Tuesday, April 2, 2013
The New York Court of Appeals has affirmed an Appellate Division conclusion that a trial court had improperly discharged the defendant's Legal Aid Society attorney.
The case involved robbery charges and "was marked by multiple adjournments, over a course of 15 appearances by a total of ten different assistant district attorneys (ADAs), and defendant's assigned counsel, the Legal Aid Society."
The judge accommodated several prosecution adjournment requests and set a trial date.
The Legal Aid Society attorney then advised the court he was leaving the office and requested a control date rather than a trial date. The court refused, removed the attorney (over a Legal Aid Society supervisor's objection) and set the case for trial.
The case was assigned to another judge and led to a guilty plea.
The Appellate Division majority found that the trial judge had granted "numerous requests for adjournments" from the People while "disparaging" defense counsel.
The court here found the plea no bar to review.;
Here, the claim to counsel is so deeply intertwined with the integrity of the process in Supreme Court that defendant's guilty plea is no bar to appellate review. A claim that removal of counsel was part of a court's disparate, unjustifiable treatment of defense counsel goes to the fundamental fairness of our system of justice. While the right to counsel of choice is qualified, and may cede, under certain circumstances, to concerns of the efficient administration of the criminal justice system, we have made clear that courts cannot arbitrarily interfere with the attorney-client relationship, amd interference with that relationship for the purpose of case management is not without limits, and subject to scrutiny.
The court found that the Appellate Division did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the request for adjournment should have been granted. (Mike Frisch)