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Joseph Fleming Porter. Credit: Davis County Jail
Federal court judge gives Utah defendant an earful

Man is told “where you’ve done something wrong ... you’ll lose.”

First Published Sep 28 2012 07:52 pm • Last Updated Jan 07 2013 11:32 pm

Joseph F. Porter may have learned more about the federal justice system than he wanted to know after he asked a magistrate judge this week to assign him a new attorney.

The request sparked a pointed speech from U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Paul Warner about defendants’ odds of prevailing in criminal court cases.

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"If you take a case to trial, where you’ve done something wrong ... you’ll lose," Warner told Porter. "That’s how it works. Ninety-five percent of the time, they lose. Maybe 98 percent of the time, they lose. You know why they lose? Because they’re guilty."

A grand jury indicted Porter earlier this year for bank fraud and mail theft, and he is awaiting trial in the Davis County jail.

Porter wrote a letter to the court asking for a hearing to address his representation, saying there had been a "complete breakdown in communication and irreconcilable differences" with attorney Robert Steele, who works for the Federal Defender’s Office.

"I feel I can’t trust any lawyer out of the federal defender," Porter wrote. He said Steele represented him and lost a 2007 case involving a firearm.

Porter is now being prosecuted for allegedly taking checks from someone else’s mail and depositing them in his bank account.

The request landed in Warner’s courtroom, and what follows is from an audio recording from the Tuesday hearing.

Steele told Warner that Porter wanted new counsel because he was "very concerned" about the prior lost case.

"There’s no personal animosity at all, but he’s just worried about that," Steele said.

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Warner then explained to Porter that no one likes to lose, although "it’s possible for even the best [attorneys] to lose."

"More often than not, unless you have the facts, you’re not going to win the case," Warner added. "It’s just that simple."

But Porter was unswayed.

"I feel that I want another lawyer," he told Warner. "If I’m going to go all the way here, I’d rather have a different lawyer to go all the way with. I don’t want to lose twice with the same lawyer."

That vexed the judge.

"I’m going to give you a new lawyer, Mr. Porter," Warner told him. "But let me explain something to you. You don’t deserve one.

"No?" Porter asked. "Why is that?"

Warner said it was a "great" question.

"I said you don’t deserve a new lawyer, he’s fine, he’s competent, he’s doing the job," Warner said of Steele. "The fact that he lost a case doesn’t mean a thing. ... It has a lot more to do with the facts and what you did than what he could do to help you."

Warner said Steele was one of the most competent, hardworking, ethical and caring defenders in town.

"You were fortunate to have him, even if you lost," the judge said. "He didn’t lose, you did."

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