Tag Archive for 'lawyer'Page 2 of 18

Defending the Sandy Hook Personal Injury Lawyer

One of the (many) reasons the general public distrusts lawyers is that the public believes that lawyers take advantage of tragic situations in order to make the lawyers wealthier. For example, the 2012 December 14th mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut was a big disaster for all the students and teachers involved. Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including his own mother, before committing suicide. When attorney Irving Pinsky wished to represent a six-year old girl at the shooting for a claim of $100 million, Pinsky began receiving numerous letters, faxes and phone calls regarding Pinsky’s moral character.  A few of the messages even contained death threats. I do not believe that attorneys like Pinsky, and the clients they represent, deserve the scorn that members of the public throw at them.

I think some of the bad reputation acquired by attorneys comes from the perception that lawyers are taking advantage of trauma victims. Unfortunately, some of this perception is unavoidable.  People only seek legal aid when an aspect of their life becomes awful. Couples seeking a divorce go to family lawyers, people accused of a crime find a criminal defense attorney, and employees who lose their positions seek out employment lawyers to determine if their terminations were legal. The nature of the legal profession means that lawyers will show up when clients have a problem somewhere in their life.

What I find puzzling though, is that attorneys are hated for this and other professions are not. Surgeons, for instance, are only needed when someone has a complication somewhere in their body. Surgeons are not despised for healing their patients, yet attorneys are hated for representing their clients.

Sandy Hook SchoolPerhaps the cause of loathing for attorneys is the perception that lawyers make money off their clients. This does not make sense to me though. Truth is, not all lawyers make a lot of money. But even if all lawyers were rich, I do not see why that should be a sin particular to the legal profession. Legal advocacy is a job like any other, and lawyers should not be despised for doing their jobs. Surgeons are paid to work for people who are suffering, but surgeons do not receive the contempt of the community. Given that many lawyers work cases pro bono, without payment, and other lawyers work on contingency, it is arguable that a person could obtain legal services easier and cheaper than a surgery.

If money is the issue though, perhaps a possible explanation is the amount of money which could be earned. In the Sandy Hook story, $100 million was demanded. That is a lot of money for a household where the child is lucky to be alive. A few factors should be remembered though. First, the amount of money asked for must be higher than what the client expects or wants because this is the ceiling of what the defendants might have to pay. Second, given that the law requires actual injury before a party can bring a lawsuit, a good chuck of the money awarded will go towards medical expenses like therapy. Third, as mentioned above, the lawyer might get a percentage of the award (the standard is one-third, but this is negotiable).  All these factors mean that $100 million is not the amount which will actually be given.

The final point of interest is that lawyers, by advocating for their clients, must assign blame to a particular party. The actual party responsible for the Sandy Hook shooting, Adam Lanza, cannot be brought to justice. Pinsky, the attorney, was attempting to lay the blame for Lanza’s actions on the school district instead. Pinsky argued that Lanza’s actions were foreseeable given that the school lacked a safety plan for students.

The school district found the charge offensive. First, few people could have predicted a twenty-year old man would massacre an elementary school. Second, many of the teachers killed had shielded the children as the children attempted to flee. One injured teacher had pressed a door shut with her body while Lanza shot through the door. Third, Lanza had shot his way through the school’s locked doors, rendering the school’s protections worthless.

Pinsky’s claim was an understandable one though, even if the shooting is emotionally charged. Pinsky’s claim was not that the teachers and staff were uncaring or cowards. Pinsky believed the school should be accountable for the shooting because the school lacked a real response plan, making student injury from many types of disasters foreseeable.

I don’t know if this was true, but given that one of the functions of the judicial system is to uncover the truth, the idea was worth investigating. Sadly, Pinsky has since withdrawn from the case, citing contradictory evidence. I hope other lawyers are not discouraged from representing those in need by the mere notion of unpopularity.  The most crucial role that an attorney can take is to speak for those who have no voice.

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Defendant Appointed 3 Different Lawyers, Stabs Each in Court

Many people undervalue the Sixth Amendment, the right to an attorney, until they’re arrested and accused of a crime. One man, however, does not seem to appreciate the work his attorneys did on his behalf. On January 2nd, 2012, Joshua Monson killed Brian Jones over a sale of methamphetamine. Monson was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine and second degree murder.

