Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford, there's been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote's courtroom: attorney Bill Goode.
Photo by Robin May
Attorney Bill Goode leaving the federal courthouse on April 2 following a meeting held in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote in which he was questioned over comments made earlier that day to the press concerning lawyer Barry Domingue's suicide.
Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford - the last defendant remaining in the federal government's Curious Goods conspiracy case - there's been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote's courtroom.
The Lafayette criminal defense attorney shares an office with Stanford and has been intimately involved in the case from as far back as the summer of 2012, when he briefly represented Joshua Espinoza, one of the nine defendants included in the original federal indictment who cut a deal with prosecutors shortly after parting ways with Goode and hiring a new attorney.
Goode's involvement didn't end with Espinoza, and for the next two years, he continued to help prepare for trial two of the defendants, Stanford and Carencro attorney Barry Domingue.
For Goode, it was the April 2 suicide of Domingue and at least two interviews he gave to the local press that would officially mark an end to his involvement with the case (at least insofar as him being in the courtroom), ultimately resulting in the court filing of sanctions.
Domingue's suicide attempt came several hours before he and Stanford were set to return to federal court for the second day of their trial. Goode had been in court, assisting in their defense.
Upon learning of Domingue's death, the trial was put on hold that morning, and shortly after lunch a meeting was convened in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote with federal prosecutors and both Stanford and Goode.
According to court transcripts, Foote wasted no time in addressing the reason for inviting Goode:
Mr. Goode, you have been invited to this meeting for several reasons. One, you have been assisting the defense with this case for several years now, and you have been present at the trial from the very beginning.
I was handed a write-up by the [The Advocate] where there is actually an article out about this and what has happened with Mr. Domingue. It is an interview with you. It quotes you. It says, Goode said he was able to say good-bye on Wednesday,' and it quotes you as saying that he shot himself with a nine-millimeter pistol. Then it goes on to say, Goode said Domingue was a good man and a good lawyer who was innocent of the felonies federal prosecutors said he committed. Domingue fights for his clients and he's a really nice guy,' Goode said.
[Y]ou know that you are prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct. It says that a lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.
Goode's response: To throw The Advocate's reporter under the bus saying he made an agreement with the reporter to hold off on publishing his story until after Foote had granted a mistrial that afternoon, a decision he was near certain the judge would make. The Advocate reporter, alleged Goode, had broken their agreement by publishing the story when he did. The story went up online shortly after the interview and appeared in print the next day.
"I knew that a mistrial was going to be granted in this case, and I told the guy not to do anything until after court when I would call him back," said Goode.
The IND has learned that it was Goode who placed the call to The Advocate with news of the suicide attempt (Domingue died later that day), and the effort at justifying his talks with the press clearly wasn't working for Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Walker, who used these choice words in responding to Goode on April 2:
[T]his is despicable. His acts were despicable. The man is in the hospital, he's just attempted suicide, and [Goode's] doing an interview with the Advocate in direct violation of Local Rule 53.5. His acts were contemptuous.
I've never been more offended. I can hardly talk about it. In this case he has been systematically doing interviews on the Curious Goods case since the case began. This is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. I can't imagine how somebody could do something like that. I can't even look at you.
Walker then raised issue with a number of articles by The IND featuring Goode's comments on Domingue and his thoughts on the government's case.
"[W]e discovered he also had given a much more detailed interview with the Independent," said Walker. "I am asking for a protective order that he can no longer speak to the press, and that - I've never done that before in 20 years, but under the circumstances, considering what he's doing and what he's done since the day of the indictment, that seems to be the only way that we can protect the integrity of this case."
After a reading from our article by Judge Foote, in which she focused on Goode's comments regarding Domingue's innocence and the toll the federal case had taken on his law practice and his private life, Goode took a second try at explaining his interview, saying, "Your Honor, Barry Domingue was a friend of mine, and I didn't want his death to be taken by anybody in the public to be any kind of a sad admission on his part that he had done anything wrong. I've known him for years and years and years, and I knew the court was going to grant a mistrial."
Goode also made it a point to reiterate that both Stanford and Domingue were acting as their own legal counsel, and that while he did provide some assistance, his role was mostly based on his friendship with the two fellow attorneys.
"Your Honor, I am not their counsel of record. I am a friend of both of theirs. I was in the courtroom," explained Goode. "And I would like to state for the record that I've never had a friend of mine kill himself like this."
It should be noted that when Goode spoke with The IND on April 2 before the mistrial was granted, repeating much of the same information he had shared with The Advocate, he never requested that we delay posting our story. The story was published online shortly before we got confirmation of the mistrial and was immediately edited to reflect Foote's decision to grant it. The photo of Goode leaving the courtroom after meeting in Foote's chambers was added later that day.
The Advocate declined comment for this story.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley even weighed in during the meeting, saying her primary concern was for maintaining the sanctity of the case and not spoiling the jury pool since one defendant, Stanford, still remained. Finley said she learned of the suicide attempt from The Advocate story.
