A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Decade: New "Attorney As Government Informant" Story

“Posing as a criminal attorney to get a defendant to talk ‘freely' of his criminal past screams of entrapment and will turn the U.S. justice system on its ear if this is allowed to happen.”

That's not the statement of a criminal defense lawyer, prosecutor, or judge. It's the statement of defendant Shannon Williams.

According to Omaha World-Herald reporter Todd Cooper, that's exactly what happened.

More than 30 times this year, investigators say, Shannon Williams orchestrated a multimillion-dollar marijuana ring from inside the Douglas County Jail.

In one-on-one sessions with a jail visitor, Williams would use the visitor's cell phone to call associates and instruct them on how to divvy up the gobs of marijuana and money his operation was taking in.

He would confide in the visitor about his past exploits, claiming he had earned $15 million to $20 million while operating the marijuana ring in Omaha. He would ask the visitor to launder the money he was making. And he would use the visitor's cell phone to try to arrange hits: one to beat up his longtime defense attorney and another to “put a few into the back” of an Omaha man who had been messing with Williams' girlfriend.

All the while, the visitor would take it in, nodding and promising to follow Williams' orders.

The informant, the one that went to the jail to arrange the 30 drug deals, is a lawyer.

Fellow Omaha attorney D.C. “Woody” Bradford, in his 42nd year of practicing law says he's “shocked that an attorney was willing to do it.”

Not surprisingly the defendant was a bit taken aback: “An FBI (informant) posing as my attorney!!!” Williams wrote. “I still can't believe it!”

The article has the full story.

Here's the bombshell:

Williams said he had retained Haddock for several matters, including a lawsuit Williams filed to try to expose disparities in crack cocaine sentencings.

Stuck, the agent, disputed that. (Read: important defense evidence, dispute.)

Williams, who was acquitted in the 1993 murder of an Omaha man, said Haddock's “betrayal” has left him unsure whom to trust. At last week's hearing, Williams could be overheard asking if his new attorney “was an undercover agent, too.”

So begins the decade, so comes another snitching lawyer in the criminal justice system. Sadly, the government will fight like hell to prosecute this case, and even more scary, a judge may allow it. (I expect some to say there is nothing "legally" wrong with this tactic.) I don't think it will become commonplace, unless the Bar morally collapses, but it will happen again (It's happened before). All the government needs is one case to say it's ok.

That a lawyer, a former lawyer of a client, would agree to this, is the most pathetic thing I've ever seen. Period. I hope this lawyer is out of business, and disbarred.

Colleagues, prepare for this:

"Hi, I'm your lawyer."

"Prove it."

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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  1. Did you sleep through the whole Frank Pignatelli thing?

  2. Probably. I don't get much rest, so I take long naps when I can.

  3. DKBooker11:23 AM

    How is this possible? What happened to attorney/client confidentiality? This makes no sense to me. I am a JD too jaded to take the bar, and news like this doesn't help...

  4. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Brian - unfortunately you have not done your research on this case, the lawyer repeatedly told Williams that he was NOT his attorney and would NOT do any legal work for him, and, in fact, had never done any legal work for Williams. The fact that Williams is now trying to claim that he thought the lawyer was representing him shows that Williams will say anything to try to get the charges dropped, and I realize that most criminal defense attorneys feel that thier clients lying to get charges dropped is an acceptable defense strategy. Maybe this case is going to cost you money, maybe the cost of your recreational habits just increased, whatever your reasons are for rushing to Williams defense, I, for one, am happy to see a murdering drug lord off the streets. If a few more people would take stand, like this lawyer did, our streets might be a safer place.

  5. Thank you anonymous for stopping by to let us all know that you know what really happened and that "most criminal defense attorneys feel that thier (sp) clients lying to get charges dropped is an acceptable defense strategy."

    I hate to generalize, like saying that most anonymous commenters are gutless cowards who's thoughts and ideas are worthless, but I strongly disagree that "most criminal defense attorneys feel that thier (sp) clients lying to get charges dropped is an acceptable defense strategy.

    I also don't know what "research" you've done on this case, other than your wholesale belief of the lawyer turned government informant's defense. I do know that the existence of an attorney client relationship is looked at first, from the client's perspective. I understand you give this client no value because he is a murdering drug lord, but other than having a face to face with Williams, I don't think you've done a stich of research in this case either.

    I'm entertained that you think, that I am rushing to Williams defense because..."maybe this case is going to cost you money, maybe the cost of your recreational habits just increased...." I don't use drugs, ma'am, and I'm not rushing to anyone's defense. I have my opinions, and am willing to put my name to them.

    You're just someone who hates criminal defense lawyers and Constitutional rights, and you're entitled to live that way.

  6. Anonymous3:03 PM

    In true criminal defense attorney fashion, you ignore the facts and resort to name calling and smoke screen tactics. The facts are: Williams was told 20 plus times the attorney was not representing him, the attorney repeatedly refused to perform legal work for Williams and it was made clear the attorney-client privilege did not apply. A reasonable person would never have thought the attorney was representing him. Yet the media, the defense bar, and articles like yours have already thrown out the charges against Williams and his co-conspirators and convicted the government for “stooping so low”. The worst part is the government is refusing to allow the true facts to come out and allowing public opinion to be influenced in favor of Williams.
    As an attorney, I have the utmost respect for criminal defense attorneys. They deal daily with the absolute worst society has to offer. However, rather than rely on the constitutional rights you mention, too many resort to name calling, maligning the character and reputation of the prosecution and witnesses solely to draw attention away from the facts their client is guilty. They throw out names like gutless coward, mention irrelevant terms like attorney-client privilege, see if they can undermine the opposing opinion and draw attention away from the fact that the government and the attorney acted exactly as their legal and ethical obligations required. I can assure you there were no gutless cowards involved in this case. Unfortunately, my connection to the case requires anonymity, but when it is no longer required, I will have no problem taking responsibility for the opinions I have expressed.

  7. I figured you were involved in the case. No objective person would say any of the things you've said here.

    And you don't have to say you have the utmost respect for criminal defense lawyers just because it makes you feel better. It's obvious it's not the case.

  8. If you have to comment anonymously because of your connection to the case, maybe you shouldn't comment. When I have an opinion, I sign my name.

  9. As a Life Member of the NACDL, cases like these sicken me. They undermine the trust the general public needs to have with their lawyer, and this behaviour certainly should not be encouraged.

    Whatever this lawyer was thinking, he clearly did not have the interests of the legal profession in mind when he carefully cooked up his position as consigliare to this defendant. That said, all lawyers know that the privilege does not apply to ongoing crimes, or planning crimes. I would love to hear that snitch telling the defendant that he could not do various things because that would violate the privilege. If the Client is lead to believe there is an attorney client relationship, then most disciplinary commissions tend to take the client at his word.

    Frankly, I think this lawyer is a scumbag who simply doesn't get the role we play in defending the constitutional rights of the accused. No one needs to protect the rights of the powerful, or of the state (as if the state has rights).