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Legal Ethics

Defense lawyer claims incompetence, tries to resign murder case before sanity phase

Posted Jul 14, 2014 7:37 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A California defense lawyer faces possible sanctions after telling a judge he provided incompetent representation in a murder case and he can’t continue with the sanity phase of the trial.

Lawyer Steven O'Connor told a Stanislaus County judge last Tuesday that he failed his client, Nicholas John Harris, who was found guilty in June of second-degree murder and arson, report the Modesto Bee and the Associated Press. Harris had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and jurors had returned last Tuesday to hear testimony about Harris’ mental health.

“I’m not going to proceed in this case,” O’Connor said last Tuesday morning. “You can find me in contempt. You can notify the state bar.”

Judge Linda McFadden told O’Connor he should return to her court in the afternoon and be ready to continue with the trial, according to the Modesto Bee account. She also advised him to consult with counsel. When O’Connor returned to court, he said he had nothing to add to his morning comments.

Prosecutors had alleged Harris stabbed a man he believed was bothering his girlfriend and then set his car on fire. Harris had testified during the trial that he had bipolar disorder and playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto may have affected his mental state.

McFadden scheduled a hearing for this Tuesday to consider sanctions.

County name corrected at 9:25 a.m. in response to comment.

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