Attorney Misconduct, Crime, Law Schools, Legal Ethics, Murder, Small Law Firms, Trials

Mistrial After Judge Is ‘Astonished’ By Touro Grad’s Incompetence

Look, Touro Law students and alumni, please don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger.

The Washington Post is reporting that a D.C. Superior Court judge, William Jackson, declared a mistrial in a murder case on Friday so that the defendant could fire his lawyer. The attorney, Joseph Rakofsky, a 2009 graduate of Touro Law School, showed “numerous signs” that he “lacked knowledge of proper trial procedure,” according to the judge.

If you are wondering why people sometimes make fun of Touro and other very low-ranked law schools, it’s because this kind of stuff is straight-up embarrassing. Good schools try to not let people like this into to law school, and they certainly don’t let them depart so poorly trained.

But most damning of all is that Joseph Rakofsky doesn’t even seem to understand how totally embarrassing this result is for him. The kid is bragging about the result, on Facebook…

Here are the basic allegations about Rakofsky’s behavior:

Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was “astonished” at his performance and at his “not having a good grasp of legal procedures” before dismissing him.

What angered Jackson even more was a filing he received early Friday from an investigator hired by Rakofsky in which the attorney told the investigator via an attached e-mail to “trick” a government witness into testifying in court that she did not see his client at the murder scene.

According to the filing, Rakofsky had fired the investigator and refused to pay him after the investigator refused to carry out his orders with the witness. The filing included an e-mail that the investigator said was from Rakofsky, saying: “Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting.” The e-mail came from Rakofsky’s e-mail account, which is registered to Rakofsky Law Firm in Freehold, N.J.

So the report not only makes Rakofsky look like an idiot, but an unethical idiot at that. Now see how Rakofsky has interpreted these findings to people looking for him on Facebook:

What follows are numerous “likes” and positive comments from Rakofsky’s friends, including some from people who appear to be fellow Touro Law students. I’m going to believe that these people are supporting Rakofsky’s bare-bones status update and did not engage in independent investigation to ascertain exactly how Rakofsky ended up “securing” this mistrial. I’m going to believe that, because frankly the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. The thought of Touro pumping out kids who think ignorance and embarrassment are effective tools in the lawyer’s arsenal would keep me awake at night.

In any event, you know who is really hurt here? Do you know who the real victims are of whatever process involved Touro admitting and graduating this guy, and the state of New Jersey (who else) allowing him to practice law? It’s Dontrell Deaner, and the family of his alleged victim. Those people deserved their day in court; those people deserved a properly functioning justice system. If innocent, Deaner deserved a proper defense, and if guilty, the family of his victim deserved a swift resolution.

But for them, justice has been delayed and deferred, because somewhere along the line the system for preparing people to become lawyers failed. The system became more concerned with making money off of kids who have no business representing people in dire need of counsel than with educating the stately legal professionals of the future. At some point Touro admitted this kid (a kid who was undoubtedly a marginal candidate based on all of our accepted measures of determining preparedness) and encouraged him to enter law school. Then Touro put him through the paces for three years while cashing his checks, somehow getting him to the point that he could regurgitate enough info on an MBE to pass. And that was it; he was unleashed onto an open market back in 2009, when firms were not hiring, and nobody was taking chances on Touro graduates and giving them the “finishing school” nearly all law grads need (since law schools, even top-ranked ones, are shockingly ineffective at preparing people to actually practice). Fending for himself, he managed to find some desperate client who probably couldn’t afford anybody better and didn’t have the skills to distinguish between a good attorney and a crappy one. He had no help and no mentor. He went to a fourth-tier law school and passed a state bar exam, and then found himself in the middle of a first-degree murder trial.

That’s our system, folks. That is the end result of the ABA’s stubborn refusal to regulate law schools in a way that limits their number and raises their quality.

Thank god for Judge William Jackson. A lesser judge might well have let this guy get railroaded into a conviction (or later claim ineffective assistance) without a second thought. A mistrial is far better than a miscarriage of justice.

UPDATE: This story is being extensively covered around the blawgosphere. Click on the links below for more analysis about this story:

From tiny ethics mishaps, do major missteps grow? [My Shingle]
The Truth Free Zone Eats One Its Own [Simple Justice]
Lying Piece of $%^&. With Screenshot as Evidence [Military Underdog]
Unethical Marketing Stings Two Criminal Defense Lawyers [My Law License]
Even the Judge Couldn’t Take It [Gamso]

D.C. Superior Court judge declares mistrial over attorney’s competence in murder case [Washington Post]
‘Astonished’ Judge Declares Murder Mistrial Due to Defense Lawyer Who Never Tried a Case [ABA Journal]

Earlier: In Defense of Law School — Namely, Touro and Other Fourth-Tier Schools

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