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Lawyer accused of coaching clients to lie awaits fate Criminal Attorneys, Public Defenders

Discussion in 'Criminal Procedure, Criminal Court' started by army judge, Aug 27, 2015.

  1. army judge

    army judge Law Topic Starter Super Moderator

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    Jurisdiction:
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    Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015 6:42 pm | Updated: 7:02 pm, Thu Aug 27, 2015.

    Associated Press

    CHICAGO (AP) — The question of when lawyers cross the line from zealously defending their clients to fabricating evidence is the focus of a rare trial in Chicago, where an attorney is accused of coaching defendants and witnesses to lie.

    As Beau Brindley's federal trial drew to a close Thursday — and before a judge began considering a verdict — a prosecutor accused the lawyer of distorting justice in at least six criminal cases.

    "The lies were like a virus that spread from case to case to case," assistant U.S. attorney Michael Chmelar said.

    The fabrications worked, he added, with Brindley securing acquittals on at least some counts in several of the cases at issue.

    Lawyer jokes aside, the vast majority of the more than 1 million American attorneys don't resort to lies to win at trial, said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law and a national authority on legal ethics.

    Gillers said only two cases come to mind that involve lawyers charged for their work with clients and witnesses. "It's extremely rare," he said.

    The 37-year-old Brindley, who was born in Iowa but made his name in Chicago with impassioned defenses of purported mobsters and drug dealers, faces multiple counts of obstruction and perjury. A lone perjury count carries a maximum 20-year prison term.

    Brindley and co-defendant Michael Thompson, a lawyer who worked for Brindley, asked for a bench trial, so Judge Harry Leinenweber will decide their fate instead of jurors. He told lawyers he will deliver a verdict Monday.

    The most serious allegation against Brindley is that he wrote scripts of questions that were likely to come up at trial, followed by false answers he told clients and witnesses to memorize.

    Prosecutors said Brindley resorted to lies in part because he was promised payments beyond his basic legal fees if he won acquittals. Contingency payments are prohibited because they could be inducements to fabricate evidence.

    Some lawyers worried about a chilling effect from Brindley's prosecution, citing the multiple versions of client answers that agents carted away in a raid of Brindley's law office and that prosecutors used against him at trial.

    "If prosecutors win, lawyers might think, 'I'm next,'" said Joseph Lopez, who represented reputed Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese Sr. at his 2007 trial. "All of us do trial preparation. And our clients sometimes tell different versions."

    Thompson's attorney, Ed Genson, said Q-and-As are common tools among lawyers.

    "(Prosecutors) make it sound like putting together a Q-and-A is evil. It's not," he said, adding: "Lawyers who are doing their job shouldn't be indicted."

    Brindley testified this week that his aggressive legal strategies don't include encouraging lying. He said his overriding message to clients was always, "You have to tell the absolute truth."

    He said the Q-and-As were his way of making sure clients' answers were as consistent and accurate as possible during months of pretrial preparation.

    But Gillers said most lawyers eschew question-and-answer scripts because they can be construed as coaching witnesses to lie. The law professor concedes, however, that "the ethics of witness preparation can be murky."

    "It is a lawyer's responsibility to help a client present his side of the story," Gillers said. "Sometimes certain words are more effective than other words." But altering facts would clearly cross the line, he added.

    Brindley's attorney, Cynthia Giacchetti, said she agreed lying was at the core of the trial. But she said it was Brindley's old clients who lied on the stand this month as government witnesses against Brindley.

    "They all have significant motives to lie," she said. "The government tells them, 'We want to get Beau Brindley.' ... They know they get a get-out-of-jail card if they testify."

    Another prosecutor, Mel Johnson, scoffed at that notion in his closing.

    "The government's not going after Beau Brindley because he's so gosh darn important," he said, "but because he fabricates evidence."
     
  2. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    I've only read a little about the Beau Brindley case but your reminder has certainly piqued my interest again. I have found a trait among certain criminal defense attorneys where they are challenged in appreciating the line that cannot be crossed in "providing the client with a zealous defense." Many believe that it means providing PR releases that are almost certainly false. They will rationalize that they must do everything possible to acquit their client. But what they seem to forget is that the line is clearly drawn. You cannot turn a blind eye to the obvious. In the same way that an attorney cannot bring a personal injury case on behalf of a client where the injury claimed is not credible, a criminal defense attorney's job is not to help manufacture a fraud by asserting facts that the attorney knows or should know are false. It's disappointing when I see the necessity of this happening and such prosecutions only take place when the need is there.
     
  3. army judge

    army judge Law Topic Starter Super Moderator

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    Professor, Brindley and his co-defendant Thompson, were on the right track. I've used, and will continue to employ certain techniques to prepare my client and witnesses.

    The distinction being I'd never supply answers, just questions. I had a legal ethics professor in law school who used the following analogy to drive home the point. She said never supply answers. Always supply potential questions, and do a thorough cross-exam preparation. She said do instruct your client and witnesses in how to dress. However, don't select the clothing they wear, and don't dress them on the day they appear in court.

    Regrettably, Messrs. Brindley and Thompson may have crossed the line. The thing that troubles me, and I know something about human behavior, was this prosecution warranted? US Attorneys do hate to lose. Did the fact that Brindley spanked them regularly have anything to do with this prosecution?
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2015
    Michael Wechsler likes this.
  4. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    You ask a valid question as to whether Brindley's winning percentage is what sparked the investigation. But as you also put it well, there is the nature of human behavior. Once you cross the line, the winning percentage of a cheater is fair game to use as a metric for priority. This is why I'm checking my judgment in at the door just now but very interested in seeing where this goes to draw my own conclusions about whether this case is about justice or prosecutorial frustration.

    There was actually a great Law & Order episode called "House Counsel" about cases like these. The criminal defense attorney (an old friend of the DA) indirectly assists a mobster in murder of a juror through jury questions. As I recall he said, he believed that in order to zealously and vigorously defend his client, he needs to do everything he possibly can, including cavorting with the defendants...
     
  5. army judge

    army judge Law Topic Starter Super Moderator

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    That reminds me of one of Matthew McConaughey's best movies: "The Lincoln Lawyer"

    Actually, it may be one of the best 10 lawyer flicks of the 21st century.
    It may have been of the top 1,000 lawyer movies of the 20th century. LOL



     

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