A few days ago, I wrote about a Jerry Guerinot, a Texas lawyer who has lost 20 death penalty cases, and I labeled him “The Most Dangerous Lawyer in Texas.” Well, today the NY Times did a lengthy article about Mark Heller, a long practicing lawyer in NY with a nefarious reputation, whom I replaced as the lawyer for David Johnson, aide to Gov. Paterson. Here’s a link to the article:
The Johnson case is not the first time I have been brought in to mop up after Mark Heller’s fiascos. It has happened in at least half a dozen instances. In fact, one of my other cases is also mentioned in the Times. Hector Galeano was in his 50s when he was arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. It was his first contact with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately for Hector, his wife and daughter hired Mr. Heller who took $50,000.00 from them (their life savings) after Mr. Heller promised them he would get the case dismissed. When they asked how this would be possible, he told them he knew the judge personally from being a golf buddy and that part of the $50K was for the judge. At the last hearing date, he told them to bring another $10K in cash because the judge wanted him to sweeten the pot – they did. He told them to wait outside the courtroom as he didn’t want to involve them in the dirty transaction. Instead, Mr. Heller walked into court (as the minutes show) and just had Hector plead to 5 year to life in prison. Hector had no idea about the fake bribe plot as Heller had told his family he wanted to keep Hector totally int eh dark about it. The Judge was Abby Boklan, as upright, conservative and hard as nails judge as a prosecutor could hope for and certainly no golf buddy of Mark Heller. But those who actually knew her and practiced regularly before her, also knew that she had an open ear for cases like Hector’s – first arrest, good guy who exercised bad judgment to try and make some extra cash quickly, and not a repeat hardcore drug dealer- and that with the right approach to the case, a better outcome could have been obtained. So Heller walked out of the courtroom and told Hector’s astonished wife that the judge backed out of the deal at the last moment. When the Galeano family came to us after that court appearance we advised them to file a grievance against Mr. Heller and that we would try to see what could be done. Try as we might we were unable to change his sentence (after all, he had plead guilty of his own free will and without knowing about the bribe issue).
What is striking is that the Times article describes that Heller is still behaving in the ways that caused him a 5 year suspension from the practice of law (the Galeano complaint was one of 18 against him). I can’t tell you how many times I have received calls and complaints from his client’s about the Heller method of practicing law: He tells people to give him all the money they have – often with no retainer agreement, nothing in writing as to the what the total fee will be – charging outrageous fees and not earning them and then refuses to return the money until he is sued or threatened with suit. He still inserts himself into high-profile cases (taking them on for free – just for the publicity) then quickly gets fired from them. New clients are likely dazzled by the headline clippings he shows them about the cases he has been involved in, but he never tells them I’m sure that he never lasts more than one or two court appearances. But the clients don’t do the follow up to see how those cases ended or who was the lawyer at the end. Here’s a quote from the Times article from one of Heller’s latest high-profile victims, Kristin Davis, the madam of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution ring:
“He gave me a big sales pitch, which included showing me articles about David Berkowitz, Puff Daddy, the base-jumper and others he had represented,” Ms. Davis fired him from her jail cell three months later, and later called his representation “disgraceful.”
So I have no doubt that Heller will now take the first portion of the hard copy of the article, which has a nice picture of him, a headline that reads “Mark Heller, Esq.” underneath which sit snapshots of four high-profile cases he was involved in, and frame that to show to new clients that he was recently showcased in the world-famous NY Times. He’ll keep his fingers crossed that they will be too impressed to read the actual content of the article.