City Desk

N.J. Lawyer Doesn’t Care What D.C. Thinks of Him

Some lawyers might be bummed to have their first trial, a murder trial, tossed out because of incompetence. Joseph Rakofsky isn't that kind of lawyer. He bragged about it on his Facebook page. "1st-Degree Murder...MISTRIAL!" he typed in his status update. Seven of his friends clicked "like."

Rakofsky came to the District from a "Rakofsky Law" in Freehold, N.J., to defend Dontrell Deaner, who is accused of participating in the murder of District resident Frank James Elliot in 2008. A Friday hearing fell apart when Judge William Jackson declared a mistrial, partially because Rakofsky's investigator filed a motion accusing the lawyer of encouraging him to "trick" a witness. The judge said Rakofsky lacked the knowledge and experience to continue.

On his Facebook page, one of Rakofsky's friends seems stoked about the event. "[W]ow!! I'm very proud of you. yaya. hugs. Keep it up. love you. "Thanks, bro! How's life?" Rakofsky responds.

On the phone later, Rakofsky is a little less upbeat, saying a Washington Post article about the mistrial "humiliated" him. "People put lies on the record and people are reading about these lies," he says. The mistrial means Deaner will need both a new trial and a new lawyer.

The attorney, 33, a 2009 graduate of Touro Law School, admitted to the judge that Deaner's case was his first trial ever in a "rambling" opening statement, according to the Post. That revelation seemed to directly contradict the bio on his website, which claimed that he'd worked on murder, embezzlement, and conspiracy cases.

Rakofsky says both are true. Deaner is the first client he's ever gone to trial for, but he's got plenty of experience. "When I say I've worked on those cases, that doesn't mean I've worked on those cases on my own," he says. "I was working with other lawyers, interning and stuff." The Post points out that though the website says the cases were filed in New York, Rakofsky isn't licensed there.

In court records, Rakofsy's former investigator Adrian K. Bean accused Rakofsky of making some rookie mistakes, like asking Bean to canvass the neighborhood the alleged murder took place in for witnesses and also asking him to inquire about the efficiency of a closed-circuit police camera that picked up the crime. A message left at Bean's office wasn't returned.

Bean explained to Rakofsky in a letter that canvassing rarely yields much for investigators, and that questioning MPD's camera wasn't the best course of action. The video showed that, although present during the killing, Deaner wasn't the shooter, and seemed genuinely surprised and afraid when it went down—which meant the video might have helped the defense.

Bean also lambasted Rakofsky for requesting that he "trick" a witness into saying she didn't see the shooting. "I respectfully decline to perform the assignment for several reasons," Bean wrote. "(1) I do not know what the term 'trick' means in this context. (2) I am in the investigative business, not the trickery business."

"It hurts my client and it embarrasses the hell out of me," Rakofsky says of the controversy. "All I tried to do was help my client, and I made a lot of sacrifices." But Rakofsky also says he doesn't "care that much what the people of Washington, D.C. think of me." Rakofsky, who has a D.C. number and website attached to his firm, even though he's not based here, was retained by Deaner's family.

Rakofsky hinted that a mistrial was good for his client. Purposefully tanking a case can lead to legal consequences, though, like obstruction of justice charges.

Saul Jay Singer, senior legal ethics counsel for the D.C. bar, says going for a mistrial doesn't automatically equal an ethics violation. "Lawyers have tremendous leeway ethically in criminal cases," he says, because there's so much at stake. But he also sites D.C. Rule 8.4 c of professional conduct, which says lawyers aren't to engage in "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Rick Mangus

    This is why lawyers are held in such high esteem in our society, or as I like to say something that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe after walking in a dog park!

  • Jim

    Why did the defendant get a NJ lawyer for a DC trial?

    Where the heck is Touro law School? Doesn't Toro make lawnmowers?

  • Clydewmorgan

    How is it a rookie mistake to ask for a canvass and to reveiew/question a video. Both are necessary

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  • http://www.lomtevas.com Peter C. Lomtevas

    This article highlights the complexity and pressure most young attorneys are not prepared for in practice.

    I for one applaud Rakovsky for trying a case out of his jurisdiction. I boo the judge who ordered a mistrial for 'incompetence". This may have the effect of motivating the family to sue Rakovsky for malpractice when a mistrial may have been a strategically important victory.

    Nothing in Rakovsky's background at Touro could have prepared him for this level of litigation. We lack internships as a mandatory part of legal education in this country and citizens never know who is representing them.

    I do hope the defense of the accused is successful because it seems as if there is no evidence against him.

  • Prosecutor

    Lomtevas--

    I would almost agree with you, except for the fact that Radkofsky lied in every bit of his advertising. You cannot expect criminal defendants to parse out the real attorneys from the bullsh*tters.

