f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 26, 2004

Mass. Advocates Seek Fair Funding and Fees

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:54 pm

The Massachusetts Association of Court Appointed Attorneys is in a fight with the administration of Governor Mitt Romney, hoping to establish a funding mechanism that meets constitutional requirements and assures assigned counsel fair compensation for their legal services.

 

As stated in an MACAA press release issued 02-26-04:


scales rich poor neg  Constitutionally mandated court functions must be fully funded by direct appropriation. Contingent funding for core court functions and indigent representation is unconstitutional. Funding public defenders from indigent counsel fees was found unconstitutional on February 12, 2004 in Minnesota, and has been found unconstitutional in other states.


An independent judiciary requires full, secure funding by direct appropriation, as does the sixth amendment right to counsel.


The Governor’s proposal to use so-called “retained revenue” to fund constitutionally mandated core functions constitutes contingent funding, illegally attempting to balance the Commonwealth’s budget on the backs of the poor.

We posted on the Minnesota decision regarding unconsitutional co-pays by indigent defendants on Feb. 12, 2004.  Massachusetts (at $150) charges indigent defendants three times as much as Minnesota ($50) in District Court cases.  You can learn much more about these issues on the What’s New page of the Bristol County (Mass.) Bar Advocates.  MACAA will be presenting testimony at a legislative hearing on Feb. 27, 2004, in Boston.


  • Yes. these are the same Bar Advocates, I wrote so frequently about last Fall (e.g., here).  They don’t need or want my blessing for their legislative and educational efforts, but I’m pleased to see all this hard work on the right side of the antitrust and ethics line.

UK Dads Angrily Protest Divorce Lawyers

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:53 pm

Claiming that divorce lawyers “pour petrol” on the flames of divorcing couples, and deprive children of the care of their fathers, members of the group Fathers 4 Justice have been staging dramatic protests in the United Kingdom.  For example, according to The Huddersfield Daily Examiner:


Fifteen fathers wearing white contamination outfits stormed the offices of Parker Bird solicitors in Queen Street, Huddersfield with sirens blaring, whistles blowing and flags waving.

 

fireman hose gray flip 

The article (“Angry fathers in law firm protest,” 02-26-04, via law.com) also noted that F4J bestowed the Golden Petrol Can award on Parker Bird.  In addition:


  • The protesters claim the firm helps prevent fathers from maintaining their parental responsibilities and abuses the human rights of children and fathers in Huddersfield.
  • “We feel that many solicitors manipulate family law against fathers.”

Let me be frank:  I’m surprised this sort of protest hasn’t happened more often in the USA.  My sympathies are with the fathers.  As a Law Guardian representing children and as a divorce mediator, I have seen far too many instances of divorce lawyers needlessly fomenting anger and prolonging proceedings, to the detriment of the own clients, the opposing party and, especially, the children.  As lawyer-mediator Leonard Marlow has pointed out in Divorce and the Myth of Lawyers and The Two Roads to Divorce, the only winners are the lawyers.


p.s. For some practical advice on parenting after separation or divorce, see my essay Tips on Parenting-Apart.  For advice on getting through the grief process of divorce or separation in order to be a healthier person and better parent, see my 1997 monograph, Good Grief  Both articles were written while operating Project PAX: the Parenting-Apart eXchange, in Scotia, New York.

A Better Fix Than ParkingTicket.com?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 4:31 pm

The Washington Post recently highlighted a website — ParkingTicket.com — that helps folks in D.C., San Francisco and New York City fight parking tickets online (“A New Recruit in the Parking Ticket Laws,” by Don Oldenburg, 02-17-04) (Thanks to Marcia Oddi at Indiana Law Blog for the pointer)

no parking I checked out ParkingTicket.com this morning and have two reactions: (1) I’m not impressed with the value, even though you pay nothing if your parking fine isn’t reduced or dismissed; and (2) helping consumers understand the law of parking tickets is precisely the sort of task that bar associations could do very inexpensively on their websites, and through handouts, both to serve the public and to create goodwill. [Putting together parking law primers could also be a great, if unglamorous, project for law students across the nation.]

Of course, information about parking law and dealing with parking tickets belongs on court-based self-help websites — but I’m afraid that such services would run afoul of the revenue-generating purposes of most parking-enforcement schemes.

The ParkingTicket website might be perfectly acceptable to the ticketee who merely wants to contest a citation without appearing in person and doesn’t mind paying a middleman a hefty fee. But, value-conscious consumers will surely balk. Taking a look at PT’s Terms & Conditions, reveals that its “Guaranteed Dismissal Fee” is equal to half of the amount saved by the Customer (thus, the fee is $50 if a $100 ticket is dismissed). In addition, the fee is paid upfront, but is not returned until after both an initial judgment of guilt and a mandatory appeal by Parkingticket.com.