In requesting a gag order from Judge Foote to keep Goode and Stanford from further talks with the press and to prevent the leaking of an alleged suicide note left by Domingue, Finley continued her argument, saying:
It's about respect for the process. It's about making sure that both sides, Mr. Stanford and the United States ... have a fair trial. I think that's extremely important. The challenge here is that Mr. Goode knows that and has made those arguments on behalf of his own clients about what's going on. ... We feel very strongly about protecting that process. It is extremely important, especially in a case where it's gotten a lot of publicity and notoriety from Mr. Goode, as the court well knows, and Mr. Stanford who appeared in the press before.
It appears to be that there seems to be a pattern to address the media quickly and in this case extremely quickly. I wasn't even aware of the status of Mr. Domingue. I found out from the paper by way of Mr. Goode. So this is something that we take extremely serious, not as a strategy, but as a respect for the process, and we would ask that in any case.
I think the interaction with the press is somewhat alarming.
This is not simply a reciting of what went on in court. This is actually Mr. Goode having put forth a defense for Mr. Domingue and Mr. Stanford.
The gag order was issued, and to further address Goode's actions, Judge Foote followed up the April 2 meeting in her chambers with a motion calling for court sanctions against Goode. The sanctions hearing was held in June with Goode addressing the court's allegations of his professional misconduct.
Bill Goode joins Daniel Stanford for a photo accompanying a November 2012 article by The IND in which they lay out what they consider weaknesses in the federal government's Curious Goods case.
An exhibit list submitted prior to the hearing includes five news articles on Domingue's suicide from The IND and The Advocate, as well as reports published shortly after the original indictment was handed down in October 2012, including a series of stories from The IND featuring Stanford and Goode's thoughts on weaknesses in the fed's case.
The exhibit list also featured letters from three of Goode's colleagues attesting to his character professionally and privately, including one from former U.S. Attorney Michael Skinner, who writes:
I have known Bill Goode since his days on the bench as a United States Magistrate. Bill and I were later law partners for several years before I left the firm for government service. In all these years, I have never known Bill to do anything unethical, or to even do anything close to the line. In all my dealing with him, he has always been honest and straight-forward, both professionally and personally. I believe him to have that same reputation in the legal community.
I make no comment on the statements attributed to him and that form the basis for the hearing. I can only believe that any such statements made in response to the great tragedy that occurred and the emotions caused by the tragedy. I do not believe that Bill would ever consciously undermine our judicial system. I ask you to please consider these comments when you determine what, if any, sanctions are required in this matter.
For Goode, the June 11 hearing didn't go too well, with Foote finding him in violation of both state and federal professional conduct rules for attorneys. Goode's sanctions issue is not over and likely won't be resolved until after the Curious Goods case comes to a close with the end of Stanford's trial. Foote, instead of rendering a final decision, referred the matter to Judge Dee Drell, chief judge for the U.S. Western District of Louisiana, "for consideration of suspending Attorney William L. Goode from practicing in the Western District of Louisiana for a specified period of time."
An order was filed June 30 by Judge Drell denying Goode's request for oral argument. That means Drell will base his decision on the opinion and evidence provided by Foote, and an 80-page brief filed by Goode's attorney, Leslie Schiff, in response to the allegations.
In the brief, Schiff argues that during the April 2 meeting in Foote's office, the judge showed great compassion for Daniel Stanford over the emotional impact he was facing from Barry Domingue's suicide. That, however, wasn't how she treated Goode, he claims, writing in his June 30 filing:
Judge Foote was not similarly conciliatory to Mr. Goode about the emotional impact Mr. Domingue's suicide had had on him. Nevertheless, the emotional impact on Mr. Goode was enormous. Judge Foote is seeking to have Mr. Goode sanctioned for his statements to the press, which she felt were in violation of Local Rule 53.3 and 53.5.
A hearing was held in this matter on June 11, 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Foote found that there were no mitigating circumstances in this matter because Mr. Goode showed no remorse, and referred this matter to Chief Judge Drell for investigation.
The brief then addresses Goode's April 2 interactions with the press:
The sight of Mr. Domingue lying in the hospital bed on life support and soaked with blood sapped Mr. Goode's emotional strength. Who will walk in Mr. Goode's shoes and say - in hindsight - that he should not have spoken to the press or possibly could resist doing so?
Every person in that room with Mr. Domingue was in shock and emotional pain at the horror of what had happened. After leaving the hospital, Mr. Goode returned to his office, and, because he was so emotionally distraught, he was compelled to tell the world what had happened in order to try to save Mr. Domingue's good name. He gave two interviews. The essence of the remarks made by Mr. Goode in his one interview on April 2, 2014, with [The Advocate] and his one interview on April 2, 2014, with [The IND] was to profess the innocence of Mr. Domingue and the innocence in the second interview of Mr. Domingue and Mr. Stanford.
Mr. Goode's remarks were protected free speech. Mr. Goode was involved in a unique, horrible experience. He reacted because he was upset and emotionally overcome. Mr. Goode has been an active member of the Louisiana Bar since April 17, 1972, and an active member of the United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, since March 5, 1973. During this time, his record is unblemished.
Judge Drell has yet to render a final decision, and it's unclear when he will. I'ts probably a safe bet, however, that Goode knew showing up at Stanford's trial this week wouldn't be a wise move.
According Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino, who says the situation is certainly "unusual," a worst-case scenario for Goode will either be sanctions or a temporary ban from practicing in federal court.