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The Story Behind the Story

Norm Pattis of Crime & Federalism has done a little bit of digging to come up with this story behind the story of ineffective counsel.  Here's the scoop.  On Tuesday, April 18, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Gonzales-Lopez (hat-tip to SCOTUS Blog for this  summary).  The case involved a defendant, Gonzales-Lopez, accused of marijuana distribution.  Gonzales-Lopez's  family hired an attorney, John Fahle to represent him  at arraignment, but Gonzales-Lopez learned of another California attorney, John Low, via the Internet and sought to retain Low instead.  The court denied Low's application for pro hac vice and as a result, a second local attorney, Karl Dickhaus was retained as local counsel.   The case was Dickhaus' first criminal case in federal court and Low was not permitted to advise Dickhaus or sit with Gonzalez-Lopez; not surprisingly, Gonazales-Lopez was convicted.

The issues at the Supreme Court address whether the denial of pro hac vice and the exclusion of Low from any participation whatsoever denied Gonzales-Lopez of  counsel.  Interesting question, sure.  But what's equally interesting is just who is John Low, this white knight brought in from California to handle the matter?  That's the question that Pattis investigates.  According to Pattis' post

"One of Mr. Low's websites boasts that he is a 'national trial lawyer.' On another website he specializes in nursing home abuse. On another he is a master of personal litigation. And don't forget the site devoted to securities fraud. If memory serves, the young lawyer has not yet been practicing a decade. Is there anything in which he does not specialize?"

Of course, it's hard to say whether Low's all around experience or Dickhaus' lack of criminal experience make him less competent in a criminal trial.  After all, Daniel Petrocelli, the lawyer who secured a civil judgment against OJ Simpson is holding his own in his first criminal trial.  At the same time, I'd be surprised if Petrocelli is licensed to practice in Texas; seems inherently unfair that Skilling should be able to choose counsel freely whereas a run-of-the-mill criminal like Gonzales-Lopez doesn't have that right.  I'm guessing the judges side with Gonzales-Lopez.  Sure, you may not have the right to the best possible attorney if the state foots the bill, but I think that most of us, conservative or liberal, would agree that when you spend your own money, you should be able to retain whatever attorney you want, whether he or she is the conventional choice or not.   

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 20, 2006 at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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