Today I talked with a guy named Fred.
Fred had been appointed counsel (Mr. Lawrence) in January before bonding out, and had been appointed other counsel (Ms. Morris) in April, 10 weeks after bonding out.
Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Morris, along with Ms. Curley, handle virtually all of the indigent representation in the 624th District Court of Harris County, Texas, in which Fred is accused of murder. They share cases, so that if Morris is not in court when a particular appointed case is on the docket, Lawrence or Curley will handle it.
Judge Biggs, the judge of the 624th, is aggressively ignorant: he’s more certain when he’s dead wrong than I am when I’m absolutely right. His ignorance is breathtaking in its scope and depth, with a special concentration in the law. Coupled with his Vizziniesque intellect, his ignorance is a near-insurmountable obstacle to predictability. Like many ignorant people of little intelligence in positions of power, Judge Biggs is a bully.
Judge Biggs had ordered an indigency hearing for Fred today (after he had already twice appointed him counsel, and nobody had asked for such a hearing). After yelling at Fred today for not bringing his mother to the hearing (she had paid to bond him out, but her resources aren’t legally included in the indigency determination), Judge Biggs had sent Fred to pretrial services on the 12th floor of the courthouse to pee in a cup.
When I saw Fred today, he was back in the courtroom after peeing in a cup. He explained to me that his mother had begged and borrowed enough money to pay a bonding company $5,000 to make his $50,000 bond, but that the cheapest lawyer he could find to take his case wanted $3,000 and he didn’t have $3,000 to hire a lawyer. He told me that he made $300 a week when he was working, and that he could get a job unless he had to keep coming back to court every day.
Now, $3,000 is not going to buy you much in the way of lawyering, especially in a murder case. As a general rule, an accused is better off with a court-appointed lawyer than with a low-bid lawyer. This rule may not hold true in the 624th, where indigent defendants are subjected to the tender mercies of Lawrence, Morris, and Curley. But in any event, Fred couldn’t even afford the low-bid lawyer. Judge Biggs was upset that he hadn’t hired counsel, which is what led to today’s proceedings.
Morris was out of town today, but Lawrence and Curley were in the courtroom. Having been appointed to represent Fred, were they standing up for his rights and stopping Judge Biggs from bullying him? No, they were conspicuously not. Lawrence, Morris, and Curley hadn’t actively represented Fred since Fred made bond. Why not? Because Judge Biggs figures that anyone who makes bond can hire a lawyer, and it’s not in Lawrence’s, Morris’s, or Curley’s interest to get crosswise with Judge Biggs.
I was keeping an eye on the case to see what Judge Biggs did about the representation situation. He had already removed appointed counsel without a hearing (a no-no) and was looking for an excuse to jail Fred . . . which is why he sent him to pretrial services.
Unfortunately, Fred obliged her by peeing dirty. And, abandoned by his lawyers, with nobody to stand up for him (not that it would have made a difference), Fred went back to jail.
So momma is out five grand that she really couldn’t afford to spend. Fred’s in jail in lieu of a now-$100,000 bail that momma will never be able to make, and Lawrence, Morris, and Curley are back on the case that they should never have stopped working on.
(I don’t know that the story has a moral, other than “stay away from dope when you’re on bail.”)