No 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 agreed.

            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 California. 

            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 deputy.

            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 address

                        - 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 interest

            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 arm’s length. 

            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.

-ed

"I didn't say it would be easy.  I just said it would be the truth."
            - Morpheus

Copyright © Edgar J. Steele, 2002

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