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Man’s Sixth Amendment right not violated

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The failure of a judge to inquire into a defendant’s written complaint about his public defender didn’t violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, the Indiana Supreme Court held Wednesday. However, the justices explained if a trial judge finds him or herself in a situation similar to the one presented, that judge should at least receive assurances from the public defender’s office that the complaint has been adequately addressed.

Randy Johnson had written to Monroe Circuit Judge Teresa Harper complaining that his public defender, Patrick Schrems, was ignoring his case. Johnson faced a child molesting charge, of which he was later convicted. Judge Harper forwarded the complaint to the county public defender’s office and told Johnson her authority was limited and it was up to the public defender’s office to assign public defenders. Judge Harper and Johnson took no further action on the matter before trial and Johnson and his attorney didn’t raise any objections to the representation at trial or the sentencing hearing.

On appeal, Johnson argued his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated by the trial judge when she didn’t conduct an adequate inquiry into his letter. He brought up other issues on appeal, but the Supreme Court only addressed this one in its decision. The justices also disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision to grant the state’s motion to strike portions of Johnson’s appellate brief that referenced Schrems’ previous discipline. The justices held their decisions imposing discipline against Schrems were before the trial court and the Court of Appeals to the same extent as their decisions in other litigated matters.

Turning to Johnson’s Sixth Amendment claim, the justices unanimously held his constitutional right hadn’t been violated. He claimed a conflict of interest existed between him and Schrems because the attorney didn’t interview certain witnesses. He claimed his conviction should be reversed under Holloway v. Arkansas, 435 U.S. 475 (1978), because the judge didn’t conduct an adequate inquiry when it responded that it could do nothing but send the complaint to the public defender’s office.

The high court rejected his argument in Randy Edward Johnson v. State of Indiana, No. 53S01-1106-CR-335, noting Johnson failed to allege even a potential conflict of interest or that his attorney’s loyalties were divided between Johnson and another client.

The justices also noted that in the future, under similar circumstances, a judge should do more than just pass the complaint along.

“Although indigent defense counsel must have professional independence, judges cannot take a complete ‘hands-off’ approach and totally rely on a bureaucratic agency,” wrote Justice Frank Sullivan, noting the U.S. would develop problems similar to those in England, in which there was an over-bureaucratizing of public legal services.

“To be sure, trial court judges often receive letters from disgruntled defendants complaining about their appointed lawyers, and many of these complaints – we are willing to assume most – will be unfounded. But in instances like this, where appointed counsel has a track record of the professional misconduct complained of, the judge should at minimum require assurance from the public defender’s office that the issue will be resolved. This would neither inhibit the independence of public defenders nor impose an onerous burden on our trial judges,” he wrote.
 

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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