Attorney Tom Cox was assigned to represent Monson before Judge David Kurtz at the Everett Courthouse in Washington State.  Monson borrowed a pencil while he waited in county jail. During the trial though, Cox was stabbed in the head by Monson with the pencil Monson had borrowed. Although Cox was not greatly wounded, Cox withdrew from the case and Judge Kurtz declared a mistrial. Gurjit Pundhar replaced Cox as Monson’s lawyer – and Monson also stabbed her in the head with a pencil. Judge Kurtz declared another mistrial and appointed a third attorney, Jesse Cantor, to represent Monson.

To ensure that the trial would proceed without another attorney stabbing, Kurtz ordered that an electrical cuff be trapped to Monson’s leg. Monson was always deprived of his weapon of choice, the county jail pencil. Although the state wanted Monson strapped down to a chair for good measure, Cantor argued against it, saying that the jury might be biased against Monson if they saw the defendant tied down to a chair like a mad man during the trial. Judge Kurtz agreed with the defense counsel.

During the prosecutor’s opening statement though, Monson obtained Cantor’s pen and stabbed Cantor in the head with the attorney’s own pen. Although Cantor wasn’t serious injured, Judge Kurtz declared that Monson had forfeited his right to an attorney and that Monson would be representing himself for the remainder of the trial – while tied down to a chair.

joshua monsonI think many readers will have one of two reactions to this story: “Monson deserves it,” and/or “well duh he’s guilty.” Although it is true that Monson’s own conduct is the reason Monson can’t have an attorney, the law in Washington State leaves it to the trial judge’s own discretion. Judge Kurtz did not have to deprive the defendant of his right to an attorney.  Although appointing Monson a new lawyer again is still an option, at this point it seems that Monson is playing games with the court. However, Judge Kurtz could have saved time by denying one of Monson’s previous attorney’s requests to withdraw from the case.

Indeed, the case Judge Kurtz cited in support of his decision, State v. Fualaau, had the trial judge deny an attorney’s request to withdraw from the case despite the fact the attorney had been assaulted by his own client. The Fualaau judge had ruled that there were no conflicts of interest in having a lawyer represent a client who had just attacked the lawyer. Although the law did leave the decision up to Judge Kurtz, his decision could have gone the other way.

Before Monson’s final attorney was stabbed, that attorney had argued that Monson should not be restrained to his chair since the restraints themselves might cause the jury to believe that Monson was guilty. Readers might be tempted to conclude that Monson is guilty based on his behavior in court, and that the trial is just a formality at this point. Please dispense yourselves of this belief. The legal system serves two functions, functions which are undermined by false assumptions of guilt based on behavior outside of the crimes the defendant is charged with.

The first function served by the legal system is the discovery of whether the defendant committed a specific crime. This might sound extremely obvious, but many people will look at a trial and ask “is the defendant guilty?” That question, however, is not the proper one. The real question behind a criminal trial should be “is defendant guilty of the crimes he (or she) is charged with?” Yes, Mr. Monson is very likely guilty of assault, but the actual charges are possession of meth and second-degree murder. Possession of an illegal drug and murder are separate crimes from assault; neither the jury nor the public should conclude that Monson is guilty of murder or possession of an illegal substance based on a trio of assaults.

The second, and lesser known, function of the legal system is assigning the proper punishment to the proper crime.  Punishment in order to give retribution for the victims, i.e. “an eye for an eye,” only works if the defendant loses the same amount the defendant deprived from the victims. If Monson is convicted of murder because of the assaults on the three attorneys, than the trial will not be a proper recognition of the loss of Brian Jones. The murder will be overshadowed and the victim’s sense that their loss is being corrected will be eroded. The rights of the victim are also deprived when the defendant loses his right to an attorney.  Although criminal law is about the authority of the state and the defendant’s crime, it is important that the judge’s decision reflects the interests of all parties involved.

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Covington & Burling Law Firm Gets Disqualified For Violating Duty To 3M

Lawyers often get a bad rap for being greedy amoral people who care more about securing their next paying client rather than protecting their current and past ones.  Nowadays this reputation is mostly undeserved.  However, it’s all the more unfortunate when stories like this one emerge to prove that bad apples still exist.

Legal powerhouse Covington & Burling LLP was recently disqualified from a case by a Minnesota judge.  Covington was representing Minnesota at the behest of the state’s attorney general in an environmental lawsuit again 3M Co., as in the company that makes the majority of your company’s office supplies.

In big cases like these, it’s not unheard of for a government prosecutor’s office to feel overwhelmed and turn to the private sector for help.  This case is no different.  So what’s the problem with a major law firm helping to prosecute a major corporation?  Nothing.  Except when the major law firm used to represent the major corporation currently being prosecuted.

