Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

What all my criminal defense attorney pals long believed to be true got some supportive press this week along with some empirical backing. Defense lawyers know the criminal system is broken largely because of prosecutorial misconduct and the failure of some courts to act as “the guardian of our constitutional rights.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4f/M2500_washed_sand_on_conveyor_%286238147930%29.jpg/320px-M2500_washed_sand_on_conveyor_%286238147930%29.jpgIndeed, as one of those defense lawyer friends who’s also a scholar writes, “Prosecutorial misconduct has infected every stage of the criminal process ranging from the initial charging decision through post-conviction proceedings.”

Moreover, in the words of a dissenting jurist, criminal defendants, especially the indigent, are treated like just another fungible item to be shuffled along on a criminal-justice conveyor belt.”

Several days ago, Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project in New York, wrote a scathing op-ed in The New York Times, What Happens When Prosecutors Break the Law?”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/click/preview/fldr_2008_11_08/file000521358819.jpg“All too often,” she wrote, the justice system“falls silent when the culprit is a prosecutor, and the victim is an ordinary citizen accused of a crime.”

Relying on a recent case to make the point that misconduct by prosecutors too often goes unpunished, she discusses what happened when Suffolk County, NY homicide prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock was caught violating Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). This is the U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over any materially exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession to defendants. Well, Kurtzrock was caught withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady in multiple cases.

“So what happened to Mr. Kurtzrock?” Morrison asked.

Nothing.

Thirteen months after his public firing, and five murder cases overturned because of his illegal actions, Mr. Kurtzrock hasn’t been charged with a single crime. Not fraud, not tampering with government records, not contempt of court.

And he hasn’t even been suspended from practicing law, much less disbarred. He’s now working as a defense lawyer in private practice. That’s right: he’s making a living representing people accused of crimes, in the same courthouse from which he was (supposedly) banished a year ago. His law firm website even touts his experience as a “former homicide prosecutor.”

The law also makes it virtually impossible for Mr. Kurtzrock’s victims to sue him, with the Supreme Court having declared that individual prosecutors and their offices are “immune” from civil rights lawsuits in all but the rarest of cases.

Nina Morrison’s commentary should be widely read.

Verifiable support.

Empirically speaking, the current Houston Law Review as usefully summarized by the website, The Open File, at TX: In Harris County Capital Cases, Prosecutors Get to Be the Judges,” discusses what they call a “thorough and definitive” essay, “The Problem of ‘Rubber-Stamping’ in State Capital Habeas Proceedings: A Harris County Case Study,” by Jordan Steiker, James Marcus, and Thea Posel.

It’s about “how Harris County criminal court judges act as little more than feckless vessels, used by prosecutors to sign off on whatever version of events the local prosecutors believe will be most helpful to their litigation interests.”

The researchers examined 199 Harris County capital post-conviction cases since 1995 to find that

Harris County post-conviction prosecutors have authored and proposed 21,275 separate findings of fact and conclusions of law and the Harris County courts have adopted 20,261 of the prosecutors’ proposed findings verbatim: an adoption rate of 95%. In fact, judges in Harris County have adopted all of the prosecutors’ findings verbatim in 183 out of 191 sets of findings, or 96%. In the vast majority (167) of those cases, the judges simply signed the state’s proposed document without changing the heading.

[The lawyers, policy advocates, law professors and students at The Open File were galvanized to write about prosecutorial misconduct and system failure by the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case, Connick v. Thompson, a decision that also raised my hackles here.]

But what’s most concerning about the Harris County case study is what The Open File author opined, “More studies like this one ought to be undertaken to uncover these practices in other parts of the nation. It would not surprise us if the percentages of rubber-stamped recommendations in many death penalty jurisdictions rival the Harris County findings.”