    You're right, nothing prepared Rakofsky for this criminal defense--which is exactly why taking it on evidences inexcusably poor judgment on his part. Rakofsky lacked the knowledge or experience to take on a murder defense alone, particularly one in another jurisdiction whose criminal laws and procedures proved alien to him. He retained local counsel (didn't have a choice, since he's only licensed in NJ), but then refused to heed any of the experienced attorney's advice.

    Radkofsky's advertisements put him out there as a highly-experienced attorney with "offices" in NY, NJ, DC, and CT and direct experience with a wide range of complex criminal cases. The Wall Street address is completely invented. He even falsified the list of attorneys associated with the firm, including the DC counsel he hired, then ignored, who had no idea he'd been "associated." As a result, the Defendant paid for what he thought was competent counsel, not an overconfident neophyte with dollar signs in his eyes and a false resume designed to lure complex cases for which he lacks the expertise to handle competently. His advertising practices alone break ethical rules in every jurisdiction.

    Perhaps Touro doesn't require ethics / professional responsibility training. Or he slept through it.

    I hope he isn't able to dupe more defendants into paying him for this brand of "advocacy" until he's competent to handle it, if ever.

  • Clarence Smith

    Rakofsky was never fired. He requested that he be relieved because of a conflict between his client and him. The judge removed him because he asked to be removed; it was Rakofsky's request. Conflict is completely different from and has nothing to do with "incompetence," but none of the "journalists" have lifted a finger to read the transcript. After the judge removed him, he criticized Rakofsky (but never accused him of being incompetent).

    Prosecutor, is it possible that Rakofsky did NOT reject his co-counsel's advice? Is it possible that the Post got that wrong also? Is it possible that there is a Wall St. Office after all? Is it possible that Rakofsky does have a lot of experience? Is it possible that he was telling the truth? How could his co-counsel "have no idea" he was associated? (Are you suggesting this was a secret?) Why do you presume to know so much about Rakofsky?

    Have you ever, even one time, read the transcript?

  • Happy Pitbull

    @ Clarence Smith

    It's not possible for Rakofsky to have a New York office unless he is engaging in unlicensed practice of law in New York. It's also highly unlikely that Rakofsky has a Wall Street office address because the rent in that area even for a miniscule office space would be prohibitivley expensive for him.

    It is not possible that Rakofsky has a lot of experience given that he has less than a year of experience as an attorney.

    Your comment makes me wonder if you are even a lawyer since, apparently, you cannot even grasp the simple concept that his listing an outside co-counsel as an attorney at his "firm" is a blatant violation of attorney rules of professional conduct.

    His website, which was shut down as of today, violated several rules of professional conduct. As Prosecutor pointed out it grossly overstated his qualifications and experience. It held out his association with other lawyers as if they were partners or associates in his "firm." If the website was up and running prior to his recent and only bar admission then that would also constitute a rules violation as well as unlicensed practice of law. It also misrepresented that he has multiple offices which cannot be true without engaging in unlicensed practice of law in any jurisdiction other than New Jersey.

    There is no need to read the transcript. It is not definitive or even relevant regarding the aforementioned ethics violations committed by Mr. Rakofsky noted above.

  • T-rex

    @ Pitbull

    "No need to read the transcript"

    If you were being accused of being 1) fired because you were 2) incompetent, you might think the transcript were relevant after all. Shouldn't Rakovszki be treated as you would want to be treated?

    Also, if the lawyers worked for him in other jurisdictions, it would not be improper practice. Oops, I guess you forgot about that in your criticism. Sounds like you're the one who isn't a lawyer. Given that you, yourself, are making assumptions, you shouldn't be so quick to judge. There's obviously more to this than any of us know.

  • Happy Pitbull

    @sockpuppet oops I mean T-rex

    I wasn't accusing him of being fired because he was incompetent. I was talking about his ethics violations in the way he presented himself to the public and his clients through his website. As clearly stated previously, the transcript is irrelevant to those violations but I guess a mental midget suffering from extreme deficits in reading comprehension skills might not pick up on that, so let me repeat it in simple terms. He advertised and promoted himself on his website in a manner which clearly violated attorney rules of professional conduct. The transcript is irrelevant to those violations.

    Also, lawyers didn't work for him in other jurisdictions. They were outside co-counsel, a concept that seems to be beyond the grasp of your ignorant mind. Despite what you might think, it is a clear violation of the attorney rules of professional conduct in any jurisdiction to present outside co-counsel as a lawyer within one's law firm. Among other things, it misrepresents the firms practice areas both with regards to where it is licensed to practice, and the areas of law for which it can provide experienced counsel. If you're a lawyer, you're a pretty terrible one because one thing is clear from your comment, and that is that you don't have a clue about attorney ethics.

