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Hall v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

August 24, 2016

JAMES HALL APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CR-13-127-1], HONORABLE SAM POPE, JUDGE

          Robert M. “Robby” Golden, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kristen C. Green, Ass't Att'y Gen., Evelyn D. Gomez, and Brooke Jackson, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge

         James Hall appealed his Drew County District Court conviction to the circuit court, and on April 23, 2015, he was found guilty by a jury of one count of harassment and two counts of harassing communications. Hall was sentenced to serve ninety days' imprisonment in the Drew County jail and 275 days' suspended upon his compliance with certain conditions when released. His sole argument on appeal is that the circuit court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice. We affirm.

         Hall was charged on April 11, 2013, and the district court appointed a public defender, Omar Greene, to represent him. Hall was found guilty on August 29, 2013, in the Drew County District Court on two counts of harassing communications and one count of harassment. He filed an appeal to the circuit court on September 27, 2013, but the appeal was dismissed by order filed August 15, 2014, due to Hall's failure to appear.

         Hall filed a pro se motion for reconsideration on August 21, 2014, and alleged that his counsel, Greene, had failed to communicate with him, that Greene had failed to return his telephone calls, and that Greene had failed to communicate any court dates with him. He further alleged that he was still indigent and in need of a court-appointed attorney; that Greene was still "suitable"; and that the public defender's office was "conflicted" from representing him.

         Greene filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration of dismissal of appeal, arguing that Ayala v. State, 365 Ark. 192, 226 S.W.3d 766 (2006), holds that failure to appear at a pretrial hearing is not proper grounds for dismissal of an appeal from city court to circuit court. The circuit court filed an order setting aside the dismissal on November 12, 2014, and a pretrial hearing was set for January 20, 2015, with a jury-trial date of February 3-6, 2015.

         On February 10, 2015, Hall left a telephone message on the circuit court's answering machine. The circuit court judge wrote Hall a letter stating that the court had received Hall's message that he had fired his court-appointed counsel, that he wanted an alternate counsel appointed, and that he would be handling the matter pro se. The letter informed Hall that he could not fire the court-appointed counsel and that he could not represent himself while he was represented by court-appointed counsel. The letter stated that Hall's concerns would be addressed at the next court appearance.

         Hall filed a pro se motion for immediate replacement of his court-appointed attorney on February 11, 2015, and he complained that his attorney failed to attend the January 20, 2015 pretrial hearing. He claimed that he could not reach his attorney, that his attorney was "incompetent or uncaring, " and that he wanted a new lawyer.

         At the hearing on March 13, 2015, Hall complained that Greene had been late or missed several pretrial hearings, and the trial court reminded Hall that Greene had reinstated Hall's appeal in the circuit court. Hall agreed but stated that Greene had reported to the circuit court that he was too tired to drive to the last preliminary hearing and that Greene had reported to Hall that he had been in the emergency room all night with his wife, which Hall claimed that he understood. Nevertheless, Hall continued that Greene "has not had any witness lists from me. We have not prepared for trial." Hall also complained that Greene should have argued at the district-court level that a conflict of interest existed among Hall, the district judge, and the Tenth Judicial Public Defender's Office because of a blog that Hall had been writing. The circuit court explained that Hall could not create his own conflict and then complain about it. Hall continued his argument, complaining that he could not contact Greene. The circuit court stated that Hall had placed a notice of change of address in a civil-case file, while the circuit court was working from the criminal file, and thus, Hall's attempts at notification of his new contact information were not adequate.

         Greene stated,

Well, Judge, I've had trouble communicating with him too. You know, it's a two-way street on that. And then I don't recall him letting me know where he moved. Maybe he did. And he will call me, like, at a time when I'm in a trial or something. And then my secretary will take a message from him. But a lot of time[s] the messages are just, they're, just to be honest, they're just bizarre, I mean, something about somebody threatened him. You know, I wasn't appointed to be his body guard, Your Honor. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Drive down to Drew County and protect him or something. And then on the, where the Court dismissed his appeal, I found a case that said, that his appeal couldn't be dismissed unless he didn't show up for trial. Just not showing up for a pre-trial hearing wasn't sufficient. And then he had filed a bunch of pre-trial-he had filed a bunch of pro se motions which didn't cite anything that helped him. It just ranted on about a bunch of stuff.

         When the circuit court asked Greene whether he had represented Hall in the district court, Greene responded affirmatively, and stated, "And we won on, I don't know how many counts, you know." Greene continued,

And, then, so we filed notice and the rest the Court knows about. You know, I've tried to represent Mr. Hall to the best of my ability. I did do some effective research on the issue of his appeal being dismissed. You know, he is one of the more difficult individuals I've ever represented, including people that are facing ...

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