In April of 2012 I posted a blog advocating the theory that, in general, hiring an attorney will result in better outcomes than using a court appointed attorney. I stated that this is not true in all cases but as a matter of practicality, a retained attorney will do more work and investigation than a court appointed attorney because the retained attorney is being paid more. Additionally, the court appointed attorney is often underpaid and therefore even more likely not to perform all of the work necessary to provide the best defense. At least one attorney took offense to my post and communicated her attitude toward my opinion. I responded that while I agree that many court appointed attorneys work very hard for their clients, many don’t. Additionally, most court appointed attorneys have so many cases it is impossible for them to devote the time necessary effectively defend all of them. A case in point was recently ruled upon by the Michigan Supreme Court wherein a court appointed attorney did not do their job.
In 2004, then 68 year old Jacob Trakhtenberg was accused of sexually touching his 8 year old daughter and charged with five counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Second Degree in Oakland County. Jacob, a Russian Immigrant and retired Chrysler engineer, stated that he did not want to hire an attorney because he was adamant about his innocence and was “not about to pay a dime to defend himself”. He requested and received a court appointed attorney who was extremely deficient in her duties to him. An Oakland County Circuit Court judge and the Michigan Supreme Court both found that she failed to exercise reasonable professional judgment in her defense. She did not conduct any independent investigation or interview any witnesses. She waived the preliminary examination which would have given her the opportunity to attack and defend the case. She did not file any pre-trial motions, did not consult or seek to have the court pay for an expert witness. Most importantly, she failed to evaluate and develop the defense that the victim’s mother, who testified against him, hated the defendant. Additionally, the attorney chose to have the judge decide the case instead of a jury of 12 people. As a direct result of the attorney’s actions, and more importantly, her non-actions, Jacob was convicted and sentenced to 4-15 years in prison. He was recently released after serving 7. Thankfully, on December 21, 2012 the Michigan Supreme Court recognized the Constitutionally Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and ordered a new trial.
I do not believe that all court appointed attorneys fail their client’s this poorly. Many do a good job and many do a fair job. This is an example of the many types of ways they often times cut corners. They do not get paid to file motions, hold a preliminary examination or go interview witnesses therefore, many do not perform these often necessary services. Further, to hold a bench trial before the worst judge on the bench at that time instead of a jury trial makes no sense except because it is easier and takes less time. That is not how justice should prevail in our criminal justice system but it happens too often. This man spent seven years of his life in prison, lost his million dollar home and probably the respect of his friends and family not to mention being a convicted felon who has to report that he is a sex offender which becomes public knowledge. As many of the News comments stated “You get what you pay for”
If you, or a loved one, have been charged with a crime, no matter how serious, call the Law Office of Barton Morris at (248) 541-2600. I promise to do everything possible to get the best outcome.