Saturday, April 2, 2011

Even the Judge Couldn't Take It

The mistrial, I'm sorry to say, was the shocking part.
Dontrell Deaner was facing murder charges in DC Superior Court where you maybe can still say 
Fuck y'all
to the judge after you get sentenced.  Nautrally, he had a lawyer, one Josephy Rakofsky.  I don't know Rakofsky, never heard of him before.  But he's got an on-line profile at where he claims three areas of practice.
Criminal Law
Dui and Traffic Law
Malpractice Law & Negligence
Which is rather a lot for a guy who's been out of law school just since 2009.  Per Keith Alexander in the Washington Post:
Rakofsky’s Web page on says he specializes in criminal law, DUIs, traffic law, malpractice law and negligence. He lists his firm’s address as 14 Wall St. in Manhattan, but the New York state attorney registration offices have no record of Rakofsky being licensed in New York. Rakofsky, who received his law degree from Touro College in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2009, has been licensed in New Jersey since April 29, 2010.
His lawyersearch profile tells us more.
Mr. Rakofsky has worked on cases involving Murder, Embezzlement, Tax Evasion, Civil RICO, Securities Fraud, Bank Fraud, Insurance Fraud, Wire Fraud, Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Drug Trafficking, Grand Larceny, Identity Theft, Counterfeit Credit Card Enterprise and Aggravated Harassment. Following graduation from law school, he worked for one of the biggest civil litigation firms on the east coast and has worked for boutique white-collar criminal defense firms in Manhattan. During law school, Mr. Rakofsky interned at the Legal Aid Society (in Suffolk County). Prior to studying law, Mr. Rakofsky studied Economics and interviewed at a well-respected investment bank with branches all over the world.  Prior to law school, Mr. Rakofsky earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology, concentrating his attention on DNA.
Impressive, huh?  As Jamison Koehler, who led me to this story, notes, adding the italics,
[H]e “interviewed at a well-respected investment bank with branches all over the world."
Wow. Of course, that was before he went to law school.  We can be pretty sure if he'd been hired by that bank he wouldn't have gone to law school at all.  So maybe the proper way to put it is that 
a well-respected investment bank with branches all over the world refused to hire him.
Still, he has (if his bio is to be believed) worked both for "one of the biggest civil litigation firms on the east coast" and for "boutique white-collar criminal defense firms in Manhattan."  And if you note the plural in that last part, you'll figure that in the two years since law school he's had jobs with at least three firms and had time to go into private practice with his office in a state where he's not licensed.  Which is pretty impressive as an indication that he can't hold a job.
And speaking of holding a job, that's where this tale is going.
See (and to return where we began), somehow Dontrell Deaner's family ended up hiring Rakofsky f
to represent Dontrell in the murder case.  Of course, since he isn't licensed in DC, Deaner hired local counsel, the wonderfully named Sherlock Grigsby, to assist him.
It seems, though, whatever Sherlock did, it wasn't enough.  The Post tells what happened.
A D.C. Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Friday in a 2008 murder case and allowed the defendant to fire his New York-based attorney, who exhibited what the judge said were numerous signs that he lacked knowledge of proper trial procedure, including telling the jury during his opening statements that he had never tried a case before.
Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was “astonished” at his performance and at his “not having a good grasp of legal procedures” before dismissing him. 
Part of the problem was that Deaner wouldn't listen to Sherlock.
After Friday’s hearing, Grigsby said that Deaner’s family hired Rakofsky and that he and Rakofsky “disagreed more than a couple of times” on how to proceed with the case. “He was the attorney of record. I would offer what I thought was the best advice, and he wouldn’t accept it,” Grigsby said.
Let me be clear.
This does not happen.
Oh, not the part about defense counsel disagreeing with each other.  Or the part about lead counsel being grotesquely incompetent.  Sadly, I have to report that that happens with some frequency.  And it's not unusual for judges to get pissed off at incompetent bozo lawyers who screw up trial procedures.  Especially when they openly disagree with co-counsel and piss off the client.  But taking them off the case?  During trial?  Declaring a mistrial?
That does not happen.
It should probably happen more.  We'd save some retrials.  More, we'd avoid having some people getting convicted who shouldn't have been and then not getting relief because the reviewing standards for measuring effective assistance of counsel are so low.
Of course, it turns out Rakofsky wasn't just over his head and wasn't just incompetent.  He was, it seems, also dishonest.
What angered Jackson even more was a filing he received early Friday from an investigator hired by Rakofsky in which the attorney told the investigator via an attached e-mail to “trick” a government witness into testifying in court that she did not see his client at the murder scene.
According to the filing, Rakofsky had fired the investigator and refused to pay him after the investigator refused to carry out his orders with the witness. The filing included an e-mail that the investigator said was from Rakofsky, saying: “Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting.” The e-mail came from Rakofsky’s e-mail account, which is registered to Rakofsky Law Firm in Freehold, N.J. 
We get to try and confuse the government's witnesses on cross-examination.  We get to try and make them acknowledge that they didn't see and couldn't have seen what they just claimed to have seen.  We get to try and get them to say that black is white and down is up.  But we don't get to screw with the evidence and try to trick witnesses into committing perjury, which is pretty much what the investigator seems to be saying Rakofsky wanted him to do.
As I say with some frequency here, I have no idea whether Deaner did the things with which he's charged.  I don't know, either, whether even with a terrific defense a jury would be likely to find him guilty.  The evidence is what it is, and the facts are what they are.  But although the judge is appointing Deaner a new lawyer (what about Sherlock? inquiring minds wonder; most judges in this bizarre situation would make him continue with the trial), it will likely be a year or more before he goes back to trial.
And he'll be spending that year in custody.
I'm not sure there are any grand lessons to be learned from this fiasco.
Don't hire a lawyer who's been out of law school for less than two years for a murder case.
Yeah, that's probably one.
Don't hire a lawyer based on his paid blurb on a legal advertising site.*
That's another.
But really, anyone who couldn't figure those out going in isn't likely to take them away from this sad story either.
I'd add something about getting what you paid for, but I wouldn't be shocked to learn that Rakofsky charged megabucks.
So I guess there's just this, and it's not a lesson at all, just a fact.
For whatever reason, Judge Jackson wouldn't, ultimately, let Deaner get fucked by his lawyer.  
That's no small thing.

