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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And He Represents Drunk Drivers

Lloyd Golburgh is running for judge in Broward County, Florida.

Do I know him? Yes. I went to high school with him, we worked at the same job together, I've known him for 25 years, and consider him a friend. He's also a damn good lawyer.

So I'm biased.

But this post is about something more than my friendship with Lloyd and his candidacy.

It's about the fact that Lloyd represents those accused of DUI. The media refers to this as defending drunk drivers - because they are all drunk, apparently. Lloyd's niche practice is now not merely a job description, but an accusation.

Yesterday, journalist Buddy Nevins wrote a story on an endorsement Lloyd received. Apparently there may be an issue over whether this endorsement, from the head of a Democratic organization, and not the organization itself, is appropriate in a non-partisan race.

That's a story, no doubt. Buddy was even fair enough to state that "strictly speaking, Golburgh is not endorsed by a political organization."

But he's concerned about the spirit of the rule against partisan endorsements because Lloyd has touted the endorsement as coming from the head of this Democratic organization. Fair enough.

Buddy has other concerns though about Lloyd, and turns the story in another direction:

Zucker’s endorsement is an example of what’s wrong with the Democratic machine. Apparently it is enough that Golburgh is a Democrat, even if he is not the best candidate for Broward County.

He's not the best candidate? Why?

She endorsed a DUI attorney over war hero and much-more experienced incumbent Judge Edward Merrigan Jr.

Now I don't know Judge Merrigan. I've never heard a thing about him. I can't tell you anything great or terrible about him as a judge. I respect the fact he is a war hero and that Buddy thinks he is a "more experienced incumbent judge."

But why is it relevant that Lloyd is a "DUI lawyer?" What does that mean?

Buddy explains:

Merrigan won The Bronze Star in September 2004 for running of over 100 operations in Iraq. The citation singled out his “leadership and professionalism,” which are good qualities for a judge.

He is currently on active duty and may be deployed again.

Golburgh is, ah, a guy who defends drunk drivers.

But don’t ask me about the merits of the two candidates.

Why not Buddy? In fact, I will ask.

Are lawyers who represent those accused of DUI unqualified to run for judge? What about a lawyer who does traffic tickets? Is a lawyer who devoted her career to helping illegal immigrants gain citizenship exempt as well? What about a prosecutor that put an innocent guy in jail - didn't Broward have one of those?

When a criminal defense lawyer wants to be a judge, the opposition drools. The opposition may be someone who personally respects the role of the criminal defense lawyer, but when it comes to campaigning, the public is all too ready to vote down the candidate who "defends the bad guys." On the appointment side, long time public defenders are more likely to get appointments than long time private criminal defense lawyers, because Governors can hide behind the "public service" aspect of the criminal defense lawyer's career. When former prosecutors run for judge, you will only see that they were a former prosecutor, and are now in "private practice," even if that "private practice" is criminal defense.

Fortunately for Buddy, the rules of campaigning for judge govern the conduct of the candidates, and discipline has been doled out to candidates who have seen fit to attack their criminal defense lawyer opposition for, well, being a criminal defense lawyer.

Buddy can say whatever he wants, he's a journalist, and the First Amendment protects him. He can use the power of ink to tell people that someone who represents people accused of a certain crime - DUI, are not as qualified to run for judge. Forget that DUI is the most arrested crime in America and that there are those arrested for DUI, that are, well, not drunk. Yes Buddy, it happens.

Should we not have lawyers who represent DUI defendants, or should they just keep moving along when an election comes around?

Seems Buddy went down this road with Lloyd before, and Lloyd didn't back down:

Mr. Nevins,

I have never met you, either, but I was a journalism major in College. The first thing I learned there was to write facts, not fiction.

I have been a criminal defense lawyer for over sixteen years working for people charged by the government with crimes. My job was to make sure they received what our constitution and our bill of right promised them.

And I do it very well.

I am not a friend of drunk drivers.

Maybe Judge Merrigan deserves to stay on the bench - that will be for the voters to decide. But Lloyd, nor any other criminal defense lawyer, should be ridiculed for what type of law they practice. There's plenty of experienced lawyers in those areas we find less controversial, that have become crappy judges.

This type of politics, attacking lawyers for the type of law they practice, is not limited to the media - lawyers do it as well in support of their candidate.

None of this will stop, but it should.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Chick Criminal Defense Blogger

If you spend any time on the blogosphere, you'll notice a collection of women lawyer bloggers who appear to blog a lot about women's issues in law. They blog about how hard it is to be a women lawyer, how hard it is to be a mom and a lawyer, and how hard it is to be a woman lawyer around all us asshole men. I don't engage in these discussions, mainly because I find the writers only want to talk about the issue as they see it, without any questions, debate, discussion, or of course - joking around.

So it was refreshing to run in to criminal defense lawyer Mirriam Seddiq's Not Guilty blog.

