People v. Williams

Decision Date25 February 1972
Docket NumberNo. 4,4
Citation194 N.W.2d 337,386 Mich. 565
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Charles O. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

William L. Cahalan, Pros. Atty., Dominick R. Carnovale, Chief, Appellate Dept., Luvenia D. Dockett, Asst. Pros. Atty., Detroit, Mich., for plaintiff-appellee.

State Appellate Defender Office by Arthur J. Tarnow, State Appellate Defender, Detroit, for defendant-appellant.

Before the Entire Bench.

SWAINSON, Justice.

Charles O. Williams was found guilty by a jury in Recorder's Court for the city of Detroit on November 9, 1967, of felonious assault 1 and robbery armed. 2 The Court of Appeals affirmed. 26 Mich.App. 46, 181 N.W.2d 825. On the day the trial began, defendant's counsel, Mr. Monash, made request that he be allowed to withdraw because the defendant Williams had retained a Mr. Goldfarb as his counsel. The trial court denied the motion and ruled that no continuance would be granted to allow a substitution of counsel and that the case must proceed to trial with Mr. Monash serving as defendant's counsel. We granted leave to appeal to consider whether the trial court committed reversible error in denying defense counsel's motion to withdraw, and the defendant's motion for a continuance in this matter. 384 Mich. 775.

The critical facts which are relevant to our decision are found in the discussion which occurred on the first day of trial, November 8, 1967, between Judge Ford, Mr. Monash (defense counsel), and defendant Charles O. Williams:

'THE COURT CLERK: People versus Charles O. Williams, charged with one, robbery armed and two, felonious assault.

'MR. POEHLMAN (Assistant Prosecuting Attorney): People are ready.

'MR. MONASH: The defense is not ready. I know you have my notice to withdraw, which I filed at noon today. I left your courtroom and I didn't realize at the time that I had a call from Mr. Albert Goldfarb and Mrs. Williams, who is here, and she contacted Mr. Goldfarb about having Mr. Goldfarb substitute for me.

'Mr. Goldfarb is in a murder trial before Judge Olsen, but he was here for about a half an hour. Mr. Batts called Judge Olsen, and I understand that Mrs. Williams, in my presence told me that Mr. Williams did not want me as his attorney. Mr. Goldfarb is talking about substituting for me. That is right, isn't it, Mrs. Williams?

'THE COURT: Is there anything else?

'MR. MONASH: In the motion yesterday morning something very drastic came up between my client and I, and I feel that I could not do the job expected of me, and I feel that it would be an injustice for him to have me for an attorney and for me to go into trial.

'THE COURT: I am concerned, Mr. Monash, because this case has been up; this is about the fourth time.

'I heard Mr. Williams the last time he was here and I heard you the last time. The only thing I am concerned about is competence. I know that you are, and we are going to proceed to trial. Is this going to be an adjourned (sic--jury?) trial or a waiver?

'MR. MONASH: Well, I have to talk to him.

'THE COURT: You have been on this case for quite a while, so I just want to know if you want a jury or if it is going to be waived.

'MR. MONASH: Could I go into the jury room privately for five minutes?

'THE COURT: Go ahead, and make up your mind right away. I am denying your motion because it does not speak of anything of substance. I know that you are competent.

'Mr. Williams, I don't know what his views are in this matter, so far as personality conflicts are concerned, but personality conflicts are not the matter with which the Court is concerned.

'This matter has been adjourned over and over again for one reason or another. Mr. Williams has had sufficient time if he wished to retain someone else. The Court feels that this is a delaying tactic and nothing more.

'MR. MONASH: It is not a delaying tactic, your Honor.

'THE COURT: I am not faulting you.

'MR. MONASH: I have no such intentions, your Honor.

'THE COURT: I am not accusing you, but we will proceed to trial and if you will advise us promptly, please.

'DEFENDANT: The reason why I feel that I must speak now to insure you that there is no delaying tactic involved here on my part is because since June, when this case was first assigned to you, as I understand, I did not see my attorney until the last time we appeared here in this courtroom.

'MR. MONASH: You saw me in the county jail before.

'DEFENDANT: When I saw you in October you told me the case had been assigned in June to here. The last time I saw him was in June since October. I told him then about last month, which was the first time I had seen him since June, and I understand that it was assigned in June. Somebody told me the case had been assigned to you in June.

