Friday, September 25, 2009

Disgruntled Lawyer

Goldenstern's rules tell us to never buy from a rich salesman and to always hire a rich attorney. I don't know who Goldenstern is or was, but his or her wisdom is irrefutable.

A story has been unfolding in the Canadian news media over the past couple of weeks about certain attorneys in Ontario, Canada who are asking to be removed from cases in which the province pays their fees because their clients are unable to do so. These are not necessarily public defenders per se.

My local newspaper has focused especially on one particular case in which a man charged with murdering his wife had originally been paying his defence attorney himself. When the courts decided to award his home to his wife's parents, who now have custody of his children, he turned to the province for financial help since he could no longer afford to pay his lawyer himself. His lawyer, however, decided that the rates payed by the province simply weren't high enough and asked to be removed from the case. The accused requested that his lawyer be kept on, citing confidence in his (the lawyer's) abilities. The judge ultimately decided that the lawyer's compensation, or lack thereof, was not the court's concern and that there wasn't time to arrange for an alternate defence attorney, a preliminary hearing having already been scheduled, and therefore denied the lawyer's request to be removed from the case.

Big win for the accused! Or is it? Let's think about that for a minute. The accused is now being represented by a lawyer who has openly stated that he doesn't think he's being payed enough. It probably doesn't help that, apparently, at least one other public defence attorney did indicate that he might be able to take over the case, but the judge nixed the idea anyway, mainly because the accused was adamant about wanting to keep his current lawyer. Now, not only is the lawyer P.O.'d about the chintzy pay, but he also holds his client directly responsible for not being excused from the case. Would you want a disgruntled lawyer with a personal grudge against you defending you against a murder rap?

The commonly-accepted wisdom is that it's never wise to upset anyone who provides a service, lest it suddenly turn into a disservice. Stiffing a waiter on his tip might only result in him spitting in your food or peeing in your coffee. Distasteful to be sure (pun intended), but things can get a lot uglier when your future hangs in the balance.

I can imagine the defence attorney's opening statement going something like "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the evidence against my client is entirely circumstantial. I urge you not to allow his beady little close-set, criminal eyes to affect your decision. I remind you, too, that he was acquitted of all five of his previous spousal abuse allegations, and that they have no bearing on this case in any event."

During the trial, one might hear exchanges such as:

Prosecuting Attorney: Mr. Ferguson, isn't it true that you hated your wife?

Judge: That implies a knowledge of Mr. Ferguson's state of mind. Does the defence wish to object?

Defence Attorney: I'll allow it.

It has been said that anyone who defends themselves in court has a fool for a client. I respectfully submit that so does the lawyer who doesn't really want to defend a case.

(Disclaimer: There was no mention of any previous spousal abuse allegations against the accused in any news story. I added that merely to exaggerate my point. You'll find that I do that.)

No comments: