Thursday, June 15, 2023

When A Lawyer Hates His Client

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted a new trial to a defendant due to trial counsel's prejudice against him.

The defendant was permitted to withdraw his guilty plea.

The defendant, Anthony J. Dew, is a Black man of the Muslim faith. Indigent and facing multiple felony charges, the defendant was appointed counsel who openly posted, on his social media account, his vitriolic hatred of and bigotry against persons of the Muslim faith; his unabashed anti-Muslim rants were matched only by his equal scorn for and racism against Black persons. Some of these postings occurred while counsel was representing the defendant. Indeed, counsel's intolerance and prejudice seeped into his representation of the defendant. At least twice, counsel chastised the defendant for wearing religious garb, demanding that the defendant not wear "that shit" again; once, he refused to speak to the defendant because the defendant was wearing a kufi prayer cap in contravention of counsel's directive. At their final meeting, counsel advised the defendant to accept a plea deal, which the defendant did. Several years later, counsel's bigotry came to the attention of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which suspended him for no less than one year as a result. After learning of counsel's anti-Muslim, racist postings, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and obtain a new trial on the ground that his court-appointed counsel had an actual conflict of interest.

We conclude that the conflict of interest inherent in counsel's bigotry against persons of the defendant's faith and race, which manifested during counsel's representation of the defendant, deprived the defendant of his right to effective assistance of counsel -- a right upon which our entire system of criminal justice depends to ensure a "fair trial." See Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963). See also Lavallee v. Justices in the Hampden Superior Court, 442 Mass. 228, 235 (2004), citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 685 (1984). No additional showing of "prejudice" is required. The motion judge's conclusion to the contrary was in error; we now vacate the defendant's convictions and remand for a new trial.

A sampling of the posts is set out in the opinion, e.g.,

A shared post of a photograph of a pig with engorged  testicles, captioned, "Dear Muslims . . . Kiss our big bacon balls"

A shared post of a picture of a pointing military officer, captioned, "You tell those goat fuckers with the laundry on their heads that it's wash day, and we're bringing the fucking Maytag!";

Doyle's statement, "Allah be praised. Go meet your 72 fat, smelly virgins, asshole," accompanying a shared post of a video recording apparently depicting the death of a man while attempting to use an explosive device, with a description saying, "When goat fuckers use mortar hahaha";

The court

A defense counsel makes countless choices, on and off the record, to protect a defendant's rights, and we rely on counsel's zealous advocacy, unimpeded by a conflict of interest, to ensure that no person is punished without fair proceedings; when a counsel's professional judgment is impaired by an actual conflict of interest, every action, and inaction, is called into question, and we cannot be confident that the outcome of the proceedings is fair and just.

...Doyle's animus against persons of the Muslim faith and his racism against Black persons, demonstrated by his social media posts (some of which were made at the court house while he was serving clients in his professional capacity), and manifest in his treatment of the defendant -- a Black, Muslim man -- during the representation, presented an actual conflict of interest in this case.

(Mike Frisch)

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