Lying Liar Lawyers


I take an appointed criminal case in federal court from time to time. I don’t need the cases (my time is worth much more than the $94-an-hour that the federal courts pay under the CJA), but I see indigent defense as a public service. As a consequence, I don’t have any problem with my appointed clients hiring counsel.

But why would a federal accused who is getting a full-time criminal trial lawyer for free spend money to hire a civil lawyer dabbling in criminal law? Could it be because the inexperienced civil lawyer has promised to get the client out on bond within three or four weeks of his hiring?

I don’t mind my appointed clients hiring lawyers, but I do mind lawyers who deceive clients to get cases. The lawyer who promises to get the accused in a federal cocaine conspiracy case out on conditions of release is unethical and a liar.

In a federal drug conspiracy case with a possible sentence over ten years, there is a presumption that the accused is a flight risk and danger to the community, and not eligible for release on conditions. Sometimes that presumption can be overcome with rebutting evidence. But there is no combination of facts that a lawyer could have learned in a couple of conversations with the accused that would lead him to the secure conclusion that the accused would be released on conditions.

What happens next? My bet is that once the lawyer has been paid and four weeks have passed and the client is still incarcerated, the lawyer will “discover” some reason that the accused cannot get out on bond.

At some point this has to stop being my problem. That point is . . . now.

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0 responses to “Lying Liar Lawyers”

  1. Wasn’t that Shawn’s point about lawyers “stealing” clients a few weeks ago by lying to them?

    Of course, since the CJA client could afford private counsel, it’s only right that he retain someone, and likely a product of Karma that he got the lawyer he deserved.

  2. The other half of this equation is that the client wants to believe the lawyer that tells him “I can get you out”.

    I think all of us have heard from clients over the years all the variations of unreasonable promises made and outright lies told to clients; perhaps I should add, especially to those in jail.

    I’ve always wondered what those conversations are like, you know the ones… the ‘coming clean’ conversations where the lawyer ‘explains’ that everything he said up until now was somewhere between 95 and 100% wrong.

  3. Scott,

    This case illustrates why it’s not “stealing clients” but “stealing from clients” — the client was not an asset to me, but a liability. I don’t mind losing the client, but that doesn’t make the lawyer’s lies any less repugnant.

    Jamie,

    Good point. Because the vulnerable, incarcerated client wants to believe that the lawyer can get him out, there’s a lot the lawyer can say short of an actual promise that the client will interpret as a guarantee. For example, I wrote here about a firm (now defunct) that claimed a 99% chance of winning a case.

    “99%” or “probably” is no less a lie than “guaranteed”. It’s impossible for the client to catch the lawyer in these weaselly lies, though, because the lawyer can always claim that this case turned out to be in the 1%.

  4. This pretty much was exactly what I was talking about. I agree the client is not mine to be stolen. But when a “lawyer” tells a client whatever he wants to hear just to get paid, then I have a problem.

    I’m sure some of it has to do with the jailhouse lawyers. Clients that are incarcerated are always comparing their cases to someone else’s. So when Weinstein comes in and agrees with them just to get the client, then we have the problem.

  5. This doesn’t seem to happen in our county pokeys; only in the Federal Detention Center. I think that’s probably because there is more money to be made on a federal case than a state case. More money is more motivation for the Weinsteins to lie to the clientele.

    I have never been able to prove that the Weinsteins are somehow paying their jailed clients to refer cases to them. My theory is that everyone with a hired lawyer wants to believe that he has the best lawyer in town, and everyone with an appointed lawyer wants the best lawyer in town.

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