Saturday, April 30, 2011

Extreme Client Counseling

I frequently regale my friends with stories about how difficult some of my clients are. However, at a seminar I attended ten years ago, I heard of one client who was completely off the charts. One of the speakers at the seminar was a career public defender from Minnesota, a black gentleman who was built like a defensive tackle for the Vikings. The story he told was that earlier on his career he’d been partners with an elderly gentleman who’d been his friend and mentor for many years. They were defending a client on a murder charge, and this guy, their client, was a really bad actor. Apparently, he was a con man who was not above murdering potential witnesses against his swindles. What made him an especially difficult case was that he was on trial for having murdered his previous attorney. The gentleman telling this story related that his elderly mentor came back to their office one day, ashen-faced, saying, “I’ve got to withdraw from this case. Our client just threatened to kill me.” I must say that while we had an excellent legal ethics professor at Notre Dame, he certainly never described a scenario like that.

So the speaker continued that he went to see his client and confronted him about the threat that he’d made. He told his client “Look, nobody likes you. Nobody—not me, not the prosecutor, not the cops, not the guards. The guards have known me for years. Tell you what—make one more threat against me or my partner, I’m gonna come back here, I’m gonna tell the guards to ignore the call button, and I will kill you.” Considering the speaker’s considerable bulk, that struck me as an entirely credible threat. He continued his story, “We got along great after that.”

The post-script is that his client was not convicted of first degree murder. He later was convicted of additional murder charges, so he’s unlikely to ever draw a free breath again. I heard years later the speaker had died, so there’s no possibility of him getting any flack from the state disciplinary counsel.

I’ve never used that particular manner of client counseling, although the thought has crossed my mind on numerous occasions.

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