Supreme Court justice won't run again in 2008
By BRIAN LYMAN, Mobile Press-Register
July 31, 2007
MONTGOMERY -- Two-term state Supreme Court Justice Harold See says he will not seek re-election in 2008.
The Republican, whose Karl Rove-managed campaigns in 1996 and 2000 may have attracted as much attention as his jurisprudence, told supporters in a letter that he had made a "prayerful decision" not to run again.
"My decision has been all the more difficult because of the privilege I am foregoing of once again working with you on a campaign for the future of Alabama," See said in the letter, dated July 26.
"Together, I believe, we have made a real difference," he wrote.
See, 63, said in an interview Monday that he plans to serve out his term, but did not elaborate on his reasons for stepping down.
"I have run for the court in the past because I felt some calling to do that," he said. "I have really felt a calling not to do that after 2009."
The seat is the only one on the state Supreme Court that will be contested next year. See's term runs until January of 2009. The court is currently 8-1 Republican, with Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb the sole Democrat on the bench. Justices are elected for six-year terms.
Democratic and Republican party leaders said Monday that they were not surprised by See's decision. While Lauderdale District Judge Deborah Bell Paseur, a Democrat, said Monday she is organizing for the race, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard said no Republicans have come forward expressing interest.
"I hate that (See's) not running," Hubbard said. "He's been a tremendous asset on the Supreme Court and been a model for good common sense. He came at a time when sensibility needed to return to the bench."
Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Spearman said there is the potential for many Democratic candidates to come forward.
"Judge See has been tagged with that ever since he came in, that he was big business," Spearman said. "And that's something the people of Alabama don't need." Paseur had no comment on See's decision Monday, but said she is "very excited" and looking forward to the campaign.
See, a law professor at the University of Alabama before winning election to the court, said he still enjoys the work and the politicking of the position and does not currently have plans beyond 2009.
The justice is generally a conservative vote on the state's highest court. In 2006, See voted to overturn a medical malpractice verdict of $13.7 million awarded to a family whose son died during an overbite operation in 1998.
See, writing the majority opinion, said the presiding doctor -- whom a lower court judge said could be held liable for a nurse's actions -- could not be held liable because he was her supervisor. The justice wrote the doctor could only be held liable if he had the right to select the nurse.
The minority dissent, written by Justice Bernard Harwood, argued the opinion "departed from established appellate procedural protocols."
See also wrote majority opinions upholding the restoration of voting rights to some felons and limiting workers' compensation awards. He also joined seven other justices in voting to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building in 2003, overruling then-Chief Justice Roy Moore.
"He's conservative, but he's not reactionary," said University of Alabama political science professor emeritus William Stewart, who has worked with See on programs in the past. "He believes in the rule of law."
See may be most remembered for two Supreme Court races.
See, heavily supported by business interests, challenged Democratic incumbent Kenneth Ingram in 1996 in an expensive contest that got progressively uglier as November approached. Ingram's campaign compared See to a skunk. According to the Atlantic Monthly, Karl Rove, See's then-campaign manager, printed flyers attacking See's own family in an attempt to create a backlash against Ingram. See narrowly defeated Ingram in the race.
"I guess I didn't fully understand how harsh some of the campaigning might be," See said Monday. "That was just further evidence that we would be doing something different. I look back on it as a great deal of work. But meaningful work."
Rove and the business community returned to See's side in 2000 as he ran in the Republican primary for chief justice against Moore, then an Etowah County Circuit Court judge.
Despite outspending Moore 2-to-1, Moore -- riding a wave of support for fighting to display a plaque with the Ten Commandments in his courtroom -- defeated See by a margin of 55 percent to 30 percent.
In 2002, See won re-election to his associate justice seat on the court.
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More Americans find Supreme Court too conservative
THE WASHINGTON POST
July 30, 2007
WASHINGTON - About half of the public thinks the Supreme Court is generally balanced in its decisions, but a growing number of Americans say the court has become "too conservative" in the two years since President George W. Bush began nominating justices, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly a third of the public - 31 percent - thinks the court is too far to the right, a noticeable jump since the question was asked in July 2005. That's when Bush nominated John Roberts Jr. to the court and, in the six months that followed, the Senate approved Roberts as chief justice and confirmed Justice Samuel Alito Jr.
