By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on August 30, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
When Attorney John Lauro asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C. to set Donald Trump’s criminal trial for election interference activities in April 2026, he cited the landmark Scottsboro Boys case of Powell v. Alabama (1932) in his legal brief to support his request.
The legal brief was co-signed by Trump attorneys Todd Blanche (New York, New York) and Gregory Singer and Filzah I. Pavalon (Tampa, Florida).
Powell v. Alabama recognized the right of a criminal defendant who is charged with a serious crime to effective assistance of counsel. The case arose from a racially-motivated miscarriage of justice when nine innocent black teenagers were seized from a freight train in Paint Rock, Alabama and falsely accused of raping two female white hobos on the train.
The Scottsboro Boys were brought to trial six days after their indictment. They were defended by frightened, court-appointed, local white attorneys. The grand jury and trial jury in their case were all-white. They were convicted and sentenced to death with the “haste of the mob.”
A companion Scottsboro Boys case of Norris v. Alabama (1935) recognized the right of blacks to serve on grand juries and trial juries.
I was the last counsel of record for Clarence Norris, the defendant in Norris v. Alabama. In November 1976, approximately 45 years after his false arrest, I secured a full and unconditional pardon from the state of Alabama for Clarence Norris based upon a “showing of innocence.” Norris was the last living Scottsboro Boy at the time.
Over the course of time, the Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death on multiple occasions and saved from execution by the U.S. Supreme Court at the last moment each time.
John Lauro’s Ignorance of the Law is Profound
John Lauro (and his co-counsel) obviously knew nothing about the facts and circumstances surrounding the Scottsboro Boys cases when he cited Powell v. Alabama in the “Introduction” paragraph of his legal brief to support his request for the April 2026 trial date, even though every law school in the nation teaches first year law students about the Scottsboro Boys cases in their Constitutional Law classes.
Powell v. Alabama was a case of white mob justice playing out in an Alabama courtroom in the 1930s. Two white prostitutes had falsely accused nine black teenagers of raping them on the freight train.
The facts and circumstances surrounding Trump’s legal representation in U.S. v. Donald Trump are totally different and distinguishable from the experience of the Scottsboro Boys.
Unlike the Scottsboro Boys, Donald Trump has an army of retained lawyers representing him.
Unlike the Scottsboro Boys, Donald Trump has had over two years to prepare for potential criminal charges arising from his election interference activities between November 3, 2020 and January 6, 2021.
Unlike the Scottsboro Boys, Donald Trump has an additional seven months to prepare for four felony counts in a single-defendant case.
Unlike the Scottsboro Boys, Donald Trump has been treated with dignity and respect by every trial judge in his four criminal cases. This is true even though Trump has repeatedly disrespected each one of these judges on social media.
Judge Tanya Chutkan Rightfully Rejected Lauro’s Request for a 2026 Trial Date
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan rightfully rejected John Lauro’s request for a 2026 trial date. It was absurd and amateurish.
Judge Chutkan knew the appropriate application of the law in Powell v. Alabama, even though John Lauro did not. The case simply did not apply to the facts in Trump's case.
Additionally, Judge Chutkan has been on the receiving end of death threats related to Trump’s case. The longer Donald Trump's case lingers in Chutkan's court, the greater the chances are that some misguided Trump supporter will resort to violence against the judge and court personnel.
Like former Alabama governor George C. Wallace, Donald Trump panders to the worst instincts in white extremist groups, which he refuses to denounce.
Armed with this knowledge, John Lauro peddled a historically ignorant version of Donald Trump’s request for a distant trial date to Judge Chutkan. Judge Chutkan rejected Lauro's misguided request.
There was a proper way to request and receive more time to prepare Donald Trump's case, but John Lauro did not know how to do it.
Donald Trump is definitely experiencing “ineffective assistance of counsel,” but this is a circumstance of his own making. Trump has personally chosen all of the defense attorneys who have been hired to represent him.
At the rate Trump’s lawyers are “crashing and burning,” the former president will certainly be convicted of some, if not all, of 91 felony charges against him.