Monday, December 22, 2008

Kennedy Case Is Illustrative Of Dual Justice System

By now, of course, we all know that former Bearcat coach Andy Kennedy was arrested for assault Wednesday night/Thursday morning. The case is next set for a pretrial conference on January 16 before Judge Dwane Mallory. Let me be clear: I have no earthly idea whether Kennedy is guilty or innocent. And it doesn't seem worthwhile to have that debate in the comments. But the way Kennedy's case has been handled thus far illustrates that people in Hamilton County--and in America--get precisely the amount of justice they can afford.

How is Kennedy's case different? Well, first, the AP reported that his attorney entered a written plea of not guilty on his behalf on Thursday. That means that, procedurally speaking, Kennedy was a "sheriff's release." In other words, when CPD took him to the Justice Center, sheriff's deputies processed him and immediately released him without holding him to first appear before a judge.

While this is not unheard-of, it's at least a bit unusual. Kennedy is charged with a violent, first-degree misdemeanor. If news reports are accurate, the complaint is based not just on the alleged victim's statements, but also on a bystander's statements. Moreover, to my knowledge, Kennedy has no local address. He almost certainly, as of Thursday morning, intended to return to Mississippi. So being able to go home without posting bond (or at least signing an own-recognizance bond sheet) is outside the ordinary, given that the sheriff's office knew (or should have known) that Kennedy would relatively promptly leave the jurisdiction upon being released.

Next, the very fact that Kennedy already has counsel is unusual. If he were indigent, he likely would have sat in the holding cell in the first floor of the Justice Center until the 12:30 docket (when "City misdemeanors" are arraigned), and then would have been assigned counsel. Had an indigent, non-famous Kennedy been lucky enough to be released by the sheriff, he would have returned to the HCJC that afternoon, when he would have been told to go to the HamCo Public Defender's Office to "qualify" (financially) for counsel.

Finally, Kennedy has not just one attorney, but two. It's been reported that Kennedy has filed suit against two of the witnesses who have allegedly alleged he committed an assault. As an attorney, I'm fairly disgusted by the civil lawsuit that's been filed, as I suspect its chief purpose is to intimidate the witnesses into changing their stories or not coming to court. (Although in Kennedy's defense, the witnesses ought to quit talking to the media until the criminal case is concluded.) After all, when I decide whether to file a lawsuit on a client's behalf, one of the factors I must consider is collectibility: in other words, even if I win, can my client and I collect the judgment from the defendant? In the Kennedy case, what is the likelihood that a taxi cab driver and a valet have assets sufficient to satisfy a judgment?

For an indigent defendant, there's almost no chance a lawyer would file a defamation suit on his behalf prior to trial. There's almost no chance his attorney could get the Enquirer or the local TV stations to publish his stance on the case, thus permitting him to align a potential jury pool one way or the other. Typically, when the media reports on a case that comes through arraignment, the reporters don't even ask defense counsel for a comment; they report only what is in publicly available documents and what's said at the bond hearing.

Kennedy is free, he's well-represented, and he's got the media telling his tale for him. None of these things would be happening if he weren't a fairly wealthy semi-celebrity. I don't begrudge Kennedy the advantages he has (every defense attorney in private practice has clients who benefit from financial resouces that wealthier people have); I just question why we can't devise a system where more people get the same treatment.

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