Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It all adds up to incompetence

Today the Houston Chronicle reported that more than one-third of the attorneys appointed by Harris County judges to represent people charged with capital offenses accepted over 150 felony assignments per year -- the standard adopted by National Legal Aid and The Defender Association. The article highlights attorney Jerome Godinich, who has averaged more than 350 felony assignments a year!

Let's do the math. There are 52 weeks in a year and five working days in a week. That's a maximum of 260 days at the courthouse -- not counting holidays. That means that Mr. Godinich accepts, on average, at least 1.3 felony cases a day, every day. There is no way a competent attorney can provide meaningful representation to his clients working that type of case load.
Stephen Bright, an expert in capital case representation who has taught at Yale and Harvard law schools and reviewed the Chronicle’s findings, said death penalty lawyers have no business handling nearly 400 clients in one year. “That’s way too many cases and would not leave time for any other cases, particularly capital cases.”
The article also points out that judges have ignored their rules and doled out more than one capital assignment to an attorney within a 60 day period.

Godinich took three capital appointments in less than one 60-day period in 2008. One client was found incompetent to stand trial after drinking toilet water, disrobing and claiming he was Jesus Christ II while in the Harris County jail; another was a 15-year-old who pleaded guilty to felony murder charges and accepted a life sentence without possibility of appeal; the third hired another lawyer.

Godinich has agreed to take as many as 10 simultaneous capital cases over the past five years, though only a few were death penalty cases.

Even more disturbing is the line that "[s]ome felony cases can be resolved in minutes..." It is impossible to investigate a felony case in "minutes." It is impossible to determine whether there are any legal issues to litigate. It is impossible to analyze the factual evidence or to interview witnesses in "minutes." The only thing that's possible to do in "minutes" is to parade a client in front of a judge and have him branded a felon for life.

Godinich, who juggles federal cases and misdemeanors along with his 360 felonies, has refused interview requests. But in a letter to the Chronicle, he defended his indigent defense record, saying he aims to defend his clients “to the best of my ability.”

“That entails working seven days a week and investing countless hours in preparation to ensure that my clients receive their rightful due process,” Godinich wrote. “ It is not an easy job, but it is work that is challenging and has given me enormous personal satisfaction. That is why my clients know who I am and depend on me to stay invested in the process.”

One of his hundreds of Harris County clients, Phillip Hernandez, has been awaiting trial for 18 months on child sexual abuse charges and claims Godinich has never visited him in jail to discuss his innocence claim. Hernandez’s pre-trial hearing was scheduled earlier this month, but the inmate said he learned it had been postponed at the last minute from a bailiff. Godinich did not attend court that day, records show.


cameron said...

I can relate to these stories because my boyfriend that was sentenced this year in 2010 never recieved adequate service from Godnich his court dates kept being reset. He never set up a time where they could meet and throughly go over the cases and discuss how they were going to present to the court his innocence of the charges filed against him. It is stated that everyone deserves a fair trial until proven guilty and this was not the case for my boyfriend. He was told to plea guilty and get it over with or if you go to trial you can face 20-30 years in jail. Something needs to be done to enforce everyone must have a fair trial before they are sentence instead of making the lawyers reacher by not adequaetly representing their clients.

keekee said...

My brother was represented by Godnich in April. He receieved a life sentence without parole. Their was no evidence of his guilt and letters to proove his innocence. He sat in the Harris county jail for four years. I dont believe he had fair representation and I am in need of help.