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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Is this your lawyer’s on-hold music?


A colleague told me it is at one Spokane law office where "Hammer Time" is a fitting phrase.

Judge rejects mom-based lawyer plea

A 50-year-old Spokane man recently sentenced to prison for drugs won't be allowed to retain his publicly funded lawyer while he awaits legal advice from his mother, a judge ruled Monday.

Vernon V. Jackson had objected to public defender Mark Hannibal's routine request to withdraw as his attorney after Jackson was sentenced last week to two years in prison for three counts of possession of a controlled substance.

Jackson said Monday that he spoke with his mother after he pleaded guilty and "might have a change of heart" but needed to talk to his mother again. He wanted Hannibal to stay on as his attorney just in case.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese asked Jackson if his mother was a lawyer. He said no, but she "has lawyer skills."

"I wanted to become an attorney, but I messed up," Jackson said.

Plese denied Jackson's request, noting there was no legal basis for Hannibal to continue to represent him. Jackson can still try to change his plea once he talks to his mother even without a lawyer currently assigned.

New leader for federal public defenders

Andrea George moved to Spokane from Minnesota to become the executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho. (SRPhoto/Jesse Tinsley)

Andrea K. George has just begun as the new executive director of the team of attorneys representing indigent crime suspects in Spokane and North Idaho. But the Wisconsin native is sure of one thing: The worst of Spokane’s weather doesn’t scare her at all.

“If this is what the winters are like, I can handle this,” George said with a laugh. “I love it.”

Last month, George replaced outgoing executive director Roger Peven at Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho in the job that advertised a salary of $155,000 a year.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Mistrial after juror blasts defense lawyer

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. (AP) — A mistrial has been declared in a Kitsap County drug case after a juror was overheard expressing a desire to punch prominent Seattle defense attorney John Henry Browne in the nose. 

The Kitsap Sun reports that Browne, whose high-profile clients have included "Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore, repeatedly sparred with Superior Court Judge Theodore Spearman during the trial.

Browne (pictured) reportedly ignored the judge's order that he keep his objections to a single word and was twice fined $500.

Browne said the judge's rulings in the case called his mental state into question.

By last week Browne refused to continue to participate in the trial in protest of Spearman's handling of the case. A mistrial was declared after a bailiff overheard a juror expressing a desire to punch the attorney.

Browne's client, Dominic Briceno, had been accused by county prosecutors of six drug-related felonies. Spearman ordered a fact-finding hearing concerning Browne's conduct for July 27.

From ‘Baby Ryan’ fame to disbarment

The Washington Supreme Court disbarred a prominent Spokane attorney Thursday after his client complained the lawyer charged him $25,000 to settle a minor dispute over the lease price of a car.

The high court ruled unanimously to uphold the disbarment of Russell Van Camp, who has represented National Right to Life advocates and anti-abortion activists throughout the West. The court said he misled his client about the nature of the $25,000 fee and didn’t follow through with the client’s desire to quickly settle the case.

Read the rest of Tom Clouses's story here.

Van Camp (pictured in 2004) gained national attention in 1994 when he took on the case of a baby born with dead kidneys, possible brain damage and other health problems. Doctors tried to withhold lifesaving dialysis and persuaded the family to let the baby die, but they hired Van Camp instead, and the case gained national media attention.

A 1994 Spokesman-Review profile of Van Camp described him as not being known in Spokane legal circles for his legal mind, rather "Van Camp relies on his people skills."

“I have maximized the average intelligence I have,” he said at the time. “A good trial lawyer’s an actor upon the stage. I’m just a glorified vacuum cleaner salesman.”

In response to discipline by the Washignton State Bar Association, Van Camp said in 1994 that the association and other attorney were cliquish, jealous of his practice and bitter about losing to him.

A Pat Robertson delegate to the 1988 Republican National Convention, Van Camp said he also believes he’s unpopular because he’s one of the country’s few Christians who have made lawyering a success.

“I make no apologies for the person I am. I yam what I yam,” Van Camp says in a bad Popeye impression. “I’m winning and making money.”

Read the full profile from December 1994 here.

Federal public defender’s job opens

The future of the top federal public defender in Eastern Washington and North Idaho could be in doubt, with the board that oversees the attorney’s office advertising for his replacement even as the attorney, Roger Peven, prepares to represent domestic terrorism suspect Kevin W. Harpham. 

The federal public defender’s office is facing a civil lawsuit by three former employees, who essentially claim that they were fired in retaliation after they raised concerns about a lack of leadership on the part of Peven.

The lawsuit also claims the three employees forced an intervention that resulted in Peven seeking inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

State bar to honor Clark posthumously

Spokane lawyer John Clark will be honored posthumously this week by the Washington State Bar Association.

Clark's wife, Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark, and son, Steven Clark, will accept Local Hero Award on his behalf Friday during a meeting of the WSBA Board of Governors at the Davenport Hotel. 

Also honored will be Spokane lawyer Paul B. Mack.

Clark, a legendary local defense lawyer known for representing clients pro bono, died of cancer last October. He was 58.