And summing up, he declared, “Prosecutors do not need any more power than they already possess. Letting them act simultaneously as judge and prosecutor makes a mockery of due process and our criminal courts.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Credits: “washed sand on conveyor,” by Peter Cravens, Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution generic license; “justice,” morguefile.com.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

From the random notebook:

Presidential Pardons

The media has done a poor job in my opinion of explaining the Presidential Pardon power. First, it’s not unlimited. Second, it doesn’t extend to state crimes. (I won’t delve into whether or not a president can pardon himself notwithstanding President Trump’s claims that he can — other than to remark it’s open to constitutional interpretation depending on the legal eagle [or beagle] you ask). That said, under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the president has the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the presidential pardon power in ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving an Arkansas attorney who had served in the Confederate Congress and was thereafter refused admission to practice in the Supreme Court because he couldn’t [or wouldn’t] swear a Congressionally mandated loyalty oath. President Andrew Johnson gave Garland “full pardon and amnesty.” The question then became whether the bar admission law passed by Congress infringed on the president’s pardon power.

The Court ruled in Garland’s favor, declaring the president’s pardon power “extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.” Also see “Presidential Pardons – ABA Legal Fact Check – American Bar Association” and “Trump can dodge federal crimes with pardons — but not state law.”

The other Kim.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/95/Kim_Kardashian_2%2C_2012.jpg/164px-Kim_Kardashian_2%2C_2012.jpgWith President Trump pardoning the famous like Jack Johnson; the not-so-famous like conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza; and possibly, the infamous, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, along with other assorted unmentionables the media has repeatedly failed to differentiate that those pardons involve federal crimes not state ones. ‘Blago,’ for instance, was convicted of federal corruption charges and it’s still uncertain whether he gets the nod. The president can’t pardon people convicted of offenses against the states.

So more recently when the other Kim got President Trump’s ear resulting in a sentence commutation for 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction — the failure to clarify reared itself again. Just the same, good for Kim Kardashian West. But in the reality television world I can’t pinch myself awake from, it’s still important to keep the facts clear and straight.

Two more thoughts on mandatory bars.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/cyblor/01/l/1357158058o4ylu.jpgWhen fighting for legislative reforms of mandatory bar associations, there’s one bromide favored above all others by those opposed to even the slightest stirring of the legal establishment sacred cow. It’s the bunkum, “Why fix it, if it ain’t broke.”

Up until last week, I hadn’t heard as good a retort as the one favored by the late Ella Brennan. “Miss Ella” who died May 31 at age 92 was the famed New Orleans restaurateur whose crown jewel was Commander’s Palace. I dined there once and have to say it deserved every accolade. In an obituary in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, mention was made of Brennan’s passion for learning, brainstorming and continual improvement encapsulated in what the paper declared was “one of her favorite maxims: ‘If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.'”

The other thought I was struck by recently was a line in cultural and political commentator Jonah Goldberg’s June 1st installment, “Great Oaks Have Deep Roots,” in National Review. Among various topics, Goldberg reflected on the excesses of the Right and Left and “alienation from politics” while deconstructing what he said were public policy ends. The second point of his “three-point plan” resonated with me because it epitomizes what’s wrong generally with mandatory bar elites, particularly those of late running the Nevada State Bar.

“Second, we need a lot less nationalism (for want of a better term),” wrote Goldberg. “What I mean by that is that the federal government and various national elites need to stop thinking that the whole country needs to think and act in one way.” [emphasis added] This state-mandated one way thought and action is precisely what elites at mandatory bars like Nevada’s need to stop doing. Stop thinking that their state’s lawyers need “to think and act in one way.” What’s worse, of course, is that the one way is the one that they ordain.

You won’t find better examples of this holier-than-thou monistic my way-or-the-highway arrogance than in the last two “Messages From The President” in the May 2018 and June 2018 editions of the bar’s uninspiring house organ, Nevada Lawyer.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s been awhile but below are the latest updated FREE CLE listings provided again with the usual disclaimers about content quality, continued availability, and jurisdictional creditworthiness.

FREE CLE

Collecting Responsive ESI from Difficult Places – June 20th, 12:00pm CT

by CloudNine on 5/31/2018

This CLE-approved* webcast will discuss what lawyers need to know about the various sources of ESI today, examples of how those sources of data can be responsive to litigations and investigations, and how lawyers may be able to collect much of this data today using intuitive applications and simple approaches.

