LINCOLN — David Walocha lacked a law license in 2010 when he represented an Omaha man charged with sexually assaulting a child.
But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that Walocha retained the ability to mount a solid defense for his client.
The high court upheld the conviction of Patrick Vanderpool, who is serving a 10- to 15-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl. Vanderpool, 29, argued he received ineffective counsel because Walocha was surreptitiously practicing without a license.
Walocha lost his license in 1996 for failing to pay mandatory dues to the state bar association.
In essence, the high court agreed with Douglas County District Judge James Gleason, who earlier found Vanderpool's attorney was effective.
For example, Walocha arranged a plea bargain that paved the way for a lesser prison sentence for Vanderpool. He also persuaded the trial judge to suppress statements Vanderpool made to police.
Suspension for nonpayment of bar dues alone isn't enough to constitute ineffective legal representation, Judge William Cassel wrote in Friday's opinion.
“The payment of dues is a technical requirement for a license to practice law and does not reflect on an attorney's competence, ability, or legal skill,” Cassel stated.
Despite his suspension, Walocha continued to litigate cases — totaling 65 over the years — while also holding down a job as a bartender. He was subsequently disbarred and sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of unauthorized practice of law.
Vanderpool argued he didn't know about Walocha's status until after he agreed to plead guilty in the case. During the plea hearing, Vanderpool admitted he made the girl give him oral sex over the course of several years, starting when she was 8.
Vanderpool's appeal also alleged Walocha failed to independently investigate the prosecution's allegations. Vanderpool also said he agreed to plead guilty only after Walocha convinced him it would result in a sentence of probation rather than prison.
The high court discounted both claims.
It pointed to the record from the plea hearing, in which Vanderpool said no promises about sentencing had been made to him and his plea was made under his own free will.
The high court also said Vanderpool failed to show that an investigation by his attorney would have produced evidence to assist his case.
Vanderpool will become eligible for parole in 2015.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine lauded the ruling, telling the Associated Press it should put to rest any questions about the status of about 60 criminal cases in Douglas County since 1996. Kleine said only Vanderpool's was a felony case; all the others involving Walocha were misdemeanors.