Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ethics And Responsibilities Of Private Attorneys

In the comments of a Feministing post about the responses to civil lawsuits filed by rape victims against the Stamford, CT Marriott hotel and Carleton University, gregoryabutler wrote:
No, it's not pretty but that's what civil litigators do when defending their client against a lawsuit - and a lawyer who does not do whatever he/she has to do to defend his/her client is an unethical lawyer.
I've heard this refrain many times, but this demand actually encourages unethical behavior from private attorneys in the name of upholding attorney ethics.

Two attorneys in Louisiana, Daniel James Stanford and John Kevin Stockstill, did what they likely viewed as "whatever they had to do to defend a client." Their actions, in a criminal case, meant to benefit a father accused of raping his daughter resulted in a Louisiana attorney disciplinary board hearing against them for "improper contact with an opposing criminal witness which resulted in an alteration of that witnesses willingness to testify." The conclusion of that hearing was that the allegations had been proven.

Daniel James Stanford and John Kevin Stockstill shared office space, and jointly represented a criminal defendant accused of a May 2003 incestuous rape of his minor daughter. [general case details omitted.]

Mr. Stockstill had aggressively cross examined the victim, a cooperative and willing prosecution witness, at motion hearings. The defendant's sister, the victim's aunt, contacted Mr. Stockstill to arrange for the victim to meet with the defendant at Mr. Stockstill's office. Mr. Stockstill states that either the victim's aunt, or the victim told him that the victim wanted to meet with her father, the defendant. The ADA assigned to prosecute the cases states that the victim told her that her aunt talked her into it. [meeting set at attorneys' office building.]

Mr. Stockstill prepared three documents for the victim to sign before meeting with her father. One is an affidavit purporting to waive no contact order that Mr. Stockstill and Mr. Stanford believed was a condition of the defendant's bond. Another was an affidavit asking for dismissal of the charges against her father. The last is a confidentiality agreement requiring the victim not to tell about the meeting upon penalty of "...costs, expenses, liabilities and fees, including attorney's fees, that may be incurred as a result of such breach." The two affidavits each state that "I agree that this Affidavit can be used in any judicial proceedings involving the above referenced charges."

My impression is that these 3 documents were drawn up in advance of this meeting which indicates the attorneys were intending to ambush this girl. Since the girl signed these documents prior to meeting with her father that indicates she did not request the charges against her father be dropped in response to her father's remorse.

I believe it is likely that the girl was led to assume that the second and third documents were simply duplicates of the first document waiving the no contact order, or were just standard documents that all those with no-contact orders signed, until after the documents were signed and notarized. Before she left the office the reality of those documents were likely laid out for her with the intent to make her too scared to say anything to anybody. That would again reinforce that this meeting with her father was meant only as a scam to manipulate and intimidate the victim.

If that is the case these attorneys should be disbarred instead of being given what is little more than a slap on the wrist of a six month deferred suspension and ethics classes. The third document was clearly designed to hide the actions of the attorneys and their role in the victim's subsequent silence. Efforts to hide one's actions is widely accepted as evidence that the person taking these actions knows the actions being hidden are wrong.

If the aunt knew about these documents when she coerced her niece into the meeting she should be charged with criminal witness tampering because that was the primary intent of this meeting.

If the prosecution had simply let the case drop when the victim suddenly stopped cooperating members of the community might have assumed that the girl had freely changed her mind (recanted) -- possibly because she had made false allegations against her father. Instead the prosecution subpoenaed the victim.

Because of the perceived contrasting legal obligations placed upon her, the victim called Mr. Stockstill and this attorney hired a third attorney to represent the victim. Stockstill also provided the ADA with the first 2 documents while concealing the third document. Thankfully that third attorney honestly explained the victim's rights to her and she started cooperating the prosecution again.

The girl's father pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, molestation of a juvenile, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent behavior with a juvenile. If there is any evidence that he knew about the documents being drawn up prior to the meeting he should be charged with witness tampering.

I wish this were the only case where private attorneys and those they oversee have crossed ethical and/or criminal lines in the name of ethically representing their clients but that simply isn't true. "It was in my client's best interest," should never be a valid defense. Not if we are serious about protecting the rights of all citizens.

h/t: Legal Profession blog


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:39 PM   5 comments links to this post


At August 18, 2009 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent behavior with a juvenile

This jumped out at me, because I how was she delinquent in this?

At August 18, 2009 1:49 PM, Anonymous Kali said...

The thinking behind that man's comment is unfortunately very common. According to this thinking, using and abusing the system to the extent that one can get away with legally (or sometimes even illegally) is OK and even desirable for rapists, their defenders and their enablers. But using the system to get any kind of restitution is not OK or desirable for victims (especially female rape victims) and their supporters. Thus the defense team using intimidation and defamation to win the case = good and ethical. Rape victims filing civil lawsuits = gold-digging sluts.

At August 18, 2009 2:44 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


Good catch on the charges. Being raped does not equal being deliquent.


You make an excellent point about how "anything goes" is often accepted or desirable from private attorneys when the opposing party has alleged rape -- most often rightfully. But most of those who defend "anything goes" will abandon this tenet when private attorneys are representing rape victims.

At August 18, 2009 5:26 PM, Anonymous Helen said...

Excellent post.

At August 19, 2009 2:21 AM, Anonymous rental said...

but i think he has no more evidence..


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