Presented by:

William J. Kane, Director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers and New Jersey Judges Assistance Programs

From Distressed to De-Stressed

Presented by:

William J. Kane, Director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers and New Jersey Judges Assistance Programs.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lexis Nexis University

Blowing Smoke: Managing New Risks in the Workplace

  • Class Type: Virtual Training
  • Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT
  • Dates: 06/15/2018

Blowing Smoke: Managing New Risks in the Workplace

  • Class Type: Virtual Training
  • Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT
  • Dates: 07/13/2018

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Franczek Radelet

Webinar: Responding to Sexual Harassment in Schools

“In light of the #metoo movement and the current news coverage of high profile sexual harassment cases, we addressed the issue of sexual harassment as it applies to elementary and secondary schools. Specifically, we: (i) discussed the general obligation of a school district to respond to harassment claims by employees and students; (ii) offered an overview of state laws regarding sexual harassment policies, including the recently enacted Public Act 554 reported on here; and (iii) provided a checklist of action items schools and school districts should take to ensure they are prepared to properly respond to sexual harassment claims. Download the presentation here and watch the recording here. ”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fowler School of Law – Chapman University

“The school of law has certified several webcast archives for “self study” credit. Those webcasts marked with an “MCLE” notation will qualify for non-participatory “self study” MCLE for California attorneys for the amount of credit listed. Each webcast counts as general MCLE and does not count for special credit in any subject matter or required topic unless noted.”
https://www.chapman.edu/law/academic-programs/continuing-education.aspx

___________________________________________________________

Credits: Trump, by DonkeyHotey at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution License; Kim Kardashian by Eva Rinaldi, Wikimedia Commons, via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License; cow by cyblor, morguefile.com.

Read Full Post »

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/d/DodgertonSkillhause/03/l/1456878178af2si.jpgSanta Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky was recalled Tuesday. He’s the jurist who faced huge blow-back for sentencing Stanford University student Brock Turner to what many believed a too lenient 6 months rather than as much as 14 years for sexual assault and attempted rape of an unconscious 22-year old woman. In a May interview the judge said he had no regrets over the sentence he gave Turner.

Persky, a judge since 2003, was turned out by the county’s electorate by a vote just under 60%. See “California Voters Remove Judge Aaron Persky.”

It’s been 86 years since a California judge was last recalled. It’s rare. Incumbent judges rarely lose. And so-called merit-selected judges up for retention also almost never lose. Yet given the overreaction of Judge Persky’s defenders, you’d have thought the legal system cratered. That’s because his defenders don’t put much stock on judicial accountability like they do on the sancrosanctity of judicial independence.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/Angry_mob_of_four.jpg/320px-Angry_mob_of_four.jpg

At Flickr by Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons Attribution License

Per one account, “LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and a spokeswoman for Judge Persky, called the recall an attack on judicial independence and said it had “encouraged people to think of judges as no more than politicians.” Conveniently omitted by the judge is that Persky was — after all — an elected public servant ultimately answerable to voters. Meantime, Palo Alto’s newspaper was also over-the-top editorializing that the Persky recall campaign had spawned “a lynch-mob movement that threatens the independence of the judiciary.”

And as for the ‘politicians in robes’ argument, it’s not like legal scholars haven’t argued that judges’ decisions are best explained by their political preferences.

Accountability

So what about the electorate? Are voters’ opinions irrelevant? And when did holding judges accountable become a kind of societal evil? Besides, if a judicial recall is wrong-headed, what other recourse is left to a community in cases like Judge Persky’s? Not even those opining against“recalling judges just because we don’t like their decisions” have good answers. Writing at The Hill lawyer Joel Cohen for one, swats at holding judges accountable, “But to the extent that judicial independence is a core value, we need to find a better way to ensure that decisions by elected state court judges don’t bow to the caprice of the electorate.”

Is there “a better way“? As it is, when judges engage in misconduct or violate professional ethics rules, judicial disciplinary commissions who operate mostly in secret mainly treat such ethics violations with wrist slips administered with kid gloves. An instance of one such wrist slap was the complaint of several years ago by the president of Houston’s defense bar association over the punishment meted out by the state commission on judicial conduct to former Judge Woody Denson. “Nothing ever happens, no one is ever disciplined and there’s no accountability back to anyone for anything,” he protested also adding “And it’s very secretive if anything ever does happen.”