Apparently 3M was a former client of Covington in the past.  But somehow the big firm lawyers failed to inform the court of this pertinent fact.  And that’s exactly why the judge decided to kick Covington to the curb.

You can probably guess the problems that could arise in a situation like this.  Imagine you’re in high school and you have a friend that you confide all your deepest and darkest secrets to.  Now imagine if you had a falling out with this friend who then suddenly buddies up with your sworn enemy.  What do you think the chances are that the whole school will know you wet yourself in terror whenever you see donuts?  Wait, hold that thought, the entire student body is clearing out every bakery in town.

And that’s why attorneys aren’t supposed to go against their old clients.

You may also be surprised to learn that there are actually ethical rules against this sort of behavior, too.  Every state’s bar association has their own version of lawyer conduct rules, but they all generally fall in line with the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility.  Basically, it’s a code of conduct that tells lawyers how to handle various professional moral dilemmas.  And chief among these rules is protecting your client’s confidences and secrets, which Covington allegedly failed to do by taking arms against its old client, 3M.

Like doctors, lawyers are entrusted with highly sensitive information from their clients.  It’s a necessity in order for the attorney to give the best representation possible.  The problem is that this same information, if misused, could be turned against those very same clients.  To prevent this, Courts and bar associations impose a duty on attorneys to protect their clients’ secrets.  And in the case of a conflict of interest between representing a new client against an old client, most state rules of professional responsibility only allow the lawyer to do so if they get an informed written consent from their old client first.  Some state bar associations go even further by requiring consent from both parties and the court.  And even still, a lawyer can be disqualified if the information they possess about the old client is directly relevant to the heart of the new lawsuit against them.

Unfortunately for Covington, the judge found the firm failed on all accounts.  The court held Covington “exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty to 3M by failing to raise its conflicts” stemming from its previous representation.  Short of being disbarred, it doesn’t get more embarrassing than that for a renowned international law firm.

In practice, conflicts like these can lead to all sorts of problems for the new client, too.  Not only do they have to find a new lawyer, but sometimes their case can even be dismissed.

As for 3M, the company can breathe a temporary sigh of relief as the prosecution regroups.  But as horror movies have taught us, one must always be wary of the proverbial hand emerging from the lake.

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New Orleans Prosecutor Accidentally Drops Joint While In Court

The problem with being a prosecutor is that you’re often held to a higher standard.  Minor screw-ups aren’t easily swept under the rug; rather, they are dwelled upon by your superiors and the public.  Often times the only way to survive termination or forced resignation is if someone else makes an even bigger mistake.  Like for instance, if another prosecutor in your office accidentally drops a marijuana joint out of their pocket in court.

Jason Cantrell, a New Orleans assistant city attorney, did just that while standing in front of local cops while in court.  If there was another person in Cantrell’s department who was facing the chopping block, we’ll never know now because Cantrell’s antics have become the talk of The Big Easy.

Details are sparse as to exactly what Cantrell, 43, was doing there that day, but according to reports he wasn’t at court for work purposes.  Sources state that when the joint fell out of his pocket, two officers noticed it, looked at each other in bewilderment, and then proceeded to take Cantrell out of the room to write him up.  It’s unknown how Cantrell responded to the cops’ observation, but if ‘80s era sitcoms are to be believed he likely shrugged his shoulders while a tuba played “whomp whomp” in the background.

Fortunately for him, local laws are pretty lenient on first time drug offenders.  Cantrell was cited and released for his transgression.  He’s currently awaiting trial.

Now aside from the obvious question of why a government attorney would think bringing drugs into a courthouse would be a good idea, many people may be wondering whether this means those prosecuted by Cantrell might have their charges dismissed or convictions overturned.  Well, the answer is no.  But good try.

We’ve talked a lot about prosecutorial misconduct in the past.  Basically, when it happens, a defendant can cite the behavior to an appellate court as grounds to dismiss their conviction.  And usually if it’s found to be true, that’s exactly what will happen.

The problem for any defendants in this case is that Cantrell’s conduct, while illegal under the law, doesn’t amount to any sort of appealable misconduct.  The reason is because the improper behavior must directly affect the outcome of a defendant’s case.

Things like tampering with or falsifying evidence, having witnesses give fraudulent testimony, bribing the jury, etc., would all be examples of prosecutorial misconduct.  As you can see, what these actions all have in common is that if they can directly change whether a defendant is found guilty for their alleged crime.

