Last week, NPR had another in the long line of stories about the financial straights of indigent defense around the country. This time, the story focused on Detroit and Wayne County, and particularly on the absurdly low rates at which appointed counsel get paid for representing the accused. Those lawyers, it should be noted, are not "public defenders" in the strict sense, as they don't get paid a salary to represent clients. Rather, they're paid by the hour or by case and, therefore, can be hit harder by tight budgets.
Nonetheless, the main character in this piece is not the most sympathetic guy. Bob Slameka has been practicing criminal defense for four decades, but has left a trail in his wake:
Records show the state Supreme Court reprimanded him for misconduct involving more than 16 clients. In most of those cases, he filed briefs late and didn't keep his clients adequately informed. And then one of his clients, Eddie Joe Lloyd, made national headlines in 2002. He was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison for rape and murder.Lloyd died two years after his release. He had enough time to file a bar complaint against Slemka, though, who didn't exactly make a measured response:
After his appeal had failed and before he was exonerated, Lloyd filed a complaint with the state. He told them Slameka never gave him the time of day. Harlin still has a copy of Slameka's rebuttal, which she read out loud:Everybody knows it's never good to call an ex while you're drunk. Well, similarly, it's never good to respond to a bar complaint while you're pissed. It will never do you favors in the end.
'This is a sick individual who raped, kidnapped and strangled a young woman on her way to school. His claim of my wrongdoing is frivolous, just as is his existence. Both should be terminated.'
When asked if he really thought his own client should be executed, Slameka said yes, that's what he wrote at the time and that's how he felt.
Whatever sympathy I might have had for Slameka evaporated when I read that. Being a decent human being doesn't cost anything, after all.