It’s not just a Texas problem either. In 2015, St. Louis Public Radio ran a story about the alleged ineffectiveness of Missouri’s judicial watchdogs, “Missouri’s code of conduct for judges rarely leads to disciplinary action.” According to the report, “About 240 complaints are made against judges in the state of Missouri each year. When complaints are filed—and they can be, by citizens, city officials and other judges–they rarely result in disciplinary action.” Quoting St. Louis University Law professor Brendan Roediger, “The process is very secretive. Sometimes there were rumors around courthouses but that was about it.”

And according to a USA Today report, “Troubling trend: When judges need disciplining.“The Center for Judicial Ethics at the National Center for State Courts serves as a clearinghouse for judicial discipline and tracks misdeeds nationwide. Their records show that removing a judge from the bench is rare. In 2013, only five judges were removed from the bench nationwide, and 17 resigned or retired in lieu of removal. Also see Wisconsin’s Post-Current investigation, “Judges never evaluated, rarely challenged” and “Disciplinary Panel Rarely Takes Action Against Idaho Judges.”

Wikimedia Commons, public domain

To be clear, Judge Persky did not violate any canons of judicial ethics in People v Turner.  Moreover, the state commission on judicial performance concluded in its 12-page report “that there is not clear and convincing evidence of bias, abuse of authority, or other basis to conclude that Judge Persky engaged in judicial misconduct warranting discipline.”

Just the same, those campaigning against Judge Persky took exception calling the report:

a one-sided, closed-door proceeding that resulted in an error-ridden report (the “Persky Report”) by an agency with a long history of protecting judges. The Commission only imposes discipline in approximately 3% of cases, even though one study showed that similar states impose discipline at three to four times that rate. At the same time, the Commission refuses to provide any information about why it disciplines judges at such a low rate. In 2016, the Commission sued to block the State Auditor from completing a performance review ordered by the state legislature. As a result of this lack of transparency and oversight, the respected Center for Public Integrity recently gave California an “F” for judicial accountability in a detailed state study.

Recall proponents justified their campaign because, “It’s clear we need judges who understand sexual assault and violence against women and take it seriously. It’s up to us, the voters, to make a difference.”

In other words, when elected officials are found wanting and oversight watchdogs are napping under a tree, it’s left to the people to act as a final check. Long ago in his 1801 letter to Benjamin Waring Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The will of the people. . . is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”

Read Full Post »

First there was Aaron Schlossberg that New York City lawyer whose rant against restaurant Spanish-speakers went viral. In the video taken of Schlossberg’s exchange, he said he’d be calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to have the Spanish-speaking workers “kicked out of my country.”

He also complained to a restaurant manager, “it’s America” and “staff should be speaking English.” What the hey güey? “SEE IT: White man threatens to call ICE on Spanish-speaking workers at Midtown Fresh Kitchen.”

But like I told someone who asked — no, I don’t think he’s going to be disbarred for his off-the-wall outburst. Loyola Law Professor Jessica Levinson has it right — mostly.

NPS map symbol fishing.svgI say “mostly” because last time I looked, New York is one of a handful of remaining jurisdictions with a so-called ethical ‘catch-all’ rule. It’s Rule 8.4: Misconduct that says “A lawyer or law firm shall not: (h) engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.” In other words, if the discipline folks really want to hook you on something, there’s always the catch-all rule to do it.

You could ride a freight train through that vague tunnel of overbroad ambiguity.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4e/Bakersfield%2C_California._On_the_Freights._Helping_a_newcomer_hop_a_freight_-_NARA_-_532069.tif/lossy-page1-229px-Bakersfield%2C_California._On_the_Freights._Helping_a_newcomer_hop_a_freight_-_NARA_-_532069.tif.jpg

Which means that the lawyer disciplinary folks in the Empire State could still parse out punishment — short of disbarment — based on the elasticity of that rule, especially when two NYC pols have filed bar complaints against angry Aaron. Politically speaking, I won’t be surprised if they come up with a wrist-slap of some kind. But beyond all that, it’s not like public opinion isn’t already pillorying the guy. SeeLawyer’s firm gets bad Yelp reviews after he is named as man in video ranting about Spanish-speakers.”

