Saechao v. Eplett, No. 20-1356 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Charged in Wisconsin state court with armed robbery and false imprisonment, Saechao retained attorney Kronenwetter. The state charged Alonso-Bermudez and others, based on the same crimes. Those cases proceeded separately. The public defender did not know that Kronenweer was representing Saechao when it appointed him to represent Alonso-Bermudez. Kronenwetter told the judge in Saechao’s prosecution that he was concerned about a potential conflict of interests. After six weeks, he withdrew as Alonso-Bermudez’s lawyer. The public defender named Bachman as his replacement. The Saechao judge wanted an unconditional waiver of any conflict from both defendants. Saechao provided one; Alonso-Bermudez declined. The prosecutor listed Alonso-Bermudez as a potential witness in Saechao’s case; the judge disqualified Kronenwetter. By then Bachman had indicated that Alonso-Bermudez was willing to sign a general waiver but Alonso-Bermudez fired him; the judge thought that Bachman no longer could speak for Alonso-Bermudez. Saechao went to trial with a new lawyer and was convicted. Wisconsin’s appellate court affirmed, rejecting his argument that the judge had violated the Constitution by depriving him of his chosen lawyer.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals reasonably applied Supreme Court precedent. The judge had the discretion to disqualify counsel to avoid a serious risk of conflict. and had at least one good reason for disqualification, the fact that Alonso-Bermudez appeared on the prosecution’s witness list.