Are Judges Who Appoint Lawyers to More than 300 felonies a Year Violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct?

Friends-   Attached please find the 2012 Harris County Auditors Report for Court Appointments in Criminal District Courts.
 The ABA Standard  is very clear. It states that a lawyer who does felony appointments, and only felony appointments, should handle no more than 150 felony cases per year. It is understood that the number is not fixed in stone but a  reasonable guideline. I think most of us would agree that 150 felonies is a lot of felony  cases to handle in one year. According to the records, the vast majority of  good qualified court appointed lawyers in Harris County recieve far less than 150 felonies a year.
  Notwithstanding the  ABA  standards  and notwithstanding the Fair Defense Act, certain courts continue to appoint a small percentage of lawyers to a very large number of cases. It is my opinion that some  judges appoint some lawyers to cases because of the lawyer’s ability and willingness to move cases quickly. If you look at the number of cases handled and the days it took to handle them, you will  see my point. For example, you will see that one lawyer handled 259 felony cases in 268 days.
 The lawyers are not required to accept all of these  appointments.  Ethical problems may arise if a lawyer takes on more work than he can possibly handle competently.
In my opinion, lawyers who accept appointments on  cases that far exceed what one can reasonably handle, are doing their clients a disservice.
 This is a long-standing problem. When I started practicing criminal defense law,  almost 30 years ago, the same practice of appointing lawyers who could and would move cases was common. The practice has gone on for as long as I have been a lawyer. The names of the judges has changed and the names of the lawyers has changed, but the dismal practice has continued. Thus, the problem is systematic and the only true solution lies in changing the system.
The judges who continue this ignoble practice, ignore the intent of the Fair Defense Act. The solution to this problem requires the removal of the judiciary from the appointment of cases. Only when the judiciary is fully removed from the appointment process, and Harris County  establishes a truly  fair wheel system, will things improve. In the end, moving cases at warp speed punishes the indigent defendants, the least powerful among us.   What is perhaps most grotesque is that indigent defendant charged with a felony are in serious need of help.  When they are appointed a lawyer who simply does not have time to spend on their case,   serious questions must be asked as to whether these indigent defendants are getting the help they need.
Lawyers are supposed to do more than simply convey the prosecutor’s offer. A lawyer  takes a sworn oath to zealously defend his clients.  Zealous representation would  by necessity include  conducting a meaningful interview of the defendant. Zealous representation would by necessity include investigating the relevant law and facts and potential defenses.  How do Lawyers who handle over 300 felonies a year provide zealous representation to their clients? Is it even possible for a lawyer handling  300 felonies a year to provide zealous representation?
  Are those Judges who  participate in appointing  lawyers to over 300 felonies a year, truly interested in providing effective assistance of counsel or are they motivated more to move their docket?  Are those Judges who participate in appointing lawyers to over 300 felonies a year, abdicating  their duty to do justice?  Are those judges who participate in appointing lawyers to over 300 felonies a year systematically violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct?  Are  those Judges who appoint lawyers to over 300 felonies a year vioating Judicial Canon 3?
Judicial Canon 3 C.(4) provides as follows:  ” A judge shall not make unnessary appointments. A judge shall exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit. A judge shall avoid nepotism and favoritism. A judge shall not approve compensation of appointees beyond the fair value of services rendered.”
When Judges appoint lawyers to handle 300 or 400 felonies a year, one can reasonably question whether the judges are exercising the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit. One can reasonably question whether the the judges are avoiding or engaging in  favoritism.  Harris County’s Appointment System, which  supports the systematic appointment of lawyers to over 300 felony cases a year, arguably is a system that is  based on an inherent violation of the Judicial Canons.
Lawyers, judges, law-makers, community leaders and concerned citizens  must unite to  stop this long-standing disgrace by exposing the system, and  insisting that change occur. This is our County, and This is  Our courthouse. We owe it to the poor people of this county to speak out so that those accused, have a lawyer who actually has time to work on their case. Silence in the face of this system is unacceptable.
The  9 lawyers below handled 2734 non- capital felony cases in 2012.  They averaged 303  non capital felony cases each.  That is twice the ABA recommended standard. I will leave it to the reader to opine as to the likely quality of representation provided to the  2734  indigents represented.
1. Ricardo N. Gonzalez    442  Cases ( PICTURED BELOW)
2. Jacqueline Gifford       404  Cases (PICTURED BELOW)
3. Page E.  Janik               342  Cases
4. Robert R. Scott              274  Cases
5. Ted Doebbler                 262  Cases
6. Juan Contreras           259  Cases
7. Herman Martinez      258  Cases
8. David L. Garza            254   Cases
9. Bill Gifford                    239  Cases
The above-referenced cases reflect only non-capital appointments handled by the lawyers in 2012. They do not reflect juvenile or misdemeanor appointments or retained cases. I will continue with others to address this issue until meaningful change occurs.
I commend all lawyers appointed and retained who zealously represent their clients. Lets work together to change this system.
I thank  my colleague and friend civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Randall Kallinen for obtaining these records and sharing them with me so that I might share them with you.
Robb Fickman, Houston
Correction:  As originally published the above list included Mark Escamilla as one of the lawyer. I was advised today that Mr. Escamilla is an investigator.  Mr. Escamilla’s name has been removed from the list of lawyers.
Pictured Below:
Jacqueline Gifford
Ricardo N. Gonzalez

