Monday, April 27, 2009

Exposing judicial misconduct on right-to-counsel

Following up on sentiments expressed in this thought provoking post, Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association chief Mark Bennett issued this message to Harris County criminal court judges who aren't following the law regarding bail and the right to counsel:

Dear Harris County judges:

The following is a non-exhaustive list of conduct, engaged in by you or your staffs, that is likely to get you grieved:

  • Telling defendants, “If you don’t hire a lawyer, you’re going to come back every day and stay until 11:30 until you hire a lawyer.”
  • Telling defendants, “Go hire a lawyer from the hallway.”
  • Telling defendants, “You made bond. You can’t have an appointed lawyer.”
  • Removing appointed counsel from cases when defendants make bond before substitute counsel is hired and without a hearing.
  • Telling defendants, “Hire a lawyer or go to jail.”
  • Jailing people for not hiring lawyers.

The days of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers trusting the Commission for Judicial Conduct to do its job are past. If a grievance is filed, it will be news.

Most of you would never do any of these things. That’s great. No need to protest. I hope your staffs realize that you would never do these things.

I know that some of this conduct has been going on for longer than I’ve been a lawyer. If you have a quibble or doubt about whether any of it is unethical, I’d be happy to have a friendly discussion with you about it; maybe you can convince me that it is not only traditional, but also legitimate. I raise these issues because I don’t want HCCLA to have to grieve any more judges. I’d rather the unethical behavior just stopped.


There you have it. Harris County judges can't say they haven't been warned!


Rage Judicata said...

This is a huge issue that I've heard about for years in counties all over the state, and Mark makes known several instances of obvious abuses. Clearly something should be done about it.

The only question is whether or not he will do more than blog about it. I can think of at least one instance where he posted against similar abuses but did nothing to stop them. Even when it happened to his own client.

Not trying to be tacky, but if he's a leader in the defense bar, he should lead.

Anonymous said...


Did you read the Dallas Morning News article "Most Dallas County judges reluctant to check finances of defendants who ask for free lawyers"

09:15 AM CDT on Saturday, April 25, 2009

Robert Langham said...

Can we get him to come talk to Smith County Judges?

Informed Citizen said...

YUP - The Commission on Judicial Conduct is a JOKE. -----
Our Texas Bill of Rights, Art. 1, Texas Constitution, as well as our US Constitution, secures the Right to Assistance of Counsel. NO FINANCIAL BAR. In other words - NONE of the accused, regardless of their wealth, should be forced to be subjected to extortion by an accusation. ---------
WHERE in either Constitution is the alleged victim provided with the Right to Assistance of Counsel / Prosecutor at tax payer expense? ---------
Our Law, and System of Laws, has been turned upside down. But because that is the way it now it, they assume that is the way it always was and as it was intended to be. -------
HEY RAGE - Blogging is a good start. Most won't even do that. They fear losing appointments or other forms of retribution. It is being a "leader". What more do you want him to do to stop the "abuses" [actually, violations of Law including the Constitution - criminal and civil offenses by those in postions of employment that require they know better]

Rage Judicata said...

Well, when e knows of an abuse he should file a grievance. Especially when he blogs about something he believes is unethical, threatens to file one, and then doesn't when it happens in one of his cases to one of is clients not a week later.

He could do so with relative safety in his position as president of whatever defense organization he is president of. With joint complaints filed by dozens (or more) of defense lawyers there would be safety in numbers. If these abuses are so common (and they are) why doesnt he try to affect change? The general public doesn't read his blog. Even fewer voters do. Hell, not many criminal lawyers do. It's largely a group of bloggers and their followers that do, and half of them are prosecutors who could care less.

Even fewer people read my blog, I'm not using stats as an insult to him, it's just the truth. I could ask every lawyer I know if they've read his blog and I guarantee you they won't have heard of him. And people my age and older are the ones who actually have the pull to get things done. The people who probably read his blog the most often are solo practitioners, out of county and out of state bloggers and traffic driven from their blogs, and younger lawyers, none of whom could get a damn thing done about a huge problem in Harris County and beyond. If a large portion of his organization got together and actually did something, somehting might happen.

Anonymous said...

What difference does it make? If you are appointed counsel, it's rarely "effective" counsel. If you can't afford an attorney, you'll be bullied into accepting a plea bargain anyway. That's how the system works.

Judge Lena Levario said...

There is a new, very comprehensive study out on indigent defense, please go here to read Justice Denied:

Please note that Recommendation 15 covers the subject of your blogging.
"Recommendation 15—Judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers should abide by their professional obligation to report to disciplinary agencies knowledge of serious ethical violations that impact indigent defense representation when the information they possess is not confidential. Appropriate remedial action should be taken by persons with responsibility over those who commit such ethical violations."

Lady Cherie said...

What can you actually do? In Fort Worth, a custody battle ensued in 1979. A Judge who's conduct was so out of line. He openly stated he opposed Indigent Legal Services in his courtroom. He even went as far as approaching the defendant and her family inside an elavator. There he stopped the elavator and began to grill the grandmother about "if" she owned a home? The grandmother responded by saying "yes."
The Judge asked the grandmother does she want her grand-daughter back? "Of course" she replied, the Judge then told her to put a lean on her home were her daughter could have proper representation in his court. The grandmother told the judge that she didn't think she could, the judge then stated that "she wasn't much of a grandmother then." He then turned to the door pushed the open button on the elavator and stepped out. It did affect the outcome of the case and he clearly walked smooth off earning a whooping $250,000 from the grandfather who happily brags just "how much it cost him to buy his grand-daughter."