State Bar to Investigate Professional Misconduct by District Attorney Allison Palmer

 

AUSTIN, TX — The State Bar of Texas has agreed to investigate the actions against defense attorney Patricia Stone by 51st District Attorney Allison Palmer as a grievance, claiming Professional Misconduct.

Palmer, the senior elected district attorney serving the four district courts here, is demanding Stone sign what has been characterized as a “Confession” that contradicts Stone’s arguments before the appellate court where Stone is working to overturn a conviction prosecuted by Palmer’s office.

The State Bar verified Stone’s complaint as a legitimate grievance and will initiate an investigation, a letter from Luis Marin states. Marin is an investigator for the State Bar. The first step is to forward Stone’s written complaint to Palmer and give Palmer 30 days to respond in her defense. “After receipt of the lawyer’s written response, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel shall investigate the Complaint to determine whether there is Just Cause to believe that the lawyer has committed Professional Misconduct or Suffers a Disability,” the letter states.

That the complaint rises to the level of grievance to be investigated by the State Bar is an important hurdle for Stone’s case to jump.

According to the rules of the State Bar:

“If the grievance does not allege professional misconduct, it is classified as an Inquiry and dismissed. If the grievance alleges professional misconduct, it is classified as a Complaint and sent to the respondent lawyer for a response.”

If after receiving Palmer's response, a panel at the State Bar reviews the case. The panel can dismiss or refer the case to a hearing before the Bar or to a district court for a trial of the complaint.

Stone alleges Palmer is retaliating against her for her written arguments in a 3rd Court of Appeals case, Carpenter vs. State of Texas. Stone was appointed by the court to represent a San Angelo man, Austin Carpenter, in an appeal of his conviction following the revocation of the defendant’s probation. He was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

In her brief to the appellate court, Stone argued that Carpenter was abused by excessive pre-trial incarceration until her client accepted a deferred adjudication plea bargain, requiring him to plea guilty to a crime Stone argues her client didn’t commit. Her brief calls into question the constitutionality of all plea bargains in Texas.

Ever since Stone filed that brief, the DAs’ offices in Tom Green County have refused to agree to a plea bargain with any client of Stone’s, or discuss the matter with Stone in order to reach a compromise. All Tom Green County district court DAs are demanding Stone sign what has been characterized as a “Confession.” The “Confession” Stone is asked to sign states that plea bargains are constitutional. A signed Confession is required from Stone before any DA will agree to a plea bargain with her clients.

Stone withdrew as the court-appointed defense attorney from 10 pending cases Thursday after a trial judge refused to grant a motion filed by Stone to sanction Palmer and the rest of the DAs for retaliation against her. She said she could no longer ethically represent her clients because of the DAs’ office actions against her.

Palmer told the visiting trial judge that her office has cause for concern with entering plea bargain deals with any of Stone’s clients on a legal basis that Stone’s clients may at a later date argue for a reversal of their convictions. After all, Palmer argued, if the court-appointed defense attorney believes all plea bargains in Texas are unconstitutional, why is she advising her clients to commit to an unconstitutional act?

Stone said she was appointed by the court to represent Carpenter to the best of her ability. She did not seek the assignment; she was asked to accept the charge. In doing so, she said, it is her duty to find the best arguments to properly represent Austin Carpenter, her client. That Carpenter was forced to languish for 11 months in the county jail without adequate legal representation, she said, is reason to question the way plea bargains are adjudicated not only in Tom Green County but also statewide. To not argue this would be unfair to her client, she said.

Stone fears a copy of a signed “Confession” from the DAs’ offices will find its way to the appellate court and torpedo her case. How can Stone argue on appeal that all plea bargains in Texas are unconstitutional while at the same time, she signs multiple admonishments attached to other clients’ plea bargain agreements stating the opposite?

Palmer said her office has no interest in what happens at the appellate level even though the appellate court could reverse a conviction from her office.

Stone believes otherwise. “I don’t trust the DAs’ offices,” she told the judge.

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This can be one of the best and worse places to practice law. But wait...i have worked as a prosecutor and defense lawyer in around 13 Texas Counties and the same is true in every one. Why? It's complicated and hard work.

For me, it sounds perfectly reasonable to require a defendant to agree that a plea is constitutional before allowing that defendant to engage in plea negotiations. There are obvious problems with both sides of this argument. As listened attornies on either side, we are ethically obligated to negotiate in good faith. The question then becomes, can defense counsel accept a plea offer for a defendant and have the trial saying she agrees with the offer and acceptance by her client, while she has stated her opinion, in dicta for a prior appellate brief,that she believes all plea bargained cases are unconstitutional.

At first blush, that is the most ridiculous claim Ive ever heard. Of course, pleas are constitutional. I know the case for which she has become so unhinged as to make such a claim. I represented the defendant in the subsequent revocation hearing where he was revoked and sentenced to 13 years by one of the finest judges to ever wear the robe. I will not make any statement as to the validity of counsels claims regarding inadequate representation while Mr. Carpenter lanquished in jail. I will say that the rules allow a defendant a new appellate lawyer if his can find no appealable error but is discretionary by the trial judge. However, if appellate counsel misses a filing deadline and the case is sent back to the trial court for enquiry, the trial judge must appoint new counsel if the defendant desires one and the facts support substitution.

I hated to see the defendant in this case go to prison. He was 21 years old and could still have a very bright future. The original case was plead, i assume, because the facts, while tending to make a trial lawyer giddy with anticipation of a trial with a chance for aquital, was and always is a risky endeavor. I still dont believe Mr. Carpenter, of his own cognition, broke the law as charged but the DA had a rather good case for guilty as a party to the alleged crime. Therefore, deferred adjudication is an honorable way for both sides to allow justice take place.

The most unfortuate thing to me is the everpresent methamphetamine use that is usually involved in these type cases which almost always is responsable for violations leading to revocation.

Mr. Carpenter was alleged to have been so involved and could have benefited from rehabilitation. In fact, everyone benefits from rehab because given national studies conducted over the last 20 years and resulting new therapudic modalites have shown an amazing 30% decrease in recidivism which saves not only millions of tax dollars per year; it saves lives.

In summary, there will not be a finding of misconduct on these facts. Everybody appears to be operating in good faith and doing the best they can with the cards theyve been dealt. The only difference seems to be a loud and possibly unhinged lawyer who may have reached her limit for the year of very difficult and heart-wrenching cases for which, we as a society, have not found sustanable answers. Maybe oneday. Until then, God bless everyone, even if misguided, for trying.

Sincerely,
Donald R. Taylor, Jr.
Attorney

Palmer learned all her dirty tricks at the knee of the master, Stephen Smith. I think she's met her match in Patricia Stone. Hopefully, her manipulations will cost her the next election and we can return to some semblance of integrity in the DA's office.

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