Thursday, March 11, 2010

Personal feelings getting in the way of justice?

While I was in Austin for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' (NACDL) annual midwinter meeting and seminar I tweeted about a comment that one of the presenters made about prosecutors and Brady material.

The tweet said simply that "Nice prosecutors are dangerous prosecutors." What the speaker meant is that when your opponent seems like a nice guy, or a good ol' boy as we say down here, you need to stay on your toes. It's easy to spot the "mean prosecutor" or the prosecutor who's going to make you jump through hoops to get what you need. It's also easy to disarm someone by coming across as the affable one. In the courtroom, people act affable or folksy or whatever else for a reason.

If you're over in the civil courthouse you almost expect to get knifed in the back by the good ol' boy attorney. That's what they do over there. For attorneys not used to life on the "civil" side, it's easy to walk away without your wallet or your pants.

My post got a reaction from Mr. Brian Sajdak, a municipal attorney in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Mr. Sajdak commented "Nah, if a prosecutor is 'nice' but would still screw you, he's worse than the asshole you know will screw you."

Then he commented "I think I'm nice, and I won't intentionally screw defense counsel either - unless they've tried to screw me b4."

Cynthia Henley, a colleague of mine in the Harris County criminal defense bar (and a fellow blogger) then replied "So if you think that DC has screwed you in the past, you will try to screw them, & thus their client, in retaliation?"

I piped back up and stated "But screwing someone over would be a violation of your ethical duty to 'do justice.'"

Mr. Sajdak then tweeted "Not screw, per se, but less cooperative (e.g., less likely to agree to an adjournment, etc.)"
Now I don't know Mr. Sajdak and our paths will, likely, never cross, but I have no reason to believe that he's a bad person. It does worry me, though, that he would allow his feelings about a defense attorney to color the manner in which he handled a particular case. Regardless of how a prosecutor feels about the attorney across the aisle, that prosecutor has an ethical duty to see that justice is done. If a case is shaky and should be dismissed, it should be dismissed whether the defense attorney is a nice guy or a jerk.

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