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Federal court judge gives Utah defendant an earful

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

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Porter got in one word: "No."

"Yes," the judge cut in. "That’s how it works. You lost because of what you did."

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Porter again objected with a single, "No."

"No? Well, you don’t have to agree with me," Warner said. "But you keep denying it, you’re not going to get a new lawyer. So what do you think about that? You want to keep saying no to me, Mr. Porter? Say it one more time and you’re stuck with Mr. Steele for the duration."

He then added: "Go ahead, get smart-alecky with me. Just say no one more time. You want to say it?"

When Porter apparently demurred, Warner said Porter would get a new attorney to ensure he didn’t have any excuses "when you lose this time."

"And you will lose this time because that’s the nature of this thing," the judge said, while adding he did not know whether Porter was guilty or not.

Warner finished by saying it was Porter’s "last bite of the apple" and he would not "keep playing this business of rotating attorneys, because you don’t have to like or trust them."

Bravo, said Paul Cassell, a former federal court judge and now professor at the University of Utah’s S. J. Quinney School of Law.

Ethical rules for judges "don’t bar plain speaking," he said. "In fact, if anything, the rules encourage judges to make clear to the defendant what is going on in the criminal justice process.

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"It is all too easy to say the only reason I got convicted is because I had a bad defense attorney," Cassell said. "But as Judge Warner was pointing out, it usually has nothing to do with the defense attorney, but with what the defendant has done."

Judges also have a duty to make sure a request for a new attorney isn’t simply a "time-wasting tactic or waste of taxpayer dollars," he said. "Any time you switch lawyers in the middle of a case, it creates a delay."


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