April 27, 2009
Sanctions sought for deadline-missing attorney

This is a necessary step, but it is not a sufficient one.

Texas' highest criminal court has asked the State Bar of Texas to investigate a San Antonio attorney who missed critical deadlines in four recent death row appeals -- actions that jeopardized inmates' chances of obtaining further legal review before execution.

The Chronicle reported on Monday that San Antonio attorney Suzanne Kramer was among a handful of lawyers statewide who repeatedly missed death row deadlines but continued to get capital murder assignments.

On Wednesday, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeal found Kramer in contempt of court for failing again to properly file inmate Juan Castillo's appeal -- originally due in December 2006 . Kramer was fined $250, removed from Castillo's case and referred to the chief disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas, the opinion shows.

The court removed her from three out of four late cases in 2008, but at the time continued to allow her to represent Castillo.

We've heard about Ms. Kramer before. She has been paid $86,577 in fees by Bexar County since 2007, according to that Chron story, though she was not paid for the cases where she missed deadlines. That she needs to be held accountable for her unprofessional behavior is clear, but what's equally clear is that courts need to stop assigning attorneys like her to these cases in the first place. There should also be a process to take already-assigned cases away from them once they've demonstrated they can't handle them. Until we fix that, we're not fully addressing the problem.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 27, 2009 to Crime and Punishment
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