Wednesday, December 23, 2009

BTPC's Man of the Year: Bill McGuire

While his picture to the left may not be big, we've chosen to honor South Carolina attorney Bill McGuire as our Man of the Year based in large part on size: the size of his heart in defending those who many feel do not deserve a defense and the size of his cojones in standing up against the system itself while fighting for those same clients.

For those who did not follow the story, Bill McGuire is an attorney for the Capital Defense section of the South Carolina Office of Indigent Defense. Back in September of this year, McGuire began the defending Colin Broughton in a Berkley C0unty death penalty case. Broughton was eventually convicted, but a mistrial was declared during the death penalty phase of the trial, resulting in Broughton receiving a sentence of life in prison. Before anyone starts complaining about tricky lawyers and technicalities, Broughton had offered to forgo a trial and plea guilty in exchange for life. The State refused. He then offered to plea guilty and skip the guilt/innocence phase of the trial and deal strictly with the death penalty phase. The State refused. So in the end, after all the brouhaha, McGuire got the result of his client he had been trying to get all along. As impressive as that is, that's not why we choose to honor Bill McGuire.

McGuire is our man of the year for what happened during the trial.

The saga began when McGuire was offered help from Charleston lawyer Beattie
Butler. A circuit judge ruled that Butler could only pass notes and whisper in
McGuire's ear during Broughton's trial.

McGuire fought that ruling, claiming it stemmed from some personal
issues the judge had with Butler. Adams, who is McGuire's boss, then requested
that McGuire drop his effort to expand Butler's role in the courtroom, according
to an affidavit McGuire filed in the case.

McGuire not only didn't heed Adams' advice but also folded it into his defense. McGuire said he understood that Adams' request was initiated by the judge and relayed to Adams through S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal.

"The moment Mr. McGuire was forced to choose between ethically
representing his client or 'taking a dive,' the die was cast for Mr. Broughton,"
McGuire said in a pleading.


The mistrial ended a death-penalty trial that had hit several snags even
before it began. Circuit Judge Deadra Jefferson recused herself a month ago,
shortly after McGuire raised an issue about her ruling prohibiting defense
attorney Beattie Butler from speaking during the trial.

S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal showed up at a pre-trial hearing
in which McGuire tried to get the possibility of a death sentence set aside.
Toal never took the witness stand, but McGuire said his boss, S.C. Commission on
Indigent Defense Director Patton Adams, had relayed a message from Jefferson via
Toal that McGuire should drop his attempts to allow Butler to speak.


Rauch Wise, a Greenwood lawyer on the board of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the order banning Butler from speaking could be
fertile ground for an appeal, particularly because the order didn't come in
response to any disruptive behavior by Butler in the case.

"I just think it goes against American tradition to tell a defendant
that you can't be heard by competent counsel who is there to defend you in the
courtroom," Wise said. "It just simply makes no sense."

Rauch was right. It did go against American tradition. Lucky for Mr. Broughton, he had his very own Atticus Finch.

At one point, Judge Nicholson, in ruling on whether or not McGuire should be relieved (a request McGuire filed on behalf of his client due to the inherent conflict McGuire felt the actions of Adams and the Chief Justice had created) stated that Mr. Broughton should hold Mr. McGuire on a pedestal considering the lengths McGuire had gone to in representing him. We concur.

In November, Bill McGuire received the first ever "Champion of Justice" award from the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. SCACDL created this award to specifically acknowledge and honor the courage McGuire showed in not only standing up for his client, but in doing so at great peril to his own career. Consider for one moment the fact that Bill McGuire subpoenaed his direct boss and the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court into court for the purposes of having them take the stand so that they could be questioned about conduct which McGuire was arguing was unethical. As SCACDL's President Drew Carroll remarked: "There are a lot of lawyers who talk about the lengths they would go in defending their client. Bill, he did it."

In accepting the award, McGuire was incredibly humble noting that he felt it was an easy decision to make. He simply asked himself what was right and then did it. He made it seem as if any other criminal defense lawyer would have done the same thing.

We can tell you that while we would like to think all criminal defense lawyers would risk their careers as such in advocacy of their clients, we're not so sure they would.

So the BTPC salutes Bill McGuire, our Man of the Year.


Andrew said...

Hear hear!

Mike Reino said...

Why do I feel like if I were still in SC, that I'd be getting this award?? Is it just me? Anyone? Bueller ???? Maybe not...

pluvlaw said...

Blog of the year, Reino.

Mike Reino said...

I'll take it.... hey why didn't the family invite the Black (Blue) Sheep to the compound last night?