Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Thomas Burr | Pool, The Salt Lake Tribune) Murder suspect Patrick L. Daniel appears in 6th District Court in Richfield with his attorney, John Hummel. Hummel will stand trial Monday in a Panguitch courtroom on seven felony counts of theft or attempted theft by extortion. The charges could add up to 65 years in prison.
Case against Utah attorney puts focus on public defenders

Courts » John Hummel is accused of taking cash, guns and electronics from indigent clients.

First Published Jan 28 2013 08:02 am • Last Updated May 05 2013 11:33 pm

The attorney waited until he was alone in the room with his client. He laid out the options, explained how much time he or she could spend behind bars. He said he could help — for a price.

According to court documents, that’s how former Garfield County public defender John E. Hummel, 54, did business with at least seven clients in 2008 and 2009. He demanded money, firearms, electronics, anything of value in exchange for legal representation, the documents state.

At a glance

Have a problem with your attorney?

There is no formal process in place for reporting lawyer misconduct. Experts encourage clients to contact the Utah State Bar with concerns. Visit www.utahbar.org or call 801-531-9077.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The only problem?

Hummel was already being paid by taxpayers to represent those clients, all of whom were ruled indigent by the court — too poor to afford a private attorney.

On Monday, the attorney will appear in a Panguitch courtroom to stand trial for seven felony counts of theft or attempted theft by extortion. The charges could add to 65 years in prison.

Prosecutors will attempt to convince a jury that Hummel used his power and influence as an attorney to con clients.

These accusations, experts said, are extremely unusual. Most attorneys who spoke to The Tribune said they had never heard of a case like it.

But they also saidthis rare instance nonetheless highlights systemic problems with Utah’s public defense system, which experts say asks attorneys to do too much for too little.

Also, unless lawyers are criminally charged or publicly reprimanded, there is no way to track this kind of corruption. Clients have little to no guidance in reporting these practices. Nor do government officials have to report public defenders they suspect of corruption to judges, or anyone else.

"Criminal defense lawyers are overwhelmingly well-intentioned and honest," said Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "But like any other walk of life, there are going to be exceptions."

story continues below
story continues below

29 different ways » There is no formal process for reporting bad public defenders.

The body that regulates lawyers in Utah is called the Utah State Bar. It investigates and prosecutes instances of lawyer misconduct, but it can only investigate the claims it knows about.

Some accusations may never make it past the county government.

Two years ago, a rumor swept through the Washington County courthouse: an attorney was charging his indigent client for services he said were not covered by his public defender contract.

When news reached county officials, they acted quickly, removed all future clients from the attorney’s calender and stopped giving him new cases, said Washington County government spokesman Dean Cox.

They also terminated his contract.

Although charging a client is a direct violation of the public defender agreement and would allow the county to fire an attorney with only a week’s notice, the county instead chose to terminate the defender’s contract "without cause," in which they gave him 90 days notice and never explained the reason why.

"It was the fastest and most efficient way of doing it without launching a major investigation," Cox said. "It probably would have come to the same conclusion."

Indigent clients are often unfamiliar with the legal process. They may not understand their rights or who they can turn to if they feel violated by their lawyer.

Cox said Washington County did not make any report to the State Bar. Counties are under no obligation to report ethical issues to any outside body. And, because each county handles their public defense system independently, they each have slightly different methods.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.