Daily Archives: April 11, 2010

Enough already

I can’t read the news anymore, nor can I watch it. Perhaps this is why I exclusively read blogs. News is depressing these days and local news more so. The headlines are practically the same every week: “2 shot in New Haven”, “Man found dead in Hartford”, “Summer is around the corner; violence is spiking”.

There was  a time when I’d read the stories with some interest and make a mental note of the coverage. This could, after all, be my next case.

But not anymore. Not today, at least.

I’m tired. I’m tired of the violence. I’m tired of the lives needlessly lost. I’m tired of the damage to the community and the individuals. I’m tired of watching yet another man take someone else’s life and throw his own away. I’m tired of yet another directionless teen who got sucked into the “culture”, yet another mope who knows of no other way but crime. I’m tired of the grandstanding, the pontification, the holier-than-thou attitude. I’m tired of society getting outraged at the consequences, but doing nothing to treat the cause.

Crime will never stop. As long as I love my job, I guess that’s a good thing. There’ll always be something to do, someone to represent, some novel legal issue to research into the ground.

Sometimes I just wish it didn’t have to come with the attendant realities of pain, loss and fleeting promises of lives since extinguished.

Besides, I have too much work already. Give this guy a break, will ya? Stop shooting and killing each other.

Aww, you shouldn’t have

I’m proud to announce the addition of a new section to the blog. What with credibility on the internet being a hot topic these days, I’ve enlisted the help of some dear friends to help prove mine. In the testimonial section of the blog, you can read what others are saying about me and this blog itself. Don’t be shy, add your own in the comments here and I’ll include them too!

Bysiewicz in brief

[Yes, another Susan Bysiewicz as AG post. But these are hit-machines, so I’ma milk this cash cow till it comes home.]

Thanks to the good folks at CT News Junkie, we get to read the trial brief submitted to Judge Michael Sheldon by Bysiewicz’s attorney Wesley Horton [I guess someone at CTNJ went to the clerk’s office, got a copy and scanned it, so there’s this ugly watermark on every goddamn page].

My conclusion, after reading the brief, is this: Wesley Horton is every bit as good as his reputation and Susan Bysiewicz is torpedoing her own chances. If only she’d get out of the damn way and let Horton work his magic, she’s as good as CT’s next Attorney General.

Her answers to the deposition questions do nothing to help the fine arguments made by Horton. Horton, correctly in my opinion, leads with the argument that active practice means nothing more than admitted to the bar and in good standing.

He argues that the relevant rules of practice in effect in 1890 and even today distinguish between the statuses of lawyers based solely on their ability to practice law in the state: active practice as opposed to suspended or disbarred. He further argues that our courts have recognized that it is not easy to describe “active practice of law” and that a wide variety of functions can be understood to be legal practice:

Attempts to define the practice of law have not been particularly successful. The reason for this is the broad field covered. The more practical approach is to consider each state of facts and determine whether it falls within the fair intendment of the term.

As to the state of facts, this court has consistently held that the preparation of legal documents is commonly understood to be the practice of law. Grievance Committee v. Dacey, 154 Conn. 129, 140-44, 229 A.2d 339 (1966), appeal dismissed, 386 U.S. 683, 87 S. Ct. 1325, 18 L. Ed.2d 404 (1967); State Bar Assn. v. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co., supra, 145 Conn. 222; Grievance Committee v. Payne, supra, 128 Conn. 325; see also Monroe v. Horwitch, 820 F. Sup. 682 (D. Conn. 1993), aff’d, 19 F.3d 9 (2d Cir. 1994). “The practice of law consists in no small part of work performed outside of any court and having no immediate relation to proceedings in court. It embraces the giving of legal advice on a variety of subjects and the preparation of legal instruments covering an extensive field.

Statewide Grievance Committee v. Patton. This is an argument that Bysiewicz has made in the past, along with the notable “private practice” charge that she leveled against her “detractors” out of thin air. No one is arguing that “active practice at the bar of the state” literally means appearing in court and arguing in front of a judge or jury. That’s just silly.

But it’s important to note that not only is Horton arguing that she has the requisite years of admission to the bar, but in my opinion, there’s also a concession that the statute requires something more than just being someone admitted to the bar, i.e. you actually have to be engaged in the practice of law, in whatever capacity. This, of course, is in stark contradiction to Bysiewicz’s own answers to the hypotheticals posited by the Repub’s attorney (see link above).

In emphasizing this point, he quotes the Supreme Court of Florida:

Padilla: It’s not that complicated, really

[Yes, another Padilla v. Kentucky post. Sorry, suck it up.]

Padilla is what some might call a “landmark” case; altering the landscape at least for the defense practitioner. So, with reason, it has generated much discussion among those of us who’ve chosen to make our views and opinions public. And with any such new “landmark” decision, there’s a difference of opinion as to the impact and specifically in this case, the impact on the duties and responsibilities of the defense lawyer.

