Throughout generations, the public joke of how attorneys are like sharks, they “circle around their prey before they head in for the kill” has been proven through ruthlessness and relentlessness to acquire and win a court case, especially if the possible case is high-profile (a Hollywood star, a nationally known football player, singer, a television show icon and etc.) The stigma of working in one of the top career areas, attorneys are labeled untrustworthy, shady, and corrupt, sometimes giving into the pressures of prosecutorial misconduct, judicial misconduct or misconduct by the defense counsel (by not properly representing the client) in order to boost their own careers regardless of the consequences.
All three misconduct actions mentioned could be a layers biggest nightmare unless the attorney stays on the legal side of the law without any outside influences. In this essay, three real-life court cases from Oklahoma, Texas, New York and Kentucky, will show the misconduct by the three main courtroom players, the judge, the prosecution and the defense, and what the outcome of the case turned out to be.
To layout the groundwork of the first real-life case, it was found in the New York Times archives. “The victim, Mr. Michael Morton’s life changed drastically in December of 2011, when he was finally released from a Texas prison after spending almost 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Morton’s case was reopened by a nationally known non-profit group of people, who are law students, fully credited attorney’s and etc. called “The Innocence Project” where a DNA test had been requested therefore proving beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Morton was not his wife’s killer”. (NY Times-2011)
Now, to address the question of “what did the prosecutor do wrong and how does immunity protect the prosecutor from the consequences of his/her misconduct? As for the prosecutor in this first case, “Mr. Ken Anderson, who by the way has stepped up into a judgeship within the county of where the crime occurred, disobeyed a direct order from the trial court to produce the exculpatory police reports from the lead investigator in the case. (NY Times-2011) And after Mr. Anderson was given the judgeship, according to the article, “he (Mr. Anderson) advised his successor as prosecutor to oppose all of Mr. Morton’s post-conviction motions for DNA testing” (NY Times-2011) which would further prove that another man committed the murder which was written in the police reports that were not presented to the defendant as per the “Brady Rule-1963”.
To give a quick explanation of the Brady Rule, “this landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court in 1963 that requires that prosecutors disclose evidence favorable to the defendant. And of course, as usual, the prosecutor that failed in his job on this case was not sanctioned or punished by the Court”. As for the immunity of the prosecutor in this civil case, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor’s should face penalties, fines and even disbarment (NY Times-2011) But like the little boy at school that can do nothing wrong, the prosecution wasn’t held to its higher standards nor held in contempt of court due to their position as defender for the state and they can’t do anything wrong in the eyes of some courts across America. Not only are prosecutor’s show misconduct but also judges are equally liable for misconduct from time to time.
The synopsis of the article found regarding judicial misconduct was found in the State of Oklahoma where a judge and her spouse are found guilty of procuring funds for children supposedly adopted by the couple on a monthly basis over the span of 2-3 years. According to the article from the Channel 9 news website, “Tammy Bess-Lesure had taken approximately $19000.00 from the State for kids that were no longer living in her home. The Oklahoma County District Attorney filed 4 counts of perjury and 32 counts of fraudulent claims against District Judge Tammy Bass-Lesure and her husband, Karlos Antonio Lesure Sr. Also according to the article, Tammy Bass-Lesure had been serving as a Judge in Oklahoma County for over 12 years.
But Judge Bass-Lesure refused to comment to reporters regarding the extreme level of judicial misconduct nor has there been any follow-up of this case after the initial story was brought to light thru the complaints of no child support by the couple whom the Judge gave the children too”. (Channel 9 News.com-2011) Since the previous case shown is one of judicial misconduct, the question now is would advancing someone to the judgeship be one of election, merit or appointment? In the class textbook for CJA-224, an explanation given by the American Bar Association relates to the definition of “a good judge”. “The eight attitudes and etc. are:
1) Integrity 2) Legal knowledge and ability 3) Professional experience 4) Judicial temperament 5) Diligence 6) Good health 7) Financial responsibilities 8) Public service And lawyers armed with the previous eight attitudes, judicial misconduct should not be a part or factor in their careers. (Siegel-2011) But as society changes to the attitude of “who cares” during election of the District Attorneys, the people assuming position by election or appointment should be held to a higher standard as if the merit system of an advancement were in place. But with judicial misconduct running rampant thru the judicial system, advancing lawyers to these judgeship levels should be based on merit.
Unlike the elected or appointed lawyers to the Courthouse, the person accused normally chooses a lawyer that meets their needs for the possibility upcoming visit to the Judge or Courtroom and pays personally for their services. On the unfortunate side of the lower court judicial side, people who cannot afford the $100-$150 per hour fees being charged so the individual would have to rely on a public defender thru the indigent defense program that is put in place in the judicial system based on the Sixth Amendment.
The indigent defense attorneys or public defenders are sometimes considered as the “bottom of the barrel” and due to the lack of income from a case that could last a long time, most lawyers try to get out of the role of indigent defense by making quick but inaccurate advice to the person standing accused. In the case of Padilla vs. Kentucky (130 S. Ct.4235-2010), “Mr. Padilla was an individual who had lived over 40 years after fleeing Honduras and had fought for the United States during the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, Mr. Padilla had been arrested for distribution of drugs. In his initial appearance before the Judge, Mr. Padilla was told by an attorney to plead guilty and he wouldn’t be sent back to Honduras.
After the initial appearance, the Judge found out that the lawyer represented for Mr. Padilla had given him the wrong advice and handed down another ruling based on the Sixth Amendment’s right to effective assistance of counsel, the Court found deficient conduct in counsel’s failure to advise Padilla that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation”. And According to the article “this particular case was remanded for determination of prejudice”. (Norris-2011)
The ineffectiveness of the defense counsel has been shown to fall under the textbook’s definition of the “prejudice prong related to the outcome of the Strickland case as evidence by the final ruling of the Court that proved “there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” (Siegel-2011). With the three cases shown regarding the main characters of courtrooms across America, the misconduct on all 3 offices, shows how the Constitutional rights of due process has been brought to the forefront of society’s courtrooms of today whether followed correctly or not.
The Due Process Model constructed by Mr. Herbert Packer, professor at the Law Institute on the campus of Stanford University, showed that the due process model is one of liberalism in the criminal justice system. One of the arguments states,” Constitutional right’s aren’t mere technicalities, criminal justice authorities should be held accountable to rules procedures and guidelines to ensure fairness and consistency in the justice process”.(Cliffnotes.com-2012)
In conclusion, if all of the parties involved in the previous cases were thorough in their research, misconduct on any level could have been avoided.