Kudos to Harris County Chief Public Defender Alexander Bunin, who was presented with the Champion of Public Defense Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) at its 59th Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, FL, in August. The Champion of Public Defense Award recognizes an individual for exceptional efforts in making positive changes to a local, county, state, or national public defense system. The award is nothing new to Alex, who served 12 years as the Federal Public Defender in Northern New York—where he received the New York City Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. In 2010, he was appointed to be the first Chief Public Defender for Harris County, TX, which prior to his arrival did not have a state public defender office. Alex received the 2012 Torch of Liberty Award from the Harris Country Criminal Lawyers Association for his work in public defense. One more feather in his cap for a lifetime fighting for justice.
Congratulations to appellate attorney and listserve docent Michael Mowla on his recent win in the CCA. Michael’s client, a member of a prominent Dallas family involved in litigation against his father in federal court over management of a trust, was indicted in 2011 for mortgage fraud. Client believed father was disgruntled over the outcome of the federal trust litigation and was seeking revenge through the Dallas County DA’s office. As “luck” would have it, there were questions about big bucks donated to DA’s reelection campaign. After a messy melee in the courts, admirably documented in Michael’s analysis (available here: http://tinyurl.com/hgx9kjq), the CCA stepped in and reversed and remanded. Listserve kudos noted that Michael had provided “an excellent analysis of prosecutorial vindictiveness and misconduct.” Way to go, Michael, for once again showing how it’s done.
Justin Underwood of El Paso and co-counsel Thomas Carter recently heard the big NG on a murder trial in the 384th District Court. D, an 18-year-old who was days away from moving to San Antonio to attend art school, has spent the last 3 years in jail, charged with the murder of a former 15-year-old girlfriend. After a week-long trial, the jury took 2 hours to return the verdict. Of particular note is Justin’s quote to the El Paso Times about D’s family: “We have gotten to know each other over the last three years to the point where they’re like family to us. This is not just a job for us. This is real and this is what we do every single day. Defense lawyers, not just Mr. (Tommy) Carter and I, we fight for the people when the government comes after them full bore. We fight for the individual who says, ‘Hey, I didn’t do this. You’ve got to help me.’ ” That’s what it’s all about. Good job, guys.
Former president Sam Bassett had a motion to suppress granted in County Court in Austin with a novel set of facts. Defendant had a one-car accident under I-35 after a night of drinking—no other car involved and no one else with him. He sees a tow truck, flags it down, and is in the process of having the car towed when an officer, responding to a dispatch about the accident, stops the tow truck with client as passenger (car already fully loaded). Officer tried to justify the stop, stating that tow trucks are prohibited from soliciting jobs without being called. Sam notes that there was no evidence that this had happened. Further justifications from officer: Dispatch reported the accident, officer was reasonable in responding, and it was 1 a.m., a time when a lot of drivers are intoxicated. The winning argument apparently was that a driver has no obligation to immediately contact police about an accident when no damage to property, no injuries, and no other persons involved. Judge granted motion based upon insufficient grounds for the stop. All in a day’s work, eh Sam?
John Hunter Smith of Sherman got a big NG on a doubly enhanced felony DWI in Grayson County. John Hunter represented an illegal resident of the United States on a DWI 3rd or more—enhanced to a second-degree felony. To complicate matters, an interpreter was needed. John Hunter notes that the proposed jury panel looked like participants at a Trump rally. A great deal of time was used in addressing jurors’ biases based on ethnicity. John Hunter says that one of the jurors said that once they determined the verdict, they took great pride in not considering his ethnicity and his prior DWIs. Kudos, John Hunter, for the win in a tough case.
Working pro bono on a student pot bust, George Roland of Denton successfully got a motion to suppress granted. The police officer had received a tip the accused was growing pot in his apartment. Police went to the apartment, smelled the odor of fresh marijuana at the door, and heard walking in the apartment. When the accused answered the door, the police pushed past him and did a “protective sweep,” finding a room full of college students getting high and a closet full of marijuana plants. George argued the UNT officer illegally entered the apartment without a warrant and without exigent circumstances. The judge agreed, finding no exigent circumstances and saying the cop should have just gotten a warrant. Kudos, George, on a job well done.
It’s been a busy summer for Patty (Tress) Morris. In August, she, Scott Palmer, and Rebekah Perlstein received a not guilty on an injury to a child case from 2013. She notes that the first battle won was when Scott and Bekah filed a Motion to Quash the first indictment, forcing the state to elect a specific means—i.e., with the defendant’s hands. A hard battle with D having to face an intransigent doctor, the team successfully neutralized him and receive a just verdict.
In September, Patty and J. Kem Carlson received an NG on two indictments for Sexual Assault. This was certainly an odd case: adult sexual assault with a 68-year-old client with no prior criminal history. He maintained his innocence throughout. The jury agreed with Patty and Kem on both indictments.
Kudos, Patty and team, for all your hard work.