Legal Ethics

2 Lawyers Face Criminal Contempt Case for Appealing OK of New Counsel for Client Seeking Execution

The Oregon Supreme Court has issued a stay to prevent attorneys Andy Simrin of Portland and W. Keith Goody of Cougar, Wash., from being jailed.

But the two defense lawyers are still facing a criminal contempt case over their handling of an unusual death penalty case in which their now-former client, Gary Haugen, is seeking to be executed.

Their alleged misconduct? Filing an appeal of a judge’s order allowing their client—whose competency to make such decisions was questioned by his own counsel—to get new defense lawyers.

A July 2011 order by Marion County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Jamese Rhoades permitted Haugen to get new counsel to replace Simrin and Goody, because the attorney-client relationship was “irretrievably broken,” the Oregonian reports.

The Marion County order also left the two in place as Haugen’s lawyers until his new attorneys started work, the newspaper explains, but the judge said she wanted the lawyers to get her permission before making any filing.

“I can’t envision, for the life of me, any filing in any court that Mr. Goody or I would be inclined to file within the next 24 hours,” Simirin told Rhoades at the time. In five hours, he and Goody had filed an appeal asking to be reinstated as Haugen’s lawyers. They notified Rhoades by fax, but didn’t ask for permission.

A lawyer for Goody tells the Oregonian that the contempt case is extremely unusual. “I’ve never seen [contempt of court] for the lawful filing of an appeal to a higher court,” attorney Richard Wolf said.

Wolf and attorney Larry Matasar, who represents Simrin, say Rhoades didn’t include the prohibition against filing an appeal without her permission in her written order. And, even if she had, she lacks the power to ban lawyers from appealing her decision, the two add.

The decision to prosecute the contempt case was made by Washington County officials, to whom the Marion County district attorney’s office referred the matter. Charges were filed in July of this year by the chief deputy district attorney in Washington County, Roger Hanlon. He declined to comment when contacted by the newspaper.

Haugen himself is making headines, too, after a judge’s recent ruling that he has the right to decline a death penalty reprieve by the state governor, who opposes execution.

An earlier Statesman Journal article provides additional details about the contempt case.

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