Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are we even surprised anymore?

In fairness to Hawai'i, I wanted to write a post pointing out that there are terrible lawyers all over the country...and it is increasingly bothering me.   The Washington Post reported the other day that a Washington, DC judge declared a mistrial in a murder trial because the defendant's attorney was incompetent.  The attorney was a 2009 graduate of Touro Law School.  If you saw that and knew where Touro Law School was located without having to look it up, write it in the comments and let me know.  I had to look it up.  It is located in Central Islip, New York. I think the most insulting thing about this whole thing is that on the front page of their website, Touro boats, "all lawyers are educated. our lawyers are prepared."  They go further and state, "Touro Law Center graduates are ready to hit the ground running – and go the extra mile to get the job done." Apparently not, Touro.

Joseph Rakofsky graduated law school in 2009 and he couldn't get a job surely wanted to help people right away so he started his own law firm.  His focus?  Criminal DUIs, traffic tickets, and (so he claims) murder trials.  According to the Washington Post, "Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was 'astonished' at his performance and at his 'not having a good grasp of legal procedures' before dismissing him."  Why didn't this guy have a good grasp of legal procedure?  Probably because he got a shitty legal education from a fourth-tier, no name law school that is more interested in taking students' money than preparing them for practicing law.  Let's take a look at Tuition and Fees at Touro Law straight from their website:

Juris Doctorate

First Year Students

Full Time Students (12 – 16 credits) $20,475.00 per semester
Part Time Students (8 – 11 credits)  $15,330.00 per semester

Second Year Students

Full Time Students (12 – 16 credits) $20,055.00 per semester
Part Time Students (8 – 11 credits) $15,120.00 per semester

Third Year Students

Full Time Students (12 – 16 credits) $19,645.00 per semester 
Part Time Students (8 – 11 credits) $14,915.00 per semester
The school charges students more than $40,000 per year. How can a school that bad have the audacity to charge so much? Because there is no accountability and people are stupid enough to pay. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there willing to take out an absurd amount of loans to pay it and banks irresponsibly lend it out to people with no prospect of paying it back. So the cycle continues. Idiots like Joseph Rakofsky get to call themselves lawyers.

Now, what gets lost in all this, as I've written about before, is that Joseph Rakofsky doesn't suffer (though, he should be sanctioned).  No, only the defendant and the victim's family suffer.  If he's innocent, the defendant doesn't get a fair trial.  If he's guilty, the victim's family doesn't get justice.  The judge should be applauded for taking charge and dismissing the attorney.  Joseph Rakofsky took on a case that he was not competent to handle.  The legal standard for effective representation is frighteningly low, so a judge doesn’t declare a mistrial based on incompetency of counsel unless the lawyer is really, really, really incompetent.  The judge said that Rakofsky’s performance was “below what any reasonable person would expect in a murder trial.”  But think about that for a second.  Why just a murder trial?  Shouldn't clients in ANY criminal case receive the same level of representation.  Anyone convicted of a crime - whether it's excessive speeding, DUI, or murder - will have a criminal record that can prevent them from getting jobs, entering federal buildings, getting security clearance, or just from having a good reputation.  If Rakofsky should not have been trying murders, he should not have been trying anything without adult supervision.

How does the legal community allow something like this to happen?  Would a first year resident operate on someone alone? No, because that's how people die.  Young attorneys are the same.  Here we have a man, on trial for his life, facing life in prison, whose attorney doesn't even have a basic competency in criminal procedure.  Where would he learn that procedure?  Well, law school might be a good start.  And what was Rakofsky's response?  When asked about his website's claims that he has worked on "murder, embezzlement and conspiracy cases," Rakofsky simply replied, "when I say I've worked on those cases, that doesn't mean I've worked on those cases on my own . . . I was working with other lawyers, interning and stuff."  But Joseph Rakofsky isn’t special.  Thousands of lawyers - every day - claim attributes that they don’t have and take cases they are not ready to take. Nothing he did made him any more blameworthy than any of those lawyers: lawyers whose need to make a buck overcomes their judgment and ethics.

It's embarrassing that this stuff happens every day.  But how did Rakofsky respond? He bragged (click to enlarge).  I got this image from Military Underdog:

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