Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Does Houston lawyer have worst capital record in America?

Here's a remarkable story from Adam Liptak at the New York Times:
A good way to end up on death row in Texas is to be accused of a capital crime and have Jerry Guerinot represent you.

Twenty of Mr. Guerinot’s clients have been sentenced to death. That is more people than are awaiting execution in about half of the 35 states that have the death penalty.

“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said.

So what is Mr. Guerinot’s secret?

It seems to boil down to a failure to conduct even rudimentary investigations, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston and the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates, including not a few of Mr. Guerinot’s former clients.

“He doesn’t even pick the low-hanging fruit which is hitting him in the head as he’s walking under the tree,” Mr. Dow said.

Mr. Guerinot did not respond to two messages seeking comment. In 2007, he told The Observer, a London newspaper, that judges gave him only tough cases.

“The easy ones, somehow, never came to me,” he said. “I think it’s a recognition that if I represent them, the state is in for one hell of a fight. Nothing goes down easy.”

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court turned down an opportunity to review Mr. Guerinot’s work in the case of Linda Carty, a 51-year-old British woman. The case has gotten a lot of attention in Britain, where journalists and a documentary filmmaker, Steve Humphries, have been examining Mr. Guerinot’s performance.

“It is no exaggeration to suggest that Mr. Guerinot has perhaps the worst record of any capital lawyer in the United States,” Mr. Humphries said in a supporting brief urging the court to hear Ms. Carty’s case.

One would think that lede wouldn't be a great advertisement for Mr. Guerinot's legal services, but among the Harris County judiciary apparently that record amounts to a qualification, not a demerit. Says Liptak:

Mr. Guerinot, for his part, has given up capital work and now handles more ordinary criminal cases, on a volume basis. An analysis in The Houston Chronicle last year found that he had represented 2,000 felony defendants in 2007 and 2008 — far above the caseload limits recommended by bar associations and other groups that take criminal defense work seriously.

According to the Houston Chronicle, most of those Harris County cases are in the court of Judge Denise Collins, who recently declined to switch to a public defender system, saying "she has confidence in the experience of the three attorneys she already uses," including Guerinot. (I must admit, I don't fully understand why Judge Collins isn't required to use a "wheel" for counsel appointments.) Judge Collins faces Democrat Loretta Johnson Muldrow in the November election.

What an extraordinary record, and more extraordinary still that Mr. Guerinot parlayed that ignominious experience into thousands of appointed cases in Judge Collins' court.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with Ginsburg--anyone in Texas can get the death penalty, even if well represented. We have some very pro-death penalty venues here, even if the prosecutors don't sleep with the judge, or hide witnesses and evidence.


Anonymous said...

Considering that David Dow doesn't even know how to file pleadings with the Court of Criminal Appeals, he's probably the last person that needs to be expressing opinions on any other lawyer's incompetence!

Walter Reaves said...

That's not a type - 2,000 cases in 2 years? That's 1,000 a year, or a little over 80 a month. So you would have to plead at least 20 cases a week.

With that case load I don't see how you could time to do anything more than say hi, get an offer from the DA, and do the paperwork for the plea. A trial would really muck things up.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, Rage, you don't see many people sent to TX death row who had enough money to hire their own lawyer.

7:57, at least Dow has the cojones to include his name when he criticizes others. Try growing a pair and using yours if you want to troll and take cheap shots.

I agree, Walter, that's really an extraordinary number.

Anonymous said...

One should wonder how much $$$ the three attorneys who Judge Collins assigns to handle cases in her court are "contributing" back to her judicial campaign. Harris County has for at least the last 25 years been a revolving door in which criminal court judges dole out taxpayer funds to appointed counsel only to have the receiving counsel return funds to the judge's re-election campaign.
Representation in death penalty cases is especially troublesome in Harris County. Afterall, this is the same county where a defense attorney fell asleep during a capital murder trial but that was not significant error. It has long been time to reform criminal justice in Harris County, and starting with the appointment of defense counsel in all cases, especially capital cases, is a great place to start. Also having the electorate exercise change via the ballot could help hasten reforms in Harris County.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, do you know the records of the other two lawyers regarding their caseloads and plea bargain rates? Do you know Mr. Guerinot's plea bargain rates of the 2000 cases? *He just might be the 'new' King of Nolo Contendere and place first on the PNG Texas' Worst Lawyer List.

FWIW - Judge Collins seems to have created the monster but somehow she escapes any title and serious scrutiny. Would you consider doing a piece on Harris County Criminal Judges regarding their court(s) plea-bargaining rates? Please include (Smiley Face) Judge Charles Hearn of the 263rd. Thanks.