Scott has written several posts bemoaning the lack of clarity in immigration law and warning us all that we now have this awesome burden that really isn’t one we can bear. In his latest missive, he enlists the help of Darth Vader Justin Bieber Ken “I used to be a defense lawyer” Lammers at KrimLaw.

There’s nothing better than the simple life, where a handy “cheat sheet” gives a laundry list of everything you need to know.  Print it out. Carry it to court. Be brilliant.  Except…that’s not really the problem.  The problem is that the Padilla duty is largely a no brainer at the extremes, where the immigrant defendant pleads to possession of 457 kilos of cocaine with intent to sell (it’s a little large for personal use anyway), or doing 37 in a 35 mile per hour zone, with or without your windows excessively tinted.  The problem is toward the middle of the spectrum, where all this mushy information does little to inform.

[That link is inserted by me.] If I understand Scott’s point correctly, he’s saying that the decision places an unfair burden on us to investigate, learn and give advice about a really complicated area of law, in the mushy in-the-middle circumstances of immigration consequences.

I’m not sure that’s what Padilla requires. Let’s go back to the decision and see what Justice Stevens said:

Immigration law can be complex, and it is a legal specialty of its own. Some members of the bar who represent clients facing criminal charges, in either state or federal court or both, may not be well versed in it. There will, therefore, undoubtedly be numerous situations in which the deportation consequences of a particular plea are unclear or uncertain.

This is exactly the scenario that Scott writes about. So what does the Court have to say about it?:

The duty of the private practitioner in such cases is more limited. When the law is not succinct and straightforward (as it is in many of the scenarios posited by JUSTICE ALITO), a criminal defense attorney need do no more than advise a non-citizen client that pending criminal charges may carry a risk of adverse immigration consequences. But when the deportation consequence is truly clear, as it was in this case, the duty to give correct advice is equally clear.

I’m not sure there’s anything complicated about that. Now, one might turn around and argue that it’s difficult to know in which situations the consequences are “truly clear”. Perhaps. But those situations aren’t tough to figure out. Unless you’re saying “hey, I don’t really want to figure out in what circumstances my client will be deported”.

Ken writes:

I can remember talking to State officials and defense attorneys who specialized in Spanish language defendants and hearing the same thing more than once, “Yes, the feds can deport, but they don’t want to be bothered unless there is a violent felony.” Of course, it wasn’t always phrased quite so blandly. So, the attorney in Padilla’s case may have been giving what was basically reality based advice based upon experience. I haven’t seen the feds swoop in and deport people therefore, they shan’t do it to you. Of course, the problem with this is that the feds can alter their behavior randomly and unilaterally. And, in Padilla’s case someone in the federal government thought that transporting a tractor-trailer full of marijuana might just be a reason to deport someone.

There’s quite the difference between “this is a deportable crime” and “yeah, sure you can be deported, but you won’t be, really”. The former is Constitutionally sound advice; the latter is not. Just because the Feds may or may not deport your client doesn’t absolve you of the duty to inform your client that he is subject to deportation.

And that’s all Padilla requires you to do (which makes it seem more and more like an empty decision, the more I think about it): tell the client there’s a chance he will be deported. It does not impose a duty on you to try and figure out how to prevent him from being deported, but certainly no one will complain if you do.

In the comments to Scott’s post, another blogger writes:

The real problem is that none of the cheat sheets are state specific – criminal law is state specific – immigration law is not – and it is here where these two intersect. You’ve got to know the specifics of the state law and most immigration practicioners do not. And the answer is always, it depends.

Personal experience with immigration lawyers varies and the range of skill within the immigration law bar varies just as much as it does in the criminal law field. But any immigration lawyer worth his degree and reputation will absolutely know the intricacies of the law of the state in which he practices. He has to. After all, most people are deported based on state convictions. So find a good one, talk to him or her. Every reputable immigration lawyer I’ve called has been more than happy to not only give me an educated guess on whether the client is deportable but also on how to avoid that deportation and what the client should plead to.

The bottom line, as far as I can see, is this: If the consequences are clear (and they usually are, save for the myriad drug offenses), then tell your client that he will be subject to deportation. If the consequences aren’t clear, then tell your client that he may be subject to deportation. If he wants to know more, find out. Call an immigration lawyer, go to a CLE. Unless you’ve been catering solely to clients who are citizens, this is going to come up again and again. Spending a day or so learning about the immigration consequences or picking up a phone and talking to someone knows will only make you a better lawyer. Maybe some of you can leverage that into a niche practice.

But remember that the obligation is to the client and the client only. The more you know, the better you serve the client.

[What I think will really end up happening here is that courts will start including an “immigration consequences” portion to their plea canvasses, much like that which is required here in CT by statute: “do you understand that this plea may result in deportation or removal?”. Which would – and does – satisfy Padilla and everyone’s obligation.]