United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
before the court is Gerald M. Titus, III's motion to
withdraw as counsel. See ECF No. 137. The
court appointed Titus to serve as counsel for
defendant on March 16, 2017, after the court permitted
another attorney to withdraw due to irreconcilable
differences between counsel and the defendant. Now, Titus
seeks to withdraw as defendant's counsel on the same
grounds. For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion
and Order and at the hearing, the motion to withdraw is
Lamont Wilkerson was indicted on November 22, 2016 and
charged with three counts of distributing methamphetamine in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). ECF No. 1. The trial
date was originally scheduled for January 31, 2017, and
Assistant Public Defender, George H. Lancaster, Jr. was
appointed to serve as Wilkerson's counsel. ECF Nos. 7,
March 10, 2017, Lancaster filed a motion to withdraw because
Wilkerson “advised him he no longer wishes to be
represented by undersigned counsel.” ECF No. 21. After
a hearing, Judge Johnston granted Lancaster's motion, and
appointed Titus to serve as counsel to defendant. ECF Nos.
24, 25. Since Titus' appointment on March 24, 2017, this
case has been continued nine times, almost two dozen
pre-trial motions have been filed, and trial is scheduled for
March 27, 2018.
February 19, 2018, Titus filed a motion seeking to withdraw
as counsel citing an irreconcilable breakdown in
communication with Wilkerson. See ECF No. 137.
Additionally, the motion alleges Wilkerson communicated to
Titus on February 17 and 19 that he no longer wished to speak
to counsel regarding the case. Id. On February 21,
the court held a hearing where the parties asserted that
there exist substantial disagreements between Titus and
Wilkerson concerning trial defense strategies.
motion for new counsel entails consideration of whether the
initial appointment “ceased to constitute Sixth
Amendment assistance of counsel, ” reviewing,
“(1) the timeliness of the motion; (2) the adequacy of
the court's subsequent inquiry; and (3) ‘whether
the attorney/client conflict was so great that it had
resulted in total lack of communication preventing an
adequate defense.'” See United States v.
Smith, 640 F.3d 580, 588 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting
United States v. Gallop, 838 F.2d 105, 108 (4th Cir.
to that last inquiry, a total lack of communication is not
required[.] Rather[, ] an examination of whether the extent
of the breakdown prevents the ability to conduct an adequate
defense is the necessary inquiry.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and bracket omitted). Thus, the
court is concerned “not with the indigent
defendant's freedom of choice or . . . whether the
attorney and his client have a meaningful relationship,
” but whether “a breakdown of attorney-client
communication [is] so great that the principal purpose of the
appointment-the mounting of an adequate defense incident to a
fair trial-has been frustrated.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted) (cited by United
States v. Williamson, 701 Fed.Appx. 212, 218 (4th Cir.
factors in Smith are to be weighed “against
the trial court's interest in the orderly administration
of justice.” United States v. Reevey, 364 F.3d
151, 156 (4th Cir. 2004), followed in United States v.
Lee, 397 Fed.Appx. 889, 890 (4th Cir. 2010) (per
curium). To prevail on a motion to substitute court-appointed
counsel, the parties must demonstrate good cause.
Gallop, 838 F.2d at 106 (citation omitted).
upon the representations of Titus and Wilkerson, the court
does not find that they attorney/client conflict is “so
great that it had resulted in total lack of communication
preventing an adequate defense.” Smith, 640
F.3d at 588 (4th Cir. 2011). Disagreement regarding potential
trial strategy fails to disrupt the “principal purpose
of the appointment-the mounting of an adequate defense
incident to a fair trial-has been frustrated.”
Id.; see also United States v. Johnson, 114
F.3d 435, 443 (4th Cir. 1997) (affirming denial of motion to
withdraw as counsel despite the defendant
“disagree[ing] with [counsel's] trial
strategies.”). The parties' disagreements
notwithstanding, it is clear to the court that Titus is
mounting a vigorous defense on Wilkerson's behalf. The
number, variety, and mere ingenuity of the pre-trial motions
he has filed indicates to the court that Titus'
representation of the defendant clearly exceeds the bar of
motion is also untimely. Id. This case has been
continued nine times since Titus' appearance as counsel.
The court's latest continuance stated “given the
generous nature of the extension granted herein, no further
extensions of the deadline will be granted.”
See ECF No. 129 at 3. Trial is set for March 27,
2018. Given the ten (10) pending pre-trial motions filed by
counsel, coupled with the additional pre-trial motions ruled
on after the court's pre-trial motions hearing,
(see ECF No. 86), allowing Titus to withdraw would
result in yet another continuance. The Speedy Trial Act
affords the right to a speedy trial to not only the
defendant, but also to the public. United States v.
Mullen, 32 F.3d 891, 895 (4th Cir. 1994) (“In
considering timeliness . . . the court is entitled to take
into account the . . . public interest in proceeding on
having considered the grounds of Titus' motion and the
parties' representations at the ex parte hearing, the
motion fails to satisfy Smith, and this court
refuses to appoint another counsel to represent the
defendant. See United States v. Morsley, 64 F.3d
151, 156 (4th Cir. 1995) (affirming the district court's
refusal to permit the withdrawal of a second appointed
attorney after defendant's first appointed attorney was
allowed to withdraw, instead presenting the defendant with
the option of counsel's continued representation or to
proceed pro-se); United States v. DeTemple, 162 F.3d
279, 289 (4th Cir. 1998) (stating that “[a] court can
properly refuse a request for substitution of counsel when
the defendant's own behavior creates the
problem.”). Accordingly, the court
DENIES the motion to withdraw as counsel.
ECF No. 137 The Clerk is directed to send a copy of this
Memorandum Opinion and Order to counsel of record, the United
States Marshal for the Southern District of West Virginia,
and the Probation Office of this court.