Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Burdine update

The retrial of Calvin Burdine continues to be a total pooch-screw, as two attorneys that Judge Joan Huffman has assigned to assist his court-appointed counsel have been rejected by both Burdine and his lawyer.

State District Judge Joan Huffman appointed Anthony Osso and Dick Wheelan to Burdine’s defense team earlier this week, even though Burdine already has his own attorney and did not ask for the court-ordered assistance.

Danalynn Recer, Burdine’s attorney, said during a hearing Thursday that the judge had “overreached” her authority.

Recer, who took the case for free after Huffman refused to appoint Burdine’s longtime appellate attorney Robert McGlasson of Georgia, opposed the addition of Osso and Wheelan during a hearing Tuesday.

Recer asked Huffman her legal basis and motive for the appointments during another hearing Thursday, but the judge declined to answer. The judge would only say that her intention is to ensure that Burdine has an effective legal defense team.

Huffman said it’s up to Recer whether she will seek the attorneys’ help in the case.

“You can use them, don’t use them — they can sit at trial and not say a word,” Huffman said of Osso and Wheelan. “But, they are here to assist you.”

Recer submitted an affidavit to Huffman during Thursday’s hearing in which Burdine complained about the appointments and stated that he considers Recer and McGlasson to be his attorneys.

Let’s run this one down from the top:

  1. Calvin Burdine’s conviction for the 1983 slaying of his roommate/lover W.T. Wise is overthrown on appeal because his court-appointed attorney slept through much of the trial.
  2. Judge Huffman refuses to allow Robert McGlasson, the attorney who handled all of Burdine’s appeals, to be his counsel for the retrial. The reason for Huffman’s refusal is that McGlasson had the balls to want to be paid for his representation. Burdine is indigent, so the state of Texas would be picking up McGlasson’s tab. Instead, Huffman appoints Danalyn Recer, who had agreed to work pro bono. The ACLU appealed and a federal judge agreed to review Huffman’s decision, but ultimately allowed her ruling to stand. An appeal is pending.
  3. Huffman had originally set an October date for the retrial, which would have given Recer very little time to prepare. After much hue and cry and a rebuke from the editorial page of the Chron, Huffman moves the trial date back.
  4. As this is a death penalty case, the law apparently requires two lawyers for an indigent defendant. Burdine wanted McGlasson, who is helping with the case anyway. Huffman picked two other attorneys for reasons unclear. Both attorneys will make between $400 and $700 per day or up to $30,000 for the case, with Huffman giving final approval to their bill.

Does this make any sense to you? It sure doesn’t to me.

One of the secret problems of Texas criminal justice is the lack of a public defenders office in most counties. Judges appoint defense attorneys for defendants who need them. This often leads to a major conflict of interest. Judges are elected, so they don’t want a reputation for cutting criminals loose. Attorneys who get these appointments have an incentive to please the judge. As a result, the accused often get a defnse that is indifferent, even nonexistant (as was the case with Burdine).

Unfortunately, there’s no remedy for this that doesn’t include money and the public will to do something about it. Neither of those is likely any time soon, so we get the spectacles like this one.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts


  1. Lois Hayes says:

    I find this to Judge Joan Huffman’s usual “over reaction” and control mode. I have a brother whose wife perjured herself in Judge joan Huffman’s court. The jury returneda guility verdict,but found no cause to punish nor imprison my brother. The judge derogratory remarks and ordered my brother to be incarceratedfor 30 days durng the holidays, ordered stiff penalties, fines, remedial activities so harsh and regimental that causes my brother who served in areas that proctected the USA and NASA for 21 years, has lost his positions, benefits, and children. His reputation and good name is gone, his highly tchnical skills for NASA and the Government is gone, his ability to find work is gone, because he cannot leave Harris County(this has been now for almost 2yrs, and he would be in prison if he goes home. Is this Justice? Oh yes he was appointed a lawyer who did not show. He as done what the court asked and during the summer I kept my neice and nephew so he could complete the community service and he is being punished for completing this by being put in countinuous counseling sessions. Yet the judge knew that my sister in law had lied. She has not had any thing done to her. My neice and nephew miss their father and my neice thinks that she is the cause of her father not eing at home because of the questions the court asked her and what her mom told her to do! My neice is now 8yrs oldd and my nephew is 6 yrs old. I am angry and very let down by the judicial system in Harris County, because my brother is a sensitive, loving and good father and was a good husband to a demanding wife of a diffenrent culture. I and my brother worked hard for him to reach the job level and awards he received at NASA. All of his life and career to be undone by a known lie.

  2. Nicole Richardson says:

    Judge Joan Huffman is a perfect example of “Texas” Justice. My husband is currently serving a 25 year sentence for a car accident. Car accidents happen everyday. He was not drunk or intoxicated in any manner. There was even evidence of perjury on HPD. Before his sentencing she set is bail at a quarter of a million dollars. He’s not a super star, just a family man that was bearly making ends meet. The court appointed attorney just so happened to be her niece. What is to be done? I am so glad that she can no longer impose her oppressive powers on another family. Because of her malice my three sons, now 8,7 and 6, have been without their father for 3 years and at least 9 more to go before he is eligible for parole, since without evidence she let the vehicle be displayed as a weapon.

  3. […] note, in searching around for info about Calvin Burdine and his snoozing attorney, I came across this old blog post that detailed some fun and games then-District Court Judge, now State Sen. Joan Huffman played in […]