By: Mark Diaz
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Galveston Criminal Attorney Discusses Court Appointed VS. Retained Counsel
What is the difference between a court-appointed vs a private attorney?
I recently had an email exchange with a woman who wanted to retain new counsel for her husband, which brings up a discussion about court-appointed counsel versus retained counsel. We get a lot of people who have court-appointed attorneys themselves and want to know if they should hire us. The answer is not always the same.
The email exchange I had with this woman last week was interesting to me because her significant other, who was incarcerated on some very serious charges and charged as a habitual, meaning he was facing 25 to life, had been appointed an attorney by the court.
Qualifications For Court-Appointed Attorneys
Here in Galveston County, there are qualifications that you have to meet as an attorney before being able to accept certain cases. You have to meet certain criteria to be able to accept the highest level of cases. That means that this attorney that had been appointed, met those qualifications and was qualified to handle the case.
Her issue was that she had hired an attorney, and did not feel like that attorney was keeping her informed, and didn’t feel like the attorney was being honest with her, and so on. She goes on to say that she had already paid him $500. This was a red flag, we’re talking about a habitual offender. This guy had a fairly lengthy criminal history. We’re talking a defense of $10,000, maybe more.
For her to think that she could give an attorney $500 to perform some kind of miracle, that was just unfortunate. Even the person that she was calling for, with his criminal history, should have known that you’re not going to get the type of representation that you need from a $500 lawyer. It’s possible that they got rid of a much better, court-appointed lawyer, thinking well if we pay someone the results will be better.
We oftentimes get calls from family members, or sometimes from the accused themselves, who have a court-appointed attorney. When I look it up, if they have a good attorney, I tell them. There’s no point in trying to take someone’s money just to take their money. If they have a good lawyer, I tell them they have a good lawyer, and then I ask what the issue is.
Sometimes personalities just don’t mix and two people aren’t a good match. If you have a court-appointed attorney, and you have concerns about your case, you ought to be able to go sit down in that attorney’s office and have a discussion with him or her about your case, so that you feel comfortable.
Retaining A Private Attorney
If you can’t do that, then maybe you should retain outside counsel, if you can afford it. My office is right across the street from the state courthouse. If we’re not in the court, we’re here, which generally means there is always an attorney in my building who is willing to speak to you about your case.
We keep all our information in a case management system. We keep all our notes, all the evidence, everything so that every lawyer in my office can address any concerns you have about your case. What we try to make ourselves always, is available to our clients. You have to have accessibility no matter what lawyer you have, court-appointed, or retained.
Every lawyer in my office, including myself, used to do court appointments. None of us do now, but when we did, it was the same situation. My court-appointed clients are welcome to come in and discuss their cases anytime they want, just like my retainer clients are. The question is, I have a court-appointed attorney, should I replace them just because they’re court-appointed?
The answer is no, if you’re comfortable with the attorney that you have, just because you’re not paying them doesn’t mean that he or she is not a good attorney. There are lots of reasons to do appointments. There are a lot of good attorneys in Galveston county that do take court appointments.
There are also some attorneys that take court appointments that I wouldn’t recommend, but every person is different. It all depends on your interpersonal interaction with your attorney. If the attorney is accessible to you and you think they’re doing a good job, there’s no reason to go find a new attorney.
When you have court-appointed counsel, that means you didn’t get to pick your counsel. Oftentimes the relationship starts with trust issues, right? As the accused, you didn’t get to pick your lawyer, this person was just assigned to you. It’s hard for the accused to have confidence in that person initially, because of the way the relationship started.
People think that just because the attorney was court-appointed, they won’t do anything for you. I’m sure some attorneys do appointments, that don’t work much on their cases. If you find yourself in that situation, you just need to try and communicate with the attorney as much as possible to see if you can have a relationship moving forward. If not, then maybe you do need to look into retaining somebody.
If you’re going to retain someone, carefully vet the person that you’re going to retain. It shouldn’t be about finding the cheapest option. You’re going to forge a relationship with someone. The outcome of your case can have an impact on you for the rest of your life. If it’s a felony case, your liberties are at stake.
We could be talking about many years in prison, we could talk about the collateral consequences of the conviction, everything that could happen in a criminal case could impact you for the rest of your life. So when you hire an attorney, you want to hire an attorney that you feel confident in, and that you feel you can discuss all your issues with.
How should one go about hiring an attorney?
I think if it was me, I would treat it like anything else. I would go and visit a couple of attorneys in their office and see what they have to say, see what they’re about, and see who makes me feel the most comfortable. Do they have an office? If an attorney wants to meet me at a restaurant, that’s a red flag.
Do they not have an office? These types of things. If they do have an office, is there a support staff? I just want to know all these things, I want to see it for myself. Some people’s personalities just don’t mix. It’s not good for these people to try and work together. When you’re trying to find an attorney, or you have a court-appointed attorney, and you don’t know whether or not you should keep them, you need to talk to that attorney and see if it will be a good fit.
If you have been charged with a serious crime don’t risk your freedom. Call our experienced Galveston County criminal defense lawyers at (409) 515-6170.