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7th Circuit: No attorney conflict of interest

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a drug offender's petition for habeas corpus, ruling his attorney didn't render ineffective assistance of counsel when he also represented other co-defendants on the same drug charges.
 
In Argelio Gonzales v. Brett Mize, No. 08-1875, Argelio Gonzales appealed the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana's denial of his petition for habeas corpus, in which he claimed attorney Jay Hirschauer was ineffective because of conflicts of interest. Hirschauer represented Argelio at trial and on appeal, and also represented on the same drug charges co-defendants Laura Lapcheska, Argelio's girlfriend; Jorge Perez; Arnaldo Garcia; and Larry Campbell.
 
Gonzales argued before the Indiana Court of Appeals that a conflict of interest arose when Hirschauer negotiated a plea agreement for Lapcheska that called for her to testify against Gonzales; however, the plea agreement never called for that in writing and she never gave a clean-up statement as mentioned in the agreement. The appellate court affirmed the Circuit Court's denial of his post-conviction petition. The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer.

On appeal to the 7th Circuit, Gonzales claimed the District Court erred when it rejected his claim of a Sixth Amendment violation because he was denied effective assistance of counsel when Hirschauer represented other co-defendants. The 7th Circuit granted transfer only on the question of whether he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

The federal appellate court determined Gonzales procedurally defaulted on his claims of conflict of interest relating to Hirschauer's representation of him and Campbell because he failed to make this argument in his petition to transfer to the Supreme Court.

In regards to the conflict of interest from Hirschauer's representation of Lapcheska, Gonzales' arguments also failed. Although he argued there was a conflict of interest because Lapcheska testified that she rejected her first plea agreement because she didn't want to testify against Gonzales, it was never mentioned in the written agreement that Lapcheska would have to testify against him. Gonzales failed to present clear and convincing evidence the first plea agreement Lapcheska rejected would have required her to testify.

Gonzales also argued that once Lapcheska was required to give a clean-up statement, Hirschauer was conflicted because she would have had to divulge information that could implicate Gonzales because her criminal activity could involve Gonzales. However, in her clean-up statement, Lapcheska would only have to divulge her own criminal activity prior to the date she was charged for the same drug crimes as Gonzales and there's no indication Hirschauer knew she could provide information about joint criminal activity involving her and Gonzales, the court ruled.

Gonzales failed to show that the alleged actual conflict of interest adversely affected the adequacy of his attorney's representation of him.

The Gonzales opinion was written by Judge Frederick J. Kapala of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Look for a story about sitting in designation in the May 13-26, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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