The hearing today( 9/27/19) Attorney James McGee’s request to withdraw as Chase Merritt’s counsel citing a conflict-of-interest, is still cloaked in mystery. But it can’t be, as some speculate, due to a simple disagreement between attorneys. Or a disagreement between attorney and client. It is not a “dispute”. And it has nothing to do with irreconcilable differences. A “conflict of interest” request has to be just that- based on an issue that involves a conflict of interest-in the legal sense of what that means.
“Rule 1.7 forbids a lawyer from representing a client in a matter (a) that is directly adverse to or (b) that would present a significant risk that the representation would be “materially limited” by the lawyer’s responsibilities or relationship with another client, a former client, a third party, or the lawyer’s own interests …Feb 1, 2019″
General Definition of “Conflict of Interest”-
conflict of interest
“n. a situation in which a person has a duty to more than one person or organization, but cannot do justice to the actual or potentially adverse interests of both parties. This includes when an individual’s personal interests or concerns are inconsistent with the best for a customer, or when a public official’s personal interests are contrary to his/her loyalty to public business…”
In plain-speak, a legal conflict-of-interest is any time a person, usually a lawyer, or a real estate agent, represents a client, or when an individual has a professional and/or legal obligation to society (like a judge or jury member) and there exists a self-interest, or other, that might hinder that person from fulfilling their legal obligation in full (and without any appearance of impropriety) in regard to the client or society.
For example, if a judge were to find herself presiding over a trial where the defendant or the victim was a family member or friend, there might exist a conflict-of-interest such that the judge deems it necessary to recuse herself from that trial.
Jury questionnaires are designed to cull out those who might have a conflict of interest in regard to issues or persons to be tried. And it is not all that unusual for false information (perjury) given by a juror on these questionnaires to be a reason for a trial verdict to be overturned.
The possible conflicts of interest for Attorney McGee could be related to his sudden, and lengthy absence from this trial-right smack dab in the middle of it. There is no negligence or malfeasance apparent, only an illness that could not have been prevented. But there might be a viable argument made that this did impact the outcome, and it would certainly seem a “conflict of interest” if Merritt is going to raise this issue in a motion, for Attorney McGee to file that motion, or to continue to represent Merritt. Jacob Guerard, as a member of McGee’s firm, would also have a clear conflict of interest in this matter.
But again, we haven’t been told what the issue is. And so speculation may prove wrong.
Time will tell what this is, or if it continues to be an issue in November. My guess…the defense is not looking to reduce sentence at all, but is actively seeking a new trial. This could be based on any number of issues, but like all things legal, time is required to build the case for a successful motion.
I’m uncertain how under PC 1181, ineffective assistance of counsel can be raised. I don’t know much about this stage of post-conviction motions. What seems more likely to be raised now in a PC 1181 motion is insufficient-evidence, prosecutorial and/or juror misconduct, as well as the denial on the part of prosecutors to do their job, and run critical DNA through CODIS. There is absolutely no reason, I can see, not to run DNA through CODIS if it might lead to accomplices, or the actual killers.
Attorney James McGee filed a motion to withdraw as lead counsel from representation of Charles Merritt. This from a revised article by Richard K. De Atley of the San Bernardino Sun:
Rajan Maline has vowed to stay on this case until Charles (Chase) Ray Merritt is freed.
“Co-defense counsel Rajan Maline said on Wednesday that he will not join the motion filed by attorney James McGee.
“Yes, Mr. McGee filed a motion to be relieved,” Maline said. “I do not plan to leave Mr. Merritt until justice is served, and that means until he is free.”
The motion is scheduled to be considered during Friday’s hearing at the San Bernardino Justice Center.”
Whatever is transpiring, it would appear Merritt is gearing up for another fight. If the verdict were being accepted, there is no reason for an attorney to leave now, they could simply show up for sentencing, and disengage after that. Something must be in the works.
It does seem possible that delays in the trial due to McGee’s health issues, might be brought forward in pre-sentencing motions. I don’t understand how this works at this stage, but it does seem as if the delays may have impacted the jury’s ability to fully absorb the volumes of detailed evidence presented by the defense.
Whatever the reasons, some type of challenge to the verdict would appear to be involved, but this case is hard to predict. So time will tell…
It might be of interest that the first motion for a continuance was filed a week after the juror questionnaires were received (I’m assuming) by the defense .
Hoping that the truth of what happened to the McStays will be known one day. In the meantime, the fat lady has definitely not sung. And it seems unlikely that sentencing will take place on September 27th.