What we have is a 50% reverse contingency fee, paid in advance for a “confidential, customized dismissal letter” that is computer-generated after the customer answers a short list of questions. That’s a high price for beating a ticket you could very well have fought yourself successfully — plus, you get to subsidize the frivolous pursuits of PT’s less reponsible, scofflaw Customers.

wrong way neg Frankly, I’m also not impressed with PT’s philosophy. On its FAQ page, it asks “When should I fight a parking ticket and when should I just pay it?” And responds “You should fight a parking ticket whenever you feel like it. There is no rule to say you shouldn’t fight a ticket. It is your right to fight a ticket for any reason at all.” That’s not too civic minded, and hopefully not the response that a lawyer would give a client. On the topic of legal advice, ParkingTicket declares in its Terms:

13. Customer authorizes parkingticket.com to share its parking ticket and related information to outside counsel including attorneys, retired Parking Ticket Municipal Judges, retired Police and Traffic Agents and other consultants as parkingticket.com may see fit at its sole discretion. parkingticket.com is a website and not an Attorney. parkingticket.com does not give legal advice. Do not consider anything on this website as legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact an attorney.”

For some free information on parking tickets, I suggest my PrairieLaw.com article Parking Meters 101 – it has a few fun anecdotes from my own experiences with parking meters in Schenectady. Teaser: find out if you have to pay a ticket at a broken meter.

  • The article also sets forth a little of my philosophy on both operating regulatory systems and paying parking tickets:
    A civil society requires more than well-crafted regulations; it requires proper enforcement. The humble parking meter can teach us a lot about designing and operating a good regulatory system. Lawbreakers and whiners aside, some parking tickets are just plain unlawful or unfair — the result of poor planning, poor enforcement or both.
    When I think a ticket is unfair or unlawful, I fight it, even a $5 one. In the process, I’ve discovered that more than a few meter maids and municipal lawyers need to learn some parking meter law.
    In a nutshell, a parking ticket at a meter is fair if the driver failed to pay the posted fee, overstayed the time limit or parked at a prohibited time — as long as the meter is in the right spot, works correctly, is properly labeled, and neither the government nor the weather has made it unreasonable to comply.

Doing Something About Fat Lawyers

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 2:19 pm

runners black  They may still be increasing their fees, but a number of prestigious law firms are also trying to reduce their lawyers’ waistlines.  According to an article in today’s New York Lawyer, wellness programs are spreading rapidly in a leading-edge attempt to reverse swelling legal behinds and health insurance costs. (NYLJ, “Law Firms Adopting Wellness Programs,” 02-26-04)



  • Check out this article, if only for the gratuitous barb about Pittsburgh attorneys (the old Rust-Belt-Loosening stereotype, I presume). 
  • After my last post, I was pleased to find some lighter fare.

Boxley & Jones: Giving Lawyers a Bad Name, Bigtime

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:59 am


Michael Boxley and E. Stewart Jones are lawyers, but not partners.  Boxley is an accused rapist and confessed sexual offender and Jones is his high-paid attorney.  They’ve been in the news a lot over the past year, in the New York Capital Region, and their conduct can only further blemish the reputation of the legal profession.

 

Jones&Boxley Jones & Boxley at sentencing

S. Dickstein/Times Union

 

Boxley, who is now 44 years old, was the top legal counsel in the New Yok State Assembly (working for Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver), at the time of the alleged rape of a 22-year-old legislative aide, who worked for another Assembly member.   According to Newsday.com,


“Similar allegations were made against Boxley in 2001 by another woman who worked for the Assembly. She said Boxley sexually assaulted her at his apartment after a night of drinking. Criminal charges were never filed. After an internal investigation within the Assembly, the woman and Boxley reached an agreement without sanctions against Boxley.”

The current story first became public last year, when the victim requested a sexual harassment invesitgation in the Assembly.  Speaker Silver released a statement saying “I have the utmost confidence in Michael Boxley. He is man of integrity and of the highest character and I am certain when all the facts are known Michael Boxley will completely exonerated.”  Lawyer Jones was a little less reserved, he asserted:


shark neg . .



“She is alleging impropriety. Any impropriety is in her mind. Didn’t happen, never occurred. It’s an outrageous boldface lie if she is suggesting there is any misconduct on Michael Boxley’s behalf.”


