Today the lawyer I described in this post called me (it’s been a little over four weeks, by the way). He wanted to know why his client (my former client) had been detained. I probably should have made like Matlock and flipped him off. But instead, I explained to him the presumption of detention in a federal drug conspiracy case with a possible sentence over ten years. I also explained that the particular magistrate who heard the detention hearing will most likely never grant an accused release over the Government’s objection. Why I had to educate was beyond me; he is the one who made the client promises that nobody could possibly keep, and now he’s talking like I somehow dropped the ball.
The particular job this lawyer is planning to do — racing to the U.S. attorney’s office to cooperate — doesn’t require any legal talent or training whatsoever. But don’t you think that a lawyer who undertakes the representation of a serious drug conspiracy case should actually have a passing familiarity with the law? What happens when cooperation breaks down and the client needs a jury trial? What happens when the government doesn’t move for a 5K1 and the client needs a sentencing fight?
Last year the Southern District of Texas judges instituted new standards for CJA (Criminal Justice Act) lawyers (court-appointed lawyers). Everyone who wanted to be on the CJA panel had to apply; here is the list of the 92 lawyers who made the cut. A modicum of experience was required, and some degree of proven competency.
Hired lawyers, however, do not have to have any experience in federal court; they don’t have to know anything about federal criminal defense; they don’t, in fact, have to know anything about criminal defense at all.
Here’s my advice to state practitioners, or civil lawyers, or new lawyers, who think it it’s a good idea to take money to handle a federal case without lots of help at every step from an experienced federal criminal-defense lawyer: YOU’RE WRONG. DON’T DO IT.