Friday, January 07, 2005

Gonzales to Inmates "Drop Dead"

Alberto Gonzales is getting a well deserved (and probably pointless) roasting on Capitol Hill for his role in the Preparation and dissemination of the now infamous Justice Dept. Memos sanctioning torture by US forces. However all the focus on these memos distracts from even more important point.
Gonzales' work product to date reveals someone who not only doesn't deserve to be the AG, but doesn't even rise to the basic standards of professional competence.

A good case in point is his work advising then Gov. GW Bush on death row appeals

When Bush was governor of Texas, He gave Gonzalez the task of reviewing final clemency appeals from convicted inmates. Basically this was the last stop for an inmate, Gonzalez was in effect their last hope for life As this WashPost article details, he was an extremely poor hope indeed.
(to be fair it should be noted that the Governor is so weak in TX that he cannot Pardon an Inmate, only provide a 30 day stay of an execution order, or a commutation)
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In 1995, a one-eyed drifter named Henry Lee Lucas was headed for execution by injection in a Texas prison for the murder of an unnamed woman

The task of recommending whether then-Gov. George W. Bush should grant a reprieve or commute Lucas's death sentence fell to Alberto R. Gonzales, In a memo Gonzales marshaled a case for Lucas's guilt... Left out of Gonzales's summary was any mention of a 1986 investigation by the Texas attorney general's office that concluded that Lucas had not killed the woman, and that he had falsely confessed to numerous killings in an effort to undermine the veracity of his confessions to the crimes he did commit.

Several other attorneys for convicts executed in Texas during Bush's tenure complained that Gonzales provided unfair or incomplete summaries of evidence and mitigating circumstances.

Jim Marcus, an attorney for convicted murderer Kenneth Ray Ransom, said, "Had I known that the 40-page petition I filed would be boiled down to one slipshod sentence in Mr. Gonzales's memo, I would simply have filed a one-sentence petition,"
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There was a Particularly revealing exchange Betwen Sen Feingold and Gonzales at yestrrday's confirmation hearing :
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FEINGOLD: Well, on that point, one of the cases involved an inmate on death row named Carl Johnson. He was executed in September 1995, during the first year that Governor Bush was in office, and you were his counsel on these matters.

Mr. Johnson was represented by a lawyer named Joe Cannon, who slept through the major portions of the trial and who was apparently notorious in legal circles for this behavior.

In his challenges appealing the trial and conviction, Mr. Johnson argued consistently that he had had ineffective assistance of counsel, primarily based on the sleeping lawyer who represented him at trial.

In your memo to the governor discussing this case and in pending execution, however, you failed to make any mention whatsoever of the basis for Mr. Johnson's appeal. You go to great lengths to describe the underlying facts of the murder, but there's no mention at all of the fact that this lawyer slept through the major portions of the trial.
I'd like you to, in a second, explain this omission. I want to know how the governor could have weighed the clemency memo fully and properly if you had failed to even indicate the basis for the clemency request.
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Gonzalez defends himself by stating that his mitigating circumstance (that was eventually litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, which vacated the conviction) was irrelevant. Since the imate had lost that appeal in the lower court's Gonzales didn't think it was necessary to mention (as if the whole point of executive clemency wasn't to catch mistakes the judiciary missed)
The bottom line was at this very important Job, Gonzales was so ineffective as to make lawyers not want to even bother filing the requests:
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Jack Strickland, who both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases, said actions by Gonzales and Bush left a wide impression that "it was a waste of paper" to request a commutation.

Besides a sole commutation (that came during an election campaign), Bush granted a single 30-day death penalty reprieve, in a case that arose after Bush had appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court. In non-death-penalty cases, Bush granted 19 of the 149 pardons "for innocence" or compassion that were urged by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, an official review body for such requests. Scholars at the University of Pittsburgh have said that was the lowest number by any Texas governor since the 1940s.
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The relevance to the current AG nomination is this. In all of his published memos Gonzales reveals a habit that is a fatal flaw for any lawyer, but particularly one charged with uphold a public trust. He decides first, he researches later, and only to bolster his pre-conceptions. He totally misunderstand the Lawyer's role. We are charged with advising, not deciding. It is our Job to gather all the facts, weigh all the contrary opinions and summarize them to our client so THEY and not us can make an informed decision. Gonzales' work reveals that he has abandoned this role for making pre-emptive decisions based on his own pre-conceived notions, values and feelings. As bad as this would be for a lawyer in private practice; this would be an utterly disastrous trait for an Attorney general

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