Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Conflict of Interest

I have a cousin who is serving a lifetime in prison for a crime he swears he didn't commit.  I've mentioned him here and here also here. Recently his sister posted a story on Facebook which was written about his case back in October 8, 1990.  Here is the link to the story here but I'm going to copy and paste the story on my blog. 

I'm curious what any of you think on this story just based on the below facts as they're laid out. 
Keep in mind, there are more issues to this case that aren't even listed like how 2 jury members were said to have been bullied into their guilty plea.

His appeal, by the way, was denied. 

Convicted Killer Says Lawyers' Feud Prevented Fair Trial : Appeal: He says his counsel and the district attorney had a short-lived romance and were engaged in a bitter paternity dispute.

October 08, 1990

Was a murder defendant denied a fair trial because of a short-lived romance and a bitter paternity dispute between his lawyer and the district attorney?
That intriguing question is now before a state Court of Appeal here in a novel case that might seem better-suited for a television screen were it not for the serious ethical issue at stake.

The real-life plot centers on an appeal by Thomas John Marston, a 30-year-old Willits millworker convicted in 1985 of killing two men in an abortive marijuana deal. Marston is seeking a retrial on grounds he was the unknowing victim of a private feud between his trial attorney, Richard J. Petersen, and the prosecutor, former Mendocino County Dist. Atty. Vivian L. Rackauckas.

Marston's new lawyer on appeal charges that Rackauckas had a sexual liaison with Petersen before Marston's trial, then cited Petersen as father of her child, repeatedly threatened during the trial to bring a paternity suit against Petersen and even had the child send him "Dear Daddy" greetings at special occasions.

Included in the evidence is a 1988 court order requiring Petersen to pay $765 a month in child support to Rackauckas.

"The case was tried in the legal equivalent of a sewer, a cesspool filled with the squalor of covert, private conflicts of interest," said Richard L. Huff, a Ukiah lawyer now representing Marston. "Unknowingly, (Marston) was caught in a cross-fire inimical to our belief in fundamental fairness."

Petersen, in a sworn declaration, said the charges of a sexual liaison and a paternity dispute with Rackauckas are true. Rackauckas, now a deputy district attorney in Ventura County, submitted an affidavit acknowledging the love affair but contending that relationship ended six years before the trial. She denied threatening Petersen, and said that during the trial, they both conducted themselves with "appropriate professionalism." It was not until after the trial, in 1988, that she filed suit for child support, she said.

In a further twist, a Ukiah woman has submitted yet another affidavit stating that at a 1983 Christmas party, Rackauckas remarked "matter-of-factly" that her son's father was Mendocino Superior Court Judge Arthur Broaddus, who later served as trial judge in the Marston case. Rackauckas denied having a sexual relationship with the judge or making any such statement. Broaddus also denied such a relationship ever existed.

State Deputy Atty. Gen. Donna B. Chew, representing the prosecution on appeal, agreed the case "raises very important factual as well as legal allegations."

But in a brief filed last week, Chew contends Marston has failed to show that an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance. Even if there was antagonism between the prosecutor and defense attorney, the defendant might have benefited from the hostility felt by his lawyer, she said.
Chew added, however, that if the appeals court believes Marston has raised legally plausible claims, it should order a hearing to further weigh the conflicting evidence in the case.

Attorney Huff's appeal for Marston centers on the right of a defendant to be represented by a lawyer free of conflict of interest, and to be prosecuted by a district attorney free of emotional involvement in a case.
Ethical guidelines published by the California District Attorneys Assn. require prosecutors to withdraw where they have a personal interest in a case that may affect their impartiality.

There is little legal precedent for the case. But in a 1985 case, another appeals court, citing the potential for conflict of interest, reversed a defendant's conviction because a prosecutor and defense attorney had dated before and during the trial.

According to witnesses' statements, at the Marston trial Rackauckas and Petersen exchanged cutting remarks-- sotto voce but still audible to jurors--and behind the scenes had angry discussions about child support. One associate said Rackauckas adopted an office policy of "maximum obstruction and minimum cooperation" with Petersen, hindering the routine exchange of evidence before trial.

After Marston received a sentence of life in prison without parole, Rackauckas was quoted by a witness as having said, "a lifetime of being sodomized in prison" would be a suitable alternative to the death penalty, Marston's appeal said.

Also submitted was a statement from Dist. Atty. Susan Massini. In it, Massini says files on the Marston case were missing when she assumed office in 1987 after Rackauckas was defeated for reelection.

In her sworn statement, Rackauckas called the affidavits as a whole "misleading, out-of-context or inaccurate." Any personal relationship with Petersen ended when her child was conceived in March, 1980, she said. Petersen denied in 1981 that he was the father and the matter was not discussed again until 1986, she said.

Rackauckas rejected the claim she had any "special policy" on cases handled by Petersen and said she could not recall discussing "anything about sodomy" in the Marston case.

At her request, Rackauckas said, she and Petersen discussed the 1985 appeals court ruling on conflict of interest and whether he should represent Marston. Neither believed their former relationship created such a conflict, she said.

"I believed that no local attorney would represent Marston as vigorously and as well as would Mr. Petersen," Rackauckas said. "Feeling that it was unfair on my part to suggest depriving Mr. Marston of the attorney of his choice and possibly the most capable attorney in the area, I did nothing further with regard to the matter."

1 comment:

Trea said...

I am trying to appeal my husband's and my case. It is very difficult because we were violated by badged government employees. (LONG STORY-"Pro Per Inc" Franklin & Trea Cleaves has several good videos -2 to 20 mins. each with us telling our story)
Our biggest "Conflict" issue is that the Court appointed attorneys also work for the same gov agency as the bad/criminal law enforcement. So Instead of getting defended, your own defense attorney make sure to use every possible trick to AVOID EXPOSING this horrendous CRIME. This is called RAILROADING and truely needs to be exposed.