CAAF grants review in a case about an accused’s choice of counsel and a civilian defense counsel’s potential conflict of interest
On Monday – the last day of the 2018 term – CAAF granted review in this Marine Corps case:
No. 19-0376/MC. U.S. v. R. Bronson Watkins. CCA 201700246. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issues:
I. A CONFLICT OF INTEREST EXISTS WHERE THE INTERESTS OF AN ATTORNEY AND DEFENDANT DIVERGE ON A MATERIAL FACTUAL OR LEGAL ISSUE, OR A COURSE OF ACTION. THREATS BY REGIONAL TRIAL COUNSEL AND A REGIONAL TRIAL INVESTIGATOR TOWARDS CIVILIAN DEFENSE COUNSEL CREATED A CONFLICT OF INTEREST BETWEEN CIVILIAN COUNSEL AND APPELLANT. DID THE MILITARY JUDGE ERR IN DENYING CIVILIAN COUNSEL’S MOTION TO WITHDRAW?
II. THE SIXTH AMENDMENT GUARANTEES AN ACCUSED THE RIGHT TO RETAIN COUNSEL OF HIS OWN CHOOSING. BEFORE TRIAL, AND AFTER HIS CIVILIAN COUNSEL MOVED TO WITHDRAW—CITING A PERCEIVED CONFLICT OF INTEREST—APPELLANT ASKED TO RELEASE HIS CIVILIAN COUNSEL AND HIRE A DIFFERENT COUNSEL. DID THE MILITARY JUDGE ERR BY DENYING THIS REQUEST?
III. DID THE LOWER COURT ERR IN RATIFYING THE MILITARY JUDGE’S DENIAL OF APPELLANT’S REQUEST FOR CONFLICT-FREE COUNSEL, WHERE IT: (A) FOUND THE REQUEST WAS IN “BAD FAITH,” BASED ON ALLEGED MISBEHAVIOR BY APPELLANT OCCURRING BEFORE THE RTC’S UNEXPECTED THREATS; AND, (B) TREATED THE MILITARY JUDGE’S FINDING THAT APPELLANT’S REQUEST FOR COUNSEL WAS “OPPORTUNISTIC,” AS A FINDING OF FACT INSTEAD OF A CONCLUSION OF LAW?
Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.
The NMCCA’s opinion is available here. It reveals that:
The appellant was represented by a civilian defense counsel, retired Marine Corps judge advocate Mr. W. After an angry off-the-record exchange between Mr. W and the Regional Trial Counsel, LtCol K, Mr. W moved to withdraw from the case and the appellant stated that he no longer wished to be represented by Mr. W. The military judge did not permit Mr. W to withdraw, and the appellant claims on appeal that Mr. W was encumbered by a conflict of interest.
Slip op. at 3. The CCA found no conflict of interest and affirmed.