Subsequently, a grand jury indicted Boxley, claiming he had sexual intercourse with the woman when she was physically helpless in her apartment.  On the day last August, when Boxley pled not guilty to the rape charges, Attorney Jones “lashed out at Boxley’s accuser,” saying:



“These are the fantastic imaginations of a woman who is motivated by reasons that we don’t understand at this point in time. She’s lying to herself and those lies have led to lies to the police, the prosecutor and the grand jury. And that’s the reason we’re here,”


When Boxley decided nonetheless to plea to a far-lesser misdemeanor charge of sexual misconduct, he admitted having had nonconsensual sex with the victim.  His mouthpiece Jones announced that Boxley only took the plea to avoid losing his license to practice law — then, however, Jones made the outrageous statement, repeated in subsequent interviews, that Boxley was innocent and only pleaded guilty to avoid trial by an all-white jury.   Jones explained in television interviews that he did not believe Boxley, a black man, could get a fair trial in Albany — despite having the area’s preeminent criminal defense attorney!


scales rich poor  As if all this weren’t tawdry enough, things got more heated this week, when Boxley was finally sentenced to six years probation and a $1,000 fine, and listing on the state’s sexual offender registry.  The victim, who had previously stated she agreed with the plea bargain, made an angry and tearful statement to the court, saying “This is a first-degree rape case, not a misdemeanor,” 


According to AP/ Newsday:


The victim said she thinks the deal was struck because of Boxley’s power.   “I am disgusted by the mismanagement of my case and the strings that were pulled to allow a rich rapist free range of our community,” she said.

In response, Jones said the statement at sentencing was an “exercise in self-delusion.”  And, defended the district attorney’s office, saying that the victim’s charges that the case was mishandled were “unfair, inaccurate and unjust,”   Then, Jones got really ugly, declaring in front of an array of tv cameras:



“She is not a naive, innocent, fragile girl.” 


 “She is engaged in self denial about a lifestyle that brought all this together, and that is why we are here.”


“This young lady is a hard-partying, hard-drinking, marijuana-using, socially experienced, socially active, uninhibited poster girl for the wild side of Albany night life.”


When asked if there might be a civil suit, Jones replied, “I think she may be lawyered-up.” 





smallest shark Jones’ implication that the victim brought the crime on herself is totally inappropriate, and has caused more heat.  As the Times Union reported today (“Victim details night’s ordeal,” by Michelle Morgan Bolton, Feb. 26, 2004, available free for 7 days), the National Organization for Women’s Albany chapter called for Jones, to apologize to all women for remarks he made outside the courtroom following the sentencing.  The article continues:

Jones hit a nerve by characterizing the woman as a “hard-partying, hard-drinking … uninhibited poster girl for the wild side of Albany nightlife.”


“E. Stewart Jones … has made an appalling statement in the Michael Boxley case, blaming the victim and her social life for her circumstances as a victim of sexual assault,” [NOW leaders] said.

“In today’s society, a statement such as this is preposterous,” they said. “Attitudes such as these encourage the notion that violence against women is warranted based on that woman’s social life. Despite the defendant’s mild sentence, the use of the term ‘poster girl’ in referring to a crime victim is atrocious.”


“They were not in the courtroom,” Jones responded later. “They didn’t hear what she said. Everything I said is supported by proof. She misled everyone about herself.”   There will be no back-pedaling, Jones said: “No apology is forthcoming. No apology is required. No apology is justified.”

“My statement was very specific to this case and the remarks she made in the courtroom,” he went on. “It has absolutely nothing to do with any other women. … If she hadn’t said what she said, I wouldn’t have opened my mouth.”


Last year, I complained about “criminal defense lawyers spouting sound bites on courthouse steps, the content of which often strains credulity, blames victims, and has very little to do with the important role of making the government prove its case.”   I believe E. Stewart Jones is a Poster Person for just that sort of conduct.  It makes lawyers look bad.  Very bad.

 

As his website correctly proclaims, Jones is highly prominent, and highly sought-after for both criminal defense work and plaintiff’s personal injury cases (emphasis added):


One of the few attorneys in the entire country that is board certified as both a Civil Trial Advocate and Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Mr. Jones is also a Fellow of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers.

 

With credentials such as these, you are assured of the highest caliber of legal counsel available today.

I’d appreciate hearing what my visitors think about this story.



  • It goes without saying, that I hope NYS bar counsel won’t let Mr. Boxley’s “mere” misdemeanor violation keep them from imposing appropriate discipline for conduct most inappropriate for members of the bar (and the human race).


  • I also hope that local media, especially tv, will stop giving defense counsel such as Jones so much coverage.   Neither defensive boilerplate nor offensive balderdash is news.  

update (March 5, 2005): A judge has rejected Boxley’s claim that

the State pay his legal fees in a suit by a former Assembly staffer,

who claims Boxley raped her.   According to an AP/Newsday report

(March 4, 2005):


Supreme Court Justice James Canfield ruled against Boxley,

saying “there is no question but that the criminal activity

that petitioner has either already admitted or is accused of

constitutes a substantial departure from the duties of

public employment.”

So far, no comment from the usually chatty counsel for Boxley.

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