Editorial By Jack Thorton
Since the allocation of $5.48 million to aid in the expanded roles and added responsibilities of the Public Defense Commission, there has been no small debate over how exactly to make these reforms. The Public Defense Commission has proposed new rules. However these rules have been viewed by many, including the ACLU, as being inadequate in addressing all of the deficiencies within Idahos Public Defense system. Many of these issues are addressed in the “Idaho’s Principles of an Indigent Defense Delivery System” IC 19-850(a)(vii). The Principles are as follows:
- The delivery of indigent defense services is independent
- Attorneys have confidential space to meet with client
- Workload controls are in place
- Funding of public defense is independent
- Ability, training and experience match case complexity
- Offices provide vertical representation
- Resource parity between defense and prosecution
- Continuing legal education
- Quality assurance through routine review
- Representation free from conflicts
Although these principles may seem to be comprehensive and highly compelling on the surface, what many do not understand is that these principles are covered quite extensively in Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct-which have been in effect since November 1, 1986. Reiterating the same rules in 2017 will not of and by themselves induce any changes. What is missing in this whole equation is enforcement of the existing rules that are already in place.
For instance, I was following up on a previous article that included the case of Byron Lee Sanchez. It can be read here:
Sanchez had alleged that he had received highly inadequate, if not highly unethical, representation from his Court appointed Public Defense attorneys in his felony injury to a child case. I interviewed his current Public Defense Attorney, Nancy Callahan of Gem County, and the findings were quite alarming. Not only did Callahan make multiple statements about how she felt her client was arrogant, an alcoholic, likes to brag, won’t listen to reason and that he willfully broke conduct rules in prison. She also clearly indicated that she didn’t agree with the Post Conviction Relief petition – that she is supposed to be representing him on!
Byron Sanchez claimed that his first attorney, Carter Winters, had been representing his ex-wife in the child custody case against him the same time he was supposed to be defending him in the criminal case. So in one case Winters is supposed to be making the case that Sanchez is an unfit parent and custody of the children should be given to his ex-wife. In the other case (taking place simultaneously) Winters is supposed to be making the case that Sanchez is a fully responsible parent and that he is no danger to his children. When I asked Callahan about this, she indicated that Winters did not know there was a conflict with representing both parties, but as soon as he did, he took the initiative to remove himself from the case. However I found this not to be correct. First- at no time would there not be a conflict of interest in representing both parties. Secondly- I learned that Byron Sanchez himself filed the pro-se petition to have Carter Winters removed. Winters did not take the initiate to have himself removed- Sanchez did.
Byron Sanchez also told me in an interview that Judge Tyler Smith allowed him to retain his parental rights because he was not convinced that he did injure his 17 year old child. When I asked Nancy Callahan to confirm this statement, she wouldn’t answer the question. I asked her directly four times and she refused to answer the question. If the statements made by Sanchez weren’t true why wouldn’t she just say so?
During my interview with Nancy Callahan, she was well aware that I was a journalist. And yet she had no hesitation in making multiple derogatory statements against her client (statements I believe were highly inaccurate). However when I asked her questions that may benefit her client’s case – she refused to answer! And the icing on the cake is the fact that Byron Sanchez did not give Callahan permission to interview with me! Many of the rules of Professional Conduct that Callahan violated are not rocket science. Lack of education is not the issue here. This is commons sense- don’t trash talk your client to the media. No one forced Nancy Callahan to take Byron Sanchez as her client. And if her interview with me is any indication of how she is representing him in court, it is no wonder that Sanchez is still in prison.
The Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct were set in place by the Idaho State Bar. The mission of the Idaho State Bar is to “protect the public from the unauthorized practice of law and from unprofessional conduct by members of the bar”. However this is clearly not being done. The lawsuit made by the ACLU should have been directed towards the Idaho State Bar’s President Michelle R. Points- not Governor Otter. If Idaho is serious about reforming its public defense system more rules and committees are not necessary – enforcement is.
What is the solution to reform Idaho’s Public Defense System? Enforce the laws and policies that are already in place.