further.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, over the weekend I asked several attorneys / lawyers if they'd consider taking a public Pledge that's geared towards restoring public faith in the profession as a whole and subsequentaly would reduce both the Plea bargain rate and the wrongful conviction rate. Ultimately, reducing the burden on Taxpayers' on the front, the middle & back ends.

Not one single person would step up to the plate while offering up excusses like: due to way the judges' have been allowd to configured their courts we'd go out of business.

*As one of New York's finest Attorney's (Sir Scott H. Greenfield, ESQ. of Simple Justice Blawg) puts it - "It's a race to the bottom". When cowards and infiltriators are in it only for a check, the bottom is the only way out.