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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Texas Criminal Lawyers Seek to Enforce Contract with Exonerated Defendants

Cell Yesterday, the New York Times published a lengthy story about contracts between attorney and lobbyist Kevin Glasheen and his clients, exonerated prisoners who hired Mr. Glasheen to to sue municipalities and the state of Texas for wrongful imprisonment in return for a 25% contingency fee.  Instead of filing suit, Mr. Glasheen lobbied the legislature to increase the payout to the wrongfully imprisoned.  He was successful.  Instead of being statutorily entitled to $50,000/year, the exonerated are now entitled to $80,000/year.  

According to the Times, on that basis, Mr. Glasheen sent Steven C. Phillips, who had spent 25 years behind bars, a bill for over $1 million.  A hefty portion of the fee would go to the co-founder and chief counsel of the Texas Innocence Project, apparently as a referral fee.  Mr. Phillips sued, presumably seeking a declaration that he has no obligation to pay.  Another exonerated prisoner joined the suit.  In addition, the state bar association initiated a disciplinary action, as described here in the Lubbock Avalanch-Journal.  According to the Times, the bar association characterizes the fees as prohibited and unconscionable.  State legislation is in the works to prevent the collection of the such fees going forward.

Mr. Glasheen characterizes the controversy as a typical fee dispute and prognosticates dismissal.  "Meanwhile, I've got drug behind the pickup truck."  I'm not fluent in Texan, but that sounds to me like a reference to the horrific murder of James Byrd, Jr.  Wow.  

The contracts issue will depend on the actual contractual language, of course, which we do not have.  Was Glasheen to be compensated for filing a law suit on his clients' behalf (which he did not do) or for lobbying, (which he did)?  

Moreover, I don't get the math.  As the article points out, the exonerated get their annual payments until they die or are convicted of another felony.  But even in the best case, Mr. Glasheen should only be entitled to 25% of the difference between $80,000/year and $50,000/year multiplied by 25.  That comes to $187,500, which would then have to be discounted to present value.  In short, nothing like $1 million.

Mr. Glasheen claims he has already collected $5 million in fees from other exonerated prisoners.  The Innocence Project also rises to Mr. Glasheen's defense, arguing in essence that they partnered with him because he is the best at getting money for exonerated prisoners, and you have to pay to get that kind of representation.  Why doesn't Steven Phillips want to pay?  According to the Times, Glasheen has a simple explanation: Phillips is a sociopath conditioned by the prison system to lie to survive.  

He's the best alright.

[JT]

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