Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"THE STATE OF FLORIDA IS NOT MADE OUT OF MONEY"

The following is courtesy of the JAA Broward Blog. We do not know any of the individuals involved in this matter. Warning: for practitioners of criminal law, the following may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised. 


Dramatis Personae: Judge Matthew Destry, Broward County; Ira Still, Esq, defense attorney; Rossaine Baker, client; JAC and the Broward State Attorneys Office-bureaucracies extraordinaire. 


Background: Rossaine Baker was by all appearances a client in need. Sitting in jail for five months, charged with interrelated life felonies in two separate cases, her case was going no where fast and her future was bleak. Enter attorney Ira Still who was appointed to represent Ms. Baker. The title of the post links to the JAA blog's transcript of the fee hearing in which Mr. Still lays out the remarkable job he did. Some highlights: he took over the case and prepared for trial in less than a year which included depositions of over 80 witnesses. To do this he basically shut his office down regarding working on other cases.  In the first case,  Rossaine Baker was acquitted of armed burglary and aggravated battery after a four day trial. 


In the second case the prosecution charged Rossaine Baker with attempted murder and armed kidnapping, the theory of the case being that Rossaine Baker tried to have the victim in the first case killed so as to avoid prosecution. Central to the theory of the first case was the prosecution's William's rule motion to introduce the facts of the second case. Motion denied after the defense filed a 20 page memorandum. 


After the acquittal in the first case. Mr. Still obtained bond for his client in the second case. Then, based on how apparently flimsily the evidence was in the first case, Mr. Still attempted to save the State of Florida money by trying over and over to convince a series of prosecutors to not try the second case which was a sure acquittal. But lets remember this is Broward where Mr. Satz lives by the credo "try em all, let the jury sort it out." 


The second case proceeded to trial but not before the witness tampering charge was dismissed by defense motion based on double jeopardy because of the acquittal in the first case.  The second case also apparently involved the use of cell phone experts to show that the prosecution's allegations about the defendant making phone calls which would show her guilt were completely false. To make a long story short, the Defendant was acquitted in the second case. 


After a spectacular job, Mr. Still submitted a bill for $95,872.50 based on billing at $75.00. That's 1,278.3 hours for those of you scoring at home.  After auditing his bill, JAC did not find anything objectionable as to the hours billed or the form of the bill. But they did not want to pay. 


Judge Destry remarked that "the State of Florida is not made of money" and then issued the following ruling:


A) Granted the attorneys fees request in full. 
B) Cut the bill in half. 
C) Cut the bill to the statutory cap of $2,500 per case.
D) Cut the bill to $20,000.00 for both cases. 
Go to the comments section for the answer. 
Click on the title of the post and read the transcript of the hearing. It's well worth a read. 
See You In Court. 

20 comments:

Rumpole said...

After pandering to the defense and yapping that he used to be in private practice and was sympathetic to the defense, the Judge cut the bill to 20K. $5,000 for the second case, $15,000.00 for the first case.

What do you make of the judge's comments that while he was sympathetic to the defense, defense attorneys know what they're getting into when they agree to take PCAC cases that have caps of $2,500.00 and that if they can't afford to work for those amounts they should not sign up to take cases?

For just that reason we stopped taking court appointments over 20 years ago. What do you think > Does the judge have a point?

CAPTAIN said...

THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE .....

Horace, I'm glad you posted this. I had drafted a piece and was going to put it up later tonight on the same subject.

Mr. Still has been practicing law for 38 years. He is a great attorney.

In these two cases Still worked on, the final tallties were:

Case One. 217.8 hours of work. Destry's Order pays him $5,000, which works out to $22.96 per hour.

Case Two: 1,278.3 hours of work. Destry's Order pays him $15,000 which works out to $11.73 per hour.

As our readers will see, Still called an expert witness at the Hearing. The attorney attempted to hit the basic elements to establish the requirements under Makemson. They probably could have and should have laid a better record as I am sure Ira will appeal this decision to the 4th DCA.

Judge Destry appparently recognized the incredible amount of work that Still performed in the two cases. At one point in the transcipt, Ira reminds the Judge (page 7, line 14), that the Judge remarked as to whether Still had any other cases because he had been spending so much time in court on these two cases.

Still also tells the Judge that he lost at least of couple of clients and probably upwards of $20,000 in fees because of his inability to do work on other cases.

Take a look at Makemson. 491 So.2d 1109 (1986)

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8649605801812552621&q=makemson&hl=en&as_sdt=2,10

The whole idea behind the Makemson line of cases was, despite the fact that you are voluntarily taking these court appointed cases, you still have the right to be paid a fair wage, if you establish the elements that they set out.

