Monday, May 26, 2008

Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret

If I had been in the shoes of these two lawyers who kept the secret of Alton Logan's innocence, I believe I would have come forward with the truth, and risked being disbarred. But then, I'm not a lawyer. I think 90% of lawyers have lost their sense of right and wrong, which is why our justice system so frequently helps the guilty and punishes the innocent.

26-Year Secret Kept Innocent Man In Prison
May 25, 2008
60 Minutes (CBS)
Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret

...This is a story about an innocent man who languished in prison for 26 years while two attorneys who knew he was innocent stayed silent...

Alton Logan was convicted of killing a security guard at a McDonald's in Chicago in 1982. Police arrested him after a tip and got three eyewitnesses to identify him. Logan, his mother and brother all testified he was at home asleep when the murder occurred. But a jury found him guilty of first degree murder...

Alton Logan's story cuts to the core of America's justice system.

Simon met Alton Logan in prison, where he's spent almost half of his life.

Asked if he still counts the months and days, Logan told Simon, "There’s no need to count the months and the days. Just count the years."

Logan said that during the first five or six years he was "consumed" by anger. "Then I come to the realization that 'Why be angry over something you can't control?'"

Logan, who maintains he didn't commit the murder, thought they were "crazy" when he was arrested for the crime.

Attorneys Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz knew Logan had good reason to think that, because they knew he was innocent. And they knew that because their client, Andrew Wilson, who they were defending for killing two policemen, confessed to them that he had also killed the security guard at McDonald's - the crime Logan was charged with.

"We got information that Wilson was the guy and not Alton Logan. So we went over to the jail immediately almost and said, 'Is that true? Was that you?' And he said, 'Yep it was me,'" Kunz recalled.

"He just about hugged himself and smiled. I mean he was kind of gleeful about it...

"How did you interpret that response?" Simon asked.

"That it was true and that he was tickled pink," Kunz said.

"He was pleased that the wrong guy had been charged...

"Well, ...we have to maintain client confidentiality, just as a priest would or a doctor would...

Asked if they contemplated doing something about it, Coventry told Simon, "We wrote out an affidavit. We made an affidavit that we had gotten information through privileged sources, that Alton Logan was not in fact guilty of killing the officer, that in fact somebody else did it..."

"But the minute he was not sentenced to death, the minute he was sentenced to life in prison, you decided to do nothing?" Simon asked.

"Yes," Kunz said. "I can't explain it. I don't know why that made the difference but I know it did."

"There is no difference between life in prison and a death penalty. None whatsoever. Both are a sentence of death," Logan told Simon...

(CBS) "What did you do to see if there might be some loophole to get everyone out of this fix?" Simon asked the attorneys.

"I researched the ethics of attorney-client privilege as much as I could. I contacted people who are involved in making those determinations. I know Jamie did the same thing," Coventry said.

"I could not figure out a way, and still cannot figure out a way, how we could have done anything to help Alton Logan that would not have put Andrew Wilson in jeopardy of another capital case," Kunz added.

"Couldn’t you have leaked it to somebody? To a reporter, to an administrator, to the governor, to somebody?" Simon asked.

"The only thing we could have leaked is that Andrew Wilson confessed to us. And how could we leak that to anybody without putting him in jeopardy?" Kunz replied. "It may cause us to lose some sleep. But, but I lose more sleep if I put Andrew Wilson’s neck in the in the noose."

"He was guilty and Logan was not. So, yes his head should be in the noose. And Logan should go free. It's perfectly obvious to somebody who isn’t a lawyer," Simon pointed out. "Andrew Wilson was guilty, was he not?"

"Yes. And that's up to the system to decide. It's not up to me as his lawyer to decide that he was guilty and so he should be punished and Logan should go free," Kunz said.

"Do you think you might have been disbarred for doing that, for violating attorney-client privilege?" Simon asked.

"I don't think I considered that as much as I considered my responsibility to my client. I was very concerned to protect him," Coventry explained.

"But here is a case where two men, you two were caught up in this bind. And chose to let a man rot away in jail," Simon remarked.

"In terms of my conscience, my conscience is that I did the right thing. Do I feel bad about Logan? Absolutely I feel bad about Logan," Coventry admitted.

The attorneys say they were so tormented over Logan's imprisonment that they convinced Wilson to let them reveal that Wilson was the real killer after Wilson's death. Late last year, Wilson died. The two attorneys finally took their affidavit out of the lockbox, and they called Logan's lawyer, pubic defender Harold Winston.

