Monday, October 6, 2008

"Countervailing Interests"

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that a trial court had properly excluded defense counsel from representation of his client. Although the court acknowledged the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice, a number of issues arose during the representation that warranted disqualification. First, the attorney had interviewed the co-defendant outside of the presence of co-defendant's counsel. The trial court found that lawyer was not aware that the person had an attorney, but ordered that an ethical screen put in place whereby the lawyer who had conducted the interview could not consult with the client's co-counsel concerning discussions with the co-defendant. The co-defendant sought but was denied a separate trial.

Then, the prosecutor advised the court that the same lawyer had "coached" a State's witness. The court concluded that the lawyer had put himself in the position of possible witness and ordered that he nor sit at trial table. The lawyer was still permitted to discuss the case (except for the co-defendant aspect) with co-counsel.

The court here held that the trial court had acted "within its discretion in determining that appellant's right to choice of counsel was outweighed by the countervailing interests of fairness, maintaining ethical standards, and avoiding conflicts of interest."  (Mike Frisch)

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