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Are Judges Who Appoint Lawyers to More than 300 felonies a Year Violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct?
Friends- Attached please find the 2012 Harris County Auditors Report for Court Appointments in Criminal District Courts.
The ABA Standard is very clear. It states that a lawyer who does felony appointments, and only felony appointments, should handle no more than 150 felony cases per year. It is understood that the number is not fixed in stone but a reasonable guideline. I think most of us would agree that 150 felonies is a lot of felony cases to handle in one year. According to the records, the vast majority of good qualified court appointed lawyers in Harris County recieve far less than 150 felonies a year.
Notwithstanding the ABA standards and notwithstanding the Fair Defense Act, certain courts continue to appoint a small percentage of lawyers to a very large number of cases. It is my opinion that some judges appoint some lawyers to cases because of the lawyer’s ability and willingness to move cases quickly. If you look at the number of cases handled and the days it took to handle them, you will see my point. For example, you will see that one lawyer handled 259 felony cases in 268 days.
The lawyers are not required to accept all of these appointments. Ethical problems may arise if a lawyer takes on more work than he can possibly handle competently.
In my opinion, lawyers who accept appointments on cases that far exceed what one can reasonably handle, are doing their clients a disservice.
This is a long-standing problem. When I started practicing criminal defense law, almost 30 years ago, the same practice of appointing lawyers who could and would move cases was common. The practice has gone on for as long as I have been a lawyer. The names of the judges has changed and the names of the lawyers has changed, but the dismal practice has continued. Thus, the problem is systematic and the only true solution lies in changing the system.
The judges who continue this ignoble practice, ignore the intent of the Fair Defense Act. The solution to this problem requires the removal of the judiciary from the appointment of cases. Only when the judiciary is fully removed from the appointment process, and Harris County establishes a truly fair wheel system, will things improve. In the end, moving cases at warp speed punishes the indigent defendants, the least powerful among us. What is perhaps most grotesque is that indigent defendant charged with a felony are in serious need of help. When they are appointed a lawyer who simply does not have time to spend on their case, serious questions must be asked as to whether these indigent defendants are getting the help they need.
Lawyers are supposed to do more than simply convey the prosecutor’s offer. A lawyer takes a sworn oath to zealously defend his clients. Zealous representation would by necessity include conducting a meaningful interview of the defendant. Zealous representation would by necessity include investigating the relevant law and facts and potential defenses. How do Lawyers who handle over 300 felonies a year provide zealous representation to their clients? Is it even possible for a lawyer handling 300 felonies a year to provide zealous representation?
Are those Judges who participate in appointing lawyers to over 300 felonies a year, truly interested in providing effective assistance of counsel or are they motivated more to move their docket? Are those Judges who participate in appointing lawyers to over 300 felonies a year, abdicating their duty to do justice? Are those judges who participate in appointing lawyers to over 300 felonies a year systematically violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct? Are those Judges who appoint lawyers to over 300 felonies a year vioating Judicial Canon 3?
Judicial Canon 3 C.(4) provides as follows: ” A judge shall not make unnessary appointments. A judge shall exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit. A judge shall avoid nepotism and favoritism. A judge shall not approve compensation of appointees beyond the fair value of services rendered.”
When Judges appoint lawyers to handle 300 or 400 felonies a year, one can reasonably question whether the judges are exercising the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit. One can reasonably question whether the the judges are avoiding or engaging in favoritism. Harris County’s Appointment System, which supports the systematic appointment of lawyers to over 300 felony cases a year, arguably is a system that is based on an inherent violation of the Judicial Canons.
Lawyers, judges, law-makers, community leaders and concerned citizens must unite to stop this long-standing disgrace by exposing the system, and insisting that change occur. This is our County, and This is Our courthouse. We owe it to the poor people of this county to speak out so that those accused, have a lawyer who actually has time to work on their case. Silence in the face of this system is unacceptable.
The 9 lawyers below handled 2734 non- capital felony cases in 2012. They averaged 303 non capital felony cases each. That is twice the ABA recommended standard. I will leave it to the reader to opine as to the likely quality of representation provided to the 2734 indigents represented.
1. Ricardo N. Gonzalez 442 Cases ( PICTURED BELOW)
2. Jacqueline Gifford 404 Cases (PICTURED BELOW)
3. Page E. Janik 342 Cases
4. Robert R. Scott 274 Cases
5. Ted Doebbler 262 Cases
6. Juan Contreras 259 Cases
7. Herman Martinez 258 Cases
8. David L. Garza 254 Cases
9. Bill Gifford 239 Cases
The above-referenced cases reflect only non-capital appointments handled by the lawyers in 2012. They do not reflect juvenile or misdemeanor appointments or retained cases. I will continue with others to address this issue until meaningful change occurs.
I commend all lawyers appointed and retained who zealously represent their clients. Lets work together to change this system.
I thank my colleague and friend civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Randall Kallinen for obtaining these records and sharing them with me so that I might share them with you.
Robb Fickman, Houston
Correction: As originally published the above list included Mark Escamilla as one of the lawyer. I was advised today that Mr. Escamilla is an investigator. Mr. Escamilla’s name has been removed from the list of lawyers.
Ricardo N. Gonzalez