Winston had already been trying to get Logan a new trial. He'd found two eyewitnesses who swore Logan was not the killer. Now, with Kunz and Coventry's affidavit, he thinks Logan will finally go free.

[Blogger's note: From what I've seen and read over the years, prosecutors hate to admit they've prosecuted an innocent person. More often than not, they prefer to let the innocent rot in jail.]

"...Everything that was dear to me is gone," Logan, who missed his mother's funeral, told Simon.

His brothers Eugene and Tony told 60 Minutes they've shared Alton's pain, and they always knew that he was no killer. "My brother ain’t got the nature to do nothin' like that in his soul. He ain’t gonna take nobody else's life. We weren't raised like that," Tony said.

"Your brother is 54 now. Can he start again at the age of 54?" Simon asked...

But Alton Logan is still behind bars. "They are quick to convict but they are slow to correct they mistakes," he said...

This is what Alton Logan meant when he said they are slow to correct mistakes:

Marine Wife Murder Case Still Active
Cox Communications

(San Diego, CA) -- A judge ruled he still has the authority to completely dismiss the case of Cynthia Sommer who was found guilty of killing her husband and spent a few years in jail, but later had the charges dismissed "without Prejudice". Judge John Einhorn says he may dismiss the case "with prejudice" which means the case could not be re filed, "without" means the prosecution could re file murder charges against Sommers who was alleged to have poisoned her husband in 2002.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CTA lawyer Beverly Tucker violated the law to cover up her own crimes, but still touts free speech rights

Head CTA counsel Beverly Tucker used all her power and influence to cover up CTA wrongdoing against a teacher in Chula Vista Elementary School District. She has used this same power to deprive teachers all across California of their rights. But these were teachers without political influence.

Ms. Tucker takes a completely different tack when a teacher has political support. Below is an example of this from a story on CTA's website. Tucker's attitude would have been quite different if the teacher had tried to publish information about CTA's wrongdoing:

"Andrew Nolan was ousted from his post as student newspaper adviser at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill last June when the publication ran stories that made administrators unhappy. Topics included student fights, discipline problems on campus, broken computers, the High School Exit Exam and a job-shadowing program that some students considered ineffective.

"Nolan, a member of the Mount Diablo Education Association (MDEA), has been reassigned to teach English.

"When he first accepted the role of newspaper adviser, he told the principal he planned to encourage students to tackle “real issues” much like a community newspaper, and there was no objection. Students, he says, did a good job journalistically.

“They put their hearts and souls into it to make it the best paper it could be,” says Nolan. “Students started reading it for the first time. It used to be delivered and kids would just walk by on their way to lunch. But soon kids were clamoring for copies.”

"When he was first told of his reassignment, administrators said the reason was that his “talents could be better put to use teaching core curriculum.” However, a school district spokesperson later told a local newspaper that Nolan was reassigned because the student newspaper did not include the viewpoints of administrators. Nolan finds that ironic, since students often asked administrators for quotes and received a “no comment” response.

"CTA plans to file a lawsuit against the district alleging that Nolan’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was removed from his position, says CTA Chief Counsel Beverly Tucker.

"Quietly accepting the principal’s decision was not an option, says Nolan. “What kind of role model would I be for students if I just rolled over on this one? That wouldn’t be teaching them anything. And they deserve better than that.”

Link to full article.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Greg Cox fails to address question of how Steve Castaneda case was initiated, and the investigation of Cheryl Cox wasn't.

Bob Castaneda, the brother of Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda, raised important questions about the two prosecutions carried out by the San Diego District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit.

Bonnie Dumanis appointed Peter O'Toole to bring in two political opponents of Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox for questioning. Both of them were charged with lying during these odd investigations. How did these investigations get initiated? Why were two men prosecuted for felony perjury even though the investigations uncovered no crimes?

Why has a complaint about Cheryl Cox and her agents been ignored by this "Public Integrity Unit"?

Supervisor Greg Cox has written a letter that does absolutely nothing to answer the questions that have been raised. Of course Cox protests that he has done nothing wrong. But how will he restore the credibility of the District Attorney's office? He makes no effort to do so.

Here is a comparison of the letters by Bob Castaneda and Greg Cox.

The question remains: was the PIU tipster a friend of Cheryl and Greg Cox?

The answer seems sort of obvious, doesn't it?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Does the justice system work for non-lawyers?

City System Ranks Among Worst in Nation
Oversight Policies Are 'Designed to Shut Out the Public,' Group Behind Study Says

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A group that advocates making the nation's justice system more user-friendly for non-lawyers said in a report yesterday that the District's procedures for holding judges accountable to the public are among the worst in the country.

