Tuesday, July 5, 2011
After 15 Disciplinary Actions, Is Robert Slameka a Bad or Good Lawyer?
Attorney Robert Slameka (pic) has amassed quite a record: He has been admonished 11 times, reprimanded four times and had a client's conviction overturned because of his poor performance.
And the record could get worse: The state's Attorney Grievance Commission is prosecuting him on charges that he improperly revealed a client's purported confession when the man tried to back out of a plea deal in 2007. He was tried on those charges in May and written arguments are due this month. There is no timetable for a decision. If he is found in violation of professional rules, Slameka could be reprimanded again or have his license suspended.
Slameka's 42-year legal record stands out among Michigan lawyers. A review of Attorney Disciplinary Board records shows only four other lawyers in the state have been reprimanded as many times as Slameka, but three of them also have been suspended.
"Its inexplicable how (Slameka) has avoided having his license suspended," said Larry Dubin, a University of Detroit Mercy law professor and ethics expert who helped set up the state's system for policing attorneys.
Slameka repeatedly declined to speak to the Free Press about his past troubles, the current complaint -- which he briefly described as "political in nature;" retribution for a more than two-decade-old murder case -- or the impact of a 2009 National Public Radio report that made him the face of bad court-appointed lawyers: "A lot of lawyers in Detroit say if you want to see what's wrong with this country's public defender system, just take a look at Bob Slameka: He has gotten into trouble a lot during his 40 years as a public defender, but the county still appoints him to cases."
Slameka's lawyer, Thomas Loeb, said that "four reprimands in 42 years of practice doesn't trouble me at all."
He added that two reprimands dealing with clients' fees probably wouldn't be problematic under recent court rulings. Loeb said Slameka is a solid attorney often dealing with difficult clients in serious trouble. "He's a good guy," Loeb said. "He knows (criminal) court as well as anyone else." [ . . . ]
A private attorney, Slameka remains on Wayne County's list of lawyers eligible to be appointed to represent indigent clients because the sheer amount of cases moving through the county's criminal justice system far outpaces the number of public defenders, and each defendant is entitled to counsel.
The standards aren't stringent. To be on the list, a lawyer has to be a member in good standing of the state bar and Wayne County criminal bar associations, attend ongoing education programs and have an office in Wayne County, said the county's Presiding Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny. [ . . . ]
Attorney Grievance Administrator Robert Agacinski chalked up part of Slameka's woes to his caseload and longevity, saying a busy criminal defense lawyer can get many complaints from unhappy convicted clients. And recently retired Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Augustus Hutting stuck up for Slameka: "He's straight to his word. In 15 years, I've never had a problem with Bob."
Hutting said Slameka can size up a case quickly and cut a realistic deal when necessary. The brusqueness, he said, may seem insensitive or cold to someone expecting a table-thumping shouter. But Hutting said he has never seen Slameka act contrary to his client's interests.
The real question is whether Slameka's clients receive adequate representation and whether those who are convicted can automatically claim ineffective assistance of counsel based on this track record. You see the problem?