Terry Harrington is now a free man. And he is probably a millionaire. He owes that to a woman named Anne Danaher. According to Harrington's legal advisers, however, Ms. Danaher shouldn't be paid a dime. Shame on the legal advisers.
The name Terry Harrington might not mean anything to you. You most likely know the case as Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, the Supreme Court case involving prosecutorial misconduct withdrawn before a decision could be reached. The case was withdrawn when the county agreed to pay Harrington and another man $12 million to settle their claim that the prosecution had essentially framed them for murder by knowingly procuring false testimony. Harrington was convicted of the murder of retired police officer as a result of that testimony. He spent a quarter of a century behind bars.
Harrington was released from prison in 2003. He would still be behind bars were it not for the tireless work of Anne Danaher.
Danaher was a prison barber in the Iowa Department of Corrections. She cut the hair of men doing long stretches of time. And she listened to the men. Something about what Terry Harrington told her didn't make sense. He wasn't at the crime scene. He had an alibi. No one could have seen him present at the site of the murder. Danaher listened to Harrington and she believed him.
So she started spending her free time tracking down witnesses. She met Harrington's appellate lawyer. She even found undisclosed police reports that pointed to another suspect. She learned that prosecutors never disclosed this material to Harrington's trial lawyer. And she learned about a payment made to a key witness for the state. She took what she learned to a Waterloo lawyer named Mary Kennedy. Kennedy, too, believed in Harrington.
Danaher spent nine years of uncompensated time working on the Harrington case, eventually accumulating 27 boxes of material. Last week, Harrington's lawyers informed Danaher that she shouldn't expect a dime for the work she did on the case. She claims that Harrington promised her consideration if he ever struck the jackpot.
Danaher is bitter and blames the lawyers who ended up with the case -- Gerry Spence and several junior lawyers in the firm. "The prosecutors did it for political gain and Spence and gang are doing it for the thirty pieces of gold," she writes. Danaher claims that Spence and three lawyers in his firm, J. Douglas McCalla, Mel Orchard. III, and Larissa McCalla, want to keep her from being compensated for her work.
"I'm the perfect example of the "little guy" a woman who believed in her fellow man and dedicated her life to finding the truth and bringing a man back to life.... And the big boys want to deny me my worth. Poor Gerry, he has shown what he is all about," Danaher recently told me.
I'm sure there is posturing aplenty going on here. But let's do some simple math. Assume that the $12 million settlement went in equal shares to both plaintiffs in the case, leaving Harrington with a $6 million cut. Assume further that the rule of the high-roller applies and that the lawyers took a 50 percent contingency fee on this file, less expenses. My hunch is that Harrington's take from this settlement is somewhere on the order of about $1.5 million to $2 million.
Whether Harrington compensates Danaher for any of the work she did interests me less than the decision of Harrington's lawyers to leave Danaher in the cold. After all, Harrington's the one who must now live out the remainder of his days shackled to the memory of the living Hell he has endured. That he most likely received only a third or so of the sum due him is troubling.
Shouldn't the lawyers who enjoyed this multi-million dollar bonanza show some generosity to Danaher?
"Oh, but the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from entering partnerships with non-lawyers," the lawyers may chortle in high-minded glee. "We can't cut her in on our share without running afoul of the rules."
It's not that simple. The lawyers did not form a partnership with Danaher. However, Danaher and the lawyers were on the same side. Both were seeking justice, right? Both were on the side of the little guy, railroaded and left for dead by corrupt government officials, right? Justice was done, right? Well why not let the financial benefits that come with this particular incarnation of justice flow in Danaher's direction as well? Nothing prevents the lawyers from recognizing her contribution from their share of the winnings. I mean, isn't this the same firm loosely associated with a Trial Lawyer's College that routinely shakes down attendees for all the cash it can muster to make sure that "people's lawyers" can get adequate training to fight evil? People's investigators have to eat, too.
Terry Harrington's lawyers did a good thing for their client. They fought hard and well, and they won a huge settlement for men horribly wronged. But the hardwork the lawyers did would not have been possible without Anne Danaher. Refusing to honor her contribution is small and petty. It makes the lawyers look like money-grubbing hypocrites.
"I'll fight ... because I'm alive with the warrior spirit and I'm willing to stand in integrity for the truth and go to battle." That's what Danaher says of her dispute regarding compensation.
That's the sort of talk you'd expect to hear from people's lawyers. But in this case all were hearing is the sound of a bank vault closing. Sad. Sad, but predictable. Why not let us hear the sound of a pen's nib hitting paper: Write Danaher a check and share the wealth, Gerry. It's the right thing to do.