In the Face of Defendant’s Claims Defense Counsel Did Not Adequately Represent Him, Counsel’s Answering the Judge’s Questions About Defendant’s Allegations (Which Were Rejected by the Court) Did Not Place Defense Counsel in a Position Adverse to the Defendant’s
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, determined that defense counsel’s answering the judge’s questions about his performance did not place the attorney in a position adverse to his client’s. The client, prior to trial, sought the appointment of new counsel by filing a form (“Affidavit in Support of Motion for Reassignment of Counsel”) circling every reason for the appointment of new counsel listed on the form, including the failure to discuss strategy, the failure to seek discovery, the failure to contest identification evidence, and the failure to communicate with the defendant. The form did not reach the judge until after the defendant’s trial and conviction. The defendant did not mention the motion or his concerns during the trial. The judge, based on his observations during the trial, determined many of the circled claims on the form were not true. The judge asked the attorney about what he had done prior to trial and the attorney explained what he had done. In so doing, the attorney did not take a position adverse to the defendant’s:
“The right of an indigent criminal defendant to the services of a court-appointed lawyer does not encompass a right to appointment of successive lawyers at defendant’s option” … . A defendant may be entitled to new counsel, however, “upon showing good cause for a substitution, such as a conflict of interest or other irreconcilable conflict with counsel” (id. [internal quotation marks omitted]). Here, defendant claims that he was entitled to new defense counsel because counsel’s responses to the allegations of ineffectiveness created an actual conflict of interest.
Although an attorney is not obligated to comment on a client’s pro se motions or arguments, he may address allegations of ineffectiveness “when asked to by the court” and “should be afforded the opportunity to explain his performance” … .
We have held that counsel takes a position adverse to his client when stating that the defendant’s motion lacks merit …, or that the defendant, who is challenging the voluntariness of his guilty plea, “made a knowing plea . . . [that] was in his best interest” … . Conversely, we have held that counsel does not create an actual conflict merely by “outlin[ing] his efforts on his client’s behalf” … and “defend[ing] his performance” … .
Applying these settled principles to the facts in this case, we conclude that defense counsel’s comments in response to the judge’s questions did not establish an actual conflict of interest. Defense counsel did not suggest that his client’s claims lacked merit. Rather, he informed the judge when he met with defendant and for how long, what they discussed, what the defense strategy was at trial and what discovery he gave or did not give to defendant. Thus, he never strayed beyond a factual explanation of his efforts on his client’s behalf. People v Washington, 2015 NY Slip Op 05511, CtApp 6-25-15