From the Idaho Statesman tonight: 

"Four years ago, a report from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that Idaho is violating its Sixth Amendment obligations to defendants. Public defenders across the state were being given too many cases, and some defendants weren’t meeting their attorneys until they were in the courtroom. The report also said that defendants


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 The news tonight declares that Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel has won a new trial because his criminal defense lawyer did not do enough to provide an effective defense. Robert F. Kennedy was his uncle. Mr. Skakel was convicted of the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975. She was beaten to death with a golf club after she and friends attended


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 So I took a little break from blogging about criminal defense, DUI defense, civil trials and matters of wrongful death. And then things just started "popping up." A new case or twelve. A kid in jail who just could not get it together. A former Marine facing life changing decisions. The mentally ill – fearing life and death as they


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 You may recall that last summer, local politico John McGee was ordered to spend at least 44 days in jail before being eligible for either work release or the Sheriff’s Inmate Labor Detachment. This was not how the sentencing was expected to go. McGee had a plea agreement! A deal!

We lawyers warn our clients that the judge is not bound by the agreement but I have occasionally soft pedaled that truth. After all, a judge going beyond what the parties recommend is extremely rare. When that happens, there is usually a deafening silence followed by the "whiskey, tango, foxtrot" moment. 

It apparently happened that day last July. McGee was to be the beneficiary of a deal that was negotiated by the prosecutor and defense counsel. That deal called for McGee to do five (5) days in jail, not 44 and certainly not 88 as the court ordered. Mr. McGee actually served 44 days before his release, but that result depended upon the good graces of the court and the good actions of the former State Senator. 

Maybe Judge Cawthon had simply had enough of the McGee’s misdeeds, this time while on probation following the mother of all plea agreements for his plea to DUI in 2011. The Court said it was simply making McGee accountable to the same degree any other public servant should be accountable. McGee had promised to obey the law, at least until July when his probation would have ended. 

Actually, the take away here has nothing to do with the pratfalls of Mr. McGee. He has completed his service and done so with dignity. He didn’t go nuts or whine about that unexpected jail sentence.

Just remember this – the Judge is really NOT bound by the plea agreement. He may go above or below the anticipated sentence. Mr. McGee, the prosecutor and defense counsel all expected that Judge Cawthon would follow their recommendation. He didn’t, and McGee was cuffed and lugged away to begin his sentence while he and those around him could only wonder why it hadn’t gone as planned.

I had this happen to me and it hit me and my client hard. The deal called for my client to plead guilty to a felony in exchange for a recommended sentence of 3 years fixed and 5 years indeterminate. He pleaded guilty. The State recommended 3 fixed and 5 indeterminate. I argued my client was much misunderstood, but had done what needed to be done.

The Court imposed a 20 year sentence – 8 years fixed and 12 indeterminate. That was 8 years and four months ago. My client is now out, and he served his time honorably as evidenced by the fact that the parole commission sprung him before topping out at 20 years. But when he arrived in court that morning neither he nor I expected him to leave for an eight year prison term.

My point here is that even the best agreed upon sentencing recommendation may run into a wall. Judges, lawyers and defendants do not always play from the same sheet of music. When this one was over, Mr. McGee served his sentence honorably, and the Court may permitted him to leave jail at 44 days. And nothing here is intended to infer anything about the court or the lawyers. They simply saw it differently. Mr. McGee made decisions and he had to live with them. The same is true in every case.

SuperLawyers not withstanding – there are no guarantees in most plea agreements. 

So what about that plea bargain they have offered you? Or your loved one? Will the judge follow the agreement or not? Find out what you can do to make it more likely you get the benefit of the bargain by checking other posts in this blog on sentencing. You can also start by reading the post just prior to this one on humility!


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 Dharun Ravi, 20, a student from New Jersey was recently found guilty by a jury in Middlesex County of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and hindering prosecution for using his laptop to secretly record and broadcast an intimate encounter between his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man.

Clementi later committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge


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The other shoe has fallen.  John Bujak, formerly the Canyon County Prosecutor, has been charged with Grand Theft by Deception and by Embezzlement, and the investigation of the case is set out in a detailed affidavit that is available online at the Idaho Press Tribune website, or here.  But before you think this thing is over, I bet there are more falling shoes in our future.  Here’s why:

First, the affidavit indicates that although Bujak maintained neither he nor his chief of staff Tim Fleming would profit from the contract between Canyon County and Nampa City, BOTH did profit and neither apparently thinks there was any problem with their conduct. Bujak told the investigators that the issue wasn’t whether he took the money, but rather, whether he was permitted to take the money. Apparently in his mind, those statements that he would not personally profit (the Canyon County Commissioners say that they were led to believe Bujak would not profit) were only intended to refer to his agreement to "not take a salary increase."  So the investigation reveals that as the money came in from the City, which believed it was going to pay the County, Bujak used the money for his personal expenses, transferring money to his own private accounts.  It also shows that in late March 2010, Bujak used the same money to buy a $10,000 cashiers check for Tim Flemming – Bujak’s former chief of staff. Why was the $10,000 cashiers check, purchased out of Nampa City funds that were intended for Canyon County, going to Tim Fleming? Gift? Bonus? Mr. Fleming may have some explaining to do.

Second, the affidavit indicates that the contract (Prosecution Services Agreement) was between the City of Nampa and Office of the Mayor, and the Canyon County Prosecutor and Canyon County. Bujak’s claim has been that it was a personal contract between he and the City. If the contract actually is not in his name, then the money is likely not his; it belonged to the County. All of this stuff will impact on the pending lawsuits and bankruptcy proceeding. That failure to disclose to the Bankruptcy Court that he had possessed and sold a Rolex watch, could still land Bujak in another criminal case – in federal court. And of course there is the divorce proceeding and Bujak’s lawsuit against protagonists Bob Henry and the Michaelson law firm – remember he said they defamed him when they claimed that he had received money that he wasn’t entitled to?  Kind of sounds like the charges of Grand Theft in the new criminal case, doesn’t it?

Third and foremost in my mind is the likely involvement of the Idaho State Bar.  Bujak has been practicing law on a contract basis while this has been pending. He serves as an officer of the court and his conduct is subject to review by the Bar. 

Then again – I guess that potential fourteen years for each GRAND THEFT count will probably consume his time.  After all – he took the money – admits he got $236,000 from the City of Nampa that they believed was going to the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office. The only question is whether he was ENTITLED to take it.

I bet Kerry Michaelson and Bob Henry will sleep a lot easier tonight. They called it years ago.

And Mayor Dale, City of Nampa, Canyon County Commissioners: who was driving that bus when each of you allowed this mess to go on for a year? Just how is it that Canyon County taxpayers got Bujaked on your watch? You’ve got some explaining to do, too.

 


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 Laura Silsby is still sitting in a Haitian jail while a judge decides whether to order a trial on charges that she tried to take children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic who she believed were either orphaned or abandoned. The new charge is "arranging irregular travel." You will recall that she and other Idaho missionaries were in Haiti, ostensibly


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 I was struck by the irony of it all – abandoned and orphaned children being delivered to another orphanage by apparently well meaning Americans – while the government of Haiti cannot deliver even the most basic essentials to its people. They cannot take so much as water to their own but they presume American missionaries are trafficking in children. Sick.


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