Thursday, February 08, 2007

Butz v. Mendoza-Powers (9th Cir. - Feb. 1, 2007)

Sometimes you wonder what type of lawyers habeas petitioners can afford. Remember, they're poor, incarcerated, vulnerable, and often desperate. Then you find out. And you're horrified.

I fear that this case is all-too-common. George Butz gave a cashier's check for $5,000.00 to Tarzana attorney Henry Halpern to write a first habeas petition on his behalf. Halpern cashed the check and then (allegedly) promptly did nothing -- no petition, no filing, no return telephone calls, nothing. Eventually Butz writes the State Bar and gets his money back, but meanwhile he's now in "second petition" land, which is neigh impossible. And my keen sense is that this is not the first time that attorney Halpern -- a certified criminal law specialist with the State Bar, by the way -- has gotten his clients into trouble; he's been disciplined at least three separate times by the Bar, and twice has been ineligible to practice law as a result.

The panel here at least gives Butz a glimmer of hope that he might not be totally hosed as a result of his attorney's conduct, and that he might possibly be able to file a Rule 60 motion to solve the problems that resulted from Halpern's conduct. But, of course, Butz will probably have to again scrape up another $5,000 or so -- beyond what he's already paid his new counsel -- in order to do so. Which is no small task for someone in Butz's (or Butz's family's) position. And then pray that new habeas counsel doesn't mess it up like the old one did.

Sometimes when you peer behind the curtain you don't like what you see. Even when, as a legal matter, things might turn out okay. This is one of those times.