Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grant County man awarded $3M for bad lawyer

A Grant County man has been awarded $3 million for spending months in jail because of poor work by his public defender.

SPOKANE, Wash. —

A Grant County man has been awarded $3 million for spending months in jail because of poor work by his public defender.

Felipe G. Vargas was awarded more than $3 million payable by his public defender by a U.S. District Court jury in Spokane after spending more than seven months in the Grant County Jail, falsely accused of child molestation.

Grant County public defender Thomas Earl allegedly pocketed much of his fee for representing Vargas, instead of spending it to mount an adequate defense, the jury decided.

Vargas, 45, maintained his innocence, and his alleged victim recanted three days after Vargas was arrested in November 2003. Police and prosecutors knew that, but they took no steps to free Vargas from jail.

Earl apparently was too busy with 500 other cases and failed to adequately represent Vargas, the jury was told. Earl refused to hire an investigator or other experts or pay for a polygraph, witnesses told the jury. He was working under a $500,000 "flat fee" annual contract, a form of compensation that is banned in the state.

Earl's legal conduct led to his disbarment.

The Washington Supreme Court in September toughened conflict-of-interest rules that say attorneys can't put their personal financial interests ahead of the fair trial rights of criminal defendants.

"There's a movie called 'Gideon's Trumpet,' about Clarence Gideon's successful struggle to convince the U.S. Supreme Court there is a constitutional right to counsel," said Seattle criminal appeals attorney Eric Broman.

"This verdict should send a loud and clear message to other counties that shortcuts cannot be taken to underfund public defense systems," he said. The "$3 million verdict is the kind of trumpet those folks should be able to hear."

Joanne Moore, the director of the Washington state Office of Public Defense, said the jury award sends a message that everyone has the right to an attorney for a fair trial.

Grant County was also named a defendant in Vargas' 2006 civil rights suit and settled last month by paying him $250,000 for "ineffective assistance of counsel."

Moses Lake attorneys Garth Dano and George Ahrend filed the civil rights suit. Dano said Earl, when he represented Vargas, lied to the court when he said he was ready for trial.
"The importance of this case is it said, 'Stop lying to the judges and each other, and don't put your financial interests ahead of your client's,' " Dano said Friday.

John Strait, a legal ethics professor at Seattle University, testified as an expert. Flat-fee contracts, he said, "are all illegal and unethical for any attorney to enter into."

The state Supreme Court has barred any Washington lawyer from signing such a contract, Strait said.

The case went to trial Monday before U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush, who refused Earl's repeated requests to dismiss the suit.

The jury awarded Vargas $762,000 in compensatory damages and $2.25 million in punitive damages.

It's possible, however, that Vargas won't see any of the money. Earl had canceled his malpractice insurance and is seeking protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review,

Friday, January 30, 2009

DEA Makes First Federal Medical Marijuana Raids Under Obama Administration

January 29, 2009 - South Lake Tahoe, CA, USA

South Lake Tahoe, CA: Federal drug enforcement officials, working cooperatively with state and local police, seized marijuana and cash from a medical marijuana dispensary in Lake Tahoe, California last week. The raid was the first action of its type taken by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since President Barack Obama took office on January 20.

While campaigning for the presidency, Obama pledged not to "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state (medical marijuana) laws."

No arrests were made in last week's raid, and a new facility has already opened to serve patients in the Lake Tahoe region.

The bust received national media attention, with many news outlets expressing criticism over the raid.

In response to the DEA's actions, several prominent drug law reform groups have asked voters to contact the White House and urge the President to suspend Justice Department activities that target medical marijuana providers who are compliant with their state laws.

In a separate action last week, the DEA also raided two medical marijuana providers in Colorado, but did not make any arrests.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Drug dealer arrested in police station bathroom Staff

EVERETT, Wash. – Maybe he really believed in the phrase “Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer.

A 24-year-old Everett man was arrested Wednesday morning for allegedly trying to sell Oxycodone and other drugs inside a stall in the men’s bathroom at the Everett Police Station.

According to Everett Police, a plain-clothed police sergeant and an officer were in the bathroom when they heard the man answer his cell phone and try to make the deal.

Police say the sergeant continued to listen in as the man made several other phone calls in an apparent attempt to sell the drugs.

The man was confronted by officers as he left the bathroom, where police say he admitted to trying to sell the drugs and handed them over.

Police say the man apparently thought he was at a probation office, not a police station.

The suspect was booked into the Snohomish County Jail.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Man held in fatal shooting in Sunnyside

A man has been arrested in a Sunnyside convenience store killing that police say may have been gang related.

A man has been arrested in a Sunnyside convenience store killing that police say may have been gang related.

The 25-year-old Sunnyside man was taken into custody late Wednesday at a home in nearby Granger, but Sunnyside police did not announce the arrest until two days later.

The man is being held for investigation of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

Police spokeswoman Charlotte Hinderlider says the man is believed to be involved in the death of 22-year-old Jesus (hay-SOOS') Tlaseca Sosa. Sosa was fatally shot and a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were injured on Jan. 4 at an AM-PM Mini-Mart in Sunnyside.


Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic,