Wrongly Convicted Man Sues Lawyer Over Fees

By JEFF CARLTON
|  Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009  |  Updated 2:15 PM CDT
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Wrongly Convicted Man Sues Lawyer Over Fees

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A North Texas man exonerated by DNA evidence who expects to receive nearly $4.1 million for his quarter-century in prison has sued his attorney, who will take a $1 million cut after working to get more compensation for people who have been wrongly convicted.

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A North Texas man exonerated by DNA evidence who expects to receive nearly $4.1 million for his quarter-century in prison has sued his attorney, who will take a $1 million cut after working to get more compensation for people who have been wrongly convicted.

Steven Phillips, who filed the lawsuit last week, said Wednesday that attorney Kevin Glasheen deserves credit for lobbying Texas legislators to boost the state's settlement offers. But Glasheen never performed any legal work on his behalf, said Phillips, who was cleared in 2007 after spending nearly 25 years in prison for a 1982 sexual assault and burglary.

"It boils down to a simple thing: In my case, a million bucks is just unfair," Philips said.

Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney, represents about a dozen wrongly convicted men now eligible for compensation from the state of Texas, which has the most DNA exonerations in the nation.

One of them was Phillips, whose contract with the attorney was identical to the others. Glasheen would receive 40 percent of any court settlement, or 25 percent of any compensation from the state. Texas law prohibited those who accepted compensation from then suing for more money.

Glasheen filed federal civil rights lawsuits on behalf of several of those exonerated, but not Phillips. He then advised them to drop the suits while he led the effort to increase the state compensation, which had been $50,000 for each year a wrongly convicted person spent behind bars.

The exonerees and Glasheen were in Austin frequently during this year's session, eventually winning passage of a bill that made Texas the nation's most generous in compensating those who had been wrongly convicted. Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars plus lifetime annuity payments that for most are worth at least $40,000 a year and often much more.

Damien Brockmann, the legislative director for state Rep. Rafael Anchia, who sponsored the bill, said Glasheen was "fundamental in getting it passed."

Glasheen said the bill was all he worked on from November until May, that he was in Austin weekly and that he had another lawyer and some support staff working on compensation issues full time.

"We put a tremendous amount of time, money, effort and risk into this entire project," Glasheen said. "We have earned our fee and expect to collect it. I believe I did an outstanding job for these clients, and Steven's compensation more than tripled."

Under the old law, Phillips would have collected about $1.2 million. According to the new law, Phillips will eventually receive nearly $4.1 million. Glasheen said under the contact, he is entitled to $1 million.

Randy Turner, Phillips' new lawyer, called that "outrageous."

"He wasn't hired to be a lobbyist. He was hired to do legal work," Turner said. "I think it's pretty audacious for a lawyer to go down to Austin to lobby for a bill that will make him a lot of money and then try to claim the lobbying work was legal work."

Glasheen said he plans to file a countersuit accusing Turner and two other people of interfering with his legal contract with Phillips.

Phillips' case is more convoluted than most. DNA testing cleared him of a sexual assault and robbery, but he had pleaded guilty to nine similar sex crimes. He said he feared life sentences if he did not plead guilty to the other charges.

Based on DNA testing last year, authorities now believe Sidney Alvin Goodyear, who died in prison in 1998, committed all 11 crimes that sent Phillips to prison.

Phillips now works for a Christian publishing company in Dallas and is a part-time student at the University of Texas at Arlington. He's taking a criminal justice class on wrongful convictions in which students study old cases in an effort to free the innocent.

"Every case is different, and I don't pretend to speak for the other guys," Phillips said. "But in my case, there was no actual representation." 

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