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Law of Criminal Defense - Public defender held in contempt for refusing to start trial one day after appointment

Public defender held in contempt for refusing to start trial one day after appointment

08/17/07

Permalink 04:48:30 pm, by forhall, 694 words, 23702 views   English (US)
Categories: blog

Public defender held in contempt for refusing to start trial one day after appointment

As if being a public defender is not difficult enough, a Portage, Ohio public defender was held in contempt yesterday for refusing to announce ready for trial in a case he was appointed on only the day before because he was unprepared [obviously]. Plough has public defender arrested Attorney told judge he was not ready to try case he had for less than a day by Dave O'Brien. Most of the article:

Portage County Municipal Court Judge John Plough ordered a Portage County public defender placed under arrest for contempt of court Thursday.

The order was given after the attorney said he was unprepared and unable to begin a scheduled trial, having only been appointed to represent a defendant the day before the trial was scheduled to begin.

Brian Jones, an employee of Portage County Public Defender Dennis Lager since May, was held in contempt of court during an afternoon trial at Portage County Municipal Court in Kent after he told Plough he was unable to go forward with the trial.

Plough ordered a Portage County Sheriff's deputy to remove Jones from his courtroom in front of his client, spectators and courthouse employees. Jones is representing Jordan S. Scott, 20, who was arrested bby Kent police June 17 and charged with one count of misdemeanor assault. He was arraigned June 18 and is incarcerated in the Portage County Jail on an unrelated felony charge.

Scott had a pre-trial hearing July 25, but according to Plough failed for almost two months to obtain counsel. He was appointed a public defender on Wednesday. With the trial set to begin at 11 a.m. Thursday, Plough moved the trial back to 1:30 p.m., giving Jones two-and-a-half-hours to prepare his case.

Plough also noted from the bench the presence of a Record-Courier reporter and, from the bench, said he believed someone in the public defender's office was to blame for notifying the newspaper of the upcoming trial.

A source, who requested anonymity, called the Record-Courier and informed a reporter of Plough's intent to hold Jones in contempt. The source also said the Portage County Public Defender's Office has a written policy not to take cases to trial with a single day's notice.

When Jones brought up the existence of that policy in court Thursday, Plough told Jones it wasn't the time for "speeches" and asked if Jones wanted to make an opening statement. As Jones continued to explain the situation, saying he had a "pre-trial matter" to bring up, Plough interrupted him.

"What pre-trial matter? Trial is starting right now," Plough said, refusing to hear Jones' arguments about the matter and again asking him if he was prepared to move forward.

Jones said Lager sent a letter to Plough in August 2006 stating his concerns about Plough's treatment of defendants represented by public defenders, a letter Plough denied receiving. Plough also refused to take a new copy of the letter from Jones.

Carmen Hernandez, President of NACDL, issued a press release today condemning the trial judge's actions for violating the right to effective assistance of counsel:

For the jury or judge to find the truth at trial, the defense must understand the case and be prepared. Defense lawyers must have investigated, talked to the witnesses, researched the law, and, frequently, consulted experts. Indeed, defense attorneys are required to do these things by a long line of U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the ethical rules that govern lawyers in every state in the Union.

Asking a lawyer to go to trial without preparation is like asking a doctor to perform surgery before diagnosing the patient. Harm is inevitable –- the facts will be unclear and evidence will be missed. Worst of all, the wrong people may go to jail while real criminals remain at large. We ought not to forget so quickly the lessons that the Duke Lacrosse players who were falsely accused of crimes taught us.

For the scales of justice to be balanced, both the prosecution and the defense must be prepared. Without this balance, mistakes happen. We deserve and are entitled to better than an unreliable criminal justice system. Public defenders must be given the time and resources to do their jobs.

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