Defending the Indefensible

Do court-appointed attorneys serve their clients or the courts?

"But I never wavered, as far as my representation of him. And I think that was my true test. That was my true test that I could do this business. And it is a business. But I don't bullshit, and I don't lie, and my reputation is good."

Mock, who grew up in Houston's Fourth and Fifth wards and got his law degree at Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law 15 years ago, says he has gone on to represent some of the worst offenders the system has to offer. He maintains that judges continue to pick him to work such cases not because they want to make sure the bastards are put away, but because he does good work that won't be overturned on appeal.

"I deal with the worst cases that come through Harris County," says Mock, who estimates that 99 percent of his business is court-appointed. "The absolute worst. I mean totally heinous. Anything from oral and anal sodomy on your biological mother to baby-killings to just senseless capital murders. I do 'em all. Most of my cases go to trial. I don't give the state nothing. Ain't no gimmes. Ain't no getting close. This ain't horseshoes and hand grenades."

Ron Mock has probably received most of his notoriety for the work -- or, some say, the lack thereof -- he did representing Texas death row inmate Gary Graham. After a grassroots effort to save Graham's life, the Graham case has for the past year been the focus of local and national media attention.

In 1981 Graham was convicted -- primarily on the testimony of one eyewitness -- of killing Arizona resident Bobby Lambert in the parking lot of a Houston grocery store. Graham (who admitted having been on an extremely violent crime spree shortly before Lambert's murder) and his supporters now say that Mock, Graham's court-appointed attorney, provided what is known in legal terms as "ineffective assistance of counsel" by failing to present several witnesses who could have testified to Graham's possible innocence. A state appeals court is currently considering whether Graham should be granted a new trial.

Mock says he is being wrongly made a scapegoat by the Graham forces. But he seems more hurt than angry that they would question his ability and effort while serving as Graham's attorney.

"When you sign on for a penny you sign on for a pound," Mock says philosophically. "You know when you sign on for a capital murder case, ten years down the road somebody's going to second- guess what you did. So, I don't have any bad feelings about it. I don't have any mixed feelings about it. It's one of those things that happens, that I've had happen before, that will happen again. And it doesn't really bother me that much. Because I know in my own heart and in my own mind that I did everything I was supposed to in Gary Graham's case.

"His folks never came down," continues Mock. "His good-talking father that's down here now, and all those witnesses. Nobody came forward. The only people we could find to say anything about Gary Graham said it bad. My only concern is, that's the only [case] I'm really not sure of. [Prosecution witness] Bernadine Skillern was a very credible witness. I mean, as strong as an acre of garlic. But it's the only [crime] that in my own mind that I'm not sure that he did. And it concerned me from day one. Because when you're talking about killing somebody on the testimony of one eyewitness, it bothers me."

Attorney Bob Tarrant, a widely respected attorney whom Mock describes as one of his best friends, also believes that Mock has received undue criticism for his handling of the Graham trial.

"I think Mock is an excellent lawyer," Tarrant said in a telephone interview, in which he gave a qualified endorsement of Mock. "I don't see anything wrong with appointing Mock to all those [capital murder] cases. He knows what he's doing, and if he doesn't know what he's doing he goes and asks somebody or goes and researches and finds out what's there. Maybe he did miss something in [the Graham case]. But, shit, I've missed something in cases, too. Everybody can't be perfect."

Jim Lindeman, a former prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney's office, agrees with Tarrant's assessment of Mock, although he jokingly refers to the court-appointed attorney system as the "continued employment system."

"I like Ron," said Lindeman, who is currently seeking a position on the Harris County Commissioners Court. "I think he's controversial. But I like him, and I think he, in the cases I've seen, has done a good job for his clients. RonÕs sometimes very gentlemanly and easygoing in court. But then in the trial, you realize he is not going to sit back and be passive, as he might appear at times."

But many of Mock's legal colleagues, several of whom did not wish to be named, take a dimmer view of his legal skills and, more specifically, of his work habits.

"I like Ron Mock," said an attorney who has handled several capital murder cases. "Ron Mock is not a bad lawyer. He has got a lot of talent as a trial lawyer. He is good with juries. He's sharp. He's no dummy. Ronnie Mock's problem is that he really doesn't care. It's as simple as that."

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