I must admit, I thought this sort of thing happened only on TV!
John Rogers was indicted on charges related to the alleged distribution of narcotics. He was provided counsel from the Public Defender’s Office. The
case against John was not airtight – indeed, there were at least two witnesses available who were willing to testify that that it was John’s brother Ray who has sold the drugs, and that Ray had given his brother’s name and date of birth when arrested. The lawyer must have seen too many courtroom dramas on television, because, rather than provide what might have been a solid defense based on the facts, she hatched a scheme of deception to get an acquittal for her client.
She planned to have Rogers switch clothes with his brother, and then sit in the audience. The brother would sit at the counsel table. They assumed the arresting police officer would take the stand and identify the person at the counsel table as the perpetrator. Then, perhaps in a melodramatic style reminiscent of Perry Mason, the defense lawyer would arise and point out the faulty identification. All would see that her client was wrongly identified and falsely accused!
Alas, the plan went awry. The prosecutor found out about the plan, and the plan was aborted. To make matters worse, the prosecutor brought out the scheme during cross examination of the defendant to destroy his credibility. When the attorney told the judge that it was her idea, not Rogers’, the judge was incredulous. The jury convicted Rogers.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Rogers sought Post Conviction Relief, asserting that he had been afforded ineffective assistance of counsel due to his attorney’s failure to call the helpful witnesses at trial and also due to her scheme which backfired against him. The appellate court agreed, finding the attorney’s conduct to be violative of the law and of the attorney’s Rules of Professional Conduct. The prejudice created by the damage to his credibility was so egregious that the appellate court ordered a new trial. The indictment was later dismissed.
But wait, there’s more! Rogers later sued the Public Defender’s Office for damages caused by this ineffective counsel. When suing a public entity, notice of your intent to sue must be given within a specified time period. The lower courts have ruled that Rogers waited too long. That issue is now before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Was justice done? Hard to say. Clearly, the lawyer should have known better than to attempt the deception. Just goes to show that those sometimes fantastic stories that we see on television do not often accurately portray the real world of the courtroom or of the law. But you knew that already, didn’t you?