The Fourth Department, vacating defendant’s guilty plea, determined defendant was deprived of his right counsel because defense counsel had become employed by the district attorney’s office at the time of the plea:
It is well established that a criminal defendant’s right to counsel is violated when a defense attorney who actively participated in the preliminary stages of the defendant’s defense becomes employed as an assistant district attorney by the office that is prosecuting the defendant’s ongoing case … . In those circumstances, the defendant and the public are given “the unmistakable appearance of impropriety and [the situation] create[s] the continuing opportunity for abuse of confidences entrusted to the attorney during the [period] of his [or her] active representation of defendant” … . Disqualification is required when there is “the appearance of impropriety and the risk of prejudice attendant on abuse of confidence, however slight” … . “The rule is necessary to prevent situations in which [a] former client must depend on the good faith of [his or her] former [attorney] turned adversar[y] to protect and honor confidences shared during the now extinct relationship. In those situations the risk of abuse is obvious” … .
Here, we conclude that defendant’s right to counsel was violated … . The People concede that the attorney who had represented defendant with respect to the misdemeanor charges was employed by the District Attorney’s Office at the time defendant entered into the plea agreement that resolved those misdemeanor charges as well as the felony charges. Thus, on this record, we conclude that there is an “appearance of impropriety and . . . risk of prejudice attendant on abuse of confidence” … , and defendant should not have been required to “depend on the good faith of [his] former [attorney] turned adversar[y] to protect and honor confidences shared during the now extinct relationship” … . People v Sears, 2020 NY Slip Op 01974, Fourth Dept 3-20-20