In re James BurkeAnnotate this Case
Petitioner James Burke sought post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging that his trial counsel, Attorney Daniel Maguire, provided ineffective assistance because of a conflict of interest. Burke was arrested in 2005 for sexual assault; he was arraigned in 2005, and his trial commenced in 2010. During the time between his arraignment and trial, petitioner filed nearly 200 motions, the vast majority of which were filed pro se in writing and orally on the record. These included motions to disqualify three trial court judges, a motion to disqualify a prosecutor, and nineteen motions for sanctions. Petitioner also expressed discontent with various appointed counsel at multiple points in pretrial proceedings. During discovery, he requested, was provided with, and then dismissed appointed counsel. Then, midway through depositions in 2009, petitioner once again requested and was provided with appointed counsel. Attorney Maguire ultimately represented petitioner at trial. Throughout pretrial proceedings, the trial court reprimanded petitioner many times for his disruptive language and behavior. In April 2008, defendant allegedly threatened the deputy state’s attorney after a day of depositions and was arrested for obstruction of justice. During a hearing in 2009 when petitioner again sought to dismiss his appointed counsel, the trial court questioned whether petitioner was competent to proceed pro se. Based in part on psychiatric evaluations in 2004 and 2006, the trial court ultimately determined that petitioner was competent to stand trial. However, it concluded that given his previous misconduct, it would be “naive to expect that [petitioner] would control himself were he to represent himself during trial.” And because the right to self-representation is not absolute, the trial court found that petitioner had forfeited his right to represent himself through his continued disruptive behavior. During jury draw, outside of potential jurors’ presence, Attorney Maguire expressed his desire to withdraw as petitioner’s counsel, citing threats of physical violence to himself and his family. The trial court denied Attorney Maguire’s motion to withdraw, but allowed a deputy sheriff, described as a legal assistant, to be seated between Attorney Maguire and petitioner throughout the trial. Petitioner was ultimately convicted and sentenced to eighteen to twenty years to serve. Petitioner filed his pro se motion for postconviction relief in February 2013. In March 2015, Attorney Paul Volk, an expert appointed by the trial court and compensated by the Defender General, filed an expert-opinion report with the PCR court after an independent legal review wherein he explained that he found ineffective counsel for some, but not all, of the reasons alleged in petitioner’s original petition. However, the post-conviction court denied relief. The Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error in the PCR court's judgment and affirmed.