Friday, July 1, 2011

Wendy Murphy: "I'll Represent Whitey Bulger for Free!"

By Wendy Murphy

Editor's Note:   On June 22, 2011, 81 year old Whitey Bulger was arrested at the apartment he had lived in for fifteen years in Santa Monica, California, along with his girlfriend Catherine Greig. He was wanted for racketeering (under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)), 19 counts of murder, extortion, money laundering, conspiracy and narcotics distribution. Bulger was listed as a fugitive on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list since his disappearance in December 1994.  (Wikipedia)

In all the legal wrangling about who will represent Whitey Bulger and who will pay the bill, it's hard to find anyone who gives a damn about the taxpayers who have already spent a fortune on a long list of expenses. From lawsuits against the government for the FBI's lies, to public defenders for all the Whitey confederates who managed to become indigent right around the time they got caught, the public has MORE than paid its share of the bill for justice.

It's not too much to ask that the spigot of public funds be shut off at this point, yet Bulger has a right to due process, which means he is entitled to funding for an attorney if he cannot afford one.

Calling the guy indigent when he was captured with 800k in cash is a tough pill to swallow. The feds seized it and claim an exclusive right to keep the money as "forfeiture" proceeds, but the feds have dirty hands and their illegal actions in the past have cost the public tens of millions in lawsuits and corruption trials. If the feds can't see the moral reason to spread some of that money around, a judge should bring a gavel to bear on the issue and force them to give some of the 800k to Whitey's victims, and some to his attorneys.

The truth about forfeiture money never seems to make the front page, but everyone in the business has heard stories about the infighting that goes on about where the money goes, and who gets to direct it.
No matter what the law says, this case is an exception and the court should find a way to share the funds because an awful lot of people are watching and we can't stomach more monkey business when it comes to Bulger's dirty money.

If some federal judge can't find the chutzpah to do the right thing, I hereby offer to represent Whitey for free. Seriously. The guy is on his last legs - he waived his Miranda rights and has little, if any, bargaining power because we know almost everything about the atrocities he committed and how he got away with it for so long. In other words, there's nothing in dispute that needs a big trial so we can uncover the truth.

Maybe there's more to learn about who helped him hide so well for all these years, but so what. Those investigations can continue after Bulger pleads guilty. He has no reason to divulge information at this point because he's going to die in prison no matter what. In plea bargain land, even if he tells more about what he knows, we're talking about a deal that will net the guy 200 years instead of 800. It's all academic at this point - and Bulger knows it.

All of which explains why I can effectively represent him for free. I'm not a criminal defense attorney but he has no choice but to plead guilty and even a law student can handle the pro forma nature of a guilty plea.

If Bulger actually needed a trial attorney, the guy now on board, Max Stern, would be a good choice. He's smart and he knows how to challenge evidence, try a case and make deals behind the scenes. But Whitey doesn't need a Max Stern. He just needs someone to hold his hand as he admits his guilt to a couple of dozen murders and gets hauled off to prison. That I can do - even though I don't generally represent accused criminals. I'm fully qualified and ready to be Bulger's lawyer on this case because he's entitled to justice, and in this case, justice means admitting guilt sooner than later. This will save taxpayer money and help victims' families put the whole sordid mess to rest once and for all.

Bulger might not want a victims' rights lawyer like me to represent him, but the constitution doesn't entitle him to counsel of choice - only "effective" representation, and what could be more effective than getting the guy to admit his guilt quickly? OK, maybe I mean efficient, but close enough.

Funny thing is, countless defense attorneys far more qualified than I are champing at the bit to be Whitey's lawyer simply for the free PR. But our system isn't designed to take advantage of such generosity - and the lawyers who WOULD do it for free won't say so out loud because they know there's money to be had in addition to free publicity.

A judge with guts would appoint me, realizing that as soon as I offer to do it pro bono - 100 more qualified lawyers will step up and make the same offer. A judge with guts would care about protecting the public coffers. A judge with guts would know that the end game in this case is already on the table - and he or she would be smart enough not to sign a blank check allowing Max Stern and some co-counsel (that's right - the public will be forced to pay TWO fancy lawyers because it's a murder case) to spend upwards of 500k pretending to work on a defense that will never materialize because it's so obvious that Whitey has no choice but to plead guilty.

It would be one thing if spending a fortune on defense attorneys could lead to plea negotiations that might matter. For example, if this were a single murder charge against a guy in his forties, paying Max Stern to work on a defense strategy for a couple of years might force the feds to reduce the charge to manslaughter, and the guy would get out of prison while he still had life left to live.

But the charade that a defense is even viable in this case does not pass the smell test, not only because the truth is already known and there have been too many murders to justify wasting time on an expensive trial, but also because Bulger will not live long enough to make even a cheap trial worth the cost.

If justice means truth and fairness, Bulger will plead guilty before the summer is out, and if I were his lawyer he would be a convicted murderer doing multiple life sentences before the kids go back to school in September.
But I'm betting my benevolent offer to make that happen will be rejected. I'm thinking Bulger will die before the case is even scheduled for trial, and Max Stern will have a new summer home on Nantucket - a gift from taxpayers.

Wendy Murphy is an ex-prosecutor who specialized in child abuse and sex crimes cases. Purchase her powerful book And Justice for Some through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Wendy is an adjunct professor at New England Law|Boston where she teaches a seminar on sexual violence and directs two projects she developed in conjunction with the school's Center for Law and Social Responsibility.

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