Friday, January 16, 2009

Arrogance Raises Its Head Again in Brazos County

Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, George Boyett, was recently admonished by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct after taking the law into his own hands by ordering a Texas A&M student into his courtroom following a traffic incident involving the judge and student.  It was the third admonishment received by the judge from the Judicial Conduct Commission.  (read the full story in the Bryan Eagle)  Judge Boyett's jurisdiction includes much of the Texas A&M campus and students attending the University should be aware of his public record for violating provisions of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.  

During the investigation of the current incident, Judge Boyett was found to have "acted in a manner that failed to promote public confidence in the judiciary."  Further, he was found to have "used the prestige of his office to advance his private interests."  And finally, he "did not act in a 'patient, dignified and courteous' manner toward those in his courtroom."  

Several of the comments on the newspaper's story are worth repeating:
"This is the type of behavior that gives public officials a bad reputation in general. I think a 3 strikes and you're out rule should be considered by State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Boyett clearly does not show the restraint necessary for any Judge. Talk about road rage. I am delighted to say I have never met this man. I hope that remains the case." 

"I have known this jerk for more years than I like to mention. He was a jerk from the begining and is still a jerk. He does not belong in a position of authority at any level. have you seen him in the film for defensive driving? It is a total embarrassment." 

"Boyett needs to be removed from office. He's notorious for his abuse of his position. There's certainly conflict of interest, as his office deals with a lot of landlord-tenant issues and guess what? He's a major owner of rental property in the northgate area. "

"This judge needs a good strong opponent to run him in the next election. He needs to be removed from office.
JP Boyett thinks he rules the world, or the part near him, anyway. It's not surprising he did as described. The wonder is he didn't try to jail someone. "
A justice of the peace is a public servant and member of the judicial branch of government, not the executive.  The job of the judiciary is to interpret the law, not enforce it. The bottom line? Judge Boyett has built a track record and reputation for arrogance and discourteous conduct toward those appearing before him.  I agree a strong opponent should run against him in 201o and bring his record to light for the public's evaluation. I know Judge Boyett attempts to bring a sense of strength and accountability to his courtroom by being tough.  But violating the rules of judicial conduct goes over the line, especially the 3rd time around. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reversing a Bad Result - Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Several prospective clients called me recently asking how they can appeal their criminal conviction and sentence resulting from a plea bargain or an open plea to the court (a guilty plea and waiver without a punishment recommendation from the prosecutor). "With great difficulty," I say. A plea bargain accepted by the trial judge waives most of a defendant's rights to appeal. However, there are a few cracks in the armor which potential clients should be aware.

First, a defendant's waiver of rights and plea of guilty must be voluntary. That is, the person's plea must be knowingly and intelligently made. Furthermore, the trial judge must make this finding on the record. However, if a person received ineffective assistance of counsel leading to their decision to plead guilty and waive their rights, a good involuntary plea argument can be fashioned. In that case, the defendant's plea and waiver can be withdrawn and the defendant can start from square one defending the charges against them. There are many ways a criminal defense lawyer might provide ineffective assistance of counsel leading to an involuntary plea. Following are just a couple to consider.

The failure to investigate is a common basis for ineffective assistance of counsel. If the criminal trial lawyer failed to uncover facts about their client's case that, had the facts been known, would have created a "substantial likelihood" the defendant wouldn't have waived his rights but insisted upon a trial, can cause an involuntary plea. The failure to locate an alibi witness is an example of the failure to investigate. The failure to discover a prior conviction, being used to enhance punishment, was void or voidable, is another example.

Another instance of ineffective assistance is when the criminal lawyer provides their client incorrect advice on the law applicable to the case and that erroneous advice leads the client to plead guilty and waive their rights. One example might be where the client is charged with multiple counts of sexual assault upon a child. The trial lawyer tells their client "if you plead guilty and ask the judge to assess punishment the sentences cannot be stacked upon one another, but can only run concurrently." (WRONG!) The client pleads guilty, waives his rights, and the trial judge guts the client with stacked prison sentences. In short, the client's guilty plea was based on the erroneous advice of his lawyer. Had the advice been correct the client would have insisted upon jury trial. That's an involuntary plea.

Another common example of ineffective assistance is when the criminal defense attorney fails to communicate a plea bargain offer made by the prosecutor. Had the plea offer been communicated to the client, they would have accepted it. Although this is not an "involuntary plea" situation, it is yet another way to reverse a bad result for the client based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Reversing a guilty plea and waiver is tough and technical legal work. Many times, if not most, the attempt is unsuccessful because of the great bias contained within the law toward the finality of convictions. However, a good Texas criminal defense lawyer, experienced in appeals, can sometimes work the miracle a client needs for a second bite at the apple. But critical time limits often apply! Contact an experienced criminal appeal attorney immediately to discuss your case.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Jury Expert

I am not a consumer of jury consultant services. However, for the well-to-do client, who has money to burn, a jury consultant might be an expense worth incurring on a big case. If you cannot afford the high-priced services of a warm-bodied consultant, then maybe reading a good journal on the subject might serve your interests, as well.

The Jury Expert is a publication of the American Society of Trial Consultants edited by Dr. Rita R. Handrich. Dr. Handrich's goal is to translate social sciences research findings into practical and relevant tools for the trial lawyer. To that end, the journal features articles by academics on their research areas. The journal then gets reactions to those articles by experienced trial consultants who translate the theory into practice. Trial consultant responses to the articles focus on how the research can be used in litigation advocacy.

In addition to articles by academics, The Jury Expert also features practice-oriented articles by trial consultants on a wide array of litigation topics. The journal publishes six times a year and subscriptions are free. Their current issue features articles on cross-examination of narcissistic witnesses; juror reactions to successful women; varying attitudes of liberals and conservatives toward punishment; conceptual persuasion; the relationship between juror damages awards and generation; and more.