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

Monday, September 19, 2011

How To Hire A (Criminal) Lawyer

There are few experienced criminal defense lawyers who can't say they've "seen it all." But then this pops up:

An order from Southern District of Florida Magistrate William Turnoff, worth a pause in your day, tells the story of a criminal defense lawyer who went on a crime spree with a client's family:

On March 14, 2008, [Emmanuel]Roy appeared before the Honorable Ted. E. Bandstra and announced that he would be filing a temporary notice of appearance as counsel for Defendant. According to the billing records, Roy also met with Coulton , “co-counsel Peter U. Mayas,” AUSA Fine, and Agent “Cuddington,” and made telephone calls, for which he billed a total of 12 hours. The court minutes reflected that the hearing lasted 5 minutes.

Taking a step back, Emmanuel Roy had already been retained by the client's wife, at the rate of $600 per hour with a $150,000 retainer. This was his arrangement with the wife, to whom he said nothing about making fee arrangements with other family members.

Mrs. Sewell, Ms. Reid, and other family members pooled funds from their savings accounts, pension plans, and a credit union loan to pay the legal fees to Roy. (Tr. at 49-52). Mrs. Sewell provided Roy with cashier’s checks totaling $83,000.00. (Tr. at 53). The copies of the cashier’s checks showed payments to Roy & Associates as follows: $30,000.00 on March 17, 2008; $4,000.00 on March 24, 2008; $16,000.00 on April 14, 2008; $10,000.00 on April 16, 2008; $3,200.00 and $10,000.00 on May 12, 2008; and $13,000.00 on August 2, 2008. (Exh. L). Mrs. Sewell never received copies of IRS Form 8300 evidencing these payments, and Roy’s billing records were inconsistent with regard to the amounts documented in Defendant’s exhibits. (Tr. at 53); (Exh. L; P). Roy failed to advise them that he was also obtaining jewelry and other assets from Mrs. Coulton as payment toward his legal fees. (Tr. at 54). Even a cursory review of the billing records concerning the time billed, the services rendered, and the amounts paid, reveals that they are fraudulent.

Roy then flew to London, with his wife, met with the client's wife, and at breakfast had her hand over her wedding ring. This was before having her turn over her condo to him, valued at over $250,000.00.

It goes on. It gets worse. One of the worst 33 pages of lawyer misconduct I've seen.

Despite their ineligibility to practice before this Court, neither Roy nor Mayas ever informed Coulton, his wife, his family, AUSA Fine, or the Court, that he was not authorized to appear as counsel in this District. (Tr. at 12; 56); (ECF No. 169). On the contrary, Roy actually lied to Defendant’s family informing them that he was not only a former Assistant District Attorney in Florida, but that he had also worked with AUSA Fine.

Roy wasn't even admitted to practice in the Southern District. He lied about having been a prosecutor. He lied about "meeting" with the judge. He lied about so many things. He filed pleadings under someone elses electronic filing account number.

When a family member finally received a call back after sentencing: [Roy] told her that he had been invited to President Obama’s inauguration and that, since the “head of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons” would be there, he would discuss Mr. Coulton’s medical issues with him at that time.

Here's the cap on his and his co-counsel's career:

Given the willful, deliberate, and fraudulently contemptuous conduct committed by Roy and Mayas; given that their conduct appears to be driven solely by a desire to line their own pockets; given that they committed numerous ethical violations during the course of their representation of Coulton; and given the public policy issues at stake, extraordinarily severe sanctions are in order. Accordingly, the Court holds Roy and Mayas, and their respective law firms, in contempt of court and imposes the following sanctions: (1) that they disgorge all fees obtained as a result of their unauthorized practice with interest; (2) that they be publicly reprimanded; (3) that they be barred from practicing in this District; (4) that they be required to reimburse Coulton for all fees and costs incurred in order to obtain counsel; (5) that they be required to fully cooperate with Coulton in his efforts to collect any and all sums owed to him as a result of these proceedings; (6) that they be required to pay all fees and costs to do so; and (7) that they each be referred to the Bar for disciplinary proceedings.

Looks like Emmanuel Roy has other problems to deal with as well.

This is one of the most offensive stories of lawyer misconduct I've seen. Going on a crime spree while taking advantage of the foreign family of a incarcerated client is despicable. The list of offenses here, the conspiracies that occurred - are an embarrassment.

But it also begs a question. How many other lawyers out there are benefitting from a client's lack of research? It's easy to determine whether a lawyer is admitted to practice in a certain jurisdiction, so why didn't anyone look?

When I've written before about the fraud the permeates the internet, I often get the "shut up Brian, we're not stupid, we can look at Google."

