An Embarrassment Even to Criminal Defense Lawyers

I wrote way back in ought-seven about how criminal-defense lawyers are unembarrassable. I find my unembarrassability challenged by this: Houston lawyer Jerome Godinich has blown deadlines to file writs of habeas corpus for death row prisoners three times.

In [two of the] cases, the lawyer waited until after business hours on the last day an appeal could be filed and then blamed a malfunctioning filing machine for his tardiness, according to a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion issued last week. The court chastised the attorney for using the same excuse twice.

In the third case, Godinich was not appointed until after the deadline had passed, but the judge who appointed him (late) found that the 162 days he took to file the writ was too long.

Scott Greenfield had the story this morning. He spotted Godinich a late filing and still summed it up thus:

So the lawyer screws up and goes home for dinner.  The defendant is executed.  This is just disgusting.

Godinich was appointed by U.S. District Judge Judge Ewing Werlein to represent Johnny Ray Johnson on March 12, 2004 in Johnson v. Dretke,
No. H-05-CV-35. The writ filing deadline passed on December 27, 2004,
and Godinich filed the writ on January 3, 2005. On March 31, 2005 U.S.
District Judge John D. Rainey entered an order dismissing Godinich’s
late-filed writ in Nelson v. Dretke, No. H-03-CV-3742. Seven
months later Godinich accepted an appointed from U.S. District Judge
David Hittner to represent Keith Steven Thurmond in Thurmond v. Quarterman, No. H-06-CV-2833. He missed the filing deadline in that case as well.

There is plenty of work for the criminal defense bar to do without
anyone being forced to handle cases for which they are unsuited. In light of that, I’d like to offer some constructive advice, by way of Roman lawyer-philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero:

It might be pardonable to refuse to defend some men, but to defend them negligently is nothing short of criminal.

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