Kevin Glasheen Fought to See Innocent Prisoners Compensated, Then Fought To Take Millions For Himself

The Lubbock lawyer teamed up with Innocent Project lawyer Jeff Blackburn to see the state compensation for exonerees raised. Now both men are under fire from their clients.

In the fall of 2008, Kris Moore says, he got on a conference call with Dallas' city attorneys, attempting to schedule a slate of hearings. "They said, 'Be honest, how many more are you planning on filing?'" Moore recalls. He began to list the other suits they planned to file. "There was silence on the other end of the line." (The City Attorney's Office had not responded to questions from the Observer at press time.)

Shortly after, at a brainstorming session in Glasheen's office, they devised a plan: Why deal with the headache and uncertainty of litigation when you can get more money for all of the clients at once, by petitioning the legislature to raise the compensation rate? Both Moore and Glasheen claim they ran the idea past their clients and got thumbs up all around.

So on October 28, 2008, in a letter to Dallas' attorneys, Glasheen proposed a highly unusual settlement: Help us lobby the legislature to increase the compensation to $250,000 for every year imprisoned. In exchange, Glasheen would drop the lawsuits.

Exonerated prisoners like Steven Phillips have been paid millions by the state. But no one's made more than their lawyers.
Danny Fulgencio
Exonerated prisoners like Steven Phillips have been paid millions by the state. But no one's made more than their lawyers.
Jeff Blackburn, the Innocence Project of Texas' chief legal counsel, has come under fire for fees he took from exonerated prisoners.
Danny Fulgencio
Jeff Blackburn, the Innocence Project of Texas' chief legal counsel, has come under fire for fees he took from exonerated prisoners.

He was rebuffed once again, but the pressure on the city was growing, from legislators like Texas Representative Rafael Anchia, ministers, news stories and a budget shortfall that increased calls for austerity over litigation. As more men convicted in Dallas were exonerated on DNA evidence — more than a dozen have been cleared since Watkins took office in 2007 — the kind of pattern Glasheen needed was rapidly emerging.

Finally, in March 2009, after months of stalled negotiations, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert agreed to join Glasheen's cause in the 81st Texas Legislature. Irving was in too, but support from a couple municipalities didn't mean legislation was guaranteed. Of all the states in the union to take the lead on exoneree compensation, smart money would have steered clear of Texas. And there was no guarantee Glasheen's clients wouldn't pursue a civil rights action anyway.

But Glasheen hadn't yet played all his cards. A perennial GOP donor, his firm wields significant political clout in North Texas, particularly with Senator Bob Duncan, a Lubbock Republican. Duncan agreed to carry the bill through the Senate as a cost-saving measure for cities.

Meanwhile, Glasheen had clients to manage. Many of them had forgotten how to live on the outside. They were often unemployable. Persistent health problems made their lives expensive and messy, and sex offenses are hard to scrub from a criminal background even for the exonerated.

Betting on success, the firm bankrolled its clients' living expenses. Glasheen says the payments are common in personal injury work, and says he advanced $1 million to the exonerees he represented, including Phillips. They were forgoing the quick and easy buck, Glasheen says, so it was up to him to provide in the meantime. The law allows for "necessary and reasonable" advances for living expenses, he says, like the $2,500 he paid to have a cancerous lesion removed from Phillips' skin and the insurance premium on that Toyota.

But Glasheen often stretched the definition of "reasonable," leaving his critics convinced that the advances were nothing but golden handcuffs. The payments appeared designed to induce the recently released men into signing contracts they'd later regret, and to entice others to sign up, too.

Johnnie Lindsey, a Dallas exoneree, served 26 years for a rape he didn't commit. When he got out in 2008, he says, Glasheen tried to entice him with a car and a check. At the time, Lindsey was one of the longest-serving exonerees. He was due a hefty payout if Glasheen's efforts at the capitol panned out. Lindsey wouldn't sign on the dotted line, but he watched as others did. "It's like taking a hungry dog that hasn't eaten for a week and settin' a steak in front of him and telling him not to eat," he says.

The money continued after the clients signed up. Glasheen's firm paid for Billy James Smith's wedding. "What can you do when you've got a guy who wants to get married and he wants to have a wedding?" Glasheen says. James Woodard, an epileptic wrongfully convicted of murdering his girlfriend, got money to buy his fiancée a car. It was an advance hard to claim as "reasonable," seeing that Woodard's fiancée was Joyce King, a former CBS Radio News anchor and an Innocence Project of Texas board member. King was on Glasheen's payroll, he says, charged with looking after Woodard when the two fell in love. (He quit paying her, he says.)