The study, by the nonprofit group Help Abolish Legal Tyranny (HALT), did not examine specific cases of wrongdoing by judges. Researchers graded the court systems in all states and the District on their rules for judicial conduct and ethics and their procedures for sanctioning violators.

"The District of Columbia's system of judicial oversight is one of the most secretive in the country," HALT's senior counsel, Suzanne M. Blonder, said in a statement. "In an era that embraces principles of sunshine and transparency, it's shameful that the system of monitoring some of our most powerful government officials is designed to shut out the public."

On the group's Judicial Accountability 2008 Report Card, no jurisdiction got an A. Washington state received a B, and Connecticut and Pennsylvania were graded B-minus. Thirty-three states were graded C-plus to C-minus. The District (grade: D) and a dozen states were ranked in the D-plus to D-minus range. Maine and Mississippi got an F. Maryland was given a C and Virginia, a D.

Based on the numerical scores used to calculate the grades for the 51 jurisdictions, the District was in a three-way tie with Delaware and Louisiana, ahead of only Maine and Mississippi. Maryland ranked 17th, and Virginia was 45th, a few rungs higher than the District.

Henry F. Schulke, special counsel to the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, said that there were several inaccuracies in the report and that the commission, which is independent of the court system, is only abiding by federal law.

"The commission's jurisdiction, its confidentiality provisions, its financial disclosure provisions are all governed by a statute enacted by Congress," he said. "And so to the extent there are any perceived deficiencies in the process, it's not something under the control of the commission itself."

The researchers rated each jurisdiction on the degree of public access to complaints against judges; the severity of sanctions; the availability of online information about disciplinary proceedings; the percentage of non-lawyers involved in the sanctioning process; the level of financial disclosure required of judges; whether people are free to speak publicly about complaints they file; and the strictness of limits on reimbursements, compensation and honoraria for privately sponsored trips by judges.

The District got F's on public access to complaints and the severity of sanctions.

"The District is one of only three jurisdictions in the nation to delay disclosure of an ethics complaint against a judge unless and until the [D.C.] Court of Appeals orders public discipline," HALT said, adding that "the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure typically only sanctions dishonorable judges with closed-door reprimands and secret censures about which the public is never notified."

The group gave the District an F for financial disclosure and D's for online information, compensation for private trips and the involvement of non-lawyers in imposing sanctions on judges. Because complainants are not under gag orders during the disciplinary process, as they are in some jurisdictions, HALT gave the District an A in the "consumer friendliness" category.

Judge admits filing lawsuit without merit--but only after being forced to do so by the California Superior Court

I suspect that there are plenty of attorneys and judges in California who are as bad or worse than this one. The story in the article below appears to be typical of what I know of the practice of law in California. What is atypical is the apology for filing a lawsuit that had no merit.

I was introduced to the court system by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, who were working with Parham & Rajcic, who may not be typical. These two firms help public school clients commit and cover-up wrongdoing. As a result of the machinations of these two firms, I got to know lawyers Deborah Garvin and Elizabeth Schulman, who may perhaps have been restrained by legal ethics in some other case, but certainly were not so restrained in mine.

Finally, I had my eyes opened by the California Teachers Association, of which I had been a big supporter, financially as well as politically, for decades. I discovered that CTA lawyers were just as ready as any of the above-mentioned attorneys to violate the law in order to gain a political advantage for the people who run the union. Head counsel Beverly Tucker and CTA executive director Carolyn Doggett turned out to be no better than Dan Shinoff.

During my odyssey in the court system, I met only one ethical lawyer. Unfortunately for me, she has gone on to bigger and better things than school district lawsuits.

For these reasons, the following story is interesting only in that it is the exception to the rule.

Most of us don't have the resources of Tom Siebel, and we will never get apologies from the attorneys and institutions who make big money and good reputations by abusing the justice system. Or maybe we will. Maybe I should file a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against Stutz law firm for its meritless defamation suit against me.

Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt Issues Public Apology for Her Role in Lawsuit That 'Lacked Legal Basis' Against Thomas M. Siebel

PALO ALTO, Calif.,
May 1, 2008

San Mateo County Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt has issued a public apology to Silicon Valley businessman Thomas M. Siebel, chairman of First Virtual Group, for bringing a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages from him that was determined to be without merit.