“John was always an advocate for the oppressed and downtrodden,” according to a prepared statement by his law partners, James Domanico and Robert Crary. “He exemplified his professionalism by giving back to the community, his friends and his clients, who would soon become his friends. John was instrumental in changing the law on a number of occasions and was also first in line to help a fellow attorney.”

Said Spokane County Public Defender John Rodgers, “All of my contacts with John and the many people he influenced reflect a person whose candor, diligence and motives surpassed our highest standards of professionalism and greatly benefited on our legal community.”

In March 2010, the Spokane County Bar Association presented Clark with the Smithmoore P. Myers Professionalism Award; the same month, Clark was named an honorary member of the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office.

Economy spurs need for free legal aid

The sagging local economy has flooded local courts with people in financial trouble who can’t pay for what could help them most: an attorney to guide them.

Only a few local programs exist to help people who need lawyers, a need that has far outstripped the programs’ ability to find lawyers willing to work for little or no pay. As a result, court dockets are clogged with people trying – and failing – to wade through a complicated system of hearings and paperwork without legal help.

“It’s a pretty grim picture out there if you need a lawyer and can’t afford one,” said Al McNeil, an associate professor with University Legal Assistance, which provides free or low-cost legal services to low-income Spokane County residents and just celebrated its 35-year anniversary at Gonzaga University School of Law.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.

Seattle site Avvo adds doctor rankings to its listings of lawyers

Avvo, the West Side blog started in 2007 by Gonzaga University grad Mark Britton, is expanding into ranking doctors.

Avvo, a Latin word for “advocate,” started out and continues as an online forum for people to rank attorneys.

Starting this week, Avvo will offer rankings of doctors, drawing on public records and company research into doctors’ backgrounds and experience.

Both groups, doctors and lawyers, are scored on a 1 to 10 ranking. The rankings result from a variety of measures, but include comments by others.

The available documents being used by Avvo cover 800,000 doctors — 90 percent of the licensed doctors in the country, along with medical question and answer forums.

Britton, a former Expedia executive and general counsel, said the effort has taken about eight months to incorporate the physician data.

Avvo has about 70 employees and is based in Seattle. It makes money through online ads and draws about two million visitors a month. It generates 160,000 referrals to lawyers per month, Britton said.


CdA lawyer imprisoned for OxyContin

A Coeur d’Alene defense lawyer and former deputy prosecutor was sent to prison recently after police said he recruited a client to help feed his OxyContin addiction. 

Shawn C. Nunley, 39, was sentenced to five years in prison with eligibility for parole in two years after he pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance.

But 1st District Judge Ben Simpson retained jurisdiction over the case, meaning Nunley could be released after six months. Nunley arrived at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, just south of Boise, on Oct. 15.

Police reports at the time of his arrest in December 2008 said Nunley’s paid for a man to pick up hundreds of OxyContin pills in California each month. The man later went to police and acted as a confidential informant while detectives monitored a transaction between the two. Federal drug charges were dismissed in June 2009, but Kootenai County prosecutors charged Nunley in March. He pleaded guilty in August and was sentenced Oct. 7.

Nunley, who represented himself, filed documents from the Kootenai County Jail last week asking for another hearing to reconsider his prison sentence.

He called himself “a perfect probation candidate” and said he completed a drug rehabilitation program and has “been sober ever since.” He said he is a group counselor for a detox group in Orange County, Calif.

Nunley graduated near the top of his class at the University of Idaho and spent time at a large Boise law firm before moving to North Idaho and joining the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor at the time, Bill Douglas, said Nunley “did a very good job.” He worked there for three years before opening his own firm.

Now Nunley and his firm are being sued in Kootenai County District Court by The Bear Mill, Inc., a stuffed animal manufacturing company in  Coeur d’Alene that claims Nunley botched a trademark lawsuit against a rival Canadian company, Teddy Mountain, Inc., then demanded payment of nearly $59,000.

Nunley was arrested in a grocery store parking lot in Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 16. Police found an open beer in his car as well as drugs, a handgun and more than $2,200 in his hotel room, according to a police report.

According to the report, Nunley told a detective he consumed about nine 80 mg pills of OxyContin a day and spent up to $100,000 on the drug each year.

He also admitted to sometimes using heroin, but Nunley said in a document written Oct. 13 that he used only one dosage of the drug over two hours “to avoid withdrawals from OxyContin.”

“It was one dosage,” Nunley wrote.

Nunley was admitted to the Idaho State Bar Association in 2002, but his license is now inactive.

Thursday’s loose thread

While you’re booting up your blog energy, here’s a tidbit reported in the current issue of State Legislatures magazine.

Between 1976 and 2007 (apparently the latest figures available), lawyers’ representation in state legislatures around the country declined from 22.3 percent to 15.2 percent, causing them to drop into second place.

The new kingpins are full-time legislators — 2.7 percent in 1976 and 16.4 percent now. Third place, if you’re interested, is retirees, who didn’t even register on the 1976 tabulation but now are 11.7 percent.

At 9.2 percent, business owners are fourth, but their moon is waning. Back in 1976, they ranked second behind lawyers at 15.8 percent.

Surely you can come up with something to talk about that doesn’t involve percentages and statistical trends.  Or can you?