Good Deed Goes Unpunished
June 8, 2001
You know, I have always resisted using the phrase “public pretender”
in place of “public defender.” I’m
not sure why – heaven knows I have little enough respect as it is for most
attorneys. Today, however, I have
finally been shown the error of my ways.
Please allow me to introduce you to public pretender Bryce Powell.
He’s the guy that the court appointed to look after the interests of
JoAnn McGuckin when she agreed to have counsel appointed for the criminal
defense charges lodged against her by our ol’ buddy, Phil Robinson.
I spoke with Powell the morning after I met with JoAnn and she asked me,
after our near-two-hour session by phone through the inch-thick glass in the
Bonner County Jail, to look after her and her children’s civil interests, such
as the stolen land and the about-to-be stolen children.
She wanted me to appear at any hearings and ensure that her kids didn’t
get railroaded. She wanted me to
defend her interests in keeping her family together and being reunited with her
kids. All noble and
valiant causes. Of course, I
In contrast, the court told Powell to defend her against the bullshit
charges being pressed all too publicly by Robinson.
For that, Powell gets paid…not too badly, either, particularly by North
Idaho standards. I agreed to work
for nothing, of course.
Powell has been a lawyer for 3 years, is new in town and subs an office
from another guy. I have been a
lawyer for 20 years, am admitted to four different states, as well as the US
Supreme Court, and have offices in several different cities, most of them in
Powell does this for a living, though he is “hurting” financially, by
his own account. I handle only one
“pro bono” case at a time, which I handle personally and never delegate to
one of my staff lawyers, and took this one on because my last one had just
wrapped. Okay, I would have taken it
on anyway, because the McGuckins are neighbors and deserve much better treatment
than they have gotten from Bonner County.
I wanted to do only those things for which JoAnn couldn’t get appointed
counsel. Bryce wanted to get paid.
Get the general picture? Hungry
pup meets complacent and trusting
gray dog. Gray dog turns his back
and – well, you get the idea.
I sent letters this afternoon, revoking my previous withdrawal from
representing JoAnn and her kids. I
enclose a copy of that letter with this email for your reference.
I did this after speaking with the Idaho State Bar ethics people, who
agreed that my previous withdrawal was not really effective since I hadn’t
communicated it directly to my client. They
also agreed that there were some serious problems with my being denied access to
JoAnn. You see, I figured she would
be out on bail almost immediately when I withdrew last Friday, then she would
contact me and we would get down to business.
I never imagined she would still be in jail by now or that she would
still be incommunicado from virtually the entire world.
I paid a call on Sheriff Jarvis today and explained the facts of life.
He seems to me to be the consummate professional and generally a good
guy. I demanded to see JoAnn and he
agreed to have her brought around, requiring only that I see her in the company
of a deputy to ensure that I did not exert undue influence upon her (although he
admitted that he had never placed such a requirement on Powell).
Having nothing to hide, I agreed, though that was an egregious breach of
rights, both JoAnn’s and my own. A
second public defender was also there, trying to get JoAnn to sign a medical
exam release. JoAnn refused to see
either of us, saying that we had to deal only through Powell, according to the
I also learned that she refused to look at the letter I brought for her
to read first. Because you have all
been so adamant that I pursue her rights and many of you have actually sent
money in support of her bail + fund, I am also attaching that letter with this
email, for you to see for yourself what it was I wanted her to read first. Please
read it and you will learn that Powell has:
-purposely kept from pushing for JoAnn’s release
acted directly at cross purposes with JoAnn’s best interests
asked me to pay him the money in her bail bond fund, not to post as bail, but to
keep as his own (I will never do this, rest assured)
-established a “McGuckin Family Trust Fund” of his own, at his office
done nothing to resist what appear to be illegal and unreasonable searches of
the McGuckin family home by Robinson
-refused to withdraw despite his obvious ethical violations and conflicts of
It also turns out that Powell has issued orders to the jail that all mail
to JoAnn must be passed through him first, with him sending on only those things
he deems appropriate for her to see. That
includes all mail from her other attorney – me.
He also demands that nobody be allowed to see her unless he is present.
Somehow, he has convinced her to go along with these requirements.
What is astounding to me is that the jail is complying.
So, all those donations being sent to JoAnn at the Jail?
They’re going to Powell, the guy that wanted me to pay her bail bond
money over to him to supplement the stipend paid him to defend her because
“things are really tight this month.” Keep
that in mind before you send anything else to JoAnn at the jail.
I’m beginning to understand why Powell was down at the local Army-Navy
Surplus store a couple of days ago, inquiring after a bulletproof vest and how
to go about retaining a bodyguard. (It’s
a small town. Nothing happens
without it becoming common knowledge.)
Why is Powell doing this? Well,
I just don’t know. It would be
easy to say that he has simply been bought off and is delivering JoAnn on a
silver platter to Robinson. I have
no direct evidence of that, however.
More likely, he got a taste of the media attention and decided he
didn’t like sharing it, so leaned on JoAnn, who is very fragile mentally and
extremely susceptible to influence, to keep both myself and everybody else at
The business about the money is just too wormy for me to need to
speculate on for you.
I don’t like either possibility, which is why I am preparing a formal
Bar Complaint against Powell (don’t hold your breath on that) and will also do
my best to have him removed from representing her altogether.
The problem is that she will see me doing that and likely decide I am her
enemy for getting the public pretender she trusts taken away.
I promised to look after her best interests, though, as well as that of
her children. I’ve got to do that,
because she has nobody else to do it.
This is one of the toughest cases I have ever handled, not because of the
litigation or the legal issues, but because of the apparent client problem.
As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
"I didn't say it would be easy. I just said it would be the truth."
Copyright © Edgar J. Steele, 2002
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