The apology is part of an agreement reached between Mittlesteadt and Mr. Siebel to settle a malicious prosecution case filed by Siebel in July 2000. In addition to her apology, Judge Mittlesteadt agreed to a financial settlement of $100,000, which Mr. Siebel will donate to the Stanford University Law School to support the study of legal ethics.

Mr. Siebel initiated the malicious prosecution case against Mittlesteadt in 2000 in response to a wrongful termination and gender discrimination claim that Mittlesteadt filed in 1996 on behalf of a former employee of Siebel Systems, Inc. Mittlesteadt filed her suit while Siebel Systems was preparing for its initial public offering, and thus was particularly vulnerable to disclosable litigation claims. Mr. Siebel prevailed in that case when the court determined that all claims against him were unfounded.

In an effort to set a precedent that would prevent similar lawsuits in the future, Mr. Siebel filed a malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt and her co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II. The suit stated that they had misused the legal process, in violation of the law and in violation of legal ethics, to pursue claims that they knew to be false in the hope of extracting a large financial settlement from Mr. Siebel and Siebel Systems.

Mittlesteadt attempted to block Mr. Siebel's malicious prosecution suit, claiming that he had no right to sue. The California Supreme Court disagreed in a ruling last year. The court's ruling cleared the way for Mr. Siebel's suit to proceed, and set a precedent that will make it easier for companies and individuals to pursue malicious prosecution claims and defend themselves against unfounded, economically damaging lawsuits.

"This case was a private effort at tort reform," said Mr. Siebel. "My hope is that other plaintiff's lawyers will look at this outcome and think twice before seeking to extort settlements by filing lawsuits they know have no basis in fact."

Lisa A. Rickard, President, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, applauded Mr. Siebel for pursuing his malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt.

"It is courageous people like Mr. Siebel who, by taking a stand, make it easier for individuals, small businesses and corporations to fight back against malicious lawsuits rather than be extorted into a settlement," Rickard said.

Settlement in the case was reached following arbitration by former California Supreme Court Judge Edward A. Pinelli.

In her letter of apology to Mr. Siebel, Judge Mittlesteadt said:
"I write to express my sincere regret for pursuing claims against you
that were determined to be without merit. I accept the ruling of the
California Appellate Court that the litigation contained claims for
which there was no legal foundation. I acknowledge that my actions may
have caused substantial expense and inconvenience, and damage to your
reputation and good name, for which I apologize."

Mittlesteadt originally sued Mr. Siebel in 1996. Mittlesteadt's co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II, settled with Mr. Siebel last year, apologizing for his role in the case in a letter to Mr. Siebel:

"I am writing to you to publicly express an apology for my part in
participating in the litigation captioned Christoffers v. Siebel
Systems, et. al., against you. I sincerely regret participating in this
clearly intemperate and ill-advised action, and accept the California
Supreme Court's and California Appellate Court's opinion that the
litigation contained claims for which there was no legal foundation.
Accordingly I ask that you accept my apology. I thank you for your wise
and gracious effort to put this unpleasant and unnecessary event in the
past and for allowing the parties to move on with their lives."

Mittlesteadt is now a Superior Court judge in San Mateo County, an appointment she received while Mr. Siebel's litigation was still pending.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Are Heller Ehrman lawyers exceptional? These antics are typical for Stutz law firm and Parham & Rajcic

I came across this article from October 2007 on Blogonaut. I was looking up Heller Ehrman because they were involved in an education case.

What surprises me about this article is that everyone acts surprised. This is exactly how Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz has behaved during litigation in which I was involved.

Is hiding evidence truly unusual, or is everyone just pretending to be shocked?

From Blogonaut:

Federal Court Brings Written Charges of “Exceptional Misconduct” Against 14 Lawyers in California Qualcomm Suit, Heller Litigators Among Those Cited

A federal district court has ordered 14 California lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for their “exceptional misconduct” on behalf of Qualcomm in a lawsuit that the San Diego wireless company lost. All of the lawyers subject to the order were from the Cupertino law firm of Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder or the Heller Ehrman law firm's offices in Menlo Park and San Diego, the San Diego Tribune is reporting.

Five additional lawyers have been drawn into the proceedings since the order was issued, so the fate of 19 attorneys rests on the outcome of an October 12, 2007, 9:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. Magistrate Barbara Major, the newspaper reports.

“I do not recall any case in which so many individual attorneys have been ordered to come before a judge in this kind of situation,” said Kenneth J. Withers, director of judicial education at The Sedona Conference, a nonprofit law and policy institute told the news service.