Mirriam isn't one of those female lawyers who sits around Starbucks and complains about how men have kept her from becoming a partner somewhere, or pretending that any man jokingly using the word "bitch" is evil. Mirriam, is a real lawyer, with a real career who concentrates on what's important - lawyering, advocating, writing, maintaining a thick skin, and not worrying about "the way things are."

Mirriam also has no problem referring to women as "chicks."

While searching for other female criminal defense attorney bloggers, Mirriam ran into a book: Emotional Trials - Moral Dilemmas of Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.

She doesn't understand the dilemma.

If a person, in this day and age, asked me if I felt I was betraying my gender by representing men accused of sex crimes I think I might throat punch them. We all get the question "how can you defend those people" and there are some great answers to that question, from "I have no soul" (courtesy of Carol from Public Defender Revolution) to various discussions about the constitution, rule of law, etc. Those come at you from a, I guess you could call it a gender-neutral perspective, everyone wonders how you can defend someone accused of rape, or murder or whatever. Or, do people really think "oh, you are a guy, you totally GET rape so its easy for you to defend someone accused of that.

No Mirriam, you're not doing what I think you're doing - you're stepping off the reservation. You are not supposed to propose that male and female criminal defense lawyers have the same dilemmas. You are supposed to separate men and women in every possible way, real, or imagined. Are you really saying that men and women criminal defense lawyers are both against rape?

Mirriam is going to read the book though, because I'm curious to see what feminists think of what it is we do.

Then she seals her fate as not a female lawyer, but a lawyer:

But I will tell you this much, I don't have a moral dilemma. I am not suffering. I don't hold my head in my hands and fight back the tears over my failure to hold up my feminist views. I don't lose sleep at night because I choose (hopefully someday again) to represent people accused of horrible things and I certainly feel that I do my gender a favor by playing this game with the boys.


Mirriam wants to play with the boys. She doesn't want to spend her time, her career, looking for reasons why things are different for her. I've never met Mirriam before, but I assume she believes the difference between a male and female lawyer, is that one has a penis and one has a vagina. I believe if someone called Mirriam a "bitch," she would either say "thank you," or say something so vile and rude that her male accuser would throw up the white hankerchief. I don't believe she'd go crying into that good night.

I assume Mirriam is not the darling of her feminist colleagues, who she quickly walks by, on her way to defend her clients.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Roll The Tape, And Hold The Stale Defense

The onslaught of videotaped beatings of suspects has created the following script:

1. Beating is taped.
2. Tape is shown all over the world.
3. Outrage over police conduct is expressed.
4. Defenders of the police conduct proclaim that not everything is on the tape. (sometimes that's actually true).
5. Public is asked to withhold judgment.

Now watch this:

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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Friday, April 09, 2010

With Stevens Retirement, Rumors Spread Regarding Scott Greenfield

Since the announcement of Justice Steven's Summer Retirement, I've been receiving e-mails, a few texts, and a couple phone calls regarding the increasing rumor that New York Criminal Defense Lawyer Scott Greenfield is in contention for the next appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

Many know that Scott is a friend of mine, but when contacted today, he would only say that he "would seriously consider it."

Scott, while no darling of conservatives, brings 25 years of experience as one of New York's most well-known criminal practitioners. He has an AV rating, the highest possible, from Martindale Hubbell, and is recognized in “Who’s Who” in the world, America and American Law. He has served as a legal expert and analyst for television news shows from “60 Minutes” to “20/20”, and ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, Court TV and Fox.

More from his biography:

"Scott’s cases have been the subject of a book, magazine articles and television shows. Scott is regarded as one of a handful of top criminal defense lawyers who excels in both trial work and appeals. His written work is considered some of the best in the nation, often writing Op-Eds, Amicus briefs and Editor Letters for Bar Associations and other well known lawyers.

Scott is admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, United States Courts of Appeal, Second and Third Circuits, United States District Courts, SDNY and EDNY.

He is also a former Vice President, Director and Chair of Amicus Committee, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

While he may be considered a long shot, I wouldn't count him out. The Court needs a criminal practitioner, and Scott Greenfield may just be the one to get the nod.

If anyone hears anything regarding this, please let me know and I'll update the post.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Really Long Rant About Liberty And Finality

I don't know where to begin here, so I'm just going to write.

I am a criminal defense lawyer. That means I represent people, sometimes entities, that are accused of breaking the law. Sometimes these clients are accused of breaking the law in ways that offends most people. Sometimes these clients are arrested for crimes that offend all people.

My job is not to judge what these clients have done, but to defend them. Not to defend what they have done, but them. That concept is where society in general and I, and those that do what I do, diverge.

Most cocktail party conversation is on two fronts. There are those who lie and claim they "understand" the role of the criminal defense lawyer and appreciate what "we" do in defending the constitution, and there is everyone else that hasn't realized that most of us glaze over at the "can I ask you how you represent people who tell you they are guilty," crowd of folks that find their inquiry of any interest or value other than to peg them as the mass of those who scoff at the presumption of innocence. They are the same people who have made Nancy Grace a TV star.

