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No error in denying defendant’s request for new counsel and adjournment of trial

State v. Michael Steel, Jr., 2016AP796-CR, District 3, 2/7/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The circuit court didn’t erroneously exercise its discretion in denying Steel’s requests for a new lawyer and an adjournment on the morning of trial.

Steel, charged with obstructing an officer as a repeat offender, sought to replace his second attorney because of disagreement about trial strategy. The circuit court said no, as the case had been pending almost two years and the lawyer was capable of handling the case. This decision was not erroneous:

¶6     Steel initially argues United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 148 (2006), grants him the right to counsel of his own choosing, and, under this standard, the court erred by denying his request made immediately prior to trial to “fire” [Attorney] Ditter, and provide him “other representation.” Steel is wrong. The circuit court properly exercised its discretion by denying Steel’s request for substitution of appointed counsel because “the right to counsel of choice does not extend to defendants who require counsel to be appointed for them.” State v. Jones, 2010 WI 72, ¶38, 326 Wis. 2d 380, 797 N.W.2d 378 (quoting Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. at 151). Based upon that rule, the State argues the circuit court properly exercised its discretion by denying Steel’s request for substitution of appointed counsel. See id., ¶25 (citing [State v.] Lomax, 146 Wis. 2d [356,] 359[, 432 N.W.2d 89 (1988)]). We do not address the issue further because Steel fails to cite relevant law and develop an argument. See State v. Pettit, 171 Wis. 2d 627, 646-47, 492 N.W.2d 633 (Ct. App. 1992). In addition, Steel concedes the State’s argument by failing to respond to it in his reply brief. See Hoffman v. Economy Preferred Ins. Co., 2000 WI App 22, ¶9, 232 Wis. 2d 53, 606 N.W.2d 590 (1999).

The circuit court also properly denied an adjournment under State v. Wollman, 86 Wis. 2d 459, 273 N.W.2d 225 (1979). Wollman requires balancing the defendant’s right to adequate representation by counsel against the public interest in prompt and efficient administration of justice based on relevant factors like: the length of the delay requested; whether the defendant had been granted other adjournments; the convenience or inconvenience to the parties, witnesses and the court; and whether the delay seems to be for legitimate reasons or is dilatory. (¶7).

Steel’s indeterminate adjournment request weighs against him. While the State had previously requested an adjournment but Steel had not, he had delayed the case by failing to appear at previous hearings. The charge was not complex, so additional time to prepare wasn’t a reason to adjourn, and in any event that wasn’t the basis for his request. Finally, Steel claims adjournment might have led to a plea agreement and obviated the need for trial; but this ignores the fact the circuit court rejected Steel’s attempted plea during the trial as not knowing and voluntary due, in part, to Steel’s express desire to contest the charge, and Steel fails to explain how a delay would have affected his desire to contest the charge. (¶¶8-11).

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