By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"He was nervous about the exonerees being organized, and they have organized," Page says. "He said he would not allow his clients to attend the meetings if he didn't have attorneys there."
In April 2009, Blackburn won the posthumous exoneration of Timothy Cole, a black Texas Tech student convicted of raping a white student in 1985. Cole had died in prison in 1999 after suffering an asthma-induced heart attack. He was 38, and his death was just the rallying cry Glasheen and Blackburn needed to convince state legislators that $50,000 a year — although raised from $25,000 in 2007 to match the federal compensation level — was still insufficient to repay an innocent prisoner.
On May 27, 2009, the Timothy Cole Act was signed by Governor Rick Perry after passing almost unanimously in both the House and Senate. On September 1, less than a year after Glasheen dropped his cases against Dallas, the law took effect. Though they hadn't reached the $250,000-per-year goal Glasheen had targeted, the bill had more than tripled the payout Texan exonerees could collect — and guaranteed Glasneen a flood of legal fees.
The exonerees say they did just as much work as Glasheen to push for the bill's passage, making repeated trips to Austin to tell their stories. But the reality is, legislative staffers say, the law would have never picked up the inertia it did if Glasheen hadn't enlisted support, both from lawmakers and the cities that endorsed the bill.
"One of the selling points for the bill was that Glasheen had pending lawsuits in the cities of Irving and Dallas on behalf of a number of exonerees, and he'd made agreements not to sue them for federal civil rights violations if the compensation increase happened," says Senator Rodney Ellis, a Democrat from Houston who co-authored the bill with Senator Bob Duncan.
Exonerees who apply — and agree to not sue — are now entitled to $160,000 for each year spent in prison. Half of that is doled out immediately in a lump sum. The other half is annuitized and paid out on a monthly basis, collecting 5 percent interest each year until the day the recipient dies or commits a felony.
Under the old law, Phillips would have received roughly $1.2 million — $800,000 after taxes. Under the new one, instead of a one-time payment of $1.2 million, Phillips was due more than $2 million, plus an additional $2 million over the rest of his life. If he lived an additional 30 years, that $2 million could become $3 million, all of it tax-free. Before the law's passage, Kris Moore obtained an IRS exemption so the payouts were viewed as personal injury settlements, which generally aren't taxable. In a dramatic meeting with the agency, Glasheen says, their client, James Woodard, suffered an epileptic seizure. His illness hadn't been properly treated in prison, driving the point home to frightening effect: Everyone comes out of prison damaged in some way.
Glasheen says he also added the language about the annuity to the bill himself, basing it on the structured-settlement mold he'd used for years as a personal injury lawyer.
But when it came time to sign on the dotted line, Phillips balked. He says the payout projection he'd received from Glasheen's firm stunned and angered him. "I realized, good Lord, I'm about to get screwed big time!" Phillips says. He wondered why he was getting a bill when Glasheen had yet to file his lawsuit against the city. "I did not hire him to do that," Phillips says. "I hired him for litigation."
Adding insult to injury: Glasheen's initial take was actually bigger than Phillips'.
According to the contract, Glasheen's fee was 25 percent of the total package — including the present value of the $2 million annuity. Under the terms of their deal, Phillips would get a check up front for a little less than a million dollars; the rest would be paid out over his lifetime, provided he didn't suffer an untimely death or catch a felony conviction. The firm, however, calculated that its entire take, more than a million dollars, should come up front. That left Phillips on the hook for fees based in part on money he didn't yet have — and may never see.
It's a quirk of the new law's conditions. While structured settlements often call for legal fees to be paid up front, that money is legally guaranteed. This money isn't. If Phillips died in a traffic accident tomorrow, the state would stop sending annuity checks — but Glasheen would already have his cut of the cash.
"I'm telling myself, 'No friggin' way!'" Phillips says. "It's not going down like that."
Upon receiving his bill, he stopped returning Glasheen's calls. The firm dispatched a flunky to track him down. Steve Steele, Phillips' old boss at the James Group Ministries, says one of them strode past his secretary, sat down in his office and tried to buttonhole him on the wayward client's whereabouts. As Steele, a Harley-riding Vietnam vet, would later recall, he was "barkin' up the wrong tree."
Phillips fired the firm on September 16, 2009, filed for the compensation on his own, and watched the money come in. He also hired Randy Turner and sued Glasheen, citing breach of contract for failing to pursue a civil suit against the city. A couple of other Glasheen clients defected to Turner's camp, too — James Giles and Patrick Waller, who both chafed at the big-dollar sums Glasheen's firm carved from their payouts. The rest paid up and moved on, waiting to see how the judge comes down on the question.
Also, if the victim knows about the other driver's bad driving record, this factor could be crucial in the determination of liability. In a city where frequent motorcycle accidents happen, like Denver, a motorcycle accident lawyer in Denver should go through the arguments of liability to make sure that the victim did not forget something important. A motorcycle attorney in Denver is able to conduct a thorough investigation that could potentially lead to more supporting evidence in favor of the victim.
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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?
If a lawyer is ripping off a client in Texas, the client should file an official complaint with the Texas Bar Association's Office of Disciplinary Council: http://www.texasbar.com/AM/Tem...
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.......
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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!
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!
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.
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
"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.
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?
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.
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.