Legal Ethics

Public Defender Testified, Against Ex-Client, re Transcript Accuracy; Will Ex-Client Get New Trial?

One day in May 2010, an assistant public defender in Newport News, Va., got an unusual phone call.

A prosecutor pursuing a case against a former client of Brian Keeley’s wanted his help. A witness who had testified earlier and pointed the finger at defendant Mario Lamar Turner now said he couldn’t recall what happened. But the judge was refusing to admit the transcript of the earlier testimony because it wasn’t signed by the court reporter, as required.

That afternoon, Keeley testified in court that the transcript was accurate and the circuit court judge found Turner guilty in a shooting case, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now the state’s highest court is hearing an appeal by Turner that his former lawyer should not have cooperated with the government and he is entitled to a new trial, reports the Daily Press.

Although his conviction was upheld last year by the Virginia Court of Appeals, at least some of the judges on the state’s top court appear troubled by Keeley’s role in the case, the newspaper reports.

“Calling the lawyer just bothers me,” said Supreme Court Justice Donald Lemons, the most vocal critic. “The lawyer ought to keep his mouth shut.”

Keeley no longer works as a public defender for the office and couldn’t be reached. But Newport News Public Defender Ed Webb agreed with Turner that his former employee made a mistake and should not have testified, explaining that he didn’t know anything about Keeley’s role in the case until after the appeal was filed.

“I was as surprised as anyone else,” said Webb. “He did it on his own without consulting anyone in this office. I would not have approved it because of the duties of loyalty attorneys have to their former clients.”

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