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Legal Ethics

After Judge Finds Lawyer Slept During Trial, He Tosses Weapons Conviction

Posted Jun 25, 2009 6:40 AM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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A New York criminal defense lawyer who's taken more than 600 cases to trial is on the hot seat after a Brooklyn judge tossed one client's conviction.

Trial judge Vincent M. Del Giudice ruled last week that Manhattan solo practitioner Michael Harrison failed to provide his client "meaningful representation."

In a written opinion, Del Giudice notes that Harrison presented a "bizarre" opening statement, repeatedly fell asleep during trial and read magazines while witnesses testified, the New York Law Journal reports.

The judge was acting on a motion by defendant Edward Trujillo's new counsel, who asked the judge to set aside the verdict because of Harrison's conduct. Del Giudice confirmed much of what Trujillo alleged happened during trial.

"At one point during the trial, this court stopped the proceedings and required all parties to engage in a side bar, because I observed counsel for the defendant Trujillo apparently sleeping at the counsel table. The court asked counsel, at side bar, if he was feeling well and if he needed a break to eat or drink anything," Del Giudice wrote, adding that he was "aware of a pre-existing medical condition of counsel and gave counsel every opportunity to revive himself, if necessary, prior to the continuation of the trial."

Trujillo will now likely be retried on charges that he was in possession of a loaded 9 mm pistol, which police found in his SUV.

Del Giudice didn't name Harrison, but the Law Journal notes that his name was easily discovered in public records of the case.

Harrison disputes the allegations made by his client and the judge and told the Law Journal that he intends to take the matter up with the state's judicial grievance committee.

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