Adrienne Dunn said...

First, amazing story on several levels. One lawyer gets appointed to 1000 cases a year! One lawyer represented a high percentage of death row inmates! Or how about the fact that federal judge Gilmore noted the attorney's failures but failed to grant the writ. I have always wondered how the judges cope with situations like that?

But for a recent federal death penalty writ I have based on a Texas conviction, I would have agreed with Ginsburg that a good lawyer makes the difference between life and death. I have a case which could be used as a text-book case for how to try a death penalty trial. There was even a more culpulable co-defendant. And yet, the jury assessed death. It really left me stunned and wondering, "how do we win?"

Paul UK said...

Utterly astonishing. I must make sure I have the telephone number of the British Consulate on me next time I visit the US

Anonymous said...

Charles Hearn hasn't been on the 263rd bench since 1994. If you're going to be smug or sarcastic, it helps to know what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

You know, Grits, I don't think I'd call what Dow has: "cajones." A more apt word might be "gall." Judge Berchelmann's findings on the Keller hearing strongly suggest that Dow and his colleagues on the Richard case may very well have lied about the infamous "e-mail problem." Whatever the truth, it's pretty clear that Dow's failure to timely file the writ on Richard's behalf, and his failure to know the rules which allowed for direct filing with the individual justices, caused Richard not to get a stay of execution that fateful day.

According to your blog entry last December 1st, the Richard case is not the only instance where Dow has missed important deadlines. For him to be criticizing any other capital defense attorney regarding their lack of success and/or mistakes is, in a word, hypocritical. And to think, this guy is a law professor who teaches students? Just underscores the merit of that old adage: "Those who can't,...teach."

TDCJEX said...

Anon 3:53 or is that you Dudley ?

You have ranted on this blog (and others ) endlessly about David Dow for some reason you have a fixation on him and the guidelines or rules . He has been at this for a very long time . I am sure he knows much more a about the law and criminal and capitol defense than you do or ever will .Making up nonsensical gibberish does not make your delusions true . My guess is you anger is at him securing stays of execution and ruining your day . Anyone who celebrates a execution or derives pleasure in a execution is a very disturbed person who eventually will end up in a psych hospital or a places such as Skyview or Jester 4 . If I were Mr. Dow I would want to know who you are . You have been making increasingly disturbed comments about him on many Internet forums dealing with the criminal justice system . Apparently you have unhealthy obsession with David Dow .

That being Said MS Dunn is right with the very best defense Counsel in TX you can land on death row you don't have to be guilty either . In fact If I am correct she is working on a very messed up case out of Smith County were the state fabricated bizarre story and got some one to go along with said story .
I happen to know a lot about that case . SI w Hope she can get at least one person relief as in the end one and only one person is responsible for something . That case and each defendant was very poorly represented from start . Although not death penalty case it could have been .

The very biased juries were more than happy to convict and probably would have even if the defendants had irrefutable evidence of innocence . Just because 12 people voted to convict does not men any one is guilty . Jurors bring their own prejudices ad person issues into the court room and many have already made up their minds well before the trail ever began . Many defendants never get a chance because of media coverage . That presumes guilt despite the alleged legal presumption of innocence . That is all but a myth now

Adraine Dun ask "How do we win ? "

My gal and I wish we knew the answer. I believe you might know of her indirectly .

sunray's wench said...

When my Hubby had a public defender, we were informed that the man was paid $500 per case, flat fee. If that is the same for this Ginsburg guy, then taking 1000 x $500 per year plus anything else he does on the side would seem the obvious reason for the heavy caseload.

I'm confused though; why do the lawyers have to do the detective work, isn't that down to the police? Why do Judges get to pick who they have in their courts - how is that fair to anyone and above suspicion?

Anonymous said...

03:25 – Anon. to Anon., your decision to inform a commenter that a judge has retired has no bearing on his courtroom’s record regarding plea-bargain rates. Records are records.
*BTW –It’s Judge Charles Hearn and he has claimed to have used a smiley face as part of his signature which I fail to see any relation to being smug and saracastic. It appears that you've judged someone for merely requesting information. It's obvious that you don't know that he has passed away or you would have inserted it and the date.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

3:25PM, you smell very familiar, could you be the 'King' himself? Who else would say such stupid irrelevant krap.

12:14 - Thanks for explaining how requesting info. and being retired are not connected. "Records are records" indeed. BTW - it was the Houston Chronicle that did a piece on Judge Hearn and the Smiley Face you mentioned.

mateo said...

How can a defense lawyer in capital cases support the death penalty? And be effective?

Jerry Guerinot believes in capital punishment. This is a fact.

No wonder....