*Out of curiosity, I did a search through lawyersearch for criminal defense lawyers in Toledo.  They had 6 pages of listings (probably around 60 names, though I didn't count).  One was paid and prominently displayed on each of the 6 pages.  They had a couple of the top criminal lawyers in in Toledo listed.  Most of the best weren't listed at all.  Some of those who were listed don't do any criminal defense.  At least one of the listed lawyers died a few years ago.
For the record, I''m not listed.  Also for the record, that doesn't sadden me.


  1. Oh, how I'd love to hear the rest of this the client found him, how much he charged, etc.

    I also wonder if there is going to be any bar fallout as a result.

    I've decided to start taking death penalty cases. I'll just add "Knows of a guy in OH who does death penalty stuff" to my resume'. That should be enough, right?

  2. I can imagine a lawsuit to recover the money they paid him. Beyond that, my guess/fear is that he gets to keep screwing/scamming clients. But maybe NJ actually tries to enforce rules about competence.

  3. Oh, and on the death penalty thing: That's probably more than you need to say to get appointed in some places. And way more than you need to say to get retained - as long as you're willing to take the case for $500 down next month and the other $500 he promised just as soon as you (1) get the charges dismissed and (2) find the client before he gets to the bar on the way home collecting his winnings from hitting the Mega Millions jackpot.

  4. this dude is one funny cat
    he states with such conviction that he is going to be the only one working on your case
    yeah dummy because you are still wet behind the ears and dont assoicates or a secretary
    try and trick the witness into perjuring herself
    the old "im just a simple country lawyer trying his first little old case"
    a young lawyer without any moral compass and without any guidance from the learned bar of NYC

  5. It just goes to show you how important it is to do your research when hiring a criminal defense attorney! In light of being sued by Rakofsky for an earlier blog post on this same topic, I decided to follow up with another addressing the lessons learned - mainly focusing on asking questions about experience, certifications, reputation etc. Rakofsky shouldn't have accepted this case, but to eliminate this from ever happening to you - we should all do our homework!