SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.
Defendant Aman Herrera ("Herrera") is charged in a three count indictment with (1) participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine base from in or about May 1996 through December 12, 1996, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) (Count One); and (2) distributing and possessing with intent to distribute crack cocaine on or about October 26, 1996, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count Two). The Government moves for the disqualification of Herrera's attorney due to a conflict of interest that cannot be resolved. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.
On July 18, 1997 the Government informed the Court, by means of a sealed ex parte letter, that Herrera's attorney, Roland Thau, ("Thau") of the Southern District of New York Federal Defender Division of the Legal Aid Society ("Federal Defender Division"), has a conflict of interest. In a prior action, Thau represented an individual, who for the purpose of this motion, shall be referred to as "John Doe." Although John Doe, himself, has no direct involvement in the instant case, his wife, "Jane Doe," is likely to be a key witness in the instant trial.
Specifically, Jane Doe served as a confidential informant for the Government in the instant case, and thus will likely testify on behalf of the Government.
Jane Doe's cooperation with the Government in this capacity is based on the understanding that her assistance with the Government's investigation and/or prosecution of Herrera will prompt the Government to write a 5K1.1 letter to her husband's sentencing judge, resulting in a reduction of her husband's sentence.
On July 23, 1997 the Government informed Thau of the conflict of interest and subsequently asked the Court to conduct a Curcio hearing.
On August 27, 1997 the Government informed the Court that John Doe, Thau's prior client, did not waive the conflict of interest. The Government also informed the Court that after consulting with independent counsel, Herrera was willing to waive the conflict of interest and proceed with Thau as his attorney in a limited capacity. Nevertheless, the Government moved the Court to disqualify Thau and the Federal Defender Division as counsel for Herrera, given John Doe's unwillingness to waive the conflict of interest. At the same time, the Government withdrew its motion for a Curcio hearing, claiming that a hearing would not resolve the competing rights of the two clients to unconflicted free counsel.
Thau does not contest the Government's motion.
I. Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives a criminal defendant the right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. U.S. Const. amend. VI. The right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment entails a correlative right to representation that is free from conflicts of interest. Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261, 271, 101 S. Ct. 1097, 67 L. Ed. 2d 220 (1981). Although a defendant generally may waive his Sixth Amendment right to an unconflicted attorney, "the essential aim of the [Sixth] Amendment is to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant rather than to ensure that a defendant will inexorably be represented by the lawyer whom he prefers." Wheat v. United States, 486 U.S. 153, 159, 108 S. Ct. 1692, 100 L. Ed. 2d 140 (1988); United States v. Lussier, 71 F.3d 456, 461 (2d Cir. 1995). Thus, when deciding motions for disqualification, the Court must balance the defendant's right to counsel of his choice and "the interests of the courts in preserving the integrity of the process and the government's interests in ensuring a just verdict and a fair trial." United States v. Levy, 25 F.3d 146, 155 (2d Cir. 1994).
There is a presumption that arises in favor of the accused's chosen counsel. This presumption can be overcome by a showing of an actual conflict or a potentially serious conflict.
Id. If the Court discovers that the attorney suffers from a severe conflict, such that no rational defendant would knowingly and intelligently desire the conflicted lawyer's representation, the Court is obliged to disqualify the attorney. Id. Only if the Court discovers that the attorney suffers from a lesser conflict, such that a rational defendant could knowingly and intelligently desire the conflicted lawyer's representation should the Court allow the defendant to waive his right to a unconflicted lawyer.
II. Thau's Conflicts
In the instant case, Jane Doe is assisting the Government with the understanding that any assistance provided to the Government will earn her husband, John Doe, a 5K.1 letter, resulting in a reduction of the John Doe's sentence. Therefore, any cross examination of the Jane Doe by Thau that tends to impeach her credibility could adversely effect her husband's chances of obtaining a reduced sentence. For example, if Jane Doe's credibility is questionable or her performance is unsatisfactory at trial, the Government may refuse to give credit to John Doe because of her poor performance. Thus, by effectively representing Herrera through vigorous cross-examination of Jane Doe, Thau may harm his former client's chance of obtaining a reduced sentence.
However, if Thau restricts his cross-examination of Jane Doe to preserve the rights of his former client, he will be violating Herrera's rights to effective assistance of counsel. See e.g., United States ex rel Stewart on Behalf of Tineo v. Kelly, 870 F.2d 854, 857 (2d Cir. 1989) (inability to vigorously cross-examine informant and former client of defendant's attorney required disqualification of attorney); United States v. Iorizzo, 786 F.2d 52, 57 (2d Cir. 1986) (disqualifying attorney where witness's prior testimony was relevant and defense counsel could not use that testimony to attack the witness's credibility without placing prior relationship between attorney and witness in jeopardy).
In addition, during Thau's representation of John Doe he is likely to have received privileged information. At John Doe's trial, Jane Doe is alleged to have been in court each day and in constant contact with the Thau and his co-counsel. Thus, Jane Doe is likely to have had conversations with Thau that involved privileged information regarding her husband, John Doe. While Jane Doe's discussions with John Doe's attorneys are not necessarily privileged, if the John Doe was the source of the information exchanged between the Jane Doe and Thau, it is conceivable that an effective cross-examination of Jane Doe would breach John Doe's attorney-client privilege. It is likely that Thau would feel compelled not to use the privileged information, thereby denying Herrera the vigorous advocacy required of an attorney to effectively represent his client. See e.g., United States v. Calabria, 614 F. Supp. 187, 193 (E.D. Pa. 1985) (possession of confidential information from a former client's case would hinder the attorney's performance on current client's case).
Finally, Thau's representation of Herrera may place Thau in the position of an unsworn witness. Thau and Jane Doe are alleged to have conversed during John Doe's trial. Therefore, during the course of representing Herrera, Thau may need to place himself in the position of being a witness to those conversations. If Thau attempts to impeach Jane Doe with information he learned during conversations that he had with her, Thau may would be acting as an unsworn witness. Whereas Thau might ordinarily place a rebuttal witness on the stand to discredit the witness's testimony, Thau may be the only witness capable of challenging Jane Doe's recollection of conversations between them.
Even if Thau is not going to serve as a witness, his performance as an advocate may be impaired by his relationship to the events in question.
For example, the attorney may be constrained from making certain arguments on behalf of his client because of his own involvement. . . . Moreover, his role as advocate may give his client an unfair advantage, because the attorney can subtly impart to the jury his first-hand knowledge of the events without having to swear an oath or be subject to cross examination.