Conversely, if a prosecutor got high on weed, that would only affect their ability to do their job.  It wouldn’t make the evidence and testimony against a defendant any less true or false.  Much like a mental or physical condition, a stoned government attorney could still do their job ethically as long as they adhere to the rules of court and the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

It’s unknown whether Cantrell ever imbibed while on a case, but even if he did, a court likely wouldn’t find such evidence to be grounds for dismissing any of his previous convictions.  If anything, it’d be more of a miracle that he was somehow still able to win despite being stoned.

Cantrell has since resigned from his position following the incident.  In addition, his wife, a city council candidate, has stated her desire that he seek professional help for his alleged issue.

Looks like the party’s over.

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The Increased Use of Forensic Animation Evidence in Court

With the increased use of computer generated imagery (CGI) in movies, people are quickly becoming accustomed to the world of digital animation.  Movies like Shrek and Avatar, and video games like GT5 are blurring the boundaries between real footage and animation.  Digital animation is also making its way into another area of life- the courtroom setting.

Forensic animation evidence is quickly gaining popularity in both civil and criminal trials.  This is basically where the event of a crime or accident is digitally animated in order to present jurors with a representation of what might have happened.  For example, the prosecution may use a digitally created animation scene to trace the path of a bullet, JFK style.  Another common use of forensic animation evidence is in the area of vehicular accident reconstruction.  This requires extensive analysis and application of dynamic physics and mechanics.

Forensic animation was first introduced into courtroom settings as early as 1992.  Since then, more and more lawyers are using animation sequences when presenting their arguments in courts.  The increased use of such evidence has raised many concerns regarding whether animated evidence is admissible in court.  Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of forensic animation evidence:

Pros:

  • May help jurors and witnesses to grasp situations and concepts that might be hard to visualize
  • Many people, especially the younger generation, are used to seeing real-life situations rendered in an animated format
  • Forensic animation technology is evolving to become more accurate in terms of physics, graphics, etc.  (thought they’re usually not as visually spectacular as say, the latest Xbox game)
  • May increase an argument’s persuasiveness, as visual images tend to be more long-lasting in a person’s mind than verbal communications

Cons:

  • Animation may be subject to technological bias and manipulation, as courts still need to work out a system for verifying whether a presentation is accurate
  • Many consider forensic animation to be a “figment” of the producer’s imagination
  • Unpredictable factors may be difficult to incorporate into the animation, such as weather conditions, faulty vehicle parts, and the mechanisms of the human body upon impact
  • Motions that are actually physically impossible may be included in the animation

Many of the benefits of forensic animation depend on what the evidence is being used for in trial.  To clarify, there are two basic uses of forensic animation evidence:  “Substantive” animation and “demonstrative” animation.

Substantive animation is where the evidence is used to show how an event may occur based on the laws of physics and other computations.  The animation is basically a visual rendition of a carefully calculated mathematical equation.  On the other hand, demonstrative animation is where the sequence is used simply to show how an event could have happened given the circumstances.  With demonstrative animation, the animator has much more leeway to create a number of possible outcomes.

In my opinion, the use of forensic animation evidence should be limited to substantive animations, wherein the sequences can be proved using scientific and mathematical computations.  As mentioned, visual images tend to “stick” much more in a person’s mind, and showing countless sequences of hypothetical situations to a jury might skew their perception of the facts.

Also, I feel that forensic animation evidence should be limited to the analysis of mechanical systems and non-living objects, such as cars, motorcycles, bullet trajectories, or engineered systems (such as a power plant explosion).  For example, forensic animation has been used in attempts to show how the human body might react to certain forces, like a gun shot wound.  But in my opinion, the human body is too complex and unpredictable to be reduced to a digitally animated sequence.  After all, any animation is still an artist’s rendition of an unknown event.

All that being said, it looks like forensic animation evidence will continue to be used in civil and criminal cases.  In fact, I predict that it will probably become a standard part of the way cases are presented.  Forensic animation will likely become a large part of the legal career field as well, and may include formal courses on the subject.

In the meantime, the evidence should be limited to substantive animations that can be calculated.  Also, forensic animators should be treated like neutral, expert witnesses who can verify what might or might not be possible under the circumstances.  In my opinion, the animation field obviously needs a lot of polishing before it can be fully credible.  And now, back to that Shrek marathon.

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