Robert Slameka: To Please A Judge, Plead ‘Em
June 20, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Nearly nine years ago, Davontae Sanford’s lawyer, Robert Slameka, convinced the 14-year-old to plead guilty to four drug house murders he didn’t commit. Turns out helping convict the innocent was the least of his problems as he now seeks to have his Michigan law license reinstated. In 2015, after 17 reprimands and admonishments, Slameka had his license suspended for the second time. Despite his repeated problems, two Wayne County circuit judges have come to his defense.
One might assume he lost his license over his lawyer antics; however, his license was suspended following his convictions for larceny and breaking and entering into his ex-girlfriend’s house and taking a few things. He also amassed a great number of unpaid parking tickets, which led to the loss of his driver’s license. He forged some stock dividend checks belonging to his mom to deposit them in his own bank account. And, he has faced several grievances from clients.
Certainly, none of this conduct seems “becoming” of a lawyer. In his defense, he offered up flimsy explanations. As to the parking tickets, he blamed his “drunken” wife for throwing away the tickets. Unfortunately, she was deceased at the time the tickets issued. As for the forgery, he first denied signing his deceased mother’s name on the dividend checks, but later admitted to signing her name on multiple occasions after her death.
Sounds like a great lawyer, right? Well, two circuit judges think so. In testimony during the recent discipline board hearings, the judges argued Slameka should continue practicing law because he saves time by quickly pleading cases.
Wait, what? He apparently can plead a case like nobody’s business. After all, he convinced an innocent Sanford to plead guilty to four murders after failing to make an opening statement and declining to cross-exam the officer involved in Sanford’s case. Why waste time in trial when you can blow the chance to actually defend your client and show him that pleading guilty would be much more efficient?
Courts are overwhelmed these days. Dockets are out of control. There are more cases languishing across the country than ever before. Public defender systems are in crisis. They lack funding. They lack investigative and expert resources. Defenders are overworked and underpaid. It’s all true. Americans are willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to prosecute and jail the accused, yet they have little desire to offer up the resources to defend. Yeah, there’s that whole 6th Amendment thing, but who cares? We’d rather move the cases along.
That’s exactly why the judges came to Slameka’s aid: Slameka’s propensity for cutting quick plea deals is the very reason two Wayne Circuit judges advocated for his reinstatement:
“We’ve got a system that rewards people for settling cases and not trying them and doesn’t pay you for spending time with your clients,” Slameka’s witness, Judge Richard Scutt, said during an April 1 discipline board hearing.
Yes, it is all about rewards. The attorney is rewarded for moving the case. Judges will appoint that attorney time and time again because they know he will move the case and thus move their docket. In a high volume defense practice, attorneys rely on court appointments for income. Of course, with high-volume comes low defense. And, guess what? No one cares, least of all the judges who promote that economy.
Judge James Chylinski, who also testified on Slameka’s behalf April 1, said: “Frank Murphy (Hall of Justice) is a world in its own” because of the high number of cases and how fast they’re handled.
“The funny thing about Frank Murphy is that the lawyers know the judges, they pretty much know the prosecutors. When they get a case, they can look at the facts and they probably know within 15-20 percent what the disposition’s going to be at an arraignment.”
Clients through the years “have become more obstinate, they tend to trust the lawyers less, and the lawyers that have been around, you know, you try to tell them hey, this is your deal, this is the best you got, our chances of winning are 20 percent, (and clients) want to argue with the lawyers,” Chylinski said.
Chylinski said Wayne Circuit Court has a “M*A*S*H mentality” where clients’ conduct “sickens you to the point that you really do not like the people you represent, the people that you see, and you have to divorce yourself from it.”
So, according to Chylinski, the defense lawyers have magic powers to know what’s going to happen when they first get the case and appear at arraignment. Never mind they haven’t yet had an opportunity to conduct any sort of meaningful investigation into defenses. Never mind they haven’t spoken to any witnesses. They know, apparently, because they do not really like the people they represent and believe what they read in preliminary police reports and prosecutor files. Yet, this system works well because it moves the docket. The faster lawyers can convince their clients to plead, the faster they can be given new clients.
Even Slameka knows Chylinski is right: it’s a high volume business with little to no defenses and he doesn’t like his clients. Responding to a grievance, Slameka wrote:
This is a sick individual who raped, kidnapped and strangled a young woman on her way to school. His claim of my wrongdoing is frivolous, just as is his existence. Both should be terminated.
When asked if that’s what he really wrote, Slameka responded:
That’s exactly what I wrote. That’s exactly how I felt. You know something? Because of people’s actions, a lot of people don’t deserve to live. OK? You take people’s lives — I’m not saying, an eye for an eye — but because of the nature of your behavior, sometimes maybe you don’t deserve to live on this Earth.
Never mind that particular grievance followed the DNA exoneration of Slameka’s former client. Despite his innocence, Slameka had already made up his mind and offered up no defense for his client.
It’s true. He doesn’t like his clients. Yet, judges come to his defense and ask that his license be reinstated so they can continue to appoint him to indigent cases in their courts.
The grievance commission will have to decide whether or not to reinstate Slameka’s license. They have yet to set a date for a decision. But more importantly, what will Judges Scutt and Chylinski do to move their dockets? They desperately need Slameka to avoid trials, plead clients, and move their dockets. So, please, Michigan, make a decision!