Defense Lawyer Vindicated By Supreme Court

It’s not every day that individual lawyers get a ringing endorsement from the U.S. Supreme Court. But that’s what happened to Stockton, Calif.-based defense lawyer John Schick yesterday. In a per curiam opinion, the court stated decisively that Schick was not guilty of inneffective assistance of counsel when he represented convicted murderer Fernando Belmontes at trial almost 30 years ago.

In a report in today’s Daily Journal (subscribers only), your blogger asked Schick how he felt about the ruling and the 9th Circuit opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, which the justices summarily reversed.  This is what he said:

Schick, Belmontes’ former lawyer, said in an interview Monday he wasn’t surprised by the Supreme Court decision due to obvious flaws in Reinhardt’s reasoning.

“It was not a really well reasoned opinion,” he said. “He [Reinhardt] may not have been thinking as clearly as he should have been.”

As for his original mitigation strategy, Schick conceded that it was “nice to know that the highest court in the land agrees with me.”

He also revealed that Belmontes had been offered a plea bargain before going to trial but had refused a sentence of life without parole in part because a death sentence offers the possibility of “a lot more appeal action.”

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Lawrence Hurley

Reporter based in Washington