“Something obviously went very, very wrong here,” said George Socha, a Minnesota legal consultant who agreed with Withers that the case is highly unusual”, the Tribune reported.

The sanctions proceeding arose from a case Qualcomm filed in 2005 against rival Broadcom, which alleged the Irvine chip-maker was infringing on two patents held by Qualcomm for video compression technology. The jury took just 6 hours to reject Qualcomm’s claims, and also made advisory findings that Qualcomm improperly withheld key information that could have weakened its patents from a standards-making body and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

To make matters worse, the existence of 21 e-mails requested by the defense in pretrial discovery did not come to light until the last day of testimony in the trial. Not good.

But it gets worse, because the 21 e-mails were inconsistent with facts that Qualcomm's lawyers presented in the case. This would possibly allow inferences that not only were the e-mails intentionally withheld, but that the case presented was less than honest. Indeed, San Diego federal Judge Rudi Brewster later described the alleged misconduct as “an organized program of litigation misconduct and concealment”, the Tribune reports.

Brewster, who presided over the patent trial, detailed the misconduct in an Aug. 6 ruling that waived Qualcomm's patents and ordered the San Diego wireless giant to pay Broadcom's attorney fees, currently estimated at $8.5 million.

Among other things, Brewster found that the Qualcomm engineers had “blatantly” lied while under oath. The judge also found that Qualcomm and its attorneys knowingly failed to produce more than 200,000 pages of e-mails, memoranda and other electronic evidence that directly contradicted the legal arguments made by Qualcomm before, during and after the trial.

Brewster referred the findings presented in his 54-page ruling to Major, who issued an order in August for the Qualcomm lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for “exceptional misconduct.”

In statements filed last week, the lawyers maintained that they acted in good faith and never sought to conceal evidence from Broadcom or mislead anyone in the case...

[From The San Diego Union Tribune and The Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lawyers: Protectors of our freedom

Daily Kos
by mcjoan
Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:25:18 PM PDT
What day is today according to the White House? It's not "Mission Accomplished Day." It's not May Day. No, George Bush, law-breaker in chief, has declared today "Law Day."

"...The American legal system is central to protecting the rights and freedoms our Nation holds dear. The theme of this year's Law Day, "The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity," recognizes the fundamental role that the rule of law plays in preserving liberty in our Nation and in all free societies. We pay tribute to the men and women in America's legal community. Through hard work and dedication to the rule of law, members of the judiciary and the legal profession help secure the rights of individuals, bring justice to our communities, and reinforce the proud traditions that make America a beacon of light for the world.

"Nearly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta placed the authority of government under the rule of law; centuries later, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution marked tremendous advances in the march of liberty. These documents established enduring principles that guide modern democracies. Today, we are reminded of that past and look toward a hopeful future as we work to secure the liberty that is the natural right of every man, woman, and child.

"On Law Day, U.S.A., our Nation celebrates our belief in the equality of each person before God and renews our commitment to strive to bring America ever closer to its founding ideals.

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, in accordance with Public Law 87-20, as amended, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2008, as Law Day, U.S.A. I call upon all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also call upon Government officials to display the flag of the United States in support of this national observance...."

It's almost funny, in a very dark kind

Interpreting the California Public Records Act

Vooice of San Diego
No Response on E-Mail Request

I just got word from Julie Dubick, Mayor Jerry Sanders' policy director, that the Mayor's Office won't be responding today to our challenging of their interpretation of the California Public Records Act.

Dubick had originally told me she would have a response today.

Some background: A wrongful termination suit filed this month alleges that a former top city official was fired for reporting inappropriate behavior by mayoral spokesman Fred Sainz. One of those accusations centered on an e-mail flagged by the city's computer system from Sainz to local newspaper editorial writer Bob Kittle that allegedly contained inappropriate language.

I requested that e-mail through the Public Records Act. The Mayor's Office refused to release the e-mail Monday, saying it was protected by an exemption in the law. While it didn't cite the exemption, we're assuming it's the pending litigation exemption.

Since then, we've been contacted by a bevy of attorneys (some offering to file a lawsuit pro bono on our behalf) who argue that the mayor's interpretation of the exemption is wrong.

The exemption only protects documents specifically prepared for a lawsuit, not any document that happens to be mentioned in a lawsuit, they argue. If the e-mail was public record before the lawsuit, it should be public record now, they say.

Stay tuned. Dubick didn't give me a precise date as to when the Mayor's Office might respond. I'm writing her back right now.

Wednesday, April 30 -- 5:49 pm