The Fourth Department, over a dissent, determined Supreme Court should not have denied defendant’s request for new counsel, which was echoed by defense counsel and supported by specific, legitimate concerns. The conviction was reversed and a new trial ordered. The Fourth Department outlined the analytical criteria:
The determination “[w]hether counsel is substituted is within the discretion and responsibility of the trial judge . . . , and a court’s duty to consider such a motion is invoked only where a defendant makes a seemingly serious request” … . Thus, where a defendant makes “specific factual allegations” against defense counsel … , the court must make at least “some minimal inquiry” to determine whether the defendant’s claims are meritorious … . Upon conducting that inquiry, “counsel may be substituted only where good cause’ is shown” … .
Here, the court erred in determining that a breakdown in communication between attorney and client cannot constitute good cause for substitution of counsel. Although the mere complaint by a defendant that communications have broken down between him and his lawyer is not, by itself, good cause for a change in counsel …, where a complete breakdown has been established, substitution is required … . Here, both defendant and defense counsel agreed that they were unable to communicate, and nothing said by either of them during the court’s lengthy inquiry indicated otherwise.
We conclude that the court also erred in suggesting that any breakdown in communication was “initiated or promoted by the defendant as opposed to defense counsel.” That conclusion is not supported by the record, which shows that the breakdown in communication resulted from legitimate concerns defendant had about defense counsel’s performance. People v Gibson, 2015 NY Slip Op 02236, 4th Dept 3-20-15