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Friday, September 5, 2008

Stop the Presses! Lawyer Admits to Encouraging Client to Lie

One of the ugly truths of our "justice" system is that people lie under oath all of the time. It's called perjury, but it goes unpunished most of the time.

Here, I suspect, is another ugly truth of the justice system: Quite a few lawyers encourage their clients to lie.

I've seen this firsthand in my own legal travails. A certain witness made a number of statements under oath that I knew were lies, and I suspect quite a few of his other statements also were false. The subjects he chose to lie about, and the way he phrased his false statements, strongly suggest he was aided by his attorney.

So imagine my shock upon learning that an Alabama lawyer has admitted encouraging his client to lie on the stand. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed Brandon McCombs' murder conviction, citing ineffective assistance of counsel.

McCombs' lawyer, Ralph "Buddy" Armstrong, encouraged him to lie on the stand and now faces indictment on a first-degree perjury charge. A complaint against Armstrong is pending with the Alabama State Bar, and he faces possible disbarment.

Obviously, it's not a good thing for an attorney to suborn perjury. But I've got to give Armstrong high marks for being man enough to admit what he had done.

Let's consider the case of another lawyer, who is one of our primary characters here at Legal Schnauzer. We're talking about William E. Swatek, the Pelham-based attorney who filed the bogus lawsuit against me that eventually led to this blog.

In the late 1970s, opposing attorneys discovered a hidden tape recorder that was running during one of their meetings at Swatek's offices. The Alabama State Bar found that Swatek had committed acts of "fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit" and suspended his license.

He was tried for perjury in criminal court and acquitted, even though overwhelming evidence of his guilt was presented, according to news reports and public records. We covered that case with posts here and here.

Did Swatek "cowboy up" and admit what he had done? Heck, no.

Unlike Armstrong, Swatek wasn't man enough to admit he was a cheat. He blamed the running tape recorder on his client, claimed that he knew nothing about it. Audiotaped evidence at the trial showed that Swatek did know about the tape recorder, and he lied under oath about that little fact before a committee of the Alabama State Bar.

News reports indicated that, had Swatek been convicted, he would have been disbarred--the same punishment that Armstrong faces now. Somehow, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a jury found Bill Swatek not guilty of perjury--and he has gone on to cheat numerous people, including me and several of his own clients.

I certainly don't condone what Buddy Armstrong did. But he at least confessed to his wrongdoing, and I hope that is taken into consideration when it comes time to mete out punishment.

Compared to Bill Swatek, Buddy Armstrong sounds like a pretty stand-up guy. I don't know about Armstrong's political affiliations, if any, but it's safe to guess that he doesn't have the "umbrella of protection" that Bill Swatek enjoys due to his family ties to Karl Rove and the Bush Administration.

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