Maybe on one of television’s many courtroom dramas, a defense lawyer could get a laugh when she sits her client’s identical twin at the counsel table, leading a witness to mistakenly point out the man as the robber.
In the plot, perhaps, the actor judge dismisses the charges, and everybody praises the crafty defense lawyer.
In real life, not so much.
Such a stunt, which happened in the Jackson County Courthouse Wednesday, could get the lawyer tossed from the case, cited for contempt and hauled up in front of a state disciplinary panel.
Not to mention it really ticked off the real-life judge.
“I’m just so furious right now,” fumed Jackson County Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Garrett III upon the discovery.
Jackson County prosecutors moved Thursday to have criminal defense lawyer Dorothy Savory held in contempt and removed from the case after she appeared the day before with her client’s twin brother at a preliminary hearing.
County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker also said she is duty bound to report Savory to the Missouri Bar for allegedly misrepresenting to a judge the identify of the man sitting next to her during a preliminary hearing on a robbery charge.
“That’s a responsibility I take very seriously and one I’m heavily reviewing under these circumstances,” Baker said.
Before the “faux” defendant’s true identity was learned, the robbery victim had identified him as the man who had grabbed her purse on Sept. 29 near 40th Street and Warwick Boulevard.
Savory did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.
On Wednesday, however, once the switcheroo was obvious, she conceded that the man at the counsel table was not her client — not that she had ever intended to mislead the court.
“For the dignity of this court, your actions are disrespectful,” the judge is heard saying on a recording of the proceeding, reviewed by The Kansas City Star.
When Garrett called the case of State v. Darrel W. White Jr., he asked Savory if her client was in custody. She replied no, that he was in the courtroom. Garrett then asked “Mr. White” to come forward.
But it was Darion White, not Darrel, who stepped up.
In short order, Assistant Prosecutor Janelle Tanganyika put the victim on the stand. She described the strong-armed robbery and identified the man sitting next to Savory at the counsel table as her assailant.
About then, outside in the hall, the elevator door opened and the arresting police officer in the case, who was outside the courtroom waiting to be called, noticed something familiar about the fellow getting out.
He looked just like the guy busted for the robbery.
But that guy was in the courtroom, wasn’t he?
It took about a minute before he had Darrel White in his custody once more.
The officer got word to the prosecutor and the judge agreed to a recess.
When everyone gathered again, Savory, who oddly noted that she was recording the hearing with her own recorder, appeared mystified that her conduct could be called into question.
“My client was not planning on testifying at all,” she explained Wednesday. “My client was not the one I called to come to the table. This honorable court asked for Mr. White, and that’s who’s at the table today, Mr. White.”
Garrett was having none of her tap dancing.
“It was presented to me, it was presented to this court and it was presented to the state that the person sitting at that table was your client,” the judge said.
“Was it your intention to bring someone else up to this counsel table so she (the victim) could misidentify him?”
“No, your honor,” Savory responded.
When the wrong twin was called to the stand, he said the only reason he was there was because Savory “asked me to.”
“I’ve got to take a recess,” Garrett said. He announced that he was continuing the hearing until Jan. 9 and would let the circuit’s presiding judge decide whether Savoy would remain on the case.
Jay Daugherty, a former Jackson County Circuit Court judge, recalled a case from many years ago when a defendant’s brother appeared in his place at a bond hearing, but without the lawyer’s knowledge. When a clerk noticed the switch, the brother confessed, saying his brother was out of town and couldn’t make the hearing. Nothing much came of it, Daugherty remembered.
Daugherty said all lawyers have a duty under Missouri law to report unethical conduct by their colleagues when they see it. Judges also expect lawyers practicing before them to speak the truth.
“We all understand that lawyers have to argue legal issues in the light most favorable to their clients,” Daugherty said. “And, they are obligated to argue the facts in a truthful manner.”
Savory recently attracted some notice when she opened an emergency legal action in Clay County, seeking to have custody of the half brother of missing baby Lisa Irwin transferred from Jeremy Irwin and Deborah Bradley to his mother.
In a Sept. 19 post on her Twitter account, Savory suggested that her legal practices could be unorthodox.
“Other lawyers think we’re crazy!” she wrote. “They don’t know what we know. They don’t see what we see. They don’t believe what we believe.”