The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, reversing the Appellate Division, determined defendant’s waiver of appeal was not valid and the trial judge had violated defendant’s right to counsel by essentially forcing defendant to represent himself after several attorneys had withdrawn. Of all the attorneys who had withdrawn, only two cited difficulties with the defendant. The cited “difficulties” were defendant’s “raised voice” and “lack of cooperation.” There were no allegations of threats or abusive conduct. The other attorneys had withdrawn citing a conflict of interest, illness and leaving the state:
… [D]efendant’s waiver in the case before us did not contain “clarifying language . . . that appellate review remained available for certain issues” … . Indeed, the written appeal waiver and the colloquy utterly failed to indicate that some rights to appeal would survive the waiver. Moreover, the written waiver implied that defendant was completely waiving his right “to prosecute [an] appeal as a poor person, and to have an attorney assigned” if indigent.
Defendant’s appeal waiver thus mischaracterized the nature of the waiver of appeal by suggesting that the waiver included an absolute bar to the taking of a first-tier direct appeal and the loss of attendant rights to counsel and poor person relief … . * * *
There may be circumstances where a defendant who refuses to cooperate with successive assigned attorneys is ultimately deemed to have forfeited the right to assigned counsel, although such an individual must be afforded the opportunity to retain counsel. … There is record evidence of only two attorneys who asked to be relieved due to difficulties with defendant. … County Court’s own orders relieving Miosek, Taylor, Carlson, and Scott cited conflict of interest, illness, or departure from the state, not attorney-client animosity. Such factors were beyond defendant’s control. People v Shanks, 2021 NY Slip Op 05450, CtApp 10-12-21