Dick DeGuerin did a lot right when he began his representation of billionaire R. Allen Stanford. He also did one thing really wrong. He forgot to get paid. As nice as it is to be a billionaire, it doesn’t help much when your assets are seized pending forfeiture. Now Dick DeGuerin has to withdraw from the case, having come to the conclusion that he bears little resemblance to Mother Teresa.
As DeGuerin left the courtroom, he wished his former client good luck.
The relationship between the famed criminal defense lawyer and his client, the former cricket king and high-flying world traveler, included DeGuerin trying to turn Stanford over to authorities before he was charged to show he was not hiding.
It also included a scuffle in DeGuerin’s office with a local civil lawyer who wanted a role in Stanford’s defense.
The problem arises from the confluence of two rules, both lousy. First is the unconscionably low threshold for forfeiture, mere probable cause. Any half-baked, concocted story will do, and it’s hardly a stretch to take an indicted defendant and fashion a reason to call his money dirty.
The second rule is that forfeiture is an “in rem” proceeding, meaning that it operates as a legal fiction, that the “res‘, the ‘thing”, offends the sovereign. Why does this matter? Because things don’t have rights. People have rights. Things just sit there, naked in their rightlessness. Not only does this disconnect the “res” from the person from whom it was seized, but it eliminates issues surrounding the lawfulness of its seizure.
There is one additional bit of ugliness that goes along with the legal fiction of an “in rem” proceeding. Anyone claiming superior title to the thing, like the person from whom it was seized, is placed in the position of claiming it, and thus subjecting himself to all manner of civil disclosure. If the claimant also happens to be a criminal defendant, which ironically is often the case, it’s like a prosecutorial colonoscopy. As much as one would prefer to avoid such an intrusion generally, it’s particularly undesirable when you’re under indictment.
The upshot of this process is to turn our modern day trials into a reasonable facsimile of the old witch trials. You remember them, where proof of guilt was that the witch floated and didn’t drown, such that she deserved to be burned at the stake. The procedure is to first remove a defendant’s ability to financially mount a defense, based on the presumption that his money is dirty, convict him justifying its initial seizure and then exclaim, “see, I told you he was guilty and that the money was dirty.”
So now the billionaire will be represented by a federal defender. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As Mike explains,
The Federal Defenders are usually very good. Most public defenders are good lawyers. They are simply too overworked to do a good job on any given case. One person said it best: “If I had my choice, I would want to be represented by my public defender’s office. However, I’d want to be their only client.” One-hundred open criminal case files would turn any lawyer into mush.It’s pretty likely that the federal defenders would be just as happy to not have this case to deal with. It’s just another burden on an already burdened, and underfunded, bunch of lawyers who really didn’t figure that their efforts would be put to defending billionaires. Billionaires, by the way, can be very demanding. Federal defenders really aren’t geared up to handle very demanding billionaires, and whatever time is dedicated to the defense of R. Allen Stanford comes at the expense of time that would otherwise be available to the truly indigent, who will become the silent victims of this shift of fortune.
All in all, it’s been a good day for the government.