Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Unless it's the tally of your lawyers being dismissed from your military commission trial. The ACLU Blog has the story surrounding accused Australian terrorist David Hicks' guilty plea:
No Military Commission proceeding would be complete without a dispute about counsel that nearly derails the case. (See here, and here) Monday's proceedings stuck to the script. The judge asked Hicks whether he was satisfied with his attorneys. He said he was, except that he hoped to add additional lawyers and paralegals so as to achieve "equality" with the prosecution. But precisely the opposite occurred.

First, following a somewhat arcane discussion, the judge ruled preliminarily (while claiming not to) that one of Hicks's lawyers, Rebecca Snyder, could not represent Hicks, because she had been appointed by the chief military defense counsel but was not herself on active duty. This was wrong – and the judge allowed that he might revisit the issue after briefing -- but the result was the first empty chair at Hicks's table.

Next, and far more troubling, the judge stated that Hicks's civilian defense counsel, well-known criminal defense attorney Joshua Dratel, had not submitted a letter indicating his agreement to comply with the rules and regulations of the Commissions, and therefore was not qualified to serve as counsel. Under Commission rules, a civilian lawyer must sign an agreement issued by the Secretary of Defense indicating that the lawyer agrees to abide by the Commission's regulations. The problem for the judge was that the Secretary of Defense had not yet created that agreement, and therefore Dratel could not sign it.

Instead, the judge had created his own version of the agreement – thereby, in Dratel's words, "usurping the authority of the Secretary of Defense." Dratel would have signed even that version – so long as the agreement made clear that it applied only to regulations that already existed, and not to those (and there are many) that have not yet been issued. "I cannot sign a document that provides a blank check on my ethical obligations as a lawyer," Dratel explained. In simple terms, Dratel was unwilling to pledge compliance with rules that he had not yet seen.

The judge was unpersuaded. "I find no merit in the claim that this is beyond my authority," he said. "That's sometimes what courts do, they find a way to move forward." Because Dratel refused to sign the agreement as written by the judge, he could not serve as counsel. There was a second empty chair.

Can we just reiterate that? Hicks' second lawyer was dismissed because he refused to agree to rules that hadn't been written yet. This is the system we're assured is going to provide fair and adequate process to the accused?

Via Michael Froomkin.

And now that the "guilty plea" is in, Kevin Jon Heller remarks: "I certainly hope Hicks gets credit for his five years in Gitmo. Frankly, it should count double."

No comments: