SADO assistant defender analyzes her SCOTUS argument

Valerie Newman, assistant defender at the State Appellate Defender Office in Detroit, will reflect on how she prepared for and successfully argued Lafler v. Cooper at the Supreme Court of the United States.

Her “A View from the Podium: Reflections on a Supreme Court Argument” presentation is 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.

In Lafler, Newman convinced a 5-4 majority that a defendant who receives ineffective advice that results in rejection of a plea offer and conviction at trial, may be entitled to relief from the sentence after conviction.

In the years leading up to the country’s high court, Newman — who was honored recently as one of Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2012 Women in the Law — said that the state courts were not willing to address the matter as a Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel argument. Instead, they wanted to blame the defendant.

Admission to the presentation is free, and lunch will be served. Learn more at

Porn allegations rock appellate defender commission

The Detroit Free Press has a stunning story this morning about the former chief of the State Appellate Defender Office, and a delay in investigating the events that may have led to his abrupt decision to retire from SADO, where he had worked for some four decades.

The Freep alleges that appellate defender commission delayed turning over to authorities evidence of questionable, and possibly illegal, activities involving its former director James Neuhard, and evidence of pornography allegedly found on the computer that he used until his abrupt retirement in January 2011.

According to Michigan Supreme Court spokeswoman Marcia McBrien, the first anyone at the Supreme Court heard of the allegations was in August of 2011.

Cooley Law School dean and appellate commission board member “John Nussbaumer contacted [Michigan Supreme Court General Counsel] Matthew Schneider.”

Nussbaumer told Schneider that staffers had found evidence of pornographic web surfing on Neuhard’s computer late in 2010 or early in 2011. Neuhard resigned on Jan. 3, 2011.

McBrien said that the computer was turned over to federal law enforcement authorities at that time.

“They had uncovered sites that were suspected child pornography,” she said.

Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. was informed of the allegations right away, and “expressed outrage that there was a delay for eight months and nothing concrete had happened,” McBrien said.

The Freep story stated that part of the delay was because the commissioner’s former chairman Donald Martin, who said in January 2011 that he would handle the matter, was diagnosed with leukemia early in 2011. By the time Nussbaumer became chairman and learned that Martin had not contacted law enforcement authorities, it was June.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office issued a statement: “Prosecutor Worthy was made aware of the allegations approximately a month and a half ago.” Her office can’t comment because there is an ongoing investigation. No determination has been made on whether criminal charges will be filed.

Neuhard was named Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2009 Lawyer of the Year.

SADO client, caught in crime lab debacle, gets new trial

Nathan Jacobs was convicted of second-degree murder in 2007, and was sentenced to 25-47 years in prison. But he’s getting a new trial in Wayne County, thanks to the work of the State Appellate Defender Office special Crime Lab Unit.

The unit was created in response to the closure of the Detroit Police Crime Lab; the lab closed in 2008 after a Michigan State Police audit of ballistics evidence turned up a 10 percent error rate.

At Jacobs’ new trial, there will be new evidence presented — the presence of a second firearm, where the original trial theory claimed one.

According to SADO, “Two eyewitnesses originally testified that Jacobs shot the victim with an AK-47, once in the head and twice in the abdomen, in front of the victim’s house. Detroit Crime Lab analysis found the bullet fragments too damaged for proper analysis. Through research and investigation, SADO’s crime unit discovered that an independent forensic laboratory, Ron Smith & Associates, had analyzed the same firearms evidence as part of the Detroit Crime Lab audit. This analysis materially contradicted the Detroit Crime Lab result, finding that the abdomen bullet fragments were consistent with an AK-47 while the bullet fragments taken from the deceased’s head were consistent with a pistol.”

Jacobs is the fifth person to get a new trial; three of those defendants are SADO clients.

William Lee was wrongly convicted of a violent rape when he was 17 years old, and received 15-30 years. He has been exonerated after DNA evidence was re-examined. Flawed crime lab analysis helped to convict Orande Thompson of first-degree murder for the accidental shooting of his girlfriend. On retrial, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Neuhard leaves SADO

James R. Neuhard, longtime director of the State Appellate Defender’s Office and 2009 Michigan Lawyers Weekly Lawyer of the Year resigned and retired on Jan. 4. Deputy Chief Dawn Van Hoek will serve as acting director.

From the State Appellate Defender’s Office:

The Appellate Defender Commission accepted on January 4, 2011, the resignation and retirement of James R. Neuhard, Director of the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO). Mr. Neuhard directed the statewide office, which provides appellate representation to indigent criminal appellants, since September 6, 1974. SADO has been recognized as one of the nation’s premier public defense offices, receiving the prestigious Clara Foltz Award from the ABA in 2009. Mr. Neuhard has received numerous awards based on his leadership, including the Michigan Lawyers Weekly recognition as “Lawyer of the Year” in 2009.

“We wish Jim well in his retirement, and thank him for his inspired leadership, and many years of service to the State of Michigan and clients of SADO,” said Donald Martin, Chair of the Appellate Defender Commission. The Commission appointed Dawn Van Hoek, SADO’s Chief Deputy, to serve as Acting Director pending a decision on Mr. Neuhard’s permanent replacement. The Commission is a statutory body comprised of Governor’s appointees, overseeing both SADO and the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System.