  • For real tho

    I am a former prosecutor and don't have a problem with him tasking the investigator to canvas the area and at least evaluate the credibility of the video even if at the end of the day the video actually helps your client. A criminal defense attorney must turn over every rock. Tricking the witness is another matter.

  • Pumpernickel

    Clarence Smith: Prosecutor, is it possible that Rakofsky did NOT reject his co-counsel's advice?

    "After Friday’s hearing, Grigsby said that Deaner’s family hired Rakofsky and that he and Rakofsky “disagreed more than a couple of times” on how to proceed with the case. “He was the attorney of record. I would offer what I thought was the best advice, and he wouldn’t accept it,” Grigsby said."

  • Haha

    Ok can we just establish that all the morons defending this obvious liar are either 1) Joseph himself or 2) other Touro grads who can't accept they attend TTTTouro Law School? Defend it all you want, but you're not fooling anyone. This guy looks absolutely horrible. He should be ashamed. The best thing he can do it leave the public eye and people will forget.

  • Randy

    There are SO MANY times when I look at an article, realizing that everyone is spinning a subject according to their own bias, and wish that I could get one factual and objective insider piece of advice to cut through the BS on each side of the facts.

    Right now, I am looking at a letter adressed to me from Judge William M. Jackson, thanking me for my jury service on the Deaner trial....and I feel obliged to set the record straight as just that "indsider". Additionally, I'd like to thank the judge for his extreme tolerance of Mr Rakofsky's antics.....to those of us on the jury, we were stupified and, having sat on many trials in the past myself, Judge Jackson gave Mr Rakofsky as much "leash" as was professionally possible. It's Mr Rakofsky's own fault, and frankly narcissism, that allowed him to "hang" himself with that leash and draw a mistrial.

    It was obvious from the opening statements that Mr Rakofsky was way out of his league and poorly trained for a proper court defense. Whatever momentary empathy any of us on the jury may have felt for Mr Rakofsky's absolute ineptitude, were quickly absolved by our knowledge that a young man's entire life was at stake. The absolute amateurish antics displayed by Mr Rakofsky were repulsive and oddly narcissistic. He had very little command of the law, and now hearing that Mr Deaner's family actually hired him is truly upsetting. Most of us assumed that this was a court ordered public defender that may just have been too young and overwhelmed by a huge docket of cases to put together a proper defence.

    Additionally, the quotes above from Rakofsky [as well as the Facebook entries] make my stomach absolutely turn. His poor performace was much much more than a lack of training and time....he truly had no grasp for how to handle a proper criminal court trial and it was obvious to EVERYONE in the court that he had trouble even putting a proper thought together, often repeating and repeating himself over and over to the audible gasps from the jury. Now, hearing his responses on facebook, I am truly repulsed that this "attorney" could defend his own actions while he wasted the time of the court, those of us on the jury, the money of DC taxpayers and most importatly jeopardized the life of the person he was defending. It's an absolute travesty and mockery of the fragile system that protects ALL of our rights.

    I wish I had only come to this site earlier..I will monitor it for a few days and be more than happy to provide more details to anyone interested.....I just hope that I have started to set the record straight on just how poor Mr Rakofsky's performance was. Seeing the additional information on his website and the other items, I truly hope someone follow up with a detailed inquiry to the Bar association. Apologies for the emotional response, It was happenstance that I came to the this article so I was a bit shocked to see how it was being portrayed outside the court room.

  • http://associatesmind Keith Lee

    Randy,

    Would you mind contacting me RE: "Right now, I am looking at a letter adressed to me from Judge William M. Jackson, thanking me for my jury service on the Deaner trial"

    My email address is associatesmind@gmail.com

    I'd like to ask you a couple questions.

    Thanks.

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  • http://tampacriminaldefenselawyer.com/ Lori D. Palmieri – Tampa Criminal Lawyer

    This situation astounded me then and has not ceased to do so since. When I heard about the Rakofsky situation I immediately thought "blog post!", and apparently so did 73 other bloggers. I am currently one of the "Rakofsky 74" being sued for defamation and if anything, this is just the icing on the cake. You would think that in the hopes of salvaging his reputation, Rakofsky would address bloggers, rather than attacking them or at least keep a low profile for a while to let things blow over.

  • Michael

    @Clarence Smith

    You said:
    Conflict is completely different from and has nothing to do with "incompetence," but none of the "journalists" have lifted a finger to read the transcript. After the judge removed him, he criticized Rakofsky (but never accused him of being incompetent).

    I say:
    Actually if you look at the transcript, the judge says the following:
    "the performance was not up to par under any reasonable standard of competence under the Sixth Amendment."

    Not competent. Incompetent. Seems clear to me.

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