This all leads me to yesterday. In the Florida Legislature, Senate Bill 870 was voted out of committee. This bill amends the statute that currently provides victims of certain sex offenses, including "non-forcible rape" of children age 12 and older, until they are 21 to seek criminal charges. The new statute would abolish the statute of limitations.

As like all big criminal justice bills, this idea came from a horrific case. A Wisconsin priest died in 1999 after admitting he abused boys at a school for the deaf and blind. If he were still alive, he could not be charged in Florida.

The citizen proponent of the bill, Florida lawyer Michael Dolce, says he was sexually molested by a neighbor when he was 7 years old. According to the Palm Beach Post: Even as Dolce captivated the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee today with his first-person account of the horrific abuse that still haunts him, news reports about the Catholic Church scandal in Wisconsin were broadcast on national news.

Cue the legislators:

"That's why I voted for the bill. I think people who prey on children should be held accountable in a court of law," said committee chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, referring to the Wisconsin case. "I think it's appropriate and the evidence was very compelling that the minor victims of these crimes ... frequently wait many, many years into adulthood until they are disclosed."

The opposition?

The church objects because "of the passage of time and the very reasons that statutes of limitations exist, the inability to find any information that relates to it," said Mike McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference. "It's just a very difficult thing to defend against when you go out without any time limit whatsoever."

And of course, us:

On Monday, the criminal defense lawyers' lobbyist, Jorge Chamizo, sent Aronberg an amendment that would have extended the current statute of limitations to 10 years after the victim reaches age 21.

Senator Dave Aronberg, a candidate for Attorney General:

"The Wisconsin case and recent news reports shows why we need to extend the statute of limitations to allow for justice in cases like this," said Aronberg, who is running for attorney general and also sponsored the bill last year. "I can't come up with a limit that's better than no limit at all."

And then there was this, a surprising statement on the concept of liberty:

Republican Senator Carey Baker objected to it because he said that there's no way to defend against false allegations after decades pass.

"I just Googled up a story about a man who was falsely imprisoned for 20 years. Got out when he was 61. He's not here today. He's not here to tell you about the 20 years that he lost from his life from false imprisonment. I don't know. There's no good answer."

But there's more:

Apparently a study commissioned by the Catholic Church found only 88 sex abuse cases out of 5,681 over a 52-year period were found to be false.

Only 88.


That reminds me of the time I heard someone on a "we have no idea what we're talking about" talking head show where someone said that if 1% of the people sentenced to death were wrongly executed, that would be a fair price to pay to keep the death penalty, being that nothing is usually 99% accurate. He said that with a straight face. I wish I remembered his name.

Michael Dolce's tale of abuse was taken to heart by the legislators, much like the emotional words of a crime victim in court, or even a defendant. These personal stories are what creates law, puts people in jail, and yes, keeps them out of jail.

But something is missing in all of this.

The concept of finality, and the concept of liberty.

The criminal defense function in America is now nothing more than the butt of "I was a prosecutor for 5 minutes" pundits and 9 episodes a week of Law & Order. The Bill of Rights is immensely important, assuming we are talking about the First, and Second Amendment. The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth are only for guilty scumbags, and moms and dads of kids who "didn't do anything wrong," or professionals who get speeding tickets and want the police officer fired.

What has happened over the last couple decades is that famous people have been acquitted, a few motions to suppress have been granted due to violations of the Fourth Amendment ("technicalities," for you with the mob mentality), and former prosecutors and even some defense lawyers have taken to the airwaves to play devil's advocate about all they know nothing about.

We live in a country where person after person after person is being exonerated by DNA evidence. People who were sentenced to death, and to life. Is this the time to abolish statutes of limitations on cases where a mere accusation can result in a criminal prosecution that can take away a person's liberty for the rest of their life?

Yet when we, the criminal defense bar, and members of the legislature even dare to oppose a bill like this, we are accused of merely attempting to "get pedophiles off." We are accused of this because it is easy to do so. It inflames the senses, it diverts away from the real issue, which is: why are the same people who scream for finality in criminal cases, passing legislation that abolishes it? With so much written about DNA and eyewitness testimony, why are we creating laws that allow someone to come forward, whenever, and make accusations?

I know, I don't understand. I don't understand the horror, and if this happened to me or one of my children, I would understand. That's always the way to create a different discussion.

What I am discussing here is why we are OK letting our elected leaders convince us that finality and liberty only matter in the types of cases in which they decide? Yes, there is no statute of limitations on murder. The reasoning is perfectly clear - you take a life, you have no protection from prosecution, ever. I know people will say that sexual abuse is "like taking a life," and I'm not going to argue with that. My argument is only that proof of murder is a lot easier than proof of sexual abuse - and that's exactly what Senator Baker was saying, alone.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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