Thursday, April 3, 2003
Lawyer Who Alerted Police to Murder Victim’s Bodies Didn’t Violate Client’s Rights—Ninth Circuit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Oregon lawyer who had his secretary place an anonymous phone call that enabled police to find the bodies of his client’s murder victims did not violate the client’s constitutional right to counsel, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A divided panel held that Christopher Mecca, who withdrew as counsel for Robert McClure after the bodies of Michael Jones, 14, and his 10-year-old sister Tanya were found, neither breached his duty of confidentiality nor engaged in a conflict of interest.
“This is a close case...,” Judge William Fletcher wrote. “The choices made by McClure’s counsel give us significant pause, and, were we deciding this case as an original matter, we might decide it differently.”
But because the case is in federal court on a petition for habeas corpus seeking to nullify a state conviction, Fletcher explained, deference must be given to findings of fact by the state trial judge, as well as by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken, who denied the petition.
McClure is serving 90 years to life in prison for the murders of the two children and their mother, Carol Jones, a friend of the defendant whose body was found in her home in Grants Pass, Ore. in April 1984.
Mecca swore that he believed he had McClure’s consent to disclose where his client had taken the children. He said he based that belief on the fact that McClure called him from jail, said he had to see him, and drew a map of the locations where the children were taken.
Mecca, who said he believed at the time the children might still be alive, said he told the defendant that it was important for the children to be found before they died, and that McClure did not express disagreement.
McClure, however, testified in both state and federal courts that he did not give Mecca permission to disclose anything and was repeatedly assured that everything he told his lawyer was confidential.
Fletcher cited ABA Model Rule 1.6(b)(1):
“We conclude that Mecca made the disclosure ‘reasonably believ[ing] [it was] necessary to prevent the client from committing a criminal act that [Mecca] believe[d] [was] likely to result in imminent death or substantial bodily harm[.]”
U.S. District Judge George H. King of the Central District of California, sitting by designation, concurred.
Senior Judge Warren Ferguson dissented. “Mecca’s behavior was unreasonable because he did not possess sufficient information to make his belief that the children were alive reasonable and it was unreasonable for him to rely on the little information he had,” Ferguson argued.
The case is McClure v. Thompson, 01-35593.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company