Wednesday, May 13, 2015

U.S. v. Brown (9th Cir. - May 13, 2015)

What do you do when (1) a retained criminal defense attorney takes $50,000 from the defendant to represent him, (2) (allegedly) doesn't prepare at all for the upcoming trial, but instead simply tries to persuade the defendant to plea, and then (3) on the eve of trial, both the defendant and counsel express displeasure with the resulting situation, with the attorney moving to withdraw (because the defendant won't take a plea) and the defendant asking to fire his attorney because he took the money yet still has not prepared for trial?

Judge Jones, to his credit, is not pleased with the resulting situation.  He orders the attorney to get it together (and threatens to order a refund of the entire $50,000), continues the trial for a month, and then presides over the resulting trial.

The Ninth Circuit reverses.

Judge Berzon holds that the client has a virtually unlimited right to fire a retained lawyer and go with the public defender.  Regardless of the reasons why.  Even if the firing would result in a delay in the trial, that wasn't a good enough reason here to do what the district court did, since there was a delay anyway and since the district court didn't rely on the delay (as opposed to the defense counsel taking the money and not getting ready) as a reason for its conduct.

What you'd really like to do is to tell the defense attorney in advance to get his act together.

But what you end up having to do is to allow the guy to be fired and replaced by a public defender.