The two have proved to be reliably conservative justices, and the increasingly polarized court this year moved to uphold restraints on abortion, restrict student speech rights and limit the ability of school districts to use race in student assignments, among other issues.
The public seems to have noticed the shift. The percentage who said the court is "too conservative" grew from 19 percent to 31 percent in the past two years, while those who said it is "generally balanced in its decisions" declined from 55 percent to 47 percent.
"I think it shows that we're at a tipping point in time," said Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way. "And it's why a major priority for us ... will be to emphasize the importance of the Supreme Court and why it should be an important factor in voting for president."
But conservative activists looking at the consequences of the past term say the public is ambivalent about the two issues that have most marked the court's turn to the right - upholding the ban on the procedure sometimes called partial-birth abortion and restricting the use of race in school assignments. The difference could lie in which side is successful in framing the court's actions to a public that pays more attention to the president and Congress.
"As a political strategist, I'd take those two decisions any day of the week," said Gregory R. Mueller, a public relations consultant who has advised politicians and represents some conservative judicial organizations.
The survey was conducted July 18 to July 21 of 1,125 people. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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Judges gather to work against unequal treatment
By DANIEL YEE, The Associated Press
July 29, 2007
ATLANTA (AP) — About 200 judges gathered Sunday at the tomb of civil rights leaders Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King to reaffirm their efforts to promote fairness in the legal system.
The judges, part of the National Bar Association's Judicial Council, gathered with King's sister, Christine King Farris, to place a wreath before the tomb. The event was part of the National Bar Association's annual conference, which began Saturday in Atlanta and continues through Friday.
Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris of New Orleans, standing before the reflecting pool that surrounds the tomb, recalled a quote by Martin Luther King that said the law cannot control a man's heart but can restrict the heartless.
"I encourage all of my 'bretheren of the bench' to use your bench to continue to restrict the heartless and continue to mete out justice and thereby doing your part for peace," said Bagneris, who is the judicial council's chairman.
Farris thanked the judges for their civil rights efforts.
"If it had not been for our lawyers and judges, I'm not sure we would have made the progress that we did," Farris said. "Dr. King had to rely and depend on them."
None of the judges offered specific proposals during the short ceremony that was held amid the hot and humid day but Bagneris later said it's often not the laws themselves that cause unfairness among community groups but the way the laws are applied.
Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey of Pulaski County, Ark., said more needs to be done to help those imprisoned gain a better financial footing after serving their sentences. He said it affects black communities because of the disproportionate number of blacks in U.S. prisons.
"Justice has to play a role in this," Humphrey said.
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Back to civics class – [Editorial]
The Toledo Blade (Ohio)
July 29, 2007
RETIRED U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke to the nation's governors in Michigan about the vital role education plays in maintaining our independent judiciary. She is certainly right that students need to better appreciate the separation of powers. But what she could have added was that this is a lesson most adults, members of Congress, occupants of the White House, and the very judiciary itself also need to review.
Students today know more about Hollywood and technology than they know about government. Justice O'Connor admits to the "guilty pleasure" of enjoying the Three Stooges. But we join her in mourning recent survey findings that U.S. teenagers are more likely to know the Stooges' names than the three branches of government.
Frankly, we're afraid that the same goes for their parents. Schools do little to teach civics, and civic responsibility, anymore. All lessons about their government are packed into a single semester rather than built upon and reinforced over the years. What was once a thorough grounding in citizenship has evolved into "social studies" that do little to prepare students for the real world, or the responsibilities of citizenship.
Justice O'Connor's remarks in Michigan were directed against the failings of public education. But we also need to be concerned about the continuing education of us all. Specifically, it would be a good idea for some members of the Bush Administration to better understand the importance of the separation of powers and of judicial independence.
Since the 1960s, there have been a number of movements against judges, and especially against those judges accused of trying to "legislate from the bench." Some movements include attempts to oversee rulings and to do away with judicial immunity.
Justice O'Connor, the high court's first female justice, was appointed in 1981 by President Reagan. Not surprisingly, she has no use for those who would attack or even clip the wings of the judiciary. She denounced the "JAIL 4 Judges" movement in a Wall Street Journal commentary in September. A "judicial accountability initiative law" failed last fall in South Dakota.
