ROYAL OAK (AP) – An Oakland County man is suing his former lawyer after serving seven years in prison for a sexual assault conviction that was thrown out by the Michigan Supreme Court based on the attorney’s poor performance.
The state appeals court has reinstated Jackob Trakhtenberg’s malpractice lawsuit against Deborah McKelvy. He was convicted in 2006 after a 53-minute trial during which his lawyer didn’t ask for a jury or make an opening statement.
Trakhtenberg, a retired auto engineer who denied the allegations involving a child, was the only defense witness.
It was a “horrific miscarriage of justice,” James Elliott, Trakhtenberg’s attorney in the malpractice case, told the Detroit Free Press. “She took seven years of this man’s life.”
Trakhtenberg, now 76, was released from prison after a 4-2 decision by the state Supreme Court in 2012. The court noted that McKelvy admitted she chose not to consult any witnesses or obtain additional evidence to help her client.
“The ultimate question at trial was whether the complainant’s allegations of sexual abuse were truthful or, conversely, if her allegations were the result of improper motivations and interviewing techniques. … Defense counsel’s performance in this case was constitutionally inadequate,” the court said.
McKelvy’s attorney, Michael Sullivan, said her strategy in the criminal trial was sound.
“Deborah McKelvy is an excellent criminal defense lawyer,” Sullivan said.
After Trakhtenberg was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, he was sued on behalf of the alleged victim. He won that civil trial in 2007, and new evidence emerged that could have helped him in the criminal case.
“The system is wrong if this is the way it works,” said Trakhtenberg, who entered the U.S. from Russia in 1974. “They ignored the truth. These are very powerful people who can hurt others.”
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