Incompetent Lawyer or Incompetent System?

On October 9, 2009, a hearing committee of the Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommended dismissal of all disciplinary charges lodged against Baton Rouge criminal-defense lawyer Kevin P. Monahan. See In re Monahan, 08-DB-050 (LADB HC Oct. 9, 2009). ODC sought permanent disbarment of Mr. Monahan for his allegedly incompetent pro bono representation of Walter “Joey” Koon in a 1995 death-penalty trial in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The hearing committee found, however, that Mr. Monahan’s representation was consistent with then-prevailing (albeit low) Louisiana standards for capital defense in the 1993-1995 timeframe. Among other things, “[r]esources were not made available on either a timely or unfettered basis to criminal defendants or their counsel” to handle capital cases, and lawyers who undertook “on a voluntary basis” to represent capital defendants received little assistance. Said the committee:

neither [the district judge] nor the Louisiana Supreme Court appears to this Committee, during the time periods at issue, to have required that any attorney, much less Mr. Monahan, tow the line in following the ABA Standards. . . . Thus, if the courts of the State of Louisiana, during the applicable time period at issue, did not impose upon Mr. Monahan (and attorneys like him who practice in this area of law) to follow the ABA Standards, the Committee is loathe to understand or to justify how it could now, fourteen years later, even at the behest or insistence upon ODC, insist that Mr. Monahan should have done so.

The committee’s decision is an historically accurate and well-founded indictment of Louisiana’s sub-par indigent defense system in the early 1990s. In the end, the committee found that Mr. Monahan should not be the whipping boy for pervasive institutional problems that he did not create.  (Disclaimer: Mr. Monahan was represented by blog author Dane S. Ciolino.)

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