'I told him there were two witnesses I wanted, and he has not made preparation to get the witnesses for my defense, because it seemed that he was apparently so sure that I would plead to some charge that I could not have committed. This is why I told my mother that due to the fact that he has not been working on the case, it appears that I ask that I get someone to try to bolster my defense because I am not guilty of a robbery. I never robbed anybody in my life.

'THE COURT: Mr. Williams, we are going to proceed to the trial today.

'DEFENDANT: But, he has not gotten my witnesses.

'THE COURT: I am sure that he has made whatever efforts that are required to prepare the case. You have talked to him about it I am sure, and he has prepared the defense to the best of his ability.

'Whether or not he has your witnesses does not mean that he is preparing it the way you want him to prepare. I am confident of Mr. Monash. He is competent, and we are proceeding to trial, Mr. Williams.

'THE COURT CLERK: A--135642. People versus Charles O. Williams. Count one, robbery armed and count two, felonious assault.

'MR. POEHLMAN: People are ready.

'MR. MONASH: Defendant is ready. He wants a jury trial, your Honor.

'DEFENDANT: I want a jury trial.

'THE COURT: Mr. Williams, I have known Mr. Monash for a long time. He was a prosecuting attorney for the County of Wayne from 1946 to 1948 and he is recognized as a very highly competent lawyer, and you have had the opportunity to retain someone else if you wished to retain someone else and, of course, the Court has to be concerned about the people here, about the complaining witness and about the other witnesses here. You are not the only one concerned.

'We have adjourned this matter for the same reasons many times, and we are going to go to trial today.

'MR. MONASH: Your Honor, I would like to say--

'THE COURT: Does it have anything to do with this matter?

'DEFENDANT: Your Honor, when I was arrested, they took . . .

'THE COURT: If there are any matters that have to be brought up in the course of the trial, Mr. Monash will bring them up properly.

'Alright. Draw a Jury.'

The applicable standard for review of a trial judge's alleged abuse of discretion is stated in Spalding v. Spalding (1959), 355 Mich. 382, 384--385, 94 N.W.2d 810, 811--812: 3

'We have held repeatedly, and we again hold, that we will not interfere with the discretion of the trial chancellor in these cases unless a clear abuse thereof is manifest in the result reached below. The kind of determination before us requires a weighing of human and economic factors of the utmost complexity, a weighing that can best be accomplished at the local level, not in these chambers. In view of the frequency with which cases are reaching this Court assailing the exercise of a trial court's discretion as an abuse thereof, we deem it pertinent to make certain observations with respect thereto in the interests of saving expense to the litigants and avoiding delay in reaching final adjudication on the merits. Where, as here, the exercise of discretion turns upon a factual determination made by the trier of the facts, an abuse of discretion involves far more than a difference in judicial opinion between the trial and appellate courts. The term discretion itself involves the idea of choice, of an exercise of the will, of a determination made between competing considerations. In order to have an 'abuse' in reaching such determination, the result must be so palpably and grossly violative of fact and logic that it evidences not the exercise of will but perversity of will, not the exercise of judgment but defiance thereof, not the exercise of reason but rather of passion or bias. So tested, we perceive no error in the proceedings below nor in the determination made.'

The Spalding Case involved an appeal from an order of the trial court which modified a divorce decree and increased plaintiff's child allowance from $35 per week plus extraordinary medical expenses, to $42.50 per week plus extraordinary medical expenses. Plaintiff, on appeal, contended that the chancellor had abused his discretion by not increasing the amount to $50 per week, as she had requested. While the rule laid down in Spalding is generally the correct rule to apply, a somewhat stricter standard should be observed in criminal cases where loss of freedom by incarceration is often the penalty that a convicted defendant will suffer.

In People v. Moss (1967), 253 Cal.App.2d 248, 61 Cal.Rptr. 107, the court reversed defendant's conviction of armed robbery and ordered a new trial. After the jury had been selected, but before the trial commenced defendant's attorney informed the court that a strong disagreement had arisen between himself and the defendant over trial strategy. The attorney stated that this had arisen within the previous hour. The trial judge asked defendant if he wanted to represent himself and he stated that he did. The court said that there was no other attorney available and that since the jury had been impaneled he would not grant a continuance. The appellate court stated (pp. 249--251, 61 Cal.Rptr. pp. 109--110):

'We think the court's categorical denial that a lawyer was...

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