But the issue has not gone away. And the cause of judicial independence hasn't been helped by the high court's newest members. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito - both Bush appointees - took their court seats with an apparently unabashed determination to reshape society into their own, far-right image.
Judges must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of retribution from the legislative or executive branches of government, and without fear of intimidation or influence from any individual or political, corporate, or interest group. And everyone in this nation should understand that by the time they leave the sixth grade.
Frightened judges can't properly do their jobs. "In these challenging and difficult times, we must recommit ourselves to maintaining the independent judiciary that the Framers sought to establish," Justice O'Connor commented last fall.
A lot more of us need to understand that. Democracy, as Winston Churchill said, is the worst form of government - save for all the others that have ever been tried. That applies to an independent judiciary.
"What kind of government have you given us?" Benjamin Franklin was asked when the Constitution was being written. "A republic, if you can keep it," he reportedly replied. Keeping citizens educated and judges truly independent is the best way to ensure that what the Founding Fathers gave us is never really lost.
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Judicial process continues to roil Missouri
The Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY — The political tension gripping Missouri's judiciary grew more apparent Thursday as rival interest groups lambasted and lauded the three finalists among whom Gov. Matt Blunt is to appoint Missouri's newest Supreme Court judge. A group advocating an overhaul in Missouri's judicial selection process denounced the three candidates as "blatantly liberal." A group defending the status quo praised the trio as "diverse and well-qualified."
But just as revealing as their words was the mere fact that Missouri now has multiple interest groups intensely focusing on the way its judges are selected — a scenario that didn't exist when a governor last filled a Supreme Court vacancy three years ago.
Blunt, a Republican who frequently criticizes "activist" judges, avoided labeling any of the finalists Thursday, pledging only that he would conduct a thorough interview process.
All three finalists submitted by the Appellate Judicial Commission are appeals judges: Nannette A. Baker of the Eastern District and Patricia A. Breckenridge and Ronald R. Holliger, both of the Western District state appeals court.
Blunt has 60 days to appoint one of them to replace Judge Ronnie White, who resigned July 6, or else the seven-member selection panel that whittled the applicants from 30 down to three will pick the court's next member.
The selection commission consists of the chief justice, three attorneys elected by Missouri Bar members and three people appointed by the governor — one of whom was named by Blunt and the other two by his Democratic predecessor.
Dissatisfaction with the selection process has been building among some Republicans, including Blunt, who contend the nominating panels don't always give the governor choices that match his conservative philosophy.
Within hours of the finalists' announcement, the Adam Smith Foundation — a self-described conservative group that has funded a Capitol billboard opposing "an activist court" — expressed "disgust with the blatantly liberal panel" of finalists.
Baker, of St. Louis, and Holliger, of Blue Springs, were appointed by Democratic governors as they rose from circuit to appellate judgeships. But Breckenridge, of Nevada, Mo., was elected as a Republican to the associate circuit court in Vernon County and later appointed to the appeals court by Republican Gov. John Ashcroft.
Adam Smith Foundation President John Elliott nonetheless contends Breckenridge is a closet liberal, pointing to campaign contributions her husband made to former Democratic Auditor Claire McCaskill and contending — without citing specific examples — that some of her rulings have a liberal bent.
Former Supreme Court Judge Edward "Chip" Robertson Jr., a Republican who was Ashcroft's chief of staff before he was appointed to the high court, contends such assertions are ridiculous.
"If one studies their judicial opinions ... all three of them have been disciples of the law — not of politics and not of policy," said Robertson, one of the founders of Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, which filed paperwork Thursday with the secretary of state's corporations office.
Robertson said the new group, which also lists former Democratic Party executive director Jim Kottmeyer as a contact, intends to defend Missouri's judicial selection process against those seeking to change it.
This is the second successive time Baker has made it to the final three. In 2004, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden instead appointed Judge Mary Russell to the Supreme Court.
Holliger and Breckenridge also have been in the spotlight before. Holliger was part of a special six-member panel of appeals judges who in 2002 redrew Missouri's state House and Senate districts after citizen redistricting commissions failed to agree on new boundaries based on the 2000 census.
Breckenridge was part of a three-judge appeals court panel that in 1996 upheld the conviction of impeached former Democratic Secretary of State Judi Moriarty for backdating her son's 1994 election filing paperwork.
