Friday, January 25, 2013

The numbers don't lie

Thanks to Robb "The Czar" Fickman, a constant pain in the side for the established order in the Harris County criminal (in)justice system, we know the caseloads for every lawyer who accepted a court-appointed case in Harris County in 2011.

We also know how those caseloads compared to the National Advisory Commission's recommended guidelines.

What we see is a pattern of certain attorneys commanding a lion's share of appointed work. Harris County supposedly uses a series of methods to appoint counsel: some courts have contract attorneys, some courts use the Public Defender's Office (not an option in 2011) and other courts use "the wheel." The wheel is supposed to assign attorneys randomly to courts and/or cases.

The numbers revealed, as Mr. Fickman points out, that it's the judges who control the appointment list in Harris County. And, as anyone who has ever practiced criminal law knows, the most important priority for a judge is to move cases off the docket. And those cases don't get moved by taking them to trial and holding the state to its burden of proof. Those cases get moved by pleading them out - one after another.

Those who play the game are rewarded. As Mr. Fickman puts it
The Harris County Criminal Appointment system is controlled by the judges. It is their creation and it is a wretched creation.  Favored lawyers who are known to move cases are given an obscene number of court appointments.  Lawyers who work hard on cases, who do their job are given a much smaller number of cases.  The result is a small group of lawyers, handling an exceedingly large number of cases.  Likewise, the result is a large group of lawyers,  who are competent, are not given enough cases.  This is not a matter of opinion. This is a matter of fact. The fact is demonsrated by the link that I am providing. Look AT IT!! It will show you lawyers that are handling 2, 3 and even 4 times the national recommended number of cases. 
Gerald G. Acosta had the highest caseload in 2011. He received 255 juvenile appointments, 387 misdemeanor appointments and 278 felony appointments. That works out to a total of 920 appointments during one calendar year. If Mr. Acosta worked year-round that means he received just under 18 criminal appointments per week and 3.5 per day.

According to the NAC, that caseload is more than four times the recommended maximum caseload for an attorney. There is no way that anyone can convince me that it is possible for one attorney to provide effective representation to that many clients over the course of one year.

David L. Garza came in a close second with 599 misdemeanor appointments and 295 felony appointments for a total of 894 appointments in 2011. That works out to just a shade over 17 appointments per week and just under 3.5 a day.

His caseload was 3.5 times that recommended by the NAC.

In third place was Ricardo N. Gonzalez who received 44 misdemeanor appointments and 463 felony appointments in 2011 for a total of 507 cases. That would be almost 10 appointments per week and just about two per day.

His caseload was 3.2 times that recommended by the NAC.

Humberto Trejo was number four. Mr. Trejo received 470 misdemeanor appointments and 278 felony appointments for a total of 748 appointments. That comes out to a little over 14 appointments a week and almost three a day.

Mr. Trejo's caseload was three times that recommended by the NAC.

And rounding out the top five is Kerry H. McCracken. Ms. McCracken received 419 felony appointments in 2011 which works out to eight appointments a week and a little over 1.5 per day. Her caseload was 2.8 times that recommended by the NAC.

Given those caseloads, just what do you think the odds are that a case is going to receive a proper investigation? It is physically impossible for an attorney to do the work necessary to defend that many clients in a year. The result is a parade of pleas every day down at 1201 Franklin.

The system is broken beyond repair. The judges cannot be trusted to manage it. They have a built in conflict of interest. The decision who to appoint must be taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of someone who has no interest in who is appointed. As things now stand, if you are poor and cannot afford to post bond, you are more likely to be pressured into pleading than fighting.

So long as the system remains as is, there will be no justice for indigent defendants in Harris County.


Jamison said...

Wow. And no kidding.

In Virginia, where only a masochist would attempt to practice criminal defense, the flat rate for a misdemeanor court-appointed case is just over $100. The flat rate for a felony, last I heard, was $550. And, as I understand it, it is virtually impossible to secure additional funds for an investigator or expert.

Not surprisingly, you tend to see one guilty plea after another and lots of disgruntled clients.

Gideon said...

Mark tweeted the link to the stats the other day and I forgot all about it. Thanks for compiling this. What a joke.