Technical foul on you for not getting all the facts before commenting. I was there and it went something like this:
This was Judge Butchko's finest hour on the bench and she deserves nothing but praise for the lengthy hearing held in her courtroom on Friday.
Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, she heard from the State (Penny Brill); the PD (John Morrison); Regional Counsel's Office (Richard Joyce); the Justice Administrative Commission (General Counsel Stephen Presnell); the proposed "wheel" attorney to be assigned the case (Michael Petit); and me as a "Friend of the Court" and on behalf of the FACDL.
The Judge was concerned that the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution was being violated as it related to the particular defendant in this case and it was going to continue to happen in many other cases coming down the pipe. Judge Butchko wanted to do something about it and that is why the hearing took place.
This particular defendant had been charged with a third degree felony and his case was 90 days old.
Judge Butchko was really looking at the bigger picture and not just this one case. This was just the first case of many that the PD has filed a Notice with the Court called a Notice of Inadequate Representation indicating to the client that they have not done anything to prepare their case for trial. They are filing these documents in all of their 3rd degree felony cases where the client is not in custody. They have decided that the priority cases are those that are more serious and those that are in custody cases. The problem with that is, that this case, and others to follow would start to fall through the cracks and Judge Butchko sees this coming and wanted to do something to stop it.
And this particular defendant was concerned that his defense witnesses may leave the jurisdiction before the PD's office ever got the chance to speak with them; hurting his chances for an acquittal.
The Judge held a Nelson Inquiry on Wednesday and as a result of the answers she got from the defendant, she discharged the PD finding that she was providing ineffective assistance of counsel in this case. She by-passed the Regional Counsel and attempted to appoint the next person on the wheel; that person was Michael Petit.
Reg. Counsel objected and at the hearing Mr. Joyce indicated that they could take the case and provide effective assistance of counsel and do it in a timely fashion.
The Judge questioned how this could be possible when her assigned Reg. Counsel Attorney was a part-time attorney that was already handling 65 cases in her court while trying to run a private practice as well. And those 65 cases range from Life felonies to 3rd degree felonies.
The Judge was also told by Mr. Presnell of the JAC that they would not pay Mr. Petit, if she insisted on appointing him, because she did not follow the Statute by appointing RC.
Judge Butchko was adamant about the fact that she saw her upcoming C weeks and that this same scenario would begin to be played out on many of the out of custody C cases. She also stated that common sense dictated that the part-time RC attorney could not possibly take on so many additional cases and provide competent and effective representation in a timely fashion.
She called on me and I told her that she had every right to be concerned about what was happening in her courtroom. The Gideon case from the US Supreme Court, cited to the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution, and provided that the indigent defendant should receive competent counsel and adequate representation. The Florida Supreme Court said that "the problem of excessive caseload in the PD's office should be resolved at the outset of representation, rather than at some later point in a trial proceeding." Other cases I cited tell the court that "when excessive caseload forces the PD to choose between the rights of the various indigent criminal defendants he represents, a conflict of interest is inevitably created".
The Florida Legislature has decided that they can fund “due process on the cheap” and that what is happening in her courtroom today is the result of their legislative wisdom.
I also told her that the Florida Bar's Code Of Professional Responsibility and the Rules Regulating all attorneys of The Florida Bar state "a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client". And, "a lawyer's workload must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently. Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination ... Unreasonable delay can cause a client needless anxiety and undermine confidence in the lawyer".
Justice delayed in Justice denied.
Judge Butchko was right on yesterday when she forced the issue to a head in trying to protect the indigent defendant in this case and other to follow – she saw them getting the extremely short end of the stick and she was trying to do something about it.
I hope that gives you a better insight into what happened in Court on Friday.