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State Bar: California lawyers need a little lesson in civility
Bay City News Service, San Jose Mercury News
The State Bar is asking California's 211,000 lawyers to be a little kinder and gentler.
Responding to bad behavior by lawyers in and outside court, the bar's board of governors on Friday approved a set of voluntary civility guidelines based in part on the Santa Clara County Bar Association's Code of Professionalism.
Bar spokeswoman Diane Curtis said the recommendations result from an initiative by bar President Sheldon Sloan of Los Angeles to address a perceived rise in unbecoming behavior by lawyers.
Sloan said on Friday, "We felt the State Bar ought to take the lead. There's got to be a gold standard somewhere."
The bar leader said an example of lack of civility is lawyers scheduling depositions of witnesses on dates when they know an opposing attorney is planning a vacation or scheduling meetings right before a holiday.
A bar task force developed the guidelines by using the Santa Clara County Bar Association's professionalism code as a starting point. The group then considered suggestions from 30 county and specialized bar groups and individuals before coming up with the 15-page statewide guidelines.
Individual lawyers in California are asked to voluntarily follow the guidelines and tell clients of their commitment.
The pledge promises, "I will abstain from rude, disruptive, disrespectful and abusive behavior and will act with dignity, decency, courtesy and candor with opposing counsel, the courts and the public."
Among other items, the guidelines prohibit disrespectful remarks about other lawyers, judges and parties in a case.
"An attorney should not disparage the intelligence, integrity, ethics, morals or behavior of the court or other counsel, parties or participants when those characteristics are not at issue," the document says.
The guidelines also urge lawyers to be considerate and not to try to take advantage of opponents when serving papers and scheduling depositions, formal interviews in which witnesses give pretrial sworn statements.
Curtis said the state guidelines are intended to coordinate with and not to replace local codes of conduct already put in place by county bar associations in California.
The State Bar, with headquarters in San Francisco, is a regulatory agency in charge of licensing and disciplining lawyers. All of the approximately 211,000 lawyers practicing in California are required to be members.
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ABA Moves to Tighten Bar Passage Standards
Leigh Jones, The National Law Journal
July 10, 2007
Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, the American Bar Association has proposed to tighten bar passage
requirements for law schools, a change that is drawing a sharp rebuke from deans and others who claim that it would create an unfair standard for accreditation and result in an administrative mess.
The proposal would draw a bright-line standard regarding the responsibility of law schools to graduate students who are capable of passing the bar.
The ABA, which receives its authority to accredit law schools from the U.S. Department of Education, asserts that the revised standard is necessary to protect consumers who are considering attending law school and consumers who use the legal services of those who graduate.
Many in legal education say that they see the need for a standard that is more precise in measuring bar passage rates, but they assert that the current proposal is deeply flawed.
"It's just going to be chaos," said Richard Matasar, dean of New York Law School.
A member of the board of directors for the American Law Deans Association, Matasar has drafted an opposition letter that board members are expected to sign in the next few days. In addition, Washburn University School of Law professor William Rich, who just ended a term as the school's interim dean, is gathering signatures from about 20 deans for an opposition letter that was scheduled to go to the ABA on Monday.
For schools already accredited but undergoing a periodic review, the proposal would require them to meet one of two criteria. Under the first, they would need to show that in at least three of the most recent five years, first-time test takers passed at no more than 10 points below the first-time bar passage rates for graduates of other accredited law schools taking the bar in the same jurisdiction.
Also under the first criterion, schools in which more than 20 percent of their graduates take the bar exam for the first time in other jurisdictions would need to demonstrate that at least 70 percent of their first-time test takers passed during the two most recent bar-exam periods.
As an alternative to the first criterion, schools would need to demonstrate that 80 percent of their graduates who took the exam anywhere in the country passed within three attempts, within three years of graduation.
GOAL IS CONSISTENCY
The purpose of the proposal is to bring consistency to the application of the ABA's general law school accreditation rule that requires schools to maintain educational programs that prepare students for admission to the bar, said William Rakes, chairman of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
The ABA's proposal initially provided that schools failing to meet the standard would trigger further review, a component that the Education Department rejected, Rakes said. Instead, schools failing to meet the passage rate will be deemed noncompliant.
