Gee, Mary, That Sounds Tough, But You Still Stole Millions Of Dollars…

I guess I’m just a hard-hearted bastard.

Last  September, art world luminary and art dealer Mary Boone, whose gallery  have been a prime feature of the New York art community since the Seventies, agreed to plead guilty to charges of filing false federal income tax returns, defrauding the government of millions of dollars. They had her dead to rights: the evidence showed that she used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in her personal expenses such as remodeling her  Manhattan apartment, and then falsely claimed those expenses as business deductions, prosecutors said. Then she failed to report on her personal tax forms the profit from her gallery, claiming losses to offset what she had declared as her personal income.

Now it’s sentencing time, and Boone’s lawyers are sawing away at the world’s smallest violin. Facing up to six years in prison, Boone is asking for compassion and minimal sentencing, indeed, her lawyers argue that she shouldn’t go to prison at all. Why? She had a troubled and unstable childhood, apparently. These led to mental health issues, a suicide attempt and drug and alcohol abuse. Most importantly, the poverty of her early life made her fearful that, despite her success, she would end up destitute and dependent upon others.

Funny…I’ve had those same fears at various times during my life. It never occurred to me that this might be a Get Out of Jail Free card.

“Behind the facade of success and strength lies a fragile and, at times, broken individual,” her lawyers wrote in the filing to the court made last month. The Times further reports, Continue reading

Ethics Tip To The Michigan Bar: Disbar Incompetent And Unethical Lawyers, The Justice System Works Better

There are too many stories like this. The Detroit News reports that Davontae Sanford, who spent his teen years and early 20s behind bars for multiple murders he didn’t commit, will be released today after the judge who presided over his 2008 trial vacated his sentence. It seems that he was innocent of the crimes, as a confession by someone else shortly after he was locked up should have suggested. Read the whole tale. I spit out a mouthful of coffee, however, when I got to this part, near the end of the article.

Sharing criticism for this miscarriage of justice, along with police and prosecutors,  is Sanford’s original attorney, Robert Slameka.  Sanford’s current attorney told reporters,

“One of the really tremendous failures of the system was his defense attorney. There was not one pretrial motion that was brought. Davontae’s confession had all the hallmarks of a false confession; (it was) never challenged. The failures are manifest, but a lot of it falls to the one person who was supposed to protect Davontae in this process, and that was his attorney. And that wasn’t done, and when that’s not done, the system sort of collapses.”

This lawyer didn’t stutter (that is, I don’t think so) but  convinced Sanford to plead guilty to second-degree murder, telling him prosecutors had an iron-clad case, and that if he pleaded, he’d get out of prison earlier. While allegedly defending the teen,  Slameka waived making an opening statement (maybe he DID stutter!) , and never cross-examined the detective who questioned Sanford. Continue reading

A Remorseful Prosecutor Apologizes

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Now THIS is a #1 Level apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.

It’s more than an apology, really: it approaches self-flagellation. The tragic aspect of the confession and apology of former prosecutor  A.M. “Marty” Stroud III,  is that no one can really apologize for what he did, not after 30 years. For Stroud was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Isadore Rozeman. Ford was innocent, and was finally released a year ago. His is a classic, horror story of justice derailed. Continue reading

When Is It Ethical For Lawyers To Testify Against A Client? Here’s An Example…

Next time, stick to baseball hypotheticals, Darrell.

Next time, stick to baseball hypotheticals, Darrell.

From Panama City, Florida comes this rare legal ethics scenario. Darryl Mack, 22, accepted 20 years of prison in exchange for a no contest plea to a murder charge, after he learned that his original attorney in the case would be testifying for the prosecution. The revelation by an accused  criminal’s own lawyer of what most think are privileged statements would be devastating evidence, which is why lawyers are almost always prohibited by the ethics rules from doing this.  Mack had been trying to block the testimony on that basis. However, Circuit Court Judge James Fensom ruled those statements could be used against Mack at trial. Why? It is because of a useful and necessary exception to the ethics rules known as the crime-fraud exception.

If you are a “Breaking Bad” fan, this one of the reasons Saul is a crook, not a lawyer.

“The last thing a lawyer wants to do is testify against his client,” the prosecutor in the case explained. “But it is not reasonable to ask your lawyer to be your conspirator.” That means that a request for such advice is regarded by the profession as a request for assistance in breaking the law, and a lawyer cannot ethically give such advice. Such a request isn’t confidential, and isn’t privileged. A lawyer doesn’t have to reveal such information, but he also risks being charged as an accessory if the proposed crime is committed.

