When you’ve been a lawyer less than a year, and “The Daily Show” pronounces one of your successful cases the “single greatest story” ever, then you know your legal career is off to a terrific start.
In 2010, Florida attorney Todd Allen was approached by Warren and Maureen Nyerges of Naples, Florida, who were facing foreclosure of the home they purchased in 2009. They had what can only be called a stellar defense: they had paid cash for the home and there was never any mortgage to foreclose. Allen – who was retained only after the couple was turned down by a number of other law firms – admits that he was somewhat concerned about his inexperience but “I was so mad at Bank of America I had to act.”
And act he did. Bank of America dropped the foreclosure and the Nyerges’ got a judgment against Bank of America in the amount of $2,534 in September of 2010. But when Bank of America failed to pay the judgment, Allen got a turnover order nine months later and showed up – along with sheriff’s deputies and the media – at a local Bank of America branch to seize assets to satisfy the judgment.
After confronting a “visibly shaken” branch manager with the prospect of losing office furniture to satisfy the judgment – including his own desk and chair – the bank cut a check for $5,772.88 within the hour. Last week, “The Daily Show” ran a humorous segment highlighting the unusual David and Goliath story.
Though it had an entertaining ending, there is a serious point to be made here as well: do you think this would have happened had a resourceful and passionate attorney like Todd Allen not intervened on the Nyerges’ behalf? In a perfect world, yes. But in the one we live in, in a situation like this, not a chance.
Posted: 8/17/2011 1:26:30 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a major ruling on the constitutionality of the health care legislation enacted last year. The court found that the law's requirement that individuals purchase health care insurance was unconstitutional, but ruled that that the remaining provisions were not.
Predictably, some news accounts are already covering the 304 page opinion less like the lengthy legal analysis it is and more like three judges who are simply weighing in on the nation's bitter red/blue political divide. The Washington Post seemed genuinely surprised that judges aren't behaving as expected -- assuming you believe, as the Post apparently does -- that all judges are active partisans:
Chief Judge Joel Dubina, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Circuit Judge Frank Hull, appointed by President Clinton, ruled against the individual mandate. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, also a Clinton appointee, dissented, accusing the court of ignoring “many years of Commerce Clause doctrine developed by the Supreme Court.”
Hull’s decisions marks the second political crossover in the appellate rulings. Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Supreme Court Anton Scalia and a Bush appointee, ruled in the law’s favor.
The term "political crossover" is particularly troublesome, as it blithely suggests that these judges are no more than partisan legislators expected to favor their own side of the debate. Here's another possibility: these judges are taking very seriously their role as impartial interpreters of the law in a case with major implications for every American, and their considered legal analysis did not lead them to the same result as they might have preferred if they were expressing their personal political opinioins. If so, that's a good thing, as that's exactly how the system is supposed to work.
Yes, even federal judges have political preferences, but most know that these need to be set aside when applying the law to the case before them. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and evaluate their decisions based on the strength of their reasoning and legal analysis, and not the party of the President who appointed them.
Posted: 8/12/2011 12:45:56 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Most lawyers – like everyone else -- sometimes dream of getting away from their jobs to do something more carefree and creative, like writing the next great novel or becoming a rock star. While there aren’t many John Grishams out there, there are those lawyers who pursue their artistic dreams and serve the community at the same time.
On Saturday, August 20, seven rock bands from the Dallas area will be putting on Law Jam 3, Lawyers Rocking for Pro Bono, sponsored by the Dallas Bar Association. All of the bands are made up of Texas attorneys and judges who hone their music chops at night after their day jobs. All proceeds will benefit the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, a joint initiative of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas that helps secure access to legal services for approximately 3,475 families per year who otherwise could not afford them.
Bands include The Usuals, Big Wheel, Black Dirt Tango, the Catdaddies, Blue Collar Crime, The Wrecking Crew and the Texas Rock Association. Doors open on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Avenue in Dallas. Advance purchase general admission ticket is $25, $30 at the door. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to the Law Jam website here.
We all hear about “greedy lawyers,” but we don’t hear enough about the countless lawyers and judges throughout Texas who commit a lot of time and effort to ensure that everyone has access to legal services, regardless of ability to pay. Everyone is invited, so here’s your chance to support a good cause and find out just how talented some of our judges and lawyers can be.
Posted: 8/11/2011 4:07:25 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
"We could no longer choose between a paycheck and our integrity.”
That’s how Amanda Culbertson explained her resignation as a supervisor at the Houston Police Department’s crime lab while testifying regarding serious problems at the lab during pretrial hearings in a recent DWI case. Defense attorneys Dane Johnson and Jordan Lewis had called Culbertson to the stand to bolster their claim that the crime lab equipment used to conduct blood-alcohol tests was faulty, and the evidence against their client should be thrown out.
Culbertson testified that she and a colleague quit their jobs at the HPD crime lab because they questioned the validity of the blood-alcohol tests used to prosecute drunk driving suspects. Electrical equipment problems like overheating compromised the integrity of the tests results, she explained, but she and her fellow supervisors were afraid to discipline technicians who didn’t follow these rules for fear of retaliation from their boss, the HPD lab director. Defense attorney Johnson predicts that hundreds of cases may be affected by the new information.
Criminal defendants are often presumed by the public to be guilty, and the lawyers who choose to defend them regularly face antagonistic questions about their choice of practice area. The lawyers here, however, not only did their jobs – zealously defending their client and forcing the state to meet its burden of proof – but they did a broader service to all citizens by ensuring that the criminal justice system operates more fairly, honestly and effectively. Nobody’s interests are served when defendants are convicted based on faulty evidence.
While most people don’t realize it, attorneys have professional responsibilities beyond the diligent representation of their individual clients. The preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that “a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.”
Kudos to Dane Johnson and Jordan Lewis, who did just that.
Posted: 8/11/2011 1:16:04 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
About This Blog
Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.
Subscribe to this Blog