Rich, at Washburn, said that law schools could face having their success measured by just a small group of students taking a bar exam outside of the school's primary jurisdiction. He also is concerned about the accuracy and feasibility of tracking graduates' performance.
The ABA's attempt to revise the standard is part of its bid to the Department of Education to remain as the accrediting body for law schools. Last month, the Department of Education extended the ABA's power to continue accrediting for only 18 months, instead of a five-year term that it received in the past.
The two organizations have butted heads, in part, because of the disagreement over the ABA's diversity rule -- Standard 212 -- which the ABA revised at its annual conference last summer. The standard requires law schools to demonstrate by "concrete action" that they are admitting minority students. Opponents assert that the requirement is unlawful.
In a June 20 letter to the ABA, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings wrote that her concerns about its accrediting authority were "far beyond any concerns about Standard 212." The Department of Education declined to comment for this story.
The bar pass rate provision will go to the ABA House of Delegates for a vote at its annual conference in August.
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Judging judges: Bar eyes pilot plan
By Chris Baysden, Triangle Business Journal ( North Carolina)
July 6, 2007
CARY - The North Carolina Bar Association is devising a new pilot program that would evaluate judges' performance - an initiative that could have major political implications when members of the judiciary stand for re-election.
The bar association's idea is to create a system in which people familiar with judges fill out evaluations on their performance. Evaluators could include attorneys, jurors, other judges and court staff. They would be asked to rate judges in several different categories, including their integrity and knowledge of the law. Evaluators also will assess whether judges were fair and courteous.
The plan, at least for now, is for the surveys to be anonymous. The bar would like to conduct the evaluations electronically, if possible, to save on costs and to speed up the process.
Feedback from the surveys would be shown to judges in order to help them improve their job performance. More importantly - and perhaps more controversially - some of the information would be disseminated to the public, which could use it to guide voting booth decisions on Election Day.
"We think by creating objective standards, we'll be able to de-politicize the process," says L. Neal Ellis Jr., a Raleigh attorney at Hunton & Williams who headed up the bar association committee that's developing the evaluation system.
Janet Ward Black, president of the bar association, acknowledges that getting involved in politics can be tricky, although she stresses that the organization is just trying to provide information, not influence voters one way or the other.
"As to us endorsing candidates, that would not be what the intention is," says Black, who adds that the association does not provide funding for judicial candidates' campaigns.
Why is the association getting involved? "Our members are very interested in having the most qualified people as possible making those decisions (in the courtroom)," Black says of judges.
Ripley Rand, a special superior court judge in Wake County, likes the idea of getting honest feedback about his job performance, which is difficult for a judge since the parties he deals with have a vested interest in keeping him happy. "Nobody's ever going to tell me the truth about that," he says.
Yet Rand says that the evaluations could have an impact on an election, an issue that worries some judges.
"One of the concerns is lawyers with a vendetta who don't like a ruling will organize an effort to make judges look bad," he says. "There is always that in the back of your mind."
More than 20 states have some form of judicial evaluations. The majority of those states appoint judges, instead of holding elections in which two candidates face off. Some of the states that appoint judges do hold what's called retention elections, in which voters vote "yes" or "no" to determine whether or not a judge continues to serve.
The North Carolina Bar Association would like to institute its pilot program in select counties or court districts in the fall and continue it for a year. While the association hasn't made a decision on which areas would be used in the pilot program, the Triangle is one of those under consideration.
After a year to work out any kinks, the association hopes to roll out the program across the whole state in 2008.
Ultimately, the association would like the evaluations to be conducted on all kinds of judges, from district court to superior court to appellate judges. Evaluations would be made twice during a judge's tenure - once in the middle of the term and once at the end.
District court judges serve four-year terms, while superior court judges serve for eight years.
The mid-term evaluation would be shared with the judge, but probably not with the public. At least some of the information gleaned from the second evaluation - the one at the end of the term - would be shared with voters through a pamphlet or a Web site.
One legal insider familiar with the evaluation discussions says that judges are concerned about how a judicial candidate without bench experience could exploit the evaluations of a sitting judge in an election. And Ellis acknowledges that judges are worried that lawyers unhappy with a verdict might punish judges on evaluations - which could give opponents political fodder.
"I'd have to say there's sort of mixed feelings about it (the evaluation initiative)," he says. "We do care very much what the judges think."
