Defending the Indefensible

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

"Against this backdrop," the appeal continues, "it is hardly surprising that the counsel failed to perform their responsibility in capital litigation competently or, as Mr. Mock so colorfully put it when questioned about the number of times that the courts have found his legal representation lacking, "Shit happens; it just happens.'"

Mock discussed his work habits and his lifestyle with the Chronicle in 1986: "I try more cases than most law firms. I do 40 jury trials a year. I work four days a week in trial, and then spend three days a week preparing. I work, I drink a lot of whiskey, and I'm married to a little woman who kicks ass. I have to be home by dark." (Mock recently told the Press that he and his wife are now separated.)

Robert Jones is a lawyer who lives near Mock and is familiar with his work. Jones believes that Mock may have tried too many capital cases in too short a time, but he stops short of saying Mock is burned out or jaded.

"I don't know if it's burned out," reasoned Jones, "because [Mock] keeps going back. "Burned out" means you say, "Look, I don't want any more. I don't want to deal with it." But you can become narrow in your approach. It's something of that nature. You lose sight of the fact that you have to use all your talents. You have to be innovative. You have to be far-sighted. You have to continually question the fairness of what's occurring."

Jones also believes that Mock may have had those attributes at one time.
"But I have heard him say things that would cause me to believe [otherwise now]," Jones said.

As for the suggestions that Mock is a heavy drinker, Jones said only that "this is hard work, and lawyers get depressed." But he also said he did once offer Mock some advice.

"I made a statement to him once, I believe," said Jones, "that I would not be satisfied as a lawyer trying capital cases until I went to death row, and there was a person that I had represented and would be executed. And that I would sit and watch his execution. And then I would decide whether I ever wanted to try another capital [murder case]. Because I wanted to be sure that I knew what the ultimate result of what I was doing would be. I think you'd probably have fewer lawyers trying capital cases if everybody had to go to death row and watch somebody die."

But after he'd spoken with Mock, Jones said, the controversial attorney maintained the attitude that "'somebody's got to do it. They're guilty and that's that.'

"I think [Mock] is a decent human being," continued Jones, "who should probably step back and think about this. And I think any lawyer who does a lot of capital cases probably should step back and think about it. You're supposed to get better as you do something over and over again. But I don't know if capital cases are like that."

Mock, meanwhile, maintains that his clients are well-represented in court, a place he dearly loves.

"I had planned to be a corporate labor lawyer," says Mock, "but I fell into this. The advocacy part of it attracted me.

"But I do it like my mama raised me. With respect and dignity. I don't disrespect anybody, but I'll fight like hell for them. And they'll probably carry me out of the goddamn court house on a stretcher when I die."

Robert Jones also warns against focusing only on Mock when it comes to adequate representation of the indigent, especially in capital murder cases.

"I think if you direct [the story] at Mock, you'll miss the boat," advised Jones, who believes that Mock is just one example of the problem. Each day in the Harris County Criminal Courthouse begins with lawyers -- some good, some not so good -- jockeying to be appointed to cases in various courts. The process is the same for all district courts, except those presided over by a handful of judges who have hired one or two lawyers to handle all their indigent cases.

"Lawyers are sitting in the jury box like crows on a fence, waiting for the judge to parcel out the little pieces of bread," said attorney Randy Schaffer. Schaffer believes that some judges are more interested in moving their docket than in justice.

"They've got some defendant who's just been arrested up to the bench," Schaffer continues, "and [the judge] qualifies the defendant as being indigent. [He] looks in the jury box and picks out lawyer X and says, 'Lawyer X, you've been appointed to represent Mr. Jones. Get together with the state. Review the state's file. Talk to your client. And then let me know what can be done to resolve the case today.

According to Schaffer, the court-appointed attorney system is in desperate need of improvement and refinement, if not an entire overhaul, on many different levels -- but especially when it comes to appointing attorneys in capital murder cases.

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