Cooper & Elliott Blog

Vindication: Ohio Malpractice Attorney Helps a Wrongly Convicted Veteran

Posted on Tue, May 12, 2015 @ 4:39 PM

Rich* was a military veteran whose dream was to own a bar. When a member of his waitstaff, Julia*, started showing up for work with bruises and a black eye, Rich stepped in. He knew Julia’s boyfriend. In fact, Rich had kicked the boyfriend out of his bar before. Rich suggested to Julia that she move out of her place, and he even offered her a room above the bar until she could get the situation sorted out. She agreed.

Julia arranged to meet her boyfriend in a parking lot to tell him she was leaving him, and Rich came along to provide support. The boyfriend showed up, drunk, still wearing his tool belt from his carpentry job. When he started yelling at Julia, Rich got out of his truck and came over to be peacemaker. The boyfriend started throwing tools at Rich, and then rushed at him.  Rich’s military training allowed him to dodge the attack, and the boyfriend ended up face-first on the ground.

At that moment, the police arrived. After getting an understanding of why Rich had gotten involved, they sent all parties on their way. Rich and Julia left to move her things out of her apartment, and Rich thought that was the end of it.

But he was wrong.

Wrongfully arrested

What Rich didn’t know was that Julia had told some of her other friends about her trouble with the boyfriend—and those friends took it upon themselves to administer their own private justice that same night. While Rich, Julia, and the rest of Rich’s employees were closing the bar, the boyfriend was receiving a terrible beating. When the police asked the boyfriend who was responsible, he blamed the beating on Rich, who was arrested.

Being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit was bad enough, but Rich’s troubles got far worse.

A case of legal malpractice

Rich’s friends raised bail money and found him a defense attorney in the phone book. However, every time Rich wanted to talk to his defense attorney, he had to hand over a large sum of money (always in cash). The attorney seemed more interested in getting paid than building a case. He wouldn’t even take time to meet Rich’s alibi witnesses.

Several months later, out of the blue, Rich got a call from his attorney, who told him they were going to trial the very next day. Rich hadn’t spoken to his lawyer or his alibi witnesses in months. Those crucial witnesses had moved out of town.

Rich knew there was no way his case was ready for trial, but because his lawyer had already received several continuances, Rich wasn’t going to be able to get another. There was going to be a trial the next day.

The trial was a joke. The defense attorney wasn’t the only one who didn’t do his job correctly. The prosecutor in the case got many of the facts wrong. Normally, it’s up to the defense attorney to spot such mistakes in a prosecutor’s case, but because Rich’s attorney was woefully unprepared, he didn’t call the prosecutor out on any of the errors.

Because of his defense attorney’s malpractice, Rich was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and was sent to jail.

Getting out of jail

Rich’s appeal was handled by a different lawyer, a court-appointed one, who saw instantly how horrible Rich’s defense had been. What’s more, when approached, the prosecutor’s office admitted they’d made a mistake.

By that time, Rich had spent two years in jail. The prosecutor told him that if he would plead guilty to a lesser charge like disorderly conduct, he’d get out right away. But Rich didn’t want to plead guilty because he hadn’t done anything wrong. His reputation already damaged, he wasn’t about to accept the blame for another crime he didn’t commit.

It took another year before Rich’s conviction was overturned. That was when he needed an Ohio malpractice attorney, so he called us.

The malpractice case

Rich was very bitter when we first met him—understandably so. We knew for Rich to feel that justice was served, he needed two things:

  • Compensation for the time spent in jail and the legal malpractice.
  • A clear demonstration that he was entirely innocent.

We worked like heck to get both for Rich. We knew we’d need to call experts to discuss what Rich’s lawyers should have done, and we also needed to find the alibi witnesses and have them testify about what they’d seen.

In the end, our case was successful. Rich was compensated for the time he spent in jail, time he should have been spending running his bar and living his life. Because it was a civil trial, it wasn’t the jury’s job to rule on Rich’s guilt or innocence. However, there’s a part of the legal process called jury interrogatories, where lawyers can ask specific written questions of the jury. Through these interrogatories, we were able to get an answer from the jury:  Rich was innocent.

Vindication

Immediately after the verdict,  the  defense lawyer who had bungled Rich’s case offered to settle for a little less than the jury had awarded, just to forestall appeals and make the case go away. Rich agreed.

On the way out of the courthouse, in front of the press, Rich added one condition. He wanted $500 of the settlement to be paid immediately, by the defense attorney, in cash. At first the defense attorney protested, saying he didn’t carry that kind of money around. But in the end, he peeled off the required amount, counting $20s one at a time from a roll of cash in his pocket.

Maybe he remembered how the attorney had always demanded cash from him, or maybe it was out of a sense of vindication, but either way, Rich looked tremendously satisfied as the defense attorney counted out the money.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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