|Judge Margaret Holden Palmietto (left)|
So, imagine our surprise yesterday when we checked case.net (State v. Carol T. Shuler, Case No. 1631-CR07731) and found an attorney is representing Carol -- an attorney we've never met, whom we've never agreed to have represent us, who probably knows zero about our case, and even is filing documents on Carol's behalf without our consent or knowledge.
Yes, you heard that right: Patricia Lillian Poe filed a Motion for Discovery, dated 5/15/17, on behalf of Carol T. Shuler. It would have been nice if Carol T. Shuler had known about that. It also would have been nice if Carol T. Shuler knew the purpose behind the motion, given that Carol already has filed two such motions on her own.
Here is the most alarming part: We have no idea if Ms. Poe has a trial strategy that is palatable to us or not. We have no idea if she understands that this is not a case of Carol committing a crime; it's a case of Carol having a crime committed against her -- one that resulted in the bone in Carol's upper left arm being snapped in two, such a severe break that it required trauma surgery and the implantation of metal plates and screws.
A reasonable reader might raise this question: Well, how did Ms. Poe become aware of Carol's case, to the point she could be named an attorney in the matter? Answer: At our most recent court hearing, on 5/3/17, Judge Margaret Holden Palmietto asked if Carol waived her right to an attorney. Carol said no, that she was considering several options -- continuing to represent herself, hiring a regular attorney, etc.
At that point, Palmietto ordered Carol to fill out an application with the Public Defender's (PD) Office. In fact, Palmietto said Carol would not be allowed to leave the courtroom until the application was completed and turned in to her bailiff.
Palmietto also said (and I'm paraphrasing), "I'm not going to consider your motions until you have representation or you waive your right to an attorney." That's troubling because Carol already has filed multiple motions to dismiss, showing that the state had no probable cause to seek her arrest, much less to subject her to a trial. In other words, the case already should be dismissed, and Carol shouldn't have to worry about getting an attorney. But the judge doesn't seem to want to do her job.
Carol did as instructed and filled out the PD application -- and we figured that meant we would receive a call from the Public Defender's Office, be asked to come in and discuss the case, and the sides would agree or disagree to have the office represent Carol. That call never came, and we've never met with anybody -- which is a little unsettling when you consider that Carol's freedom is at stake. Under RSMo 565.083, assault of a law enforcement officer in the third degree is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a possible punishment of up to one year in jail, plus a possible fine of up to $2,000.
It can be costly, in a variety of ways, to have a law enforcement officer break your arm in Missouri.
Back in serious mode, it's critical that any lawyer understand that this is a case about grotesque police misconduct, which almost certainly rises to a criminal level (18 U.S.C. 242 -- Deprivation of rights under color of law.) Does Patricia Lillian Poe grasp that and does she have a plan for dealing with that reality? We have no idea; we've never spoken with her.
Carol does not necessarily object to representation from a public defender, but right now, it feels like she's having a lawyer forced down her throat. I don't pretend to be an expert on due process, but I presume it includes the right to consent to representation by a certain lawyer -- to have some say-so in the matter.
Right now, Carol hasn't consented to anything, and she's had no voice in selection of her attorney. It doesn't help that local newspapers recently have been filled with reports that Missouri's Public Defender System is one of the most poorly funded in the nation, with lawyers wildly understaffed and overworked. It is the subject of an ACLU lawsuit, and The Atlantic has referred to the situation as a "constitutional crisis."
Is the system so dysfunctional that it skips small steps -- like letting a defendant know she has representation and maybe, you know, meeting with her? If you check case.net under Carol's case number and click on docket entries, you will see the following at the top:
05/15/2017 Motion for Discovery
Request for Discovery. Electronic Filing Certificate of Service. /sel
Filed By: PATRICIA LILLIAN POE
On Behalf Of: CAROL T SHULER
Entry of Appearance Filed
Entry of Appearance. Electronic Filing Certificate of Service. /sel
Filed By: PATRICIA LILLIAN POE
That Ms. Poe took action "on behalf of" Carol T. Shuler sort of implies that Carol T. Shuler has met with Ms. Poe, discussed her case, and agreed upon a plan of action, doesn't it? Well, none of that has happened.
That leaves us to ask a question that we've raised many times related to court actions over the past 17 years: What in the hell is going on?
The next court appearance in Carol's case is 9 a.m. on June 7.