Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Court of Appeal Declares:
No Error in Replacing Appointed Counsel Over Criminal Defendant’s Objection
Fifth District Notes That While Accused Opposed Removal of Deputy Public Defender, He and Lawyer Agreed That ‘Trust and Confidence’ in Counsel Was Lacking
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fifth District Court of Appeal has held that, under the unusual facts of the case, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in replacing one appointed lawyer with another, over the defendant’s objection.
On appeal, defendant Nerses Taschyan, who was convicted of first degree murder, contended that he was deprived of due process and state constitutional rights when the judge terminated the services of Fresno County Deputy Public Defender James P. Lambe.
Although Taschyan told Fresno Superior Court Judge Wayne R. Ellison, “I want that Mr. Lambe to stay with me,” and hailed him as “a very good defense attorney,” the defendant also complained at the closed hearing of the lawyer’s refusal to share some documents with him and questioned his truthfulness in representing that the first trial had ended in an 11-1 verdict for conviction, rather than acquittal.
It was Lambe who handled the defense at the first trial.
Prior to the second trial, Taschyan on three occasions complained to Ellison about his lawyer, and on two of those occasions moved, unsuccessfully, to have him ousted.
At the in-chambers hearing leading to Ellison removing Lambe, the lawyer expressed doubts as to his ability to provide effective representation, explaining that Taschyan “insists on believing that I am lying to him about the direction that the jury was hung in and that he chooses to believe the jury in the first trial was hung 11 to 1 in his favor and, in fact, they were hung 11 to 1 against him.”
Ellison asked the defendant if, even recognizing Lambe’s proficiency as a lawyer, he lacked “trust or confidence in him” and Taschyan responded:
“Yes, because—because he doesn’t show me any documentations or any medical documents or evaluation. I’m scared. It’s possible that he doesn’t even like me or he doesn’t love me.”
The appeals court opinion, affirming the conviction, was authored by Presiding Justice Brad Hill. Filed Monday, it was not certified for publication.
Hill noted that under the California Supreme Court’s 2004 opinion in People v. Jones, removal of appointed counsel “interferes with an attorney-client relationship that has already been established.” But he also pointed to the high court’s 2008 decision in People v. Richardson which says that appointed counsel may be replaced, over the defendant’s protest, under some circumstances, including to “ensure adequate representation.”
The jurist wrote:
“In light of both appellant’s and Lambe’s statements that a breach of the essential state of trust and confidence required for a proper representation had occurred, the trial court was presented with sufficient evidence to conclude replacing Lambe would be appropriate in this instance. Such a decision is undoubtedly one that must be made sparingly, but in this instance there was sufficient evidence for the trial court to reach its conclusion and, as far as the record reveals, no evidence that appellant would be prejudiced if a competent attorney was selected to replace Lambe. Accordingly, under the circumstances of this case, we conclude the trial court acted reasonably in removing Lambe.”
Hill noted that the “facts of the underlying crime are not heavily disputed.” A trail of blood led from home of the slain victim, Souren Avetisian, to that of Taschyan, who admitted the killing, while providing various excuses.
According to news reports, the victim was at the home of his daughter and son-in-law babysitting three grandchildren. They were also Taschyan’s grandchildren; his son was their father.
The case is People v. Taschyan, F069692.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company