Just the same, fearful of its potential for abuse some commentators have called for eliminating the ‘catch-all,’ See “New York’s Catch-All Rule: Is It Needed? Part 1.”

What the güey in ELA?

I despise racism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly poisonous head. As a proud melanic Hispanic (aka Latino) and a native Spanish speaker who grew up in East Los Angeles (ELA), I’ve seen my share both then and now. I take comfort, however, in knowing that since ELA remains 98% Latino that a guy like Schlossberg wouldn’t get away with his kind of rant at, for example, an eatery like what was once my local King Taco — not at least without potentially unpleasant consequences.

https://s3-media2.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/DyY2VEusbHoS0_nXqsEssg/o.jpg

Even so, I’m for free speech — even his despicable kind. Moreover, the last thing I’d want to see are the self-styled lords of lawyer discipline deciding permissible and impermissible speech. There are plenty of state and federal laws already on point dealing with discrimination without unleashing the agenda-driven prosecutorial paragons of partiality from the state bar.

But now there’s news of more. A story out of small-burg Montana talks about how last Wednesday a Border Patrol Officer stopped and detained two Spanish-speaking U.S. Citizen convenience store patrons for speaking Spanish. The New York Times reports, They Spoke Spanish in a Montana Store. Then a Border Agent Asked for Their IDs.”

So has it really come to this? Of course — it has. Again, what the hey güey?

But racial profiling? As the Times reports, “It had nothing to do with that,” the officer, who identified himself as Agent O’Neal, responded in the cellphone video. “It’s the fact that it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking.”

And yet I ponder what will become of those immortal words of stand-up comic and fellow ELA homeboy Paul Rodriguez from his comedy album — “You’re in America now, speak Spanish”?

___________________________________________________________

Credits: NPS map symbol fishing, National Park Service fishing symbol, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Bakersfield, California. On the Freights. Helping a newcomer hop a freight, Partridge, Rondal, 1917-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464464, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Boyle Heights King Taco, by Mimi C. at Yelp, fair use commentary; Paul Rodriguez album cover, fair use commentary.

Read Full Post »

The Oregonian reported last week about the latest mandatory bar kerfuffle. This time, it involves a signed statement published in the Oregon State Bar’s April 2018 house organ, The Oregon State Bar Bulletin. It was signed by the bar’s governing board president, president-elect and its CEO and ran alongside a statement by several so-called special interest and specialty bar associations. You can read both statements here.

According to the news story that ran April 24, 2018 in the state’s largest newspaper, “Two signed statements in the latest Oregon State Bar bulletin – one by the bar condemning speech that incites violence and the other by non-bar specialty groups decrying the rise of the white nationalist movement under President Trump — have drawn fire from some lawyers aghast that the bar would allow such political statements.” The ABA Journal also has a story at “Statements by Oregon State Bar and specialty groups draw fire.”

Playing politics and ideology with mandatory monies.

Mandatory bar associations like having it both ways. In mandatory bar states like Oregon, these associations force lawyers to join and fund their activities as a precondition of earning a living. U.S. Supreme Court case-law, however, imposes certain restrictions on these forced-membership associations. They can constitutionally fund activities out of the mandatory dues of all members only if the activities are germane to the goals of regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services.

But being masters of the self-serving, parsed interpretation, the associations generally have a field day gumbifying those goals into loopholes large enough to drive a dump truck through. This is why the temptation remains strong to use mandatory dues to fund activities even if they’re not germane to those regulatory and quality improvement goals, including those of an ideological or political nature. In the rare instances when they’re caught being political or ideological, they solely get to calculate the pittance refunded to objecting members.

Is it any wonder mandatory bars can’t resist their unaccountable access to and nontransparent use of mandatory dues to take positions on public policy matters — even controversial ones? Supreme Court restrictions or not, they depend on every cent of those mandatory member monies even while taking the latitude enjoyed by voluntary bar associations to weigh in on public policy.

Unlike mandatory bars, voluntary bars are free of First Amendment and Keller v. State Bar of California restrictions and can therefore comment and even advocate on political or ideological concerns. However, if members don’t like a position that a voluntary bar association takes, they aren’t forced to remain members.

