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Legal Ethics Archives

Judge Resigns After Caught Texting Prosecutor During Trial

A Texas judge recently resigned after it was discovered that she had been texting a prosecutor during the trial. Not only was the judge texting the prosecutor, which constitutes ex parte communications, meaning communications without the defense side being present, but the content of the communications were intended to assist the prosecution's case. The judge was  actually recommending questions that the prosecution should ask. When I hear this, I picture the beautiful Greek statue, holding the scales of justice, and the judge putting her hand on the one side. This is an example of an unconscionable perversion of justice. A person charged with a crime has a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his peers, and the judge's role is to remain neutral and make evidentiary rulings to determine what the jury should and should not hear. The judge's role is not to make an independent determination of guilt and innocence, and, based upon that decision, to then assist one side in the process to hopefully ensure a conviction. A man's life and liberty is at stake, and the judge is cheating.

Prosecutor Faces Ethics Investigation After Changing Court Transcript

First, what is a transcript? A transcript is a written copy of what people testified to in court. When one party loses in court, the party generally has the right to file an appeal to have a higher jurisdiction court review the decision. In many appeals, the appellate court does not hold a brand new hearing or trial, which is called a de novo review, but instead the court generally avoids having new testimony and only reviews the transcripts to consider the testimony that was presented at the prior court proceeding. In other situations, a defense attorney may use a witness's prior under-oath testimony that is memorialized in a transcript to impeach or show changes in the witness's current testimony. A transcript is obviously very important in every court proceeding, but transcripts are especially important in criminal cases when a person's very freedom is at stake.

Pittsburgh Firm Negotiates $1.5 Million Settlement, Client Skips Out on Bill

Edgar Snyder made the phrase "no fee unless we get money for you" known throughout the state of Pennsylvania.  Many personal injury lawyers charge contingency fees, meaning that the attorney does not charge the client any money up front and only gets paid a portion of any settlement or verdict upon conclusion of a trial. If the lawyer doesn't win, the lawyer doesn't get paid. If the lawyer wins, then the lawyer often gets paid 30% to 40% of any award plus  expenses.

Ex-Judge Disbarred for Failing to Disclose Personal Relationship With Prosecutor

I believe that everyone has heard that judges are to avoid "any appearance of impropriety." This often means that if the judge has a personal relationship with attorneys, victims, police officers, or witnesses in a case, the judge discloses the relationship to the attorneys and considers recusing or removing him or herself from the case. For example, a judge may have a child in the same class as the child of a witness. The judge would disclose the relationship to the attorneys in the case, and in such a situation, the attorneys would probably not seek the  judge's recusal because the relationship was minor. However, if the judge was the godmother for the witness's child, then the relationship would probably mandate the judge's recusal.

Defense Lawyers for PSU Administrators Claim Privilege Prohibits Testimony

THe criminal defense lawyers for former Penn State Administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are trying to prohibit former General Counsel for Penn State, Attorney Cynthia Baldwin, from testifying against them in their upcoming preliminary hearings.  The criminal defense lawyers claim that Curley and Schultz believed that Baldwin was  representing them when they appeared before the grandy jury to testify in the sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky.  In believing that Baldwin was their attorney, Curley and Schultz believed that any statements provided to Baldwin were made under the protections of attorney-client privilege. Baldwin rejects the notion that she was the attorney for either or the men and instead claims that she was the attorney for Penn State University and not for the former administrators.  Baldwin has already provided testimony to the grand jury about her conversations with Curley and Schultz, but it is not known whether or not she asserted attorney-client privilege at the proceeding.  It is possible that she asserted the privilege but was still ordered by the presiding judge to testify, but it is also possible that she testified freely under the belief that no such privilege existed as Curley and Schultz were not her clients.