Can Request for Substititute Counsel Be Summarily Denied If Circumstances of the Case Require Further Inquiry by Court ?
In Bland v. California Dept. of Corrections (9th Cir. 1994) 20 F.3d 1469 (Bland), the defendant was represented by privately retained counsel, who failed to appear on the morning of the first day of trial.
Counsel appeared in the afternoon and explained that he mistakenly believed the defendant had hired another attorney.
The court continued the proceedings, but counsel failed to appear at the next hearing.
The defendant stated that his attorney still believed he was no longer on the case, but the court noted it had never relieved him as counsel.
The court found counsel in contempt and issued a bench warrant.
Counsel finally appeared a few days later and stated he made a mistake in placing the trial date on his calendar.
The court asked counsel if he was ready for trial, and counsel replied he was trailing another matter and was not ready.
Counsel also stated his understanding that the defendant wanted to be represented by another attorney, and requested appointment of the public defender.
The court replied that the defendant might want another attorney, "but that is not going to happen." ( Id. at p. 1475.)
Bland found that the defendant requested substitute counsel based on the nature of the statements made by his attorney.
Bland also relied on the trial court's negative response, which suggested "that it was aware of the defendant's request because his request was summarily denied. . . . to be sure, the request is not a model of specificity; but, given the circumstances of the case, it was a request which, at the very least, required further inquiry by the court." ( Bland, supra, 20 F.3d at p. 1475.)