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SJC: Judge Can’t Kick Public Defenders Off of Cases for Being Too Adversarial

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts handed down an opinion yesterday that is astonishing for the sole reason that it needed to be written. The SJC held that a judge running a “drug court” cannot remove lawyers from cases because they are too adversarial. The drug court judge in the Lowell District Court complained that certain public defenders were “extremely hostile” to the drug court mission and that they refused to “participate fully” as team members. He solved this problem by banning those troublesome attorneys from drug court and reassigning the cases to other appointed counsel. The SJC held that a judge did not have the power to remove a lawyer without cause to do so which must be determined at a hearing.

Criminal defense lawyers must fight for their clients and fighting hard is not cause for removal – not in drug court or in any other setting. Hats off to those lawyers kicked out of drug court for fighting hard for their clients. This opinion (and the tenacious representation by those lawyers) serves as a reminder that defense attorneys are not potted plants found in courtrooms to ensure that the constitutional requirement of representation is fulfilled. Good lawyers fight hard for their clients and sometimes we don’t play nice.

An article about the opinion:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/05/24/sjc-says-drug-court-judge-cannot-select-lawyers-who-can-appear-his-court/9ncd9tdaIfRy0ewqHXLSfK/story.html

The opinion:

http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/12121.pdf

 

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