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Name: People v. Paredes
Case #: E040123
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 01/16/2008
Subsequent History: 4/30/08 Rev. gr., S160953

Disqualification and removal of appellant’s court-appointed counsel was an abuse of discretion and violated his right to counsel under the state Constitution. Appellant Noriega’s court appointed counsel conferred regarding a possible conflict of interest caused by prior representation of a witness by the public defender’s office. The attorney concluded that he did not have a conflict of interest. Noriega said he did not believe the office had a conflict and would waive any conflict if there was one. He wanted the attorney to continue and the attorney said he had put a considerable amount of time into the case. Over his objections, the court ordered the attorney removed. The appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion when it removed counsel. It did not appoint independent counsel to advise Noriega about the conflict, nor did it allow counsel to explain why it had no conflict. Instead, it removed counsel based on the possibility or appearance of a conflict. The removal order did not violate Noriega’s right to counsel under the federal Constitution, but it did violate his right to counsel as guaranteed by the state Constitution. The error was reversible per se. The violation of the right to counsel defies a harmless error analysis; its consequences are necessarily unquantifiable and indeterminate.