To help address the concerns, Ellis says, the association is trying to work out a way to evaluate judicial candidates who have not previously been judges.
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Distinguished city lawyer, L. Drew Redden, dies at 84
VAL WALTON, The Birmingham News
July 6, 2007
Lawrence Drew Redden of Birmingham, who had a long distinguished legal and military career, died Monday. He was 84.
Mr. Redden was known as a skilled lawyer with a strong feel for the courtroom. As a law student, he was selected as the Alabama Law Review's first editor-in-chief in 1948. He was president of the Birmingham Bar Association in 1969 and president of the Alabama State Bar 1972-73. He also mentored many young lawyers.
"He went out of his way to see what he could do to help you as a lawyer," said Birmingham lawyer J. Mark White, who met Mr. Redden when White started practicing 30 years ago. "It wasn't just me. It was everybody."
Mr. Redden was a Tallassee native who earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Alabama in May 1943 and entered the university's School of Law in September 1946. He graduated in 1949.
He was an assistant U.S. attorney for north Alabama 1949-52 and then became a partner in a series of law firms, beginning with Rogers, Howard & Redden in 1953. He had been a partner in the law firm of Redden, Mills & Clark in Birmingham since 1979, still driving himself to the office.
His military career was as extensive as his legal work.
In May 1942, Mr. Redden joined the Army Enlisted Reserve and was called to active duty in August 1943. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the coast artillery on Dec. 17, 1943.
During World War II, he served in the European and Asiatic-Pacific Theaters of Operation, leaving active duty in August 1946, although he remained in the Army Reserve.
Mr. Redden was promoted to brigadier general in 1972 as deputy commander of the 121st U.S. Army Reserve Command, which included Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. He was promoted to major general in 1975, continuing as commander of the Reserve Command until his retirement Oct. 6, 1979. He garnered many military honors, including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medals of Alabama and Tennessee, and the Magnolia Medal for the State of Mississippi.
He also served as a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army 1965-69.
"He was a very sweet man with an incredibly strong legal and military history that ran parallel in his life," said Birmingham lawyer Tommy Spina.
Services were held for Mr. Redden on Thursday at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School for more than 30 years.
White said Mr. Redden was a role model based on his devotion to his wife of 63 years, Christine; his military service; his service to the law; and his work with his church.
"He was gifted in all areas," White said.
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75 lawyers set for panel to represent indigent
Group led overhaul planned for years
VAL WALTON, The Birmingham News
July 1, 2007
Seventy-five lawyers throughout north Alabama have been chosen as the new panel of attorneys who are designated to represent indigent criminal defendants starting Monday.
The panel is the culmination of four years of study to provide the best possible representation in the often complex federal criminal cases when a defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Michael Putnam, a member of a committee of two judges and defense lawyers who brought the plan into reality.
"This is not some knee-jerk decision we've made," Putnam said.
The 75 lawyers were selected by all of the U.S. district judges in northern Alabama after a lengthy application process that sought to get a diverse cross-section of lawyers of gender, race and geographic location, Putnam said.
It marks a sweeping change in how representation has been handled in the past in the Northern District of Alabama, which is made up of 31 counties.
"It's a quantum leap from where we were to where we are," said John Lentine, a defense lawyer who has helped lead the overhaul for better representation for nine years. "It puts us in line with other districts."
In the past, as many as 300 lawyers with various degrees of experience were on an outdated list of lawyers known as the Criminal Justice Act. The list was used by magistrate judges to choose lawyers for the indigent.
There were no minimum requirements to be on the list other than to be a licensed lawyer in good standing with the bar and sworn in as a member of the federal Northern District. Lawyers representing indigent defendants are paid $94 an hour.
Putnam said 150 lawyers applied to make the list of 75. The selected lawyers are divided into two tiers. One tier is made up of seasoned lawyers who have at least five years of experience, that includes trying at least five trials in federal court or a federal trial and more trials in state court. The second tier list lawyers who have less courtroom experience. Those lawyers will be mentored by the more skilled ones. The lawyers also will be required to undergo continuing legal education courses tailored for federal court.
"It was often a tough choice," Putnam said. "There was a good pool of applicants."
