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Bad Plea Bargain Advice

Some sketches from today’s Supreme Court arguments in two cases of ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargainning.

Anthony Cooper shot a fleeing woman in the legs. His lawyer advised him to reject the prosecutor’s offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for his plea of guilty telling him, erroneously, that because the wounds were below the waist he would be shielded from a charge of attempted murder.

The case is Lafler v. Cooper. Pictured above is Michigan Solicitor General John J. Bursch.  Below is the attorney arguing for Cooper, Valerie R. Newman. SC111031_Newman

In the second case, Missouri v. Frye, the defendant, charged with driving without a license was never told of a plea offer of 90 days, and wound up with a three year sentence.

Although a number of Justices seemed sypathetic to the poorly represented defendants. they questioned whether a real remedy was possible. Even the attorney representing Mr. Frye, Emmett D. Queener, conceeded, “There is never going to be a perfect remedy for any of these violations, I don’t believe”. SC111031_Queener

Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks has the “textualism” angle here.


Go Tigers!

Moving beyond courtroom into the wider arena of reportage drawing, here are a few sketches from Tuesday night’s Tigers/Rangers game at Comerica Park. Tigers111011_Comerica




“Dude, Your Pants Are On Fire!”


Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, entered the courtroom on the first day of his trial dressed in a grand boubou (I know that in english speaking Nigeria it’s simply called a gown, but I like the french better), looking at no one in particular.

It was expected that Abdulmutallab, who is acting as his own attorney, might deliver an opening statement to the jury, but the defense instead chose to reserve that option for later in the trial.


In the government’s opening Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel pointed to the defendant saying, “..this defendant. He had a mission… for al-Qaida. His sole reason for being on Flight 253 was to blow it up… ”

Abdulmutallab111011_TukelThe above sketch shows Abdulmutallab, seated left, with assisting counsel Anthony Chambers as prosecutor Jonathan Tukel addresses the jury.


After ninety minutes of guiding the jury through the events of Flight 253 on Christmas day, 2009 the government calls its first witness, passenger Michael Zantow.  Zantow testifies that about thirty seconds after hearing a loud pop that sounded like a firecracker a passenger yelled, “Man…dude, your pants are on fire!”

The next day, in a suprise move Abdulmutallab pled guilty to all charges. Unfortunately it caught us off guard and we missed it, but you can read about it here.


The Ministerial Exception

Who is a minister?

Cheryl Perich was a “called teacher” at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. She took medical leave in 2004 after being diagnosed with narcolepsy.  After being treated and cleared to return to work by her doctors she was told by the school that her position had been filled and was asked to submit her resignation. Instead Ms Perich threatened to sue under the American with Disabilities Act and was fired.

The ministerial exception in the ADA allows churches to require employees to conform to the religion’s tenets, and a basic tenet of the Lutheran Church is that disputes are resolved in the church, not the courts.

But because she only spent forty-five minutes out of her seven hour school workday on religious activities the Sixth Circuit held that Perich was not a ministerial employee, and thus her firing did not fall under the “ministerial exception”.


Justice Sotomayor asks the lawyer for the church, Douglas Laycock, about “a teacher who reports sexual abuse to the government and is fired because of that reporting.” She adds, grimly, “We know from the news recently that there was a church whose religious beliefs centered around sexually exploiting women and, I believe, children.”


When former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, here representing the teacher, tells the Court that the ministerial exception should not be offered to those employees who perform “important secular functions”, Chief Justice Roberts responds: “That can’t be the test! The pope is a head of state carrying out secular functions. Those are important. So he is not a minister?”

WaPo story here.