This, then, is the crux of the mandatory bar problem. If members want to earn a living as lawyers — they might qualify for a nickel ninety-five refund if they have the nerve to complain about non-germane dues use — but they can’t get out.

______________________________________________________________

Credits: Donald Trump caricature by Donkey Hotey at Flickr via Attribution share-alike attribution license.

Read Full Post »

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/h/hyperlux/preview/fldr_2005_05_29/file000516740961.jpgAfter reading about the death of 42-year old prominent, “outspoken” Las Vegas lawyer Jacob Hafter this past week, I thought again of how tough and even unforgiving the legal establishment can be. According to news reports, the Clark County, Nevada coroner’s office ruled Hafter’s death a suicide. See “Suspended Las Vegas lawyer Jacob Hafter dies at age 42.”

Last November, the Nevada Supreme Court handed down a six-month suspension order of Hafter “partly for Facebook comments accusing a judge of religious bias.” For more details concerning his disciplinary case see “Nevada Supreme Court suspends Las Vegas attorney Jacob Hafter.”

Hafter’s sudden unexpected and tragic death has roiled members of the Las Vegas legal community, some going as far as faulting the Nevada Bar for allegedly doing little to help the lawyers it disciplines.

Ironically, in May 2017 the Nevada Supreme Court approved a state bar petition mandating an additional annual hour of continuing legal education in substance abuse, addictive disorders and/or mental health. Also see “Overwrought and over exaggerated but no matter. Over prescribed CLE is always the regulators’ fix.”

Adding to the disquietude caused by Hafter’s death was unrelated news tonight about how Broward County, Florida Circuit Court Judge Merrillee Ehrlich “brutally berate a woman in a wheelchair. The woman died. The judge has quit.” The video is unpleasant to watch, underscoring again how hard the system can be, especially on non-lawyers, too. The Miami Herald story can be found here.

Read Full Post »

I wasn’t going to weigh in. But attorney-client confidentiality confusion is back in the news. This time it’s over President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Fox News Talk Show Host Sean Hannity and whether there’s an attorney-client relationship between them. So comment I will.

However, in place of comprehensively revisiting the topic again here, I direct you instead to one of this blog’s most highly read posts, “When is a client a client? On what establishes an attorney-client relationship.” It’s on point and why I decided not to let the moment pass, especially since pop culture (see below) and even some lawyers remain muddled about the subject.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/a/alvimann/preview/fldr_2008_11_07/file0001224520150.jpgLawyer, former judge, and Hannity’s Fox News compadre Andrew Napolitano typifies the misconceptions. Discussing this week’s revelation that Hannity was Cohen’s mystery client on “Outnumbered Overtime” with host Harris Faulkner, Napolitano pushed back on Hannity’s claim he “may have” paid Cohen $10 to get attorney-client privilege. Napolitano told Faulner, “I must tell you that that is a myth. The attorney-client privilege requires a formal relationship reduced to writing for a specific legal purpose.” 

Having someone pay a lawyer a buck or ten-spot to inoculate a conversation as a privileged attorney-client communication is a common contrivance in novels, movies and on shows like “Better Call Saul” and Breaking Bad.”

But the good judge is wrong. You don’t need a writing. In a nutshell, the bright-line test to create an attorney-client relationship is whether or not the person consulting a lawyer does so “with a view to obtaining legal services.” A signed attorney-client contract or the payment of a fee — whether $1, $10 or $10,000 — isn’t relevant to establish that relationship.

Why does this matter? It matters when a client becomes a client because of the protections of the attorney-client privilege upon which clients rely. For an attorney-client privilege to be raised, an attorney-client relationship must exist.

For more about “the myth of the dollar bill as a prerequisite to the formation of a privileged relationship and the myth that all communications with a lawyer are protected,” see “Better Call Saul: Is You Want Discoverable Communications: The Misrepresentation of the Attorney-Client Privilege on Breaking Bad” and “Sean Hannity’s idea of ‘attorney-client privilege’ was right out of Breaking Bad.”

____________________________________________________________

Credit: Sean Hannity, caricature by Dokey Hotey, at Flickr via Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »