Law postsTuesday January 05, 2016
The Four Attorneys of Steven Avery
In my day job, I talk to top attorneys around the country, and one of the questions we often ask is, “What’s the best advice you’ve received?” Here’s one of my favorite answers, which came to us from multiple sources:
Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself seriously.
It’s advice I wish I’d heard 30 years ago. The first part I’m fine with—I’ve always worked hard—but I think I've always taken myself a little too seriously.
I kept flashing back to this piece of advice while watching Netflix’s 10-part documentary series, “Making a Murderer,” which Patricia and I binge-watched, like so many of you, during the final days of 2015. We watched one episode Tuesday last week, six episodes on Wednesday, the final three on Thursday. It has relevance to my work, but we kept going because Patricia couldn’t stop. She had to find out more; I already knew. I knew because, as editor of our Wisconsin magazine, I kept coming across the story.
“Making a Murderer” is about Steven Avery, a Manitowoc County, Wisc. man convicted of sexual assault in 1985 who was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. Two years later, in the midst of a $36 million lawsuit against the county and its police department, and weeks after key figures had been deposed in that lawsuit, Avery was arrested again, this time for the rape/murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. He was ultimately tried for her murder—all rape charges stemmed from a suspect confession from Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, on March 2, 2006—found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The 10-part documentary suggests this was a miscarriage of justice.
And it was a miscarriage of justice despite the excellent representation Avery had. I was in an odd position watching the doc because I knew the players. Once Avery was arrested for the Halbach murder, for example, his appellate lawyer, Stephen Glynn, recommended two criminal defense attorneys, and with each name, I went, “Oh yeah, he’s good.” I knew their reputations. I knew they represented the profession well. And they do here, too.
Of Avery’s four main attorneys, in fact—two civil, two criminal—our publication has featured three of them, and, oddly, not because of their involvement in the Avery case. Robert Henak first came to our attention because he collected “drug tax stamps.” Glynn was our cover subject in 2007 because he was top-ranked, and has a long history of big cases, including representing (and exonerating) Native-American activist Leonard Peltier on a murder charge in Wisconsin. We ran our 2012 Q&A with criminal defense attorney Jerome Buting initially because he was a cancer survivor; he’d actually been diagnosed on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001.
Each of these features, of course, also spends a good deal of time on the Avery cases. Together, they almost represent a timeline of his cases.
Henak’s story ran in 2005, and ends this way: “When Avery was set free [on the 1985 charge], Henak cried. Justice had been a long time coming—too long coming—but finally it had been done.” As we went to press, Avery was about to be arrested for the Halbach murder.
Glynn’s story ran in 2007 after Avery’s trial and conviction, and we focus on the emotional effect all of this had on the attorney who helped set him free: “Glynn never got over the feeling of guilt he felt the day Avery was arrested for the photographer’s murder.”
The Buting Q&A, from 2012, starts with a presumption of innocence. “I think his fight for justice is going to go on,” Buting says at one point. “It may take a long time before the truth comes out.”
The one attorney we’ve yet to feature is Avery’s other criminal defense attorney, Dean Strang. We’ll rectify this soon, I’m sure.
All four of these attorneys made me think of the above quote—the above piece of advice. Because they all take the work seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously. They’re advocates; they don’t grandstand or bask in the limelight. They know it’s not about them; they know it’s about something bigger.
Sadly, this can’t be said for every lawyer in “Making a Murderer.” There’s a lot of sad takeaways about our criminal justice system here, but one of the saddest to me is this: Attorneys who represent the profession well could not, in the end, win a case against those who don’t.
Quote of the Day
“What's placed now in high relief by many of the current disputes is the tension inherent in religion clauses of the First Amendment. The amendment prohibits the ”establishment“ of religion while also protecting ”the free exercise thereof.“ When does government solicitude for religious exercise cross the line into establishment? When does policing of the Establishment Clause's prohibition go too far and stifle free exercise? There is no easy or obvious answer, and the Supreme Court has never given a consistent one. The relative weight the court has accorded each of the religion clauses shifts over time, reflecting in broad strokes the concerns of the general culture as the tension between the two principles comes to the fore in different ways.”
-- Linda Greenhouse, “Drawing the Line Between Civil and Religious Rights,” in The New York Times. And yes, she digs into the Kim Davis controversy.
Washington Supreme Court Fines State $100K Per Day For Underfunding Education
Here's what the Washington state constitution reads:
“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
Here's what King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick wrote in Feb. 2010 in the case of McCleary v. State of Washington, which held the state to that constitutional promise:
“State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable.”
Here's what the Washington state supreme court wrote in January 2012 upon affirming that ruling and maintaining jurisdiction over the case:
“This court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform.”
Here's a prescient prediction from Thomas Ahearne, the winning attorney for McCleary, whom I interviewed for a feature, “Paramount Duty,” in the 2012 issue of Washington Super Lawyers magazine:
“Our Supreme Court has ordered our Legislature to do something that's hard, very hard, with their public schools, and we'll see if they do it promptly or if they drag their feet and stall. [Smiling] I have a good guess as to what they're going to do.”
And here's what the Washington state supreme court ordered today:
Effective today, the court imposes a $100,000 per day penalty on the State for each day it remains in violation of this court's order ...
Who said the law was dull?
The U.S. County that Sentences the Most People to Death is a Parish
Recommended reading: Rachel Aviv's latest New Yorker piece, “Revenge Killing,” about Rodricus Crawford, a young black man in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is part of Caddo Parish, who was charged, convicted and sentenced to death for the death of his own 1-year old son. It includes this paragraph:
Juries in Caddo Parish, which has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand, now sentence more people to death per capita than juries in any other county in America. Seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.
The assistant D.A. (and now D.A.) who prosecuted the case, Dale Cox, “has been responsible for more than a third of the death penalties in Louisiana,” Aviv writes. She interviews him. He seems straightforward. He is a very effective lawyer who used to be against the death penalty and is now, in his 60s, in favor of it in Biblical proportions.
Reading, I wondered if the last sentence in the above quote meant that no white person had been executed for killing a black person in Shreveport or in the whole of the United States, but it must be the former because I've found evidence of the latter —although it's exceedingly rare. Some numbers from the Death Penalty Information Center:
Persons Executed for Interracial Murders in the U.S. Since 1976
- White Defendant / Black Victim (31)
- Black Defendant / White Victim (294)
As for Crawford? Much of the evidence that convicted him was determined by the Parish's forensic pathologist, but that evidence has been refuted by others around the country. One coroner says he finds the autopsy results so wrong he's “horrified”; another pathologist thinks Shreveport's pathologist "did not seem willing to consider the facts of the case. From the article, it seems a monumental injustice is taking place.
More Quotes on SCOTUS' Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
“I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people's lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day...”
-- Andrew Sullivan, “It Is Accomplished,” The Daily Dish
“Ultimately, though, the case is pretty simple. The government confers a bundle of rights on individuals who choose to marry. The constitution's guarantee of equal protection forbids any state from withholding those rights from the class of people who happen to be gay. End of story.”
-- Jeffrey Toobin, “God and Marriage Equality,” The New Yorker.
“Abbott, Jindal, and their allies are positing a right to discriminate—for local officials to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings, for photographers and bakers to refuse to do business with gay people, for wedding planners to advertise that no gay couples need apply. Their actions are the linear descendants of the Virginia officials who claimed divine guidance for their prohibition on interracial marriage. The First Amendment allows individuals to believe anything they want, but it does not allow them to use their beliefs as a license to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be limited by law. No one, at this late date, would claim a religious inspiration for a florist to refuse to sell flowers to an interracial wedding or for a magistrate to perform one; they should not have the right to refuse to do business for a same-sex wedding, either.”
-- Jeffrey Toobin, “God and Marriage Equality,” The New Yorker.
“I think the main issue now will be protection of religious liberty. Many of us have no problem allowing religious institutions to run their own organizations as they see fit, as long as they are sincere and in good faith. I don't think they have anything to fear. What we need to express at this point is magnanimity. We've got to let people who genuinely find [same-sex marriage] disconcerting the space and time to deal with it. That's what I would caution and urge.”
-- Andrew Sullivan, “A Word With: Andrew Sullivan,” The New York Times
The week that was: This made the rounds early on Friday after the Obergefell decision was announced. I wish you could see the artist's name more prominently.