Look at the language in the opinion. Remember that this case was decided more than 25 years ago:

" ... we must focus upon the criminal defendant whose rights are often forgotten in the heat of this bitter dispute. In order to safeguard that individual's rights, it is our duty to firmly and unhesitatingly resolve any conflicts between the treasury and fundamental constitutional rights in favor of the latter."

" ... the increasing complexity of some of today's cases calls for the investment of more time and effort in order to effectively represent one's client"

They closed by stating:

"In summary, we hold that it is within in the inherent power of Florida's trial courts to allow, in extraordinary and unusual cases, departure from the statute's fee guidelines when necessary in order to ensure that an attorney who has served the public by defending the accused is not compensated in an amount which is confiscatory of his or her time, energy and talents."

CAP OUT .........

Anonymous said...

The converse of that reasoning is equally true. The state drafted the rule. They knew what they were getting themselves into when they adopted the rule. If they were unwilling or incapable of paying the fee for extraordinary cases, then they should not have drafted such a rule.

I believe that entering into a contract you have no intention of honoring is called fraud in the inducement.

The simple solution is that lawyers must band together and take no cases in that division, if not the entire circuit. Unfortunately, the defendants will also pay the price. But maybe the judges and then the state will get the picture.

Of course this will never happen. Lawyers love to cut one another's throat. Someone will ignore the boycott. Just to make a buck (or $11 an hour.)

Barrister of Ballentrae said...

Chief Judge Peter Weinstein moves plans forward to open a Veterans Court in Broward as more troops head home from the wars.

The 17th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida is forming a Veteran’s Court division in Broward, designed to provide rehabilitative services to veterans facing criminal charges

The Palm Beach Veteran’s Court, which opened almost 15 months ago.

In March, the Miami-Dade Drug Court launched a similar specialized track for veteran.
as part of the Miami-Dade Drug Court after Judge Deborah White-Labora visited a vet court in Anaheim, Calif., three years ago.

Read full story @ miamiherald.

The Barrister

Anonymous said...

If the State chooses to charge someone with crimes, then the State should pay the lawyer for the work they did.

Anonymous said...

Anybody else see the "expose" on Judge Pando? Carmel Cafiero reports about the Judge writing letters, as Judge, on belaf of business making significant contributions to her re-election campaigh. Maybe that's why so man Hialeah Chiropractors contibuted $500.00 each to keep her in Hialeah.

Anonymous said...

the court reporters probably got paid more than the attorney with 38 years of experience. Mr. Stills saved the state money. It would have cost 30K per year to jail the innocent person. Usually, I would say pad the bill 2x and settle for half.. That would not are worked here..Maybe, this is why 500 Dollar donations are so important. I dont know the Judge or Stllls- This makes me very angry,on so many levels. Can someone post a copy of the order awarding fees? maybe there is more to this?

Anonymous said...

Pando: http://www.wsvn.com/features/articles/carmelcase/MI94341/

Anonymous said...

it is broward county. the judge is an effing moron. and so is satz.

REAL FORMER JUDGE said...

.... Has anyone had experience fishing on an all day charter with Capt. Kenny Weisman out of Miami Beach Marina? Did you catch anything?

More important, what was served for lunch out in the open sea?

I had heard that he himself makes "Cobia Ceviche" - fresh when available - and it rivals anything at Joe's. True? How bad could it be, even if the fish aren't biting, to have some time with this "salt of the sea" old timer listening to stories of how it used to be ....

Anonymous said...

The behavior of a South Florida judge is being questioned tonight. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this exclusive.


WSVN -- Judge Ana Maria Pando: "Good morning."

Attorney: "Good morning, how are you?"

County Court Judge Ana Maria Pando handles civil cases in her Hialeah courtroom. But now she is being asked to step down to rescue herself from some of those cases.

So far, five attorneys have filed 16 motions charging Judge Pando violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, "As she lent the prestige of her judicial office to advance the private interests of Florida Wellness & Rehabilitation Center Inc."

Carmel Cafiero: "Florida Wellness has had a number of cases before Judge Pando. Late last year the company told the State the corporation was dissolving. That was apparently a mistake."

An accountant for Florida Wellness accidentally sent the state paperwork the company was closing. Using her judicial stationary, Judge Pando wrote the state to help get the company's operating status returned. State records show the company was then reactivated by "court order".

Carmel Cafiero: "Tell us what you think about a judge writing a letter like this."

We showed the letter to Nova Southeastern law professor Bob Jarvis. He teaches ethics and says judges should not become advocates.

