Since somewhere around three-quarters of defendants in juvenile court get court-appointed attorneys, such cases are a major source of income for more than a few lawyers, especially those who are tight with the judges.The three board-certified lawyers denied appointments, Casey reports, believe they're being retaliated against by the judges for diligently doing their job. One of the attorneys "said it was possible her offense was too aggressively representing her clients. The judges like to 'move' their dockets and prefer lawyers who arrange quick plea bargains."
John Devlin, for example, is Judge John Phillips' campaign treasurer and former law partner. Devlin had been paid $167,475 for work in the three juvenile courts this year, as of Aug. 1. More than $90,000 came from Phillips' court.
Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland has done even better, earning $187,056 this year as of Aug. 1.
Neither of these lawyers is board-certified in juvenile law, a level of recognition earned by demonstrating experience in a specialized area and passing a rigorous exam.
Harris County has just 14 board-certified juvenile lawyers. One is Judge Pat Shelton, two are associate judges and two are prosecutors.
Only nine are defense attorneys, meaning that in one fell swoop the judges deprived Harris County juveniles of the services of one-third of the county's board-certified attorneys.
Why? All three of the attorneys said they have been given no reasons, though they have theories.
The three juvenile judges last spring published new procedures for being added to or removed from the list of eligible attorneys. It sets some basic qualifications: one year in practice, observing various types of hearings, demonstrating "professionalism and reliability when interacting with juvenile court judges and staff."
And they must be "approved by a secret ballot by a majority of the Harris County Juvenile Judges.
In any event, aren't juvenile cases subject to Fair Defense Act? I thought that 2001 statute was supposed to stop this kind of foolishness. I don't understand how these judges get to avoid using a "wheel" or other neutral selection process for juvie lawyers. Giving disproportionate appointments to your own campaign treasurer or the county chairman of your own political party certainly strikes me as presenting an appearance of an ethics violation, and possibly an actual one.
Read the whole thing, and also Casey's column on Wednesday about the kind of lawyers these judges DO like to appoint.