About Robert Fickman

Robert Fickman is a criminal defense attorney with 33 years experience in defending the citizen accused in both state and federal court. He is a past president of HCCLA and remains active in its mission.

    4 comments on “Are Judges Who Appoint Lawyers to More than 300 felonies a Year Violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct?

    1. CARL R. PRUETT

      February 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      And I would seriously doubt any of those lawyers tried any of those appointed cases or presented any defense that may have earned a dismissal or acquittal. What would be more interesting would be the stats on the dispositions of those appointed cases!

      Reply
    2. Brad Walters

      February 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      So if these appointments result in adequate representation and effective counsel, why are Ricky and Jacky and the others on the top ten list not defending their ability to do a good job defending 300 or so felony cases per year? Surely they have heard about your and others criticism of this system. Maybe they have additional attorneys or or support staff and systems that make it work…sure they do!

      Reply
    3. Troy McKinney

      February 12, 2013 at 5:44 am

      It seems to me that this Cannon is missing something very important:

      Judicial Canon 3 C.(4) provides as follows: ” A judge shall not make unnecessary appointments. A judge shall exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit. A judge shall avoid nepotism and favoritism. A judge shall not approve compensation of appointees beyond the fair value of services rendered.”

      Why does this not also require that “A judge shall compensate court appointed counsel fairly for the services rendered in each individual case” ? At least implicitly, the requirement not to pay more than the fair value ought to impose a burden to pay the fair value. Perhaps those writing these rules need a lesson in reality. Few court appointed lawyers ever get paid fair value for the work they do beyond pleading a case at the first setting.

      I have recently learned that at least one county (and I forget which one it is) will not pay an appointed lawyer for any case that is dismissed. Zero, Nada. Nothing. Really? Talk about a financial incentive not to work to get a case dismissed.

      This is a simple proposition: court appointed lawyers should be paid the fair value for the services they actually and reasonably perform on each case. If they spend 15 minutes on a case, that is all they should be paid for. If they reasonably spend 50 hours on a case, they should be paid for the time they reasonably spent working on the case. As simple as this sounds, Harris County judges rejected this idea when they implemented the Fair Defense Act. Flat rates per setting that have no relationship to the actual work performed and are nothing but artificial mechanisms to encourage mediocrity and docket management.

      When a county spends hundreds of dollars per hour plus all expenses for work for which it contracts with outside lawyers on its own behalf, it cannot — at least with a straight face — pay court appointed lawyers 75 percent or more less for indigent defense.

      An indigent defense system ought not encourage counsel to work in ways to avoid their own indigency.

      Reply
    4. Kenny

      February 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      I’d like to continue reading concerning Are Judges Who Appoint Lawyers to More than 300 felonies a Year Violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct? | The “Meaning” of America, please give a lot more material.

      Reply

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