Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lawyers Speaking Out in Response to Todd Willingham's Trial Attorney's "Utterly Disgraceful" Performance on CNN

Early Friday morning, we posted the video from last Thursday's CNN AC 360 program when Todd Willingham's trial lawyer was on the program and made remarks that we thought violated his attorney-client obligations, which bind a lawyer even after his client has died. Now, some attorneys have begun posting about David Martin and some also seem to agree that Martin violated his ethical obligations as an attorney to his former client.

After reading this blog post, if you are think David Martin should be investigated, click here to download a grievance form and send it to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas.

Yesterday, TMN sent an email to attorney and blogger Mark Bennett with a link to the CNN video and asked if he saw an ethics violation. He replied by posting his thoughts on his blog here.

My position is that a) all facts the lawyer learns in the course of representation is privileged; and b) this privilege survives the end of representation and the client’s death. So, for example, the fact that the defense team did its own pseudoscientific experiment would be privileged and not something that the ex-lawyer would be free to reveal (without the client’s permission).
Todd Willingham's appellate lawyer, Walter Reaves, has also now responded to what David Martin said on CNN,
as a lawyer you ought to have some duty to not damage your client. At the very least, Mr. Martin is damaging Todd's reputation, and his ability to obtain some relief in through the forensic commission. The fact that he aligning himself with Gov. Perry ought to tell you something.
At least three other lawyers have now also posted their thoughts on David Martin. Here is one on her blog "Preaching to the Choir".
I have nothing nice to say about David Martin after watching this appalling performance, so perhaps I should not say anything at all. Except, I have no duty of loyalty to David Martin. But I do feel a duty of loyalty to my profession. I happen to think that defending people is one of the most noble things you can do. I can go on quite a tear about how we defenders of the constitution are the true patriots and the most noble actors of all in the criminal justice system. I take my job seriously. Very seriously. My clients trust me with their lives, just as Todd Willingham had to trust David Martin. As much as I rail against prosecutors and cops who bend the rules or cut corners, no one offends me more than the defense attorney who does not live up to my high ideals for the profession. From what I've seen in this video, David Martin is the kind of defense attorney I don't ever want to be.
Here is another, Scott Greenfield, who says
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Martin has no grossly improper motive, like he's been promised a judgeship by Perry if he does everything in his power to undermine the evidence of Willingham's innocence. If Martin truly believes what he's saying to be true, his statements are the most irresponsible, unethical, improper I have ever heard from the mouth of a criminal defense lawyer. Outrageously wrong. Utterly disgraceful.
Here is a third, Jeff Gamso:
So we know that Martin was spouting bullshit. (He claimed to have just returned from "chasing cows," so maybe there's a reason.) We also know that at least one thing he talked about, the lighter fluid experiment, is covered by the work-product privilege. It's a secret. He had no business telling anyone. A clear violation of his ethical obligations.

And then there's the matter of going on the air to declare his client guilty. Why in the world would he do that? To garner business? Unlikely. That's not the way you attract clients. For the glory of national television? Some people just can't resist. Whatever the reason, he was wrong. Whatever he was thinking, he wasn't thinking enough. That duty of loyalty. That obligation not to disadvantage. That lack of judgment. That putting his own interests before his client's.
We hope many other lawyers speak up and that some of them file a complaint with the Texas Bar against David Martin.

Eileen Smith of Texas Monthly has also written about Martin, saying in her blog "In the Pink":
Willingham’s trial lawyer David Martin is such a caricature of what people think of Texans that I was mortified watching it. Haven’t we been the posterior region of enough jokes this year, what with all the secession talk and Dancing With the Stars? And I’m not even a native Texan. So really, you guys should be extra-extra mortified.

Right from the start of the interview, you just know it’s going to be bad. For one, Martin is wearing a cowboy hat that’s about to fall off his head. And two, the guy’s drunk as a Honduran skunk.

Anderson Cooper: “David, you always believed that your client was guilty. Now after a half dozen experts have come forward to say there’s no way the fire was arson, you still say he was guilty. Why?”

Martin: “Uh, Anderson, excuse my informal attire, we’ve been out checking cows… uh… tell me your question again?”

Anderson: “About a half dozen fire experts around the country have looked at this case now, and say the evidence that was used… simply is not accurate…”

Martin: “Ohhhh, no, that’s not what I glean from these reports here…”
Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 at 2pm in Austin at the Texas Capitol.

The Texas Bar website explains how to file a complaint.

What is the grievance system?
The grievance system is designed to protect the public from unethical lawyers licensed to practice law in Texas. Lawyers are held accountable to a set of rules, called the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Lawyers who violate those rules are prosecuted under a set of rules, called the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Much like the criminal system, you, as the aggrieved, are not a party to the disciplinary action; you are a witness.

To download these two sets of rules click here, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (PDF) and Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (PDF). For instructions on how to download Adobe Acrobat, click here.

Allegations of misconduct by an attorney are taken very seriously, and are reviewed and investigated carefully by the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel. If you believe that an attorney has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, you may report this information in writing to the State Bar in the form of a grievance.

Some examples of Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct violations

  • Conviction of a serious crime or other criminal act;
  • Engaging in fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
  • Obstructing justice;
  • Influencing improperly a government agency or official;
  • Engaging in barratry; and
  • Practicing law when the lawyer is on inactive status or has been

It is important to note that malpractice and attorney misconduct are not necessarily the same. An attorney can commit legal malpractice and not be in violation of the disciplinary rules, or he ir she can be in violation of the disciplinary rules without having committed legal malpractice.

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