Monday, July 21, 2008

Duke-Durham defendant Linwood Wilson & attorney representation

If you don’t know much about Linwood Wilson, once referred to as disgraced and disbarred former Durham DA Mike Nifong’s “go-to guy,” see here, here and here.

Wilson, along with Wachovia CEO and Duke BOT chair Bob Steel and others, is now a defendant in massive civil rights violations suits brought by Duke lacrosse players. But unlike all the other defendants who are represented by attorneys, Wilson is representing himself.

Commenters have asked whether Wilson might be entitled to a court appointed attorney and other questions concerning Wilson's situation.

The Ex-prosecutor who has often provided helpful information and commentary on various aspects of the Duke hoax and frame-up attempt has provided the following concerning Wilson:

A civil unlike a criminal defendant has no right to a free lawyer. So, Linwood Wilson is on his own.

Here's some of what he faces. There will be many, many depositions taken in this case. Court reporters charge by the page for copies, and I'll bet that their charges for a single set of depositions will be many thousands of dollars, easily $25,000 or much more. This figure doesn't count getting copies of records, which also are expensive.

If I were Linwood Wilson, I'd attend just the depositions of those who could impact me, meaning I'd skip those of the Duke administrators. He'll need to hear what others are saying about him so he can get his trial testimony ready.

If Linwood Wilson simply ignores the lawsuit, because he knows that he could never pay such a massive judgment as is likely, the plaintiffs can take a default judgment against him in whatever amount they can prove he damaged them.

This may sound like heresy, but I think that Linwood Wilson may do better by representing himself that he would if he had a lawyer.

The cases against him and Mr. Nifong look to me close to slam dunks, and that’s why I think the judgment against him may be lessened by his self-representation.

There's always a danger that jurors will feel somewhat sorry for a defendant who represents himself. It's obvious the defendant can't afford to hire a lawyer, so a big judgment against him will be uncollectible.

Such a result is more likely when there are other defendants who can pay a big judgment, such as Duke and the city of Durham.

It also means that the plaintiffs' lawyers may have to take it somewhat easier in their treatment of him because his being alone in the courtroom contrasts with the other defendants and their hoards of lawyers.

However, I suspect that even if the jury feels somewhat sorry for Linwood Wilson, the judgment against him will far exceed his assets. Then he can hire a bankruptcy lawyer and see if the judgment is dischargeable.

I thank the Ex-prosecutor for his informed and helpful commentary.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. I was having a hard time trying to figure out just where Wilson was going with his own legal representation strategy. It makes a certain amount of sense - he looks more pitiful so a verdict against him would therefore be lower because if he so poor he can't afford legal representation - how can he afford any payout of funds in a suit.
What incentive would there be for him to turn on the other defendants in the suits - particularly if Nifong is named as an amended defendant?

Ex-prosecutor said...

I absolutely believe that the defendants will turn on each other. Under civil rights law, superiors are responsible for the acts of subordinates. So, superiors say that they were unaware of the subordinates' acts and the subordinates say just the opposite. So, their fingers point at each other.

I think the same will be true as between Mr. Nifong, the police chief and supervisors, the mayor, the hospital and the lab. To different extents, each will have to disavow responsibilities for the acts of the others.

In this case, the best situation for the plaintiffs' lawyers will be for the defendants to point fingers at each other. That way, when each defendant claims innocence of wrongdoing, it looks like all are lying.

An always hard decision for lawyers is whether to question deponents hard in a deposition especially on particularly fruitful lines of inquiry, or save it for the trial. While witnesses may be stymied by certain questions at a deposition, they figure out by trial time how to answer.

Often what lawyers will do is really get on deponents at the deposition as to certain points just to see how they react to pressure.

Depending on the wording of the defendants' insurance policies, the coverage and exclusions, the next battle in this case may be between the defendants and the insurance over coverage.

However, it will take someone who knows about
municipal liability insurance to comment as to this possibility.

zonga said...

Ex-prosecutor and JinC:

Thank you for keeping us informed!

Anonymous said...

John -

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, and kudos to the Ex-prosecutor for an insightful analysis of this issue.

Jack in Silver Spring