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Legal Ethics

Judge Fines PD: 1 Day OK for Trial Prep

Posted Aug 27, 2007 10:37 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Saying that a 20-minute talk with one's client and interviewing witnesses during one's lunch hour is sufficient preparation to allow a lawyer to try a case, an Ohio judge reportedly upheld his own earlier contempt-of-court citation and fined an assistant public defender Friday.

Brian Jones refused to try a misdemeanor trial before Portage County Municipal Court Judge John Plough on Aug. 16 because he'd just been assigned the case. But Plough disagreed—and, as discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, had the young assistant Portage County public defender arrested for contempt of court. At a hearing for Jones on Friday, Plough upheld the contempt finding and fined him $100 but stayed the fine because Jones plans to appeal, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jones didn't testify, but a witness, Arkansas lawyer John Wesley Hall Jr., said it would be impossible for a lawyer to prepare adequately in the two and one-half hours that Jones had to do so, the Post reports. "Nobody could. I couldn't," said Hall, who is president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. There were five witnesses in the client's case, and a good lawyer would talk to all of them, Hall said.

Plough said Jones should have tried the case as ordered. Had his client been convicted, the judge said, an appeal could have been filed claiming Jones was ineffective counsel due to a judicial order, according to the newspaper.

News reports conflict slightly: Plough appointed Jones to represent the defendant on Aug. 15, but Jones first learned of the Aug. 16 trial the same day, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Post-Gazette says Jones was fined $100; the Plain Dealer says $150 (and also indicates the judge gave Jones a suspended three-day jail sentence).

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