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April 20, 2009

Injustices, waste and mis-management in Texas capital defense system

Providing a fitting follow-up to The Constitution Project's important report on indigent defense (discussed here), the Houston Chronicle has this effective and important article headlined "Death row lawyers get paid while messing up: Attorneys who continue to miss appeal dates are still getting cases."  Here are a few of the details:

Texas lawyers have repeatedly missed deadlines for appeals on behalf of more than a dozen death row inmates in the last two years — yet judges continue to assign life-or-death capital cases and pay hundreds of thousands in fees to those attorneys, a Chronicle records review shows.  Missing deadlines means their clients can be automatically denied constitutionally mandated reviews before their execution. 

Houston lawyer Jerome Godinich missed three recent federal deadlines, the Chronicle reported in March. One client was executed in February after the federal appeal was filed too late.  In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals chastened Godinich for using the same excuse — a malfunctioning after-hours filing machine — for missing another deadline for a man still on death row.

A recent review of the Harris County Auditor’s billing records and district court records shows Godinich remains one of the county’s busiest appointed criminal attorneys, billing for $713,248, including fees for 21 capital cases.  He was appointed to handle 1,638 Harris County cases involving 1,400 different defendants from 2006-March 2009, court records show....

Godinich is not the only attorney to miss death row deadlines....  Only one of three Texas lawyers who repeatedly missed such death row deadlines has faced fines or been forced to forgo fees by judges....

Jack V. Strickland Jr., a Fort Worth lawyer who specializes in capital case law, also has repeatedly missed death row deadlines. However, judges accepted his explanations and allowed late filings for four of five appeals. Being overwhelmed on capital cases was the excuse for two late 2008 filings....

In another case, Strickland missed both state and then federal deadlines for the death row inmate, Quintin Jones.  Before losing his federal appeal due to lateness, Jones repeatedly tried to get another attorney. Strickland said he “almost begged the magistrate judge to appoint someone else. Jones and I had a very unpleasant relationship.”  He was left on the case anyway.

Strickland blamed the deadline error on miscalculating the due date.  He earned $428,850.62 in court-appointed fees in Tarrant County from 2006-2009.  More than a quarter were bills for late appeals, auditor’s records show.

April 20, 2009 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

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Comments

A capital defendant lost his federal habeas chance---cry me a river . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Apr 20, 2009 1:04:44 PM

That is really bad. Even if these people are guilty they still deserve representation.

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