Omar Hill v. State of Arkansas

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APRIL 7, 2004





Karen R. Baker, Judge

A Pulaski County jury convicted appellant of aggravated robbery and theft of property and sentenced him to an aggregate term of thirty-three years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Appellant argues for his sole point on appeal that the trial court erred in declining to allow him to change public defenders prior to trial. We find no error and affirm.

On December 18, 2001, the State filed an information in Pulaski County charging appellant with aggravated robbery and theft of property. The first trial on those charges ended in a mistrial on June 26, 2002. New counsel was appointed for appellant on July 18, 2002, and on August 8, 2002, appellant made a pro se motion for another substitution of counsel, alleging that he and his counsel disagreed over the filing of a pretrial motion and that he was concerned about the zeal of her representation. The trial judge denied his motion, and on March 4, 2003, a jury found appellant guilty of the charges and sentenced him to thirty-three years.

Appellant filed several pro se motions regarding his trial that his appointed counsel refused to support and argue to the trial court. Appellant claims that the importance of cooperation and agreement between counsel and client is paramount, and that as an indigent defendant, he was denied counsel of his choice by the trial court's failure to appoint a change of counsel well in advance of the trial. Appellant cites the Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16(b) to support his proposition that an attorney is allowed to discontinue representation if the client's strategy is repugnant to the attorney, and further asserts that if he had not been indigent he would have been allowed to fire an attorney and hire a new one. Thus, he claims that his indigent status resulted in his being unable to change counsel.

Appellant's argument is without merit. The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee that an appointed attorney establish an exemplary rapport with the accused, nor does it guarantee an accused a "meaningful attorney-client relationship." Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1 (1982); Burns v. State, 300 Ark. 469, 780 S.W.2d 23 (1989). The right to counsel of one's choice is not absolute and may not be used to frustrate the inherent power of the court to command an orderly, efficient and effective administration of justice. Edwards v. State, 321 Ark. 610, 906 S.W.2d 310 (1995); Smith v. State, 68 Ark. App. 106, 3 S.W.3d 712 (1999). Once competent counsel is obtained, a request for a change of counsel must be considered in light of the public's interest in the prompt dispensation of justice, and the fact that a criminal defendant is dissatisfied with counsel's efforts does not entitle him to the appointment of a different attorney. See Bullock v. State, 352 Ark. 577, 111 S.W.3d 384 (2003); cf. Harrison v. State, 303 Ark. 247, 796 S.W.2d 329 (1990) (no abuse of discretion to deny change of retained counsel where client showed up on the morning of jury trial with a new lawyer, even when that lawyer announced ready to try the case).

Appellant's claim, that the attorney who was appointed would be allowed an escape from the representation pursuant to Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16, is likewise without merit. The comment to the rule discusses the limitations upon an attorney's right to choose clients and that Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.2 and commentary require that a lawyer shall not seek to avoid appointment to represent a person except for good cause. The comment emphasizes that an individual lawyer fulfills his responsibility to provide pro bono services by accepting a fair share of unpopular matters or indigent or unpopular clients, including accepting appointments by a court to serve unpopular clients or persons unable to afford legal services.

We review a trial court's ruling on disqualification of counsel for an abuse of discretion. Wilburn v. State, 346 Ark. 137, 56 S.W.3d 365 (2001) (applying the civil standard to criminal proceedings). Appellant must show prejudice from the denial of a request for new counsel, and in this case he has not alleged that any prejudice resulted from the denial of his motion. Davis v. State, 345 Ark. 161, 44 S.W.3d 726 (2001). We are left to speculate as to whether appellant's case was hampered in any respect by his counsel's refusal to join in his pro se motions. See Bullock, supra. We cannot say that under these facts the circuit court erred in denying appellant's request for new counsel.

Accordingly, we affirm.

Stroud, C.J., and Crabtree, J., agree.