With their clients sufficiently dependent, Glasheen and his firm kept them coming back to the well for monthly advances. Jaimie Page, a social-work professor formerly at the University of Texas at Arlington, organized the Texas Exoneree Project, which provides post-release assistance. Someone from the firm was always there to monitor the exoneree group meetings she moderated, she says.

"I think the money he was dangling in front of them A) kept them under control, B) helped them, but C) he's in Lubbock," she says, so he couldn't actually help them. "There's no case management,"

Glasheen disagrees, saying his services went beyond advances. He hired a lawyer to manage the client's personal affairs, counsel them, even drive them to the DMV to get their driver's licenses. But Page says the firm's ministrations were suffocating. When she tried to arrange mental-health counseling for exonerees, to address the memories and traumas of prison, she says she met only resistance from Glasheen, who later threatened to sue for tortious interference. He viewed her contributions as intrusions, she says, like she was cutting in on his action.

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23 comments
colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

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EricG7676
EricG7676

We would also like to see a story with the list of names of the prosecuting attornies that wrongfully prosecuted. Who are they? Where are they now? Have those prosecuting attornies also wrongfully prosecuted others in the past? Are those prosecuting attornies currently wrongfully prosecuting others?

B Jjj
B Jjj

Without Glasheen these people wouldnt be getting the extra cash.....and Glasheen put his own cash and time on the line on a risky venture........now that his efforts pay off they dobn't like the agreement.....they took Glasheen's cash and cars because they were backed into a corner...so what? No one else was offering........

I'm not a big fan of lawyers but Glasheen had the plan to bring in the big money and now that he has they tell him to eff off........I guess Glasheen should have expected it considering the people he was dealing with.......

circeherbivora
circeherbivora

So, how much work DID the lawyers perform on his case before he "fired" them? Did he wait until it was all over but the shouting and try to complete the last paperwork for himself to avoid their bills? Did he pay them ANYTHING for their efforts?What was the contract he originally signed with them? Details- please!

malasangre
malasangre

shut your bitch ass up? good one

Srvnutt
Srvnutt

People seem to forget that it's a LEGAL system....NOT a JUSTICE system. There's a big difference.

Guest
Guest

Texas is a test-case. I hope that the end-result of these lawsuits, including the lawsuit against Glasheen by the State Bar of Texas (SBOT), will be the establishment of clear, fair, policy changes. We need clarified policies put forth by both the judicial and legislative branches that will 1) benefit exonerees first and foremost, 2) prevent attorney exploitation, 3) make a way for attorneys (who are actually responsible for the release of those wrongfully convicted, meaning they did the work!) to be fairly paid according to the law. Phillips, Waller, and Giles are brave and have all my respect. Blackburn has been an innocence movement maverick, and will regain respect in time. Dallas and Texas started an amazing innocence movement. Let's keep it going! Judges, legislators, and SBOT -- please do what's right!

Sidewinder
Sidewinder

If all of this was spelled out a little clearer in the beginning then we wouldn't be having this little squabble. Who's responsibility is it to get things clarified in the first place so there's no question about clients getting taken advantage of? I see a bright line between traditional legal work and lobbying for legislation that needs to be spelled out clearly in any contingency fee agreement. The absence of such clarifying language should set the benefit of the doubt toward the client. More specifically, a vague "services rendered" should not include lobbying for legislation. The implication for "services rendered" clearly resides within the domain of traditional legal representation. This obfuscation puts the client at a lack of bargaining power in setting the terms of the transaction (if the client had known he could have arrived at an amount based upon the effort put forth relative to the number of other exonerees under contract with the attorney). I feel that the judge is misguided in considering what is fair for the attorney when the proper consummation of the engagement seemingly never took place. Now the exoneree is out additional legal fees in order to clarify what was inadequately spelled out in the first place.

Kevin_Glasheen
Kevin_Glasheen

I represented Steven. When he hired us, we were already representing 12 other exonorees. Steven signed a contract to pay us 25% of state statutory compensation, or 40% of recovery in civil rights litigation. If the clients accepted state statutory compensation, they had to give up their right to pursue civil rights litigation the clients didn't want to accept the state statutory compensation because it only paid 50k per year of incarceration. (20 years = 1 million). We had filed 7 civil rights lawsuits.

We made a deal with the city of dallas to put the litigation on hold while the legislature was in session, to see if we could get the state statutory compensation increased enough to satisfy our clients. The legislature increased compensation to 160k/yr of incarceration, half cash and half paid out over the claimant's lifetime, with interest. (Under the new law 20 years = 3.2 million vs just 1 million under the old law.).

Most of the clients elected to take statutory compensation. A couple of clients proceeded with litigation. Steven indicated he wanted statutory compensation. One week before the law went into effect Steven fired us and filed for statutory compensation.on his own. He then sued us to try to void the contract. Steven has never paid us anything, nor has he offered to.

