When I represented former Arizona death row inmate Warren Sumerlin in United States District Court on his Petition for Habeas Corpus I thought I had seen everything that could possibly go wrong in a criminal case. The State court judge that presided over Mr. Summerlin's case was a chronic drug user and was likely under the influence of marijuana both during the trial and when he sentenced him to death. Mr. Summerlin's defense attorney, a former nun, was having a sexual relationship with the prosecutor while the case was pending, and a substitute attorney failed to present mitigating evidence during his sentencing. It was only due to the hard work and talent of the Arizona Federal Public Defender's Capital Habeas Unit that Mr. Summerlin's death sentence was finally overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and he was resentenced to life in prison.
Over time I began to realize that the conduct of the judges and lawyers in Mr. Summerlin's case wasn't particularly unusual and that the roots of depravity in the criminal justice system seem to run very deep.
Take, for example, the following stories that appeared in the news over the past thirty days:
- The Minnesota Supreme Court suspended a lawyer for 90 days following his conviction on charges that he snorted cocaine in the courthouse lawyer's lounge during breaks in a jury trial in which he was representing a murder suspect.
- The chief criminal judge of the Albuquerque District Court was arrested and charged with raping a prostitute.
- A former judge that had previously been sent to prison for masturbating with a penis pump during a murder trial was arrested for DUI and possession of a controlled substance.
- A former Judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison for getting paid by a private correctional facility to send thousands of juvenile offenders to it's prison in a "kids for cash" scheme.