Some say it’s hard enough to be a criminal defense lawyer these days, what with the law becoming increasingly unfavorable, paying clients harder to find and the public unsupportive. But consider whether your day in the trenches was as bad as Orleans Parish Public Defender Stuart Weg’s.
[Weg's] arrest in Judge Ben Willard’s Section C on Dec. 4, 2009, when the public defender said he couldn’t believe Willard would not order the release of a man wrongly arrested because his name was similar to the suspect.
The man, Tyrone L. Claiborne, had been in jail for 10 days when Weg demanded his release.
“Go find Tyrone,” Willard ordered Weg, according to a transcript of the hearing included in Weg’s lawsuit.
Weg was booked by deputies with battery, criminal trespass and resisting arrest. The charges were dismissed in March.
The problem was that Tyrone L. Claiborne was the wrong guy, and the prosecution conceded the fact. Most would anticipate a judge to find the error a good reason to release the defendant. Not Judge Willard.
The dust-up took place over Willard’s resistance to release a man after prosecutors determined he was wrongly arrested.
The man, Tyrone Claiborne, had been mistakenly arrested on a warrant meant for a man with the same birthday named Tyrane Claborne. The wanted man had failed to pay his fines and fees while in the Section C drug court after pleading guilty to attempted heroin possession with the intent to distribute.
Tyrone, Tyrane. An easy mistake to make, After all, it’s not like they get the name right on the first few tries anyway. But there remained a kink.
According to Weg, Willard asked whether the two men were related. “Upon discovering that the two are brothers, the judge declared that the matter was a ‘family affair’ and that he intended to continue holding Tyrone L. Claiborne until he… could cause his brother to appear before the court,” the lawsuit says.
As long as they have Tyrone in a holding cell, it would be a terrible waste not to find out where brother Tyrane is hanging. And if Weg wanted his guy out, let Weg get the story from Tyrone about Tyrane. What’s so hard to understand? Yet Weg took issue, for no better reason than Tyrone not being Tyrane. That’s when things got bad.
In the Municipal Court gist, a deputy wrote that Weg “turn(ed) around and struck” the deputy and refused to leave.
Weg was taken to the ground during the incident, the suit says, and a deputy identified only as S. Livingston “positioned himself on Weg’s back and placed Weg in a chokehold around his neck.”
Another deputy, called E. Gray in the suit, “then hit and kicked Weg about his head and body as he lay on the court’s anteroom floor, causing him to suffer bruised ribs and other injuries.”
That’s the dust-up, which must be the New Orleans way of describing a kick in the head from a deputy. Charges were brought against Weg for battery, criminal trespass and resisting arrest, but were subsequently dismissed.
Every lawyer is taught to obey the judge’s order now, appeal later. The rule, however, presumes that judges don’t engage in an utterly unquestionable abuse of power by holding a concededly innocent person in custody for a completely improper purpose. It makes for a very hard choice. And a good kick in the head and ribs makes the choice even harder.
Perhaps Weg should have realized the potential for problems with Judge Willard.
After the incident, [Orkeans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn] Bunton sent a letter to the state judiciary commission reporting that Weg was the second public defender physically removed from Willard’s courtroom in 2009.
So stop complaining about how tough it is in your courtroom, and be happy that you don’t have to practice in Judge Willard’s. Or have the grave misfortune of being concededly innocent there without a lawyer like Weg beside you.