Friday, August 12, 2005

U.S. v. Thomas (9th Cir. - Aug. 3, 2005)

This just shows how nice Judge Betty Fletcher is. Overly nice, some might say. But nice regardless. (Not that this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows her, of course. But always good to have things confirmed.)

Judge Rymer writes an opinion that affirms a conviction notwithstanding alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. Shocking, I know. Judges Fletcher and Fisher are also on the panel, and agree with the result (due to the lack of prejudice), but are quite concerned about the quality of counsel's performance; in particular, the fact that counsel essentially conceded the client's guilt on very important charges allegedly without informing the client that this was going to happen (and seeking his input and/or approval for this fairly bold strategy, which would ensure that client would spend a healthy amount of time in the clink -- something that the client might want to give some input on, eh?).

So Judges Fletcher and Fisher want the court to say something like "Look, we're affirming the conviction here, but don't think that we accordingly approve of counsel's alleged conduct. We don't. It shouldn't happen." But Judge Rymer doesn't feel like it. Who knows? She might like those sort of tactics by defense counsel.

What a lot of judges would do at that point is to pull the opinion from Judge Rymer. After all, Rymer's got one vote, whereas Judges Fletcher and Fisher have two. So they're the majority. And, as a result, they're entitled to write the majority opinion and speak for the court in disapproving counsel's alleged performance. If she wants, Judge Rymer -- with her one vote -- can write a concurrence and/or not join that part of the majority opinion, and maybe even explain therein why she does so. But she's only one vote. She doesn't get to write the opinion.

But Judge Fletcher doesn't do that. Alongside Judge Fisher, she merely writes a concurrence of her own in which she states her reaction to counsel's alleged conduct. Which results in a somewhat bizarre decision in which you have a majority opinion following by a separate concurrence by the majority.

A direct result of the personality of the underlying judges.