Criminal Justice

Utah inmate forfeited right to counsel after threatening several lawyers, state's top court says

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A Utah inmate has forfeited his right to appellate counsel because of repeated and extreme “dilatory, disruptive, and threatening conduct” toward his lawyers, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled.

The inmate, Curtis Allgier, expressed disapproval of a succession of lawyers appointed to represent him in the 2007 murder of a corrections officer, according to the Utah Supreme Court opinion.

“Allgier has made a series of threats to multiple appointed appellate attorneys,” the opinion said, “and his pro se pleadings provide the court with no reason to assume that the appointment of another attorney would avoid similar problems.”

Allgier was accused of killing the corrections officer during an escape from custody, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. He was free for about 45 minutes. The Salt Lake Tribune and Fox 13 Now describe Allgier as a heavily tattooed white supremacist.

Allgier first objected to representation by the Legal Defender Association, appointed to represent him in the murder trial, and then to the new counsel appointed to represent him. Allgier then pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He now wants to withdraw the plea, but he is unhappy with his appointed appellate lawyers too.

Allgier filed a bar complaint against one appellate lawyer, saying things would “get very ugly” if the lawyer did not seek to withdraw. Allgier also said he would “resort to other means of removal” if the lawyer tried to sell him out.

Two new lawyers were appointed, but Allgier called them “quacks” in a pro se motion and sought their removal. The pro se motion was denied, but Allgier persisted, calling the lawyers in one motion “the dumbest ass clowns I’ve ever had the EXTREME dishonorable displeasure of being forced to know were even somehow on the planet.”

The lawyers filed an appellate brief on Allgier’s behalf, then sought to withdraw, citing threats by Allgier and a refusal to communicate. The Utah Supreme Court said Allgier had forfeited his right to counsel.

The court noted that Allgier’s guilty plea had reduced the available issues on appeal, and court-appointed lawyers had filed a brief on his behalf. As a result, “the practical scope of any remaining right to counsel on appeal in this particular case is much more limited than at any other phase of the trial or appellate proceedings” the court said.

The court also noted the difficult job of representing criminal defendants.

“Attorneys who are appointed to represent criminal defendants perform an indispensable service to the administration of the criminal justice system,” the court said. “Without those attorneys, many defendants would be deprived of significant constitutional rights. At least some of those defendants may be very difficult to work with and unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. Some defendants may mistakenly assume that they are entitled to the appointed counsel of their choosing, and having not been given their preference, they become resentful toward the appointed attorney. This is work that warrants gratitude from a client, yet it is work that actually may receive less gratitude, and doing it may require an exceptionally thick skin. But appointed defense attorneys should not be required to fear for their own safety or that of their professional associates or families.”

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