I write a lot about laws and lawyers, but I normally avoid commenting on issues of client representation. I feel comfortable opining on civil liberties or the justice system in general because while I may not have expert knowledge, these things are of general importance to all citizens, and we all have a stake. But it’s a very different matter to question a lawyer’s professional decisions. Except in a few obvious cases — missing filing deadlines, drunkenness, sleeping during testimony — I usually prefer to leave the commentary to someone more qualified.
When the Rakofsky saga first broke in the blawgosphere, I thought it sounded pretty bad — a lawyer with no trial experience taking on a murder case, resulting in a mistrial when the judge lost patience — but since dozens of lawyers, including Jeff Gamso, Scott Greenfield, and Eric Mayer had all posted about it, I just couldn’t think of anything to add, so I never posted.
(That turned out to be a lucky choice, because Rakofsky sued almost everyone who blogged about it. Naturally, the lawsuit defendants blogged about the lawsuit too. It made for fun reading — many of the lawyers got a kick out of being sued — but it would have been an expensive disaster for me, and by the time it was all over two years later, I think even the lawyers were tired of it.)
So when Mark Bennett, another Rakofsky defendant, posted about a similar incident in which a lawyer with the delightful name of Maverick Ray took on a capital case with after less than a year as a lawyer, I wasn’t planning to say anything about it either, even though Bennett invited people to speak out in the comments. (Many did, and Gideon, Rick Horowitz, and Scott Greenfield all posted about it.)
But then it hit me: I actually have an advantage here. You see, all those guys have experience practicing law, whereas I learned everything I know about law by reading legal thrillers. I’m even familiar with this plot: Young lawyer takes on a big case and ends up way over his head. That’s a classic first act to a courtroom drama. Of course, the author has to give the lawyer a good reason to do something so crazy…
I can almost write the jacket copy:
Maverick Ray and Biff Groder grew up together, inseparable friends, sharing adventures on the mean streets of Houston. Their adult lives took different paths, however, when Mav went off to college while Biff continued to knock about in their old blue-collar neighborhood. But when Biff finds himself arrested by the police and accused of a savage murder by a politically ambitious prosecutor, he calls his childhood friend to save him!
Maverick wants to help, and he’s eager for a chance to rekindle his romance with Biff’s sister Jennifer, but with less than a year of experience as a lawyer, he knows he shouldn’t take the case. Then Mav discovers that the lawyer appointed to defend Biff has a secret connection to the victim’s family, and that he’s actually doing everything he can to destroy Biff’s defense! Trusting no one now, Biff insists that Maverick take the case, and suddenly he has no choice but to risk everything if he wants to keep his oldest friend off death row!
I’ll bet he also has a plucky paralegal and a tough-as-nails ex-cop private investigator — who used to be married to Mav’s sister and still carries a torch — and that after work he drives his classic muscle car to his home on the beach — inherited from an eccentric uncle — where he’s greeted by his ex-girlfriend’s cat and an amusingly clumsy dog.
At least I hope that’s what happens, because if he’s going to handle cases like he’s a character in a novel, he really should go all out.
Update: The Huntsville Item article by Cody Stark claimed that Maverick Ray has only been out of law school for six months, but Jeff Gamso did some checking, and the State Bar of Texas website says he has been out of law school for a year and received his bar card about seven months ago. This post has been changed to reflect that.