My law firm spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars on these claims, with no assurance of a recovery. The litigation could have proceeded, at each client's option. Statutory compensation is not a "sure thing" either. We have had to take several statutory compensation claims up to the Texas Supreme Court in order to compel the State to pay.

Most clients then elected

Scott Henson
Scott Henson

"If all of this was spelled out a little clearer in the beginning then we wouldn't be having this little squabble."

There's some truth to that, but I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that in this case all that was indeed spelled out clearly, certainly orally if not in the fee agreement (which I have not seen).

I happen to have been the only non-exoneree, non-attorney in the room in 2009 when Glasheen et. al. spoke to his clients (in a hotel conference room in Dallas) about restructuring their fee agreements if Ellis/Anchia's legislation passed increasing compensation amounts. Glasheen lowered his fee from 40% to 25% if the civil suits he'd filed were settled because the clients chose state compensation. (Remember, all these men had rejected state compensation at lower rates and chosen instead to sue.) All the issues discussed in this article (and quite a few others) were debated at great length, with exonerees (including some now suing Glasheen) asking plenty of questions and receiving what IMO were honest answers.

Having literally been in the room - I was there to give a legislative update so the exonerees would know first-hand exactly where the compensation bill stood - I can tell you I personally did not feel like anyone was misled or taken advantage of. Whether some state bar fee rule was violated I do know know, but as far as whether anyone was misled: Absolutely not. In retrospect, people look at the increase in compensation as inevitable, but really it happened in large part BECAUSE it settled all these cases. (There was a tort-reform aspect to the compensation bill that's often ignored but was key to GOP support, reducing lawsuits against cities and counties, especially in the Dallas area.)

Hindsight is 20/20, and nobody likes giving lawyers a cut of their legal winnings after the fact. But without contingency contracts, poor folks can't get into civil court, and all these exonerees hired Glasheen expressly because they made a choice not to accept the lower compensation amount ($50K flat per year falsely incarcerated, no annuity), just like after 2009 they could have chosen to reject the higher compensation amount and move forward with their suits. These were grown men making informed decisions, IMO, not suckers being duped. Bottom line: Even giving their lawyers 25%, everybody is better off than they would have been if they'd never hired Glasheen and taken the $50K compensation they were entitled to upon release. Which is exactly why they all took the deal: Not because they were marks for some greedy lawyer, but out of rational self interest.

circeherbivora
circeherbivora

Thank you, Mr. Glasheen. Unfortunately the comment system seems to have cut off the rest of your post, but I get the idea. I can't say that everyone will understand. People LOVE to pillory lawyers, but they forget that many of them are technicians, artists even, and devote hours upon hours to their craft. There's a reason that law school is very difficult and very expensive! Shoddy legal work can destroy a person as thoroughly as a slipshod doctor can. The attorneys on this case (you) deserve to be paid too- and how much is it worth to have your freedom and your life back? I'm sorry those prisoners thought they won the lottery and didn't have to share- but they didn't get out on their own. It took months of sweat and man-hours to do it- so what do they think is a fair payment for that?

You may say I'm a dreamer
You may say I'm a dreamer

Really, if you work for or even around the lawyers, as you and Circeherbivora do, you are not unbiased. The real crime is that no organization or entity would lobby the legislature on the behalf of the wrongfully convicted without the expectation of huge compensation. No one, least of all the Innocence Project of Texas, would do it simply because it's the right thing to do. That's what's missing from this story, that kind of analysis. We are so jaded that no one expects anything unless it's for the mighty dollar. I have no doubt that the lawyers, though skilled at their craft and very well connected in the good ole boy network that prevails in Texas, were in it first, for the money, and second, for the glory.

circeherbivora
circeherbivora

My mistake. Allow me to correct my thought. Ahem. Phillips accepted Glasheen's assistance in the HOPES of receiving a large compensation pay off. He received not ONLY legal assistance but also medical and financial aid and even a car. All of which, given his criminal history PRIOR to the wrongful conviction, he was probably desperately in need of. Personally, I would have been profoundly grateful- its hard enough to find work or a helping hand, especially in this economy.

But not Phillips. When he saw in writing how much money was involved, dollar signs flashed in his eyes and he forgot how much he had promised to his benefactor, in fact, how much he was indebted to him.

Folks, do you realize there are still states that won't even remove the conviction from a person's file once they've been exonerated? They still have to pay a fee to remove it! So, getting that compensation was a HUGE victory. Apparently people think it all happened by magic and for free.

Guest
Guest

The exonerees were already freed as a result of work done by attorneys other than Glasheen.

 
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