|Patty Poe, on law-school graduation day|
Carol is charged with "assaulting" a law enforcement officer by pushing him as he burst into our rented duplex apartment in Springfield, Missouri, for an eviction on Sept. 9, 2015. The charge is nutty, of course, because the "victim" -- Officer Jeremy Lynn -- admits in a written statement that he caused physical contact with Carol, not the other way around. And under the statute in question, RSMo 565.083, that is the central element to the offense.
In our early interactions with her, even Poe seemed to acknowledge there are big issues here -- ones that go straight to the U.S. Constitution. "Did Carol push Jeremy Lynn, or did Jeremy Lynn grab Carol?" is an important question. But it pales in importance to this question: "Did Jeremy Lynn and his fellow officers that day have lawful grounds to be on our property, much less to be breaking into our residence?"
If they did not, any evidence they gather is a violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable and unlawful searches and seizures, and it must be suppressed or excluded. In criminal law, it's called the "exclusionary rule," and we've written about it many times -- especially in the context of dubious traffic stops. But the same rule that protects you in your automobile also protects you in your home. That doctrine was made clear more than 55 years ago in a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961),
A Motion to Suppress the prosecution's evidence probably was the No. 1 task that needed to be addressed in Carol's case. If granted, such a motion would exclude all of the government's evidence -- and there isn't much, just the weak tea in its Probable Cause Statement. Without that evidence, however, the government's case is wholly barren, and the case must be dropped. It is, after all, hard to prosecute a case with no evidence.
So when Poe first joined Carol's case in late May, she brought up the issue of the eviction's legality -- and noted, as a public defender who deals in criminal cases, she is far from an expert on tenant/landlord law. We said, "Fine, we're not experts either, but we have had reason to study tenant/landlord law because of all we've been through -- and we'd be happy to try to help."
In that spirit, knowing that Poe works in an understaffed, overworked office, Carol sent her five e-mails in early August, outlining research on a number of issues related to the case. Poe acknowledged receipt of the emails and said she would go over the material and get back to us. The information on eviction law was primarily in Email No. 2, dated Aug. 8, 2017. (The emails, and Poe's responses to them, are embedded at the end of this post.
Poe's response came about 2 1/2 weeks later, in an email dated Aug. 27. Rather than show the slightest hint of appreciation for having a client who was able and willing to help, Poe's response had a snarky, "you put me out" tone. Worse, she hit us with one lie after another, showing she had made no genuine effort to understand the law she had admitted a few weeks earlier was critical to Carol's case. A key point to remember: A Motion to Suppress, if granted, wipes out what little evidence the government has in Carol's case -- and the prosecution is over, finito.
So, we had this strange notion that Poe would take Carol's research on this matter seriously. But here is the introduction to Poe's response:
Good Evening Roger and Carol:
I've spend a good part of my Sunday researching some of your points as well as preparing the Motion to Compel. I will send you a copy of that motion once it's complete. I've broken up my responses based on your 5 emails. If you have any further questions or wish to set up an appointment please let me know, although I'll be on vacation Wednesday through Wednesday. As always, Carol, if you disagree with how I am representing you in this matter you may always proceed pro se or hire private counsel.
Notice in the first sentence that Poe almost seems to be expecting us to write a note of apology for causing her to actually do some work on a Sunday. Then, in the last sentence, she invites Carol to boot her ass off the case if Carol is dissatisfied with her "representation." That was the first of about a dozen times Poe resorted to that tactic in the final 2-3 months she was on the case. Her commitment to justice during that time was profoundly touching.
Carol refused to bite at that bait, even when Poe used it 3-4 more times during our final in-person meeting with her on Oct. 30. But here is where the dark comedy enters the picture.
Poe made it clear in her email that she saw nothing wrong with the eviction -- that everything about it was lawful and downright hunky dory. So we challenged her on that in our in-person meeting -- in fact, we flat out told her she was wrong; after all, she had admitted she knew virtually nothing about tenant/landlord law.
But get this! When confronted with the rubbish she had spewed on perhaps the single most important issue in Carol's case, Poe said the following (and I'm not joking): "Well, I have a friend who knows a lot about tenant/landlord law, and my friend says the eviction was lawful."
Well, there you go -- that's what students learn at the University of Missouri School of Law. If they don't know something about a certain topic, they call a friend they consider to be an expert -- whether the "friend" really is an expert or not. Then, they transmit that information to the client, seemingly never thinking that, "You know, discussing this case with someone else might violate attorney-client privilege -- just a little bit." And then there is this: "Since I'm not going to disclose the identity of my friend to the client, she's not going to have a clue about this person who is having a major impact on her case."
In essence, the client's defense strategy is being formed by some unknown third party -- and the friend might not even be a lawyer. Even worse, the friend might be a lawyer who has a vested interest in the outcome of the case, who has a conflict the size of Yellowstone National Park. The friend might be feeding a steaming load of buffalo turds to Patty Poe, but Carol is supposed to accept that, without any concern.
Well, Carol and I both had huge concerns. And it was in that moment, we both knew -- FOR SURE -- Patty Poe was trying to screw Carol. Still, during that meeting, Carol refused to let Poe off the case. In followup emails, Carol again raised the suppression issue, and that's when Poe broke, came up with the Notice of Jail Waiver from prosecutor Nicholas Jain, and bailed out of the case.
That's not the only moment of dark comedy in the song-and-dance routine Patty Poe put us through. There is at least one other, not to mention specifics about how wrong she was on the critical issue of eviction law.
We will address those subjects in an upcoming post.