The lawyers will be selected randomly by computer when the need arises for an appointed attorney. Putnam said the random computer selection would not be an automatic guarantee in special circumstances in which a defendant lives outside Birmingham and would require an attorney in other counties such as Tuscaloosa, Florence, Anniston, where there are satellite federal courthouses.
Under the new plan, lawyers will serve for renewable three-year terms. Putnam said the committee working to provide the best representation chose this plan rather than putting in place a federal public defender's office or a federal community defender organization.
There has been much debate in the northern district about those issues.
Putnam said the new plan is less expensive without sacrificing the quality of representation.
He said a special study for north Alabama by the Administrative Office of Courts revealed that the average costs per case with a panel attorney is $2,600 compared to $4,000 for a federal public defender office. In federal court, where cases often involved complicated conspiracies that stretches across state lines and multiple defendants, the public defenders office could only represent one defendant in such a case, Putnam said.
He said there would still be a need to have a panel to represent other defendants.
Lentine, an advocate of the federal public defender office, said he hopes the new panel of lawyers is the first step in creating such an office in north Alabama.
Putnam said while there will be reviews, the panel is the best for north Alabama. "We want to give this our best shot for the next several years," Putnam said. "In the past, this has worked well. This one will be much better."
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Lawyers split on insurance proposal - If the disclosure of malpractice coverage was mandatory, costs may rise but plaintiffs may select better
By Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times
July 2, 2007
California lawyers will have to tell their clients whether they carry malpractice insurance under a proposed rule that opponents say could add to the costs of going to court.
About 20% of the state's 150,000 lawyers don't have malpractice coverage, according to Jim Towery, chairman of the State Bar of California task force that drafted the proposed rule. Towery and others who support the rule said most clients want to know whether a prospective lawyer has insurance, or a history of complaints, but many fail to ask.
Opponents fear that requiring disclosure might effectively force all lawyers to buy such insurance and pass on the costs — up to $9,000 a year — to clients.
Most of those who lack the insurance are sole practitioners who represent accident or consumer fraud victims.
"They're the people who really provide access to justice, as opposed to tall-building lawyers," said Diane Karpman, a legal ethics expert who predicted that some small practitioners would be put out of business.
The number of disgruntled clients who sue their attorneys is small relative to other types of civil lawsuits but the number of claims is rising, according to an American Bar Assn. study. For instance, legal malpractice cases worth $2 million or more jumped 60% between 1996 and 2003, the latest year for which data are available. In most cases, clients ask for much less, but the number of claims under $10,000 has risen too, by 8% in the same period.
Most legal malpractice claims result from personal injury and real estate cases, according to the study, and close to 70% of these suits were lodged against sole practitioners or members of firms with 10 lawyers or fewer.
"There are so many ways that the lawyer can make an error," said Edith Matthai, a Los Angeles lawyer who generally represents other lawyers in malpractice cases.
Proponents of the rule, including lawyers who handle malpractice cases for plaintiffs, say the requirement would protect consumers whose claims are mishandled.
"Prospective clients should at least know that an attorney chooses to practice without insurance or is unable to get it," said Robert Sall, a Laguna Beach lawyer.
In the '90s, Sall said, he represented an Orange County woman whose divorce lawyer "failed to take the most basic steps to protect the marital assets." The woman's estranged husband squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars before the divorce was final.
She sued the lawyer for malpractice, winning a $450,000 judgment but collecting a tiny fraction of it because the lawyer, who had no liability coverage, filed bankruptcy. The woman, then in her 60s and with meager resources, had to move in with one of her children.
"There are victims here," Sall said.
Some lawyers feel uncomfortable carrying malpractice insurance. Newport Beach plaintiffs' lawyer Mary Shea has never been sued for malpractice but carried insurance for 10 years. Financial and philosophical reasons prompted her to let her policy lapse in 2005.
The premium took a big bite out of her income, she said, and she felt there was an inherent conflict of interest in relying on the same insurance companies she often sued on behalf of wronged clients to defend her if she herself was sued.
The American Bar Assn adopted a model insurance disclosure rule in 2004, and 20 states now embrace some form of it. Several others are considering proposals. The requirement was in effect in California between 1992 and 2000 but the Legislature let the rule sunset during an unrelated dispute over State Bar funding.
The proposed rule would have to be approved by the State Bar's Board of Governors and the California Supreme Court.
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