News Release

Conscious counsel denied chance to represent "sleeping lawyer" defendant at new trial

Appellate court urged to reinstate qualified counsel 

Washington, DC (April 15, 2002) -- On Monday the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will jointly file an emergency appeal with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, Texas, on behalf of Calvin Burdine, the capital defendant whose "sleeping lawyer" case helped awaken the nation to the chronic problem of abysmal legal representation in death penalty cases.

The petition asks the court to overturn a recent lower court decision refusing to appoint Burdine's 15-year post-conviction attorney to represent him at his re-trial on capital murder charges.

"The lower court's decision is an intolerable and unlawful interference with the ongoing attorney-client relationship between Mr. Burdine and his longstanding appointed attorney," said Rick Hagen, the attorney filing the petition on behalf of TCDLA and NACDL.

Judge Joan Huffman, District Judge for the 183rd District Court of Harris County, Texas, formerly a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney's office, cited the newly-enacted Texas Fair Defense Act as the basis for refusing the appointment of Robert L. McGlasson, who had represented Burdine as his lead appointed attorney since 1987. She noted that McGlasson's name was not on a list of "qualified" Harris County capital defense attorneys.

"It is the height of irony for the judge to base her decision upon a law whose very purpose is to ensure the appointment of the most qualified attorneys in such cases. Mr. McGlasson is obviously just that; his willingness to continue representing Mr. Burdine should have been welcomed rather than shunned," said Keith Hampton, legislative committee chair for TCDLA.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.