What's Wrong With This Picture?

June 18, 2001

Fund Report - Last of the McGuckin Land is Saved

Not sure how much is in the unopened envelopes just taken from the post office box now sitting on my wife's desk, nor how much has been received by the bank since we changed the fund's address, but a reasonable guess puts the McGuckin Family Trust Fund at about $20,000.  Of course, there is that fund established by Bryce Powell, too, isn't there?  I wonder how much he has received for it and how much came into the jail in envelopes addressed to JoAnn (which we have learned were delivered unopened to Mr. Powell, of course).

The last of the McGuckins' assets is a 1-1/2 acre parcel next to the 40-acre parcel taken by Bonner County for its $8,000+ tax bill.  It, too, was scheduled to go into fatal default later this week.  I held back from satisfying that tax bill because so many had made sounds about paying it, preferring that the money so many of you sent in be kept intact for the McGuckin family's needs, if not required for JoAnn's bail.  However, as of last Friday afternoon, the bill was still outstanding, so we paid it.  At minimum, the McGuckins still own a large enough plot to put an inexpensive manufactured home on, if they wish to do so.

As I said before, because JoAnn released a public statement disavowing the outpouring of public support in her behalf, it is possible she will reject the fund, too.  If she does so, then I will cut it into six equal portions and establish irrevocable college trust funds for her children.  Remember, no matter what happens, I have promised that not one penny will be going into any lawyer's pocket.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I think it interesting that, the very day JoAnn stated in open court that she did not wish to me to continue as her civil attorney (leaving her with no civil representation, no pun intended), both sides then released a statement that the land was "not an issue."  And I don't think they were referring solely to the fact of the proceedings being merely the criminal charge and child custody hearings.  Steele exits stage left and suddenly the land is "not an issue."  Guess JoAnn is now fine on losing it for $8,000 and change.  What is wrong with this picture?

Current Chairman of the Bonner County Commissioners, Tom Suttmeier, has publicly stated how bad he feels about what happened to the McGuckin home, but that "(e)very effort was made to ensure the family would not lose their home even though they were years delinquent with their taxes."  Of course, despite the dramatic crocodile tears, the county never simply forgave the back taxes, as it could and should have, now did it?  Nor did the county sit on the tax deed for the 3-year redemption period (redemption in years 2 and 3 available only if the county has not yet sold the land), preferring instead to sell the property immediately upon the running of the 1-year absolute-right-of-redemption period.   "Every effort," indeed.  And I'm not even sharing with you everything that we have concerning this business, which puts the lie to Suttmeier's face-saving prevarication (that's "lie" to us common folk).

I was holding this for trial, but will release it now in the interest of saving the land grab as an issue for the McGuckins in this sordid melodrama (the original motivating issue, too, it is my firm belief).  On August 3, 2000, fully two months before the county sold the land to the Korenguts, JoAnn went into the Assessor's office and was told, apparently for the first time, of the tax sale.  Here's the handwritten note from the file:  "I informed her of this property going to sale & handed her the printout.  She was extremely upset & I told her she couldn't come into the courthouse until she's composed."  Nice touch, eh?  You tell me - does this reflect a county intent upon expending "every effort" to help the McGuckins keep their home?

A Few Comments

Many have asked why I have not said more about this case, particularly the details concerning the property transfer.
The immediate answer is that, though we developed a number of interesting items and documents, we need to hold those confidential for the time being because otherwise important litigation tactical advantages might be thrown away.  That is important for JoAnn's case, if she decides to pursue it, regardless of what lawyer she might have at that time.
Regarding other aspects of her situation, the rules for lawyers are different from those allowed most people by the First Amendment, so I have to be careful about what I say.  Even so, because of the power of the media available in this case, I have generally gone right to what I perceive to be the limits of my ability to speak out. 
Many lawyers, in an overabundance of caution, routinely say "No comment" to every media inquiry at all times.  That is the tried and true way.  Not long ago, Idaho adopted a new rule which allows lawyers to make media statements in an attempt to "level the playing field" when publicity has created an erroneous impression or when the other side attempts to prejudice public opinion by "trying its case in the media."  I believe this rule creates an affirmative duty on the part of lawyers to press their client's case in all venues in which it suffers misrepresentation
I learned the folly of not doing so in a high-profile case I took to trial last year, though it would have made little difference, since my client in that case was already so badly demonized in the public's eye by the local media (and my then client's own deservedly contemptible statements, too, to be fair about things)
Because JoAnn McGuckin was being vilified by all members of the media, due to public statements, many of them false, made by Prosecuting Attorney (DA) Phil Robinson, one of the things I did the day after she retained me was to hold a press conference and present her side of the story.  Things were dramatically different thereafter.  Of course, the local press quickly closed ranks with the local power structure again once the network sound trucks left town.  By then, I was off the case and little attention once again is being paid to JoAnn's side of things.
I am also allowed to respond to false statements made about myself or my representation, whether made by others or, even, a current or former client.  I do not have to sacrifice my personal or professional reputation to a client's "best interests."  Thus, when Powell, Robinson, Sheriff Jarvis and the County Commissioners all fed the press allegations that I had never been retained by JoAnn, I was allowed to respond with enough information to prove them false.  That includes details such as the snippet below about JoAnn's level of alertness during my initial consultation with her.  Of course, I get to share them with only you, since the local press carries solely what the establishment says and never, ever, what I say, except out of context in a way calculated to make me look as bad as possible (oops, there goes that paranoia again....but, then, they really are after me, you see).
That is why I released details about my initial consultation with JoAnn and the words we actually employed in formalizing our attorney-client relationship.  That is also why I released the signed affidavit from the family friend to whom JoAnn had unequivocally confirmed retaining me.
Here is another tidbit that I have not, to date, released, but do so now, to counter what appears to be either a false allegation or reveals that something was done to JoAnn shortly after she was jailed (though not quickly enough, because I saw her while she was still pretty lucid):

First, an excerpt from the Sierra Times' published interview with JoAnn's appointed criminal defense lawyer, Bryce Powell:  "When I first came to see her, it took two deputies to help her to her feet," Powell insisted. "She  was not doing well."  Powell offered this by way of partly explaining why he was to be the sole contact for her, even by other lawyers such as myself and the other appointed public defender.

Odd.   I met with JoAnn McGuckin the night before the day Powell first saw her.  She came into the interview cubicle on her own power, getting up and down off the chair with no apparent difficulty, and was quite animated throughout our conversation, though it went on for nearly two hours and ended only as midnight approached.  If what Powell says is true, what happened in between?  If what Powell says is not true, why isn't it?

I can share this only because Powell's statement otherwise supports the establishment line as to why I was denied access to JoAnn.

The Bottom Line

As I write this, JoAnn is still in jail.  The kids are still in a foster home.  The property is still in the Korenguts' name.  The county still has the $42,000 profit it realized from selling the McGuckin home out from under them.  The kids' dogs are still either dead or at the shelter.  Idaho still allows counties to keep the profit from such tax sales of what generally proves to be the land of poor people.   What is different?  Please, somebody explain it to me, because I just don't see it.


"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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