Psst… your lawyer may not like you

Judging by its “most popular” list, Time.com struck a nerve with its article on Curtis Osborne, fetchingly headlined “If your lawyer wants you executed.”

Osborne, who faces execution in Georgia on Wednesday for murdering two people, was represented by court-appointed lawyer Johnny Mostiler. Another Mostiler client claims the lawyer said, of Osborne, “That little [n---] deserves the chair.”

(Mostiler himself, before his death in 2000, assured a judge that he never uses the N-word “out in public,” the story says. Not exactly lawyer-of-the-year material.)
There were other allegations of outrageously ineffective assistance of counsel, all of which were rejected by state and federal courts.

However, the courts never reached the merits of Mostiler’s alleged statement, finding that claim was procedurally barred. Time.com takes umbrage at that, calling it the “ultimate insult.”

But it seems to me that misses the point.

The infuriating beauty of the criminal defense bar is precisely its belief that every defendant is entitled to representation, no matter how heinous the crime, no matter the lawyer’s personal feelings about the client.

I was once surprised to learn that a noted capital defense attorney did not oppose the death penalty. When I asked him why, he said he’d sat too often across the table from truly evil people.

“Truly evil,” he said. Yet he made it his life’s work to save theirs.

No, I’m not in favor of lawyers using racist slurs or publicly condemning their clients. And yes, there are lawyers who work to prove their clients are innocent, as opposed to wrongfully convicted or sentenced.

But if capital defendants are entitled to lawyers who believe in their innocence and feel friendly toward them as individuals, then we might as well abolish the death penalty.

Because there’s no guarantee – let alone a constitutional guarantee – that a lawyer like that will come along in anyone’s lifetime.

BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor/Law

Too late to debate

As I wrote in today’s paper, the Court of Special Appeals has held that a man who claimed to be the father of a child born during his marriage, despite evidence to the contrary — including his vasectomy — remains responsible for child support even after a paternity test proved otherwise.

The court reached this decision in part because the presumed father had waited almost 13 years to contest paternity. Citing the doctrine of laches, the court held that the man had “slept on his rights” by waiting for so long to claim the child was not his.

The court’s opinion mentions that other states have, by law, limited the time a presumed father can challenge paternity. The “small but growing number of states” include Colorado (within a reasonable time but no later than five years after the child’s birth); Delaware (no more than two years after the birth of the child); Illinois (within two years of obtaining “knowledge of relevant facts”); and Wyoming (no later than five years after the child’s birth), to name a few.

Do you think the intermediate court was trying to send a message to the General Assembly that Maryland should have a similar time limit on the books?  Or do you think the doctrine of laches is clear enough to bar similar challenges?

CHRISTINA DORAN, Assistant Legal Affairs Editor