Sunday, December 02, 2007

Charns on WUNC Monday

JinC Regulars know about Durham attorney Alex Charns’ work on behalf of an unindicted Duke lacrosse player Charns contends was libeled, along with his teammates, by a Durham CrimeStoppers Wanted poster. (See here and here, for example)

In March 2006 a Durham Police officer, Cpl. David Addison (he’s now a Sgt.) wrote and distributed to police substations, media and others the text of the poster which said an “horrific crime” had been committed at the lacrosse.

Charns will be the guest Monday, Dec. 3, on WUNC – FM’s The State of Things , hosted by Frank Stasio.

The show airs from Noon to 1 PM Eastern. You’ll find information here about audio links and podcasting. (see Listen Now menu on right-hand side of page)

Charns will be on for the entire hour.

You can call in during the program at 1 – 877 – 962 - 9862 or email a question to

The “call in” format means you can’t be certain what will be covered but Charns said expects to talk about a death penalty appeal he’s currently involed with (see below) as well as aspects of the Duke lacrosse case and other cases he’s handled involving the Durham Police Department.

Charns is regarded as one of North Carolina’s outstanding Constitutional attorneys.

The death penalty appeal he’ll speak about is on behalf of Nathan Bowie. The following, from a 2002 AP story, provides some background to the appeal:

A death-row inmate whose defense attorney admitted drinking more than 12 ounces of 80-proof rum every night during trial was denied a new trial and sentencing hearing.

Superior Court Judge Michael Helms said in a ruling last week that he found no evidence that attorney Thomas Portwood's drinking problem affected his performance during Nathan Bowie's trial.

Bowie, 31, was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murders of two men outside an apartment complex in 1991. No date has been set for his execution.
Alexander Charns, Bowie's appellate attorney, said he would ask the state Supreme Court to review the case.

He called the order "an outrage," saying Helms ignored a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring defense attorneys to thoroughly investigate a defendant's background.

Neither Portwood nor his co-counsel, Mark Killian, obtained Bowie's social service, school and mental health records. They did not call witnesses who could have detailed Bowie's troubled childhood, alcohol abuse and mental problems -- mitigating factors that Bowie's new attorneys say could have swayed a jury to at least impose a life sentence.

The judge cited the testimony of other attorneys who said Portwood's drinking "caused social problems but did not affect, and has not affected, Portwood's ability to practice law."

Portwood testified in October that he began drinking every night around 6 p.m. and was never drunk in the courtroom.
Never drunk in the courtroom?
I guess that means Portwood never appeared in night court.

And what about those attorneys who said Portwood's drinking ‘caused social problems but did not affect, and has not affected, Portwood's ability to practice law?”
How’d they know that?

Scientific research or just their own first-person experiences?

I know surgeons who won’t drink at all or will at most have one drink the night before they’re scheduled to operate.

I can’t imagine an attorney or anyone else knocking down the equivalent of a full cup and a half of 80 proof alcohol, and that not influencing his/her functioning the next day.

In any case, I’ll be tuning in tomorrow here to listen to Charns, Stasio and the callers. I hope you’re listening, too.

Maybe one of you will be a caller.