Bob Jarvis, Nova Southeastern University: "There's no reason why a judge should be writing on behalf of anybody to begin with, certainly not on her official stationary. But if this is a party that is regularly in her court, or that has even been in her court, I mean that just makes the appearance of impropriety even greater and really makes it inappropriate even more so for a judge to have done what she did."

Judge Pando is up for reelection but has no opposition. So far she has raised close to $70,000. Among the contributors- $2,000 from four Florida Wellness & Rehabilitation Centers, reported the month after the letter was sent.

The judge turned down our request for an interview.

Carmel Cafiero: "I just want to talk with her about the reasons behind her writing that letter."

Judge Pando's bailiff told me she couldn't talk about the issue because the recusal motions are pending.

Sgt. at Arms: "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. The Supreme Court of Florida is now in session."

In 2005, Judge Pando was reprimanded for violating the judicial code of conduct.

Chief Justice Barbara Pariente: "You have conducted yourself in a manner unbecoming a member of the judiciary."

The issues before the court then involved campaign donations and misleading statements. It ended with a fine and a warning.

Chief Justice Barbara Pariente: "A second ethical breach by a judge will be viewed far more harshly."

It remains to be seen how this latest controversy will impact Judge Pando, if at all.


Read more: http://www.wsvn.com/features/articles/carmelcase/MI94341/#ixzz1ltyPFifV

Anonymous said...

8:04..........you said that "Usually, I would say pad the bill 2x and settle for half" and it makes you angry that judges (and the state) don't just pay the attorney fees? Don't you see that it's attitudes like yours that created the problem.

Yes, I agree that the state (and judge) have overreacted (as politicians and agencies are apt to do), but the attorneys who spent years screwing the system (ie. billing 23 hours a day or padding bills as you've suggested) can't claim clean hands.

That said, I find what happened here more than offensive. The judge and State needs to find the middle ground and be more reasonable. There aren't many attorneys who can afford to provide effective assistance of counsel in cases like these for so little money. The system is raising all kinds of constitutional issues.

Congrats to Still for doing a great job. He's a mensch for handling the case knowing the financial risks of doing so (the risk he took that an unreasonable judge would not give him more money does not excuse the unfairness of the decision and is a poor defense to what happened).

BTDT

Rumpole said...

Folks I'n in motions. I'll get the Pando stuff up tonight. Calm down.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh goody.

Real Fake Former Judge said...

Exceptionally lame comment former judge. An embarassment. And your strange obsession with Ken Weisman is all the more curious in that Mr W would not let the like of you ride in his Porsche much less drive it. Dining with him would be out of the question unless you had one of those little tools the bus boys scrape the bread crumbs off the table with.

Dofus.

Anonymous said...

This is why many of us do not do court appointed cases.

Real FORMER JUDGE said...

Who is this "REAL FAKE FORMER JUDGE" Rumpole - and how can you allow this impostor to post on your blog. It is a travesty of a mockery of a sham!!! I object.

Keep it Real! Respect.... (*Da Ali G Circa 1992)

Kenneth Weisman said...

I'm afraid Real Former Judge is right. We have been crushing the Cobia lately.
http://imgur.com/a/2wPaw

Anonymous said...

I'd like to address quality work, exquisite quality. It's not technique. I think this applies to both lawyers and court reporters

The following is from the CCRA (California Court Reporters Association)
By Early Langley, CSR, RMR
CCRA President

tech·nique noun /tekˈnēk/
a: a body of technical methods (as in a craft or in scientific research).
b: a method of accomplishing a desired aim.
From Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary


We sometimes think that having the finest technique and technological devices is the key to an
excellent, high-quality transcript. So do producers of electronic, digital recording and voice-to-text
companies.

As great as computers are, as great as realtime is, as great as ER, DR and V2T are, they
cannot tell you about the quality of your product.

Said Stanley Marcus, former chairman, Neiman-Marcus, “The
profitability, yes, but not the quality. The human eye, the human experience, is the one thing that can make quality
better or poorer.”

Certainly statistical quality control of your word-error rate is invaluable and realtime sets a gold standard for every court
reporter.

But the entire picture of quality and striving for excellence is about, “above all, care, people, passion, eyeball
contact, and gut reaction,” said Tom Peters in his book, A Passion For Excellence.


At every level of a court reporter’s life, whether you are a firm owner, a freelance reporter, an official reporter, or a
student, striving for excellence means paying attention to and caring about every level of reporting.

It also means
adhering to the belief that anything can be made better, from how you greet your client for the first time to how quickly
you turn around your transcripts.

Kissimmee Kid said...

The State is, and will always be evil. An ethical lawyer will not work for that dirtbag. Do not take cases where the State will pay the bill. Let the system collapse.

"The only solution is total destruction." RNM.