Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Gonzalez v. Knowles (9th Cir. - Feb. 6, 2008)

A tale of two lawyers.

With ineffective assistance claims, you sometimes see lawyers slammed -- occasionally by name. But rarely do you see one attorney slammed and another attorney praised.

But that's the case here.

The lawyer slammed -- at least by Judge Hawkins -- is Armando Garcia. Who's a public defender in the Bay Area and a graduate of Columbia Law School, no less. The lawyer who receives the contrary treatment is Richard Such. Who's a panel attorney for the First District and a graduate of Stanford Law.

I usually don't quote at such expansive length, but I thought that the first four paragraphs of the dissent by Judge Hawkins were sufficiently interesting -- as well as well-writtten -- to justify an exception from my usual regime. Here's what he says:

"I respectfully dissent. At bottom, this habeas matter is about the process by which indigent defendants are provided counsel. To begin with, it is not easy work. Clients, given a lawyer selected by the same government accusing them, are often suspicious that their case will be given short shrift. Added to the mix here were charges of the most serious sort (molestation of his own brother’s children in their home where he was a guest) levied against an individual with a prior criminal history. Convicted at trial and having his sentence doubled based on a prior conviction, Gonzalez had the good fortune of receiving the court-appointed assistance of Richard Such (“Such”).

Such was able to convince the state appellate court that Gonzalez’s sentence had been improperly doubled and the matter was remanded to district court for re-sentencing. At this point, Gonzalez asked the state trial court to appoint Such to represent him at re-sentencing. Through written documents and verified statements, Gonzalez established that Such had earned his confidence, knew the case well, and was willing to work at the hourly rate the county typically paid appointed counsel. Additionally, Such had already done some work on sentencing matters. The state court refused, essentially reasoning that appointment of Such was “not the way we do things around here,”[Footnote] and instead appointed Armando Garcia (“Garcia”), a local attorney utterly unfamiliar with Gonzalez’s case.

Rather than simply walking away from Gonzalez’s case, Such proceeded to write Garcia a lengthy letter, conveying information highly relevant to re-sentencing, including, importantly, that Gonzalez’s family members were sympathetic to Gonzalez and trusted him around their children, and that the victim’s mother might be willing to testify that a prison sentence was unnecessary. Such also explained that a mental health evaluation might demonstrate that Gonzalez would be unlikely to re-offend.

What did Garcia do with this information? Absolutely nothing. Garcia made no attempt to contact the family, to inquire into Gonzalez’s mental history, or to have his client evaluated by mental health experts. At the re-sentencing, Garcia called no witnesses, only arguing that Gonzalez had a history of alcohol abuse and may have been intoxicated at the time of the acts. Even though the court had previously given Gonzalez 18 years and 5 months based on a sentencing enhancement no longer available, Gonzalez was given 16 years.

[Footnote:] The majority claims that local routine was not the only reason for refusing to appoint Such. In fact, the only other reason given was that this was a “straightforward” case. If by “straightforward” the trial court meant a sentencing proceeding in which an appointed defense attorney simply goes through the motions, it hardly justifies refusing to appoint an experienced, previously successful lawyer who not only had Gonzalez’s confidence, but had also begun a serious effort to provide fully effective sentencing representation."

A good day for Richard Such. Less so for Armanda Garcia.