Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Kentucky Supreme Court has denied relief to an incarcerated defendant who was convicted of biting off the ear of a fellow inmate.
The defendant was represented at trial by a public defender from the Pacudah Department of Public Advocacy.
Another attorney in the same office represented the victim in an unrelated criminal matter in which the representation concluded eight days prior to the trial of the defendant.
Defense counsel advised the court of the potential conflict on the morning of trial (with her erroneous belief that the representation of the victim was ongoing). The defendant refused to sign a waiver of the conflict of interest but the trial nonetheless went forward to conviction.
The court here found counsel was not burdened by an actual conflict of interest under these circumstances.
As to the ethics of the situation: "Attorneys ethical obligations under our Rules of Professional Conduct do not define the scope of [the defendant's] Sixth Amendment rights."
Translation: It may have been unethical, but the defendant gets no relief.
Justice Hughes concurred and expressed concern about Pacadah DPA's "cavalier approach to shielding its clients from intra-office conflicts."
Justice Wright also concurred, opining that a public defender office need not be treated the same as a for-profit law firm for imputed conflict of interest purposes. (Mike Frisch)