This week’s edition of “biggest waste of governmental money” is not a video, but a story that stems from a Supreme Court case. SCOTUS granted cert. in Keith Lavon Burgess v. United States. The certified question is can a sentence be enhanced on the basis of a prior felony conviction, so as to require a 20-year mandatory-minimum, if the prior conviction is for a misdemeanor under state law. Apparently, Burgess’ petition was filed with the assistance of a fellow inmate – Michael Ray. Ray used to be (still is?) a paralegal and is serving time for a fraud conviction.
The problem, now, is that the Attorney General for South Carolina is investigating whether Ray has committed a crime by doing so. The crime? The unauthorized practice of law. Oh yeah. Apparently they’ve got nothing better to do in S. Carolina. I mean, one inmate helping another to challenge his conviction is not to be tolerated, especially if that inmate is doing something that only a select few in this country can do. It’s not like there are a bazillion lawyers in America. Ray reportedly made a whopping $145 for filing that petition (I’m just guessing – 50 hours’ work seems reasonable. He makes 29c an hour). That’s half an hour that a partner at a law firm could have worked. How will he shine his shoes now?
Seriously, this is stupid. The AG should do some real work.
H/T: WSJ Law Blog
On occasion, clients will hesitantly – almost embarrassingly – ask if giving us pds money will make things better for their case. Perhaps it will make us investigate defenses with more vigor or make us move their case to the top of our pile. Obviously, for the ethical attorney, the answer is no. That question is also a stupid question to ask private attorneys: they charge their fee and offering more money shouldn’t make them want to work more (some of the privates can chime in here).
There’s another problem with these sorts of questions: that money can be the answer to all of one’s problems. For example, a perfectly legal search can become problematic because $500 changed hands between the defendant and counsel or $2000 will create a third-party defense when you’re caught on tape with your name on a large cardboard card hanging from your neck, committing the offense, while looking straight at the camera, shouting loudly “I AM JOHN DOE. I AM COMMITTING THIS CRIME.”
Which is why I chuckle when defendants say things like “why did I pay that guy so much? I could have gotten the same result with a public defender” or “man, he didn’t do nothin’. The offer stayed the same”. It’s also really shady for a private to take a case away from a pd with the promise of a better offer. The other day, I read a transcript in which both the judge and the prosecutor stated on the record that the offer made to the defendant was the same that was made when he was represented by the public defender. The judge said “some defendants think that if they fire the pd and hire a private attorney, the offers are going to get better. That’s not the case.”
I’ve heard judges tell defendants “not to waste their money”, because whatever the private attorney can do, the public defender can do.
Folks – it’s the facts. Either there’s a defense or there isn’t. (In)competence reaches across both sections of the bar. There are incompetent public defenders and just as many incompetent private attorneys. Money won’t make them perform better. Or, at least, it shouldn’t.