But we don't. Clients, don't.

I think Google and the greater internet is the enemy of lawyers who want to lie, who want to bolster their credentials, and hope that unknowing potential clients don't know any better, or don't know what questions to ask. If the Coulton family had taken a few moments to research their lawyer, they may have discovered he's not even admitted to practice in the Southern District of Florida.

But in the world of criminal defense, there is desperation. There is the client and the client's family who will write checks to the first lawyer who tells them what they want to hear. Typing names on the internet takes too long, unless we're looking for the cheapest price.

h/t South Florida Lawyers

Non-anonymous comments welcome.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, September 12, 2011

The Criminal Defense Mafia

As practice areas go, the criminal defense bar is about as collegial as it gets.

Yes, we, like any other type of "consumer" lawyers (PI, divorce), have our bunch that market themselves to death, but we tend to come together more often than other types of lawyers, as there is still a large group of us who are actually doing this work with the understanding that it means something. And so when Bob is going to be held in contempt you may find a dozen or so fellow criminal defense lawyers in the courtroom for support, and when Jim has a trial tomorrow, a few of us will send him some voir dire questions to help him out. We generally, not always, look out for our colleagues.

But there exists a mafia within our group. It's the former federal prosecutor mafia. There's probably a former state prosecutor mafia, but it's less structured, and generally isn't in on major white collar cases. Major white collar cases are where the "money" is, and where there is money, there are assholes who don't care about quality of representation or the client's choice of lawyer. More about that in a minute.

I've said forever that there is a difference between a criminal defense lawyer and a former prosecutor. Especially the "WE'RE FORMER PROSECUTORS" crew. That statement is much more true when you throw in former federal prosecutor.

Federal prosecutors are generally sprouted from better law schools and spent some time in BigLaw prior to going to work for the gubmint. When they leave the U.S. Attorney's office, it's rarely because they developed a sense that defending criminals was meaningful, rather, there's another BigLaw opportunity to be the "white collar" lawyer (never "criminal defense" - never), or they want to start a defense boutique and use their perceived connection to the office as a springboard to clients. "I used to work there, so I can get better deals." What most people don't' realize, is that most people, "used to work there." They're gone too. What most people don't realize either, is that current prosecutors don't like it much when their former colleagues use "I use to work here" as an attempt to gain some benefit. Client's don't really know that, so, whatever.

When former federal prosecutors go out in to the world of criminal defense, they generally like to stick with their former colleagues. Nothing wrong with that, except when they violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility, and violate the unwritten rule of helping clients without concern for their own ass.

The first time I realized there was a mafia in law though, it was not from a former prosecutor, it was a civil lawyer.

I was right out of the PD's office and received a call from a newly arrested business owner. It wasn't a big white collar case, he was charged with possession of cocaine.

We spoke on the phone and he agreed to hire me. He just wanted me to come to his business to get the check and meet. Being a young hungry lawyer, I obliged. When I arrived, he had a look of fear on his face and apologized. He had spoken with his civil lawyer who told him "you cannot hire that guy, if you don't hire the lawyer I am recommending to you, I will no longer work for you."

And that was that.

The former federal prosecutor mafia is much more apparent. I see the same half dozen lawyers in the same white collar cases, and I used to wonder - just how did that happen?

Now let me pause and say that yes, when I have co-defendants come to my office, I will recommend other lawyers. I make the recommendation based on who I think is the best lawyer for the client, having nothing to do with where they used to work. I have a weird sense that clients should be paired up with good lawyers that are a good fit, period.

The way it really works though, is like an insurance company.

There's a lead lawyer. He meets with all the co-defendants. He's getting paid by the company or the guy with the money. He recommends lawyers. The lawyers he recommends will all be paid for by his client. The other clients are free to hire who they want (with much discouragement), but they are on their own.

So a client hears of the investigation and calls their friendly neighborhood lawyer who they've known for 15 years. They advise of the situation and say they are not doing anything without this particular lawyer. When the subpoena comes, or the agent comes knocking, they call the head of the mafia who advises that friendly neighborhood lawyer is not a good choice, because he's real expensive and mafia head won't pay his fee regardless. He will though, pay the fee of a fellow "former federal prosecutor" who will of course represent the client marvelously and within the confines of what the mafia wants - information and access to the client.

There sometimes comes a point where the client wonders whether the lawyer "assigned" to them is looking out for their best interest, but often it's too late. If the client winds up charged and wants to go to trial, well, they'll get to that, maybe.

Some of these lawyers are very good, mind you, but the way they handle cases and bring other lawyers in, is a dirty little secret of our profession.

At least it was.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.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