Timothy Hilley, Mack’s initial legal counsel, testified in a closed courtroom that Mack had posed a hypothetical to him at the end of a jailhouse interview, and Hilley viewed it as a veiled statement of  intent to commit murder. Mack allegedly asked his then defense counsel what would happen if a witness was unavailable for the trial, a question Hilley took to refer to a witness to the July shooting death of 24-year-old Tavish Greene, the victim in the murder Mack was charged with.

“Mack was on his way to leave, and he walked over to door and he said, ‘Could those statements be used if he was murdered,’” Hilley testified.
“I said, ‘No, it would be hearsay.’” Mack then asked, “How much time do I have?” Hilley said. “And I didn’t catch it at first, but then he asked again, ‘How long before trial?’ ” Mack left the room after Hilley told him the trial could begin as soon as June.  The lawyer reported the incident to the State Attorney’s Office, and withdrew as Mack’s attorney. Continue reading

The Outrageous, Offensive, Ethical Murder Defense

"OK, granted, my client killed her. That's wrong. But shouldn't he get some credit for the fact that her loss is a net gain for society?"

“OK, granted, my client killed her. That’s wrong. But shouldn’t he get some credit for the fact that her loss is a net gain for society?”

The evidence at trial showed that Rasheen Everett arrived at Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar ‘s Queens ( New York) apartment on March 27, 2010, and almost 24 hours  later, left carrying two bags filled with the prostitute’s belongings including her camera, laptop and cell phone.. Her lifeless body was later discovered, covered in bleach. The judge pronounced the defendant, who showed no remorse during the proceedings, “a coldhearted and violent menace to society.”  Everett apparently killed Amanda after discovering that she was transgendered. She had solicited him over tbe internet.

Desperately arguing to keep Everett’s post-conviction sentence as light as possible (it turned out to be 29 years in prison), Queens defense attorney John Scarpa made about as repugnant an agrument to Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter as the imagination could devise. “A sentence of 25 years to life is an incredibly long period of time, judge,” Scarpa protested. “Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals? Who is the victim in this case?” he asked. “Amanda was engaged in a life of prostitution, life of drug use, HIV exposure. She was having sex with other individuals knowing she had the chance of spreading diseases….Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?” he asked.

This theory would have ensured Jack the Ripper, had he ever been caught, a work release program, perhaps in a butcher shop. Continue reading

Yes, The Best Criminal Defense Lawyers Represent The Worst People. Or You.

When your life is at stake and you need help, don't screw around.

When your life is at stake and you need help, don’t screw around.

The degree to which the average American, even the average educated American, even the average educated and rational American, is ignorant about the ethical mandates and structure of the legal profession and the justice system is by turns shocking, depressing, and frightening. The consequences of this ignorance, for which the legal profession itself is largely to blame, bursts forth in all their ugly splendor after the acquittal of a Casey Anthony or, even more disturbingly, a George Zimmerman. Well meaning members of the public, who are nicely represented in this Ethics Alarms thread, think they are declaring their support for justice when they advocate cutting through all the troublesome bureaucracy and making sure what “everyone knows” is the correct result happens, and process be damned. Just do the right thing! How hard can that be?  This blogger, for example, has it all figured out. Leave it to him and people of a like mind, and we’ll have a police state in no time. Continue reading

Van Der Sloot’s Defense: Worst Rationalization Ever?

Yup: It's Natalee's fault.

Joran van der Sloot finally pleaded guilty yesterday to the murder of a Peruvian woman, Stefany Flores, whom he had met in a bar. His lawyer, Jose Luis Jimenez, blamed the crime on van der Sloot’s earlier arrest for the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba and the widespread suspicion that he was the missing teenager’s killer.

Defense lawyers, in the zealous representation of their clients, must often come up with creative theories bordering on the risable to try to wring every last drop of helpful spin out of a hopeless case. It bothers non-lawyers and legal ethicists alike when attorneys assert things about a case or their client that they couldn’t possibly believe is true, though it is enough to meet the low bar of the Rules of Professional Conduct for the lawyer to believe that such statements might be true, perhaps in a parallel universe. They are in the “well, how about this?” category. A defense lawyer with a despicable client like van der Sloot, who appears to be a stone cold sociopath, doesn’t have much to work with. Continue reading