Saturday, October 24, 2015

Motor City Marvin Suspended From Practice of Law

Attorney Marvin Barnett
Jeeze, say it ain't so. Just as we put the touches on our inaugural Motor City Original series a few months ago by highlighting a victory for attorney Marvin Barnett, the Attorney Discipline Board suspended his law license for three years for multiple ethics violations.

Barnett, a colorful iconic Detroit criminal defense lawyer, has made a career out of taking on the Detroit Police Department and its investigators. Perhaps his crowning achievement was causing the probe into the DPD's crime lab; an investigation that ultimately shut the lab down.

When we bumped into Marvin earlier in the month in the Oakland County Circuit Court, he was talking retirement. With hindsight, he may have seen this opinion coming.

After a hearing at which three sitting Wayne County Circuit Court judges testifed on Barnett's behalf, the ADB concluded that the Motor City defense counsel intimidated a witness in a federal criminal trial and neglected two client matters while mishandling client funds.

The ADB alleged Barnett intimidated the witness in the federal criminal proceeding by telling the witness he risked assassination if he testified in the case against Barnett's client, describing to the witness how his testimony would be transcribed and distributed throughout the local community.

That's all bad for this Motor City original. He cannot represent clients and earn money as a lawyer for three years. At least he did not lose his law license with a bisbarment which was considered. Avoiding disbarment is important because, to earn a law license back, the disbarred attorney must pass the bar exam.

We wish Mr. Barnett well in the upcoming years and wonder weather he will just retire, or whether we will see him in a court room down the road.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Motor City Original: White Boy Rick

While in law school in Detroit in the mid-1980s, I remember following the "White Boy Rick" saga.  The case involved kilos of cocaine and a young white kid, Richard Wershe, Jr., once a flashy Detroit upstart drug dealer and man about town, turned big-league informant for the Detroit Police Department, FBI and DEA.

Wershe is believed to be the lone convict still incarcerated from the 1980s-era draconian drug laws. Back in those days, former Governor John Engler spearheaded a legislative initiative called the "drug lifer law".

If you were convicted of manufacturing and delivery of more than 650 grams of cocaine in the mid-80s, you faced a life sentence without parole. All persons convicted under that now-overturned sentencing statute have either died or have been released.

Yet here is Wershe, 28-years later, plodding through his various long-shot appeals. His case is unique to the extent that he was sentenced to life, with the possibility of parole. Earlier this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals snuffed out the ray of hope cast upon Wershe by the Wayne County Circuit Court when it granted his motion for re-sentencing.

The Court of Appeals reversed that ruling on Monday via procedural grounds. Unlikely that the Michigan Supreme Court will even take his case, Wershe must now await another round with the parole board in 2017.

A long-serving convict like Wershe usually grinds through the state court appellate process during the first five-years of incarceration. Once all state remedies have been exhausted, the defendant can then turn to federal court via a petition for habeas corpus.

In the past six months, Wershe has been in the news again for the attempts being made by his appellate lawyers to spring him from the Michigan Department of Corrections. For what he did wrong, it does certainly seem like Wershe paid his debt long long ago.

His cause is amplified by the fact that he is a "one-of-a-kind" inmate. As the longest serving Michigan inmate, White Boy Rick is our Motor City Original this month.