Saturday, November 05, 2011

Cost to prosecute misdemeanor charges vs. Upshur County Judge higher than capital-murder defense

If one needed evidence that prosecutors receive more resources for their jobs than their counterparts in the defense bar, look no further than Upshur County, where the bill for prosecuting misdemeanors an official oppression case against the County Judge (for having a protester removed from commissioners court proceedings) exceeds what local judges are willing to spend defending capital murder cases. Reported the Longview News Journal (Nov. 2):
It has cost Upshur County taxpayers more than $19,700 to prosecute a Class A misdemeanor so far.

District Judge Lauren Parish thought that amount was too excessive to defend a capital murder trial a few years ago.

Special prosecutor Rick Hagan and his assistant prosecutor Lew Dunn have yet to file their final bills with the county for trying the case of Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler, but have charged a collective $19,727 to date. A judge earlier in October issued a directed verdict of not guilty clearing Fowler of an official oppression charge and also quashing a charge of abuse of official capacity.

For the county’s taxpayers, the bills are likely just beginning as Hagan and Dunn still have to try cases against Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree, who also are charged with official oppression. Crabtree also faces an abuse of official capacity charge. The charges stem from a county resident being removed from a commissioners court meeting when he repeatedly wore duct tape over his mouth to protest that public comment had been removed from agendas.

Just a few years ago, however, District Judge Lauren Parish would have thought $19,727 was too much to defend a capital murder case.

In 2004, a jury found William Glenn Bulington Jr. guilty of capital murder. According to court records, on the week of Dec. 13-14, 2003, Bulington shot and killed Keith Crutcher and L.V. Johnson. Bulington loaded the bodies in the back of a pickup truck, then backed the truck up to a pond that was behind his house. He took the bodies out of the truck, loaded them onto a boat, tied ropes around their necks that were attached to cinder blocks and dumped the bodies in the water. The bodies were found in 2004.

Matthew Patton was Bulington’s court-appointed attorney and was aided by Robert Bennett, who was not court appointed.

When the trial concluded, Patton turned in a bill for $26,463 for his and Bennett’s services, according to the bill. The bill included 38 hours in court and 222 out of court for Patton, 30 hours in court for Bennett, as well as investigation and other expenses. Parish cut the bill, only approving $16,901, according to the payment she approved.
Defending Class A and B misdemeanors, by comparison, earns attorneys $220-$440 per case in the same jurisdiction, the story notes.

So to recap: For prosecuting a misdemeanor, money is no object; for defending misdemeanors, or for that matter for defending someone on trial for their life, penny pinching is the order of the day.


Anonymous said...

As the federal budget deficit approaches 14 Trillion dollars, and state budgets are in equally poor shape, I do wonder how we can continue to justify spending ANY taxpayer dollars defending criminals. And for those who whine about the amounts that are spent on law enforcement and prosecution, and how "unfair" the system is, perhaps you'd be happier with a system of vigilante justice and lynch mobs?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:02, so to be clear, you're nitpicking about the $220 for defending a misdemeanor, have no complaint about $19K spent on prosecuting one, but want the budget cut ... right? :-/

KBCraig said...

The drama in Gilmer sounds a lot like the drama just up the road in Bowie County, where the County Judge and the court have filed for an injunction against the County Clerk. Why? Because she, as the official responsible for maintaining meeting minutes, won't alter them to suit the judge and commissioners.

Funny thing is, they were all elected together in a clean sweep, to oust the decades-old Good Ol' Boys power network, and to bring openess and transparency to county government. Since then, the Clerk is the only one who seems to remember that goal. In response, the court has seized control of the website and who can post there, fought over control of the keys to the clerk's bulletin board where official notices are posted, effectively shut down public comments, and imposed a dress code for "visitors" -- citizens trying to watch the court in action.

Anonymous said...

02:02 - If we don't provide representation to defendants, what we will have would be equal to vigilante justice and lynch mobs.

I've had the opportunity recently to watch some of the old movies dealing with criminal law. In some of them there are scenes - such as To Kill A Mockingbird & Young Mr.Lincoln - where the defense attornty finds himself standing between a lynch mob and the defendant. I thought how, in our system, the defense attorney is often the only one standing between a helpless defendant and the equivalent of a lynch mob. Now, you want to remove that protection. It is you who are advocating that type of one-sided justice.

Scott Stevens said...

These differences are pretty petty compared to the amount that was spent in Bell County, Texas several years ago to prosecute former District Judge Don Busby. I believe that the prosecutors in that case (which took place in the 90's) charged Bell County over 250,000 to prosecute in some white collar cases and the probation revocations the followed. They didn't just bill Bell County, by the way, they collected what they billed, too.

This is the same county in which at least some judges insist on negotiating flat fees on representation for death penalty cases.

Anonymous said...

Chicago Sun Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said his plan to raise taxes, fines and fees by $220 million in 2012 includes higher fines for a laundry list of offenses, but he has yet to air that laundry list.

Now, the mayor’s 2012 revenue ordinance makes the details public. It’s a doozy.

King Romes said...

Why would a case of misdemeanor require tons of cash? That's more like a smelly politician is involve in the case.