Judges on Blogging
Actual Innocence?: The Government's Litigation Strategy in United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel -- Twice?

Karl Dickhaus of Saint Louis, Missouri tried his first federal criminal case the other day. He lost. He wasn't supposed to try the case. That role was to go to out-of-state counsel, a man for whom Dickhaus was to serve as local counsel. However, the trial court would not grant the motion to permit out-of-state counsel to appear.

The United States Supreme Court today heard argument on whether this violated the defendant's right to counsel of his choice. United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez (No. 05-352)

I wrote about this case the other day. And I read press coverage of argument today. Who is Karl Dickhaus, anyhow, and how did he find Joseph Low of California?

Mr. Dickhaus attended Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer's College in Wyoming in 2001. On the college's alumni bulleting board, Dickhaus lists his specialties as junk fax litigation and consumer law. That's a long way from criminal defense.

Mr. Low teaches on the staff of the college. I'm betting the two met there. Mr. Low's swashbuckling demeanor undoubtedly impressed Mr. Dickhaus. Legends grow beside the college's campfire, even if some of the tales are tall.

One of Mr. Low's websites boasts that he is a "national trial lawyer." On another website he specializes in nursing home abuse. On another he is a master of personal litigation. And don't forget the site devoted to securities fraud. If memory serves, the young lawyer has not yet been practicing a decade. Is there anything in which he does not specialize?

The Gonzalez-Lopez case is troubling. Undoubtedly, Mr. Low took a hefty fee to represent the defendant. When the court denied the man Mr. Low's services, it appears Mr. Low did not refund the fee so that he could find a competent criminal lawyer. (I suspect there is at least one in the state who is not also a specialist in half a dozen other things.) Instead, the defendant was led to apparent slaughter at the hands of a lawyer reduced to accepting notes from counsel sitting in the galleries.

This is good lawyering from neither Mr. Dickhaus nor Mr. Low.

Of course, the outcome was good for Mr. Low. The press has hawked him as an "expert" and a "specialist." But in what?

Sure the phone will ring. I guess that is what it was all about. But I suggest Mr. Low amend his retainer agreement to require that fees be returned if he is not permitted to unpack his bag in the next state in which he hooks up with a summertime pal from the ranch.