Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Judge Paul Backman Wins Kudos for Work in Freeing Unjustly Imprisoned Man

The story of Leroy McGee makes for compelling drama and Sun Sentinel reporter Jon Burstein captured it all in his feature yesterday, linked below. "Mc Gee spent three years and seven months in prison for a robbery he didn't commit. His pleas of innocence were ignored by Broward jurors, who convicted him. They went unheeded until one of his many letters to the outside landed on the desk of someone who believed he might be telling the truth.That someone was the same judge who sent McGee to prison. Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman eventually overturned McGee's conviction."

The victory, though, came a year after McGee finished serving his prison sentence.McGee, 41, is now seeking compensation from the state for his lost years — time in which he lost his marriage, his job and the chance to watch his children grow up.

He is the first person to apply for reparations under the state's Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act passed last year. He could be eligible for $50,000 for every year he spent in prison."This was an innocent man who hired the wrong lawyer and ended up paying the price," Backman told the Sun Sentinel.

Writes Burstein: "McGee, a soft-spoken carpenter's apprentice for the Broward County School District, said the money isn't as important as what it represents: total vindication. And while the Fort Lauderdale father of five says he has no definite plans for the money, he says it will be used to provide a better life for his children, who range in age from 5 to 22."

Burstein tells the story of how McGee fought his conviction from inside prison; how he wrote letters to anyone he could, from President Bill Clinton to the NAACP. When Backman received a letter, he took it as a legal motion by McGee challenging his attorney's effectiveness. That allowed him to appoint another lawyer, Michael Wrubel, to examine whether he had received adequate representation.

Wrubel argued McGee was in prison because his attorney was ineffective. In August 1995, Backman agreed, throwing out the conviction and ordering a new trial."In over 1,200 jury trials this court has never witnessed a more tragic set of circumstances," Backman wrote. "While it is unquestioned that the armed robbery took place, it is also clear that the defendant was not the individual who perpetrated the act." This story is also a testimony to the strength and wisdom of Mike Wrubel, an outstanding criminal defense practitioner, quietly thorough and adamantly professional in his deliberative processes.

The story Burstein write lays out the script for a movie, from McGee's incarceration to his petition for compensation; his personal attitudes in standing up to a system once more exposed as being more unjust than just. And that, my friends, is why we fight and never give it up. Whether it is screwed up forensics, or ineffective assistance of counsel, or bad judges or bad cops, you have to be willing to look at a case and peel it away like an onion. Sometimes it will make you cry.

Here is the full story:
The Sun-Sentinel, effectively integrating the Internet into its exhaustive story, lists also all the relevant links to Leroy McGee's quest for justice. This just typifies how remarkable the world we live in has become; how the age of information is but a click and link away; how privileged we are to be where we are. For a kid who grew up with card catalogues and the Dewey Decimal system in public libraries, the world has become a lot smaller and easier to reach. I wonder whether in our speed and haste to access this information we do not just spend enough time marvelling about it.

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