State v. McKinley, No. 13–1226.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtHECHT, Justice.
Citation860 N.W.2d 874
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Lavelle Lonelle McKINLEY, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 13–1226.
Decision Date13 March 2015

860 N.W.2d 874

STATE of Iowa, Appellee
v.
Lavelle Lonelle McKINLEY, Appellant.

No. 13–1226.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

March 13, 2015.


860 N.W.2d 876

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Nan M. Horvat, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Erin M. Carr of Carr & Wright, P.L.C., Des Moines, for amicus curiae Heather Hickman.

Opinion

HECHT, Justice.

The district court appointed two attorneys from the Des Moines adult public defender's office to represent the defendant on a murder charge. After reviewing the State's list of expected witnesses, the two defense attorneys realized other attorney colleagues in their office had previously represented three of the State's witnesses on unrelated matters. The attorneys brought this potential conflict of interest to the district court's attention and requested a ruling whether a conflict of interest precludes them from representing the defendant. After the hearing, the district court concluded a conflict existed and disqualified all attorneys employed at the Des Moines adult public defender's office. Upon review, we conclude the potential conflict of interest shown under the circumstances presented in this record did not justify disqualification of the attorneys. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The State of Iowa charged Lavelle McKinley with first-degree murder following the death of Cynthia Rouse. The district court appointed two attorneys from the Des Moines adult public defender's office, Jennifer Larson and Heather Lauber, to represent McKinley. Long before trial was to begin, Larson and Lauber discovered other attorneys in their office had previously represented three potential witnesses for the State: Cheyenne Rouse, the decedent's husband who discovered the

860 N.W.2d 877

body; Heather Hickman, the decedent's neighbor whom the State expects to testify she heard footsteps near the decedent's apartment shortly before the alleged homicide; and Wayne Manuel, the decedent's brother-in-law. Neither Larson nor Lauber had ever personally represented these witnesses, but other public defenders from the same office (Jill Eimermann and Jennifer Russell) had done so. The prior representations were all unrelated to the murder charge against McKinley and had all concluded months or years before McKinley was arrested for the crime charged in this case.

Larson and Lauber requested a hearing and a determination whether a conflict of interest existed requiring their disqualification. The court scheduled a hearing and appointed independent counsel to represent each of the three potential witnesses. At the hearing, Larson and Lauber asserted their public defender colleagues' past representations of Rouse, Hickman, and Manuel on unrelated matters presents no conflict because those matters concluded well before McKinley was charged and therefore are not concurrent with the representation of McKinley. They contended the temporal separation between the current representation of McKinley and the previous concluded representations of the witnesses provides assurance against the risk of divided loyalties in continuing to represent McKinley.

Larson and Lauber assured the court they had no information about the matters for which their colleagues had previously represented Rouse, Hickman, and Manuel; they had not reviewed the existing files kept in the public defender's office pertaining to those matters; and they had already instituted measures preventing them from accessing such information and files during the pendency of this case. Therefore, they contended any potential conflict of interest arising from the prior representations of the three witnesses by other attorneys in the Des Moines office should not be imputed to them. Additionally, the hearing record included a colloquy with the court in which McKinley expressly acquiesced in any potential conflict of interest and indicated his desire to have Larson and Lauber continue representing him. After the hearing, McKinley filed a document confirming his acquiescence in any potential conflict and reaffirming his wish for continued representation by Larson and Lauber.1

Rouse and Hickman informed the court through their counsel who were present at the hearing that they would neither waive any attorney-client privilege with the public defender's office nor consent to Larson and Lauber representing McKinley. Manuel's appointed attorney also attended the hearing and disclosed he had been unable to contact or consult with Manuel.2 The State urged the court to disqualify the entire Des Moines adult public defender's office. The State based its position in part on the concern that any conviction resulting from a trial in which McKinley is represented by Larson and Lauber might be subject to reversal if an appellate court concludes on appeal that a conflict of interest adversely affected their representation of McKinley.

860 N.W.2d 878

After the hearing, the court issued a ruling concluding a conflict of interest disqualifies all attorneys employed at the Des Moines adult public defender's office from serving as McKinley's counsel in this case. The court's ruling was based on the proposition that Larson and Lauber's continuing representation of McKinley would breach duties owed to the public defenders' former clients while infringing upon McKinley's Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free counsel. The court reasoned that disqualification of all attorneys from the same public defender's office is required because an actual, nonspeculative conflict existed between the interests of McKinley and those of the three witnesses.

The conflict, the court explained, was based on the perception that Larson and Lauber's representation of McKinley was directly and materially adverse to Rouse, who had been represented in the past by other public defenders from the same office in connection with felony drug offenses.3 The court designated the juvenile public defender as McKinley's new counsel.

McKinley applied for discretionary interlocutory review, and the State indicated it did not resist. We granted discretionary review and retained the appeal.

II. Scope of Review.

The question of whether a conflict exists is a mixed question of fact and law. Pippins v. State, 661 N.W.2d 544, 548 (Iowa 2003). When a defendant claims a violation of the constitutional right to counsel, our review is generally de novo. State v. Smith, 761 N.W.2d 63, 68 (Iowa 2009) ; State v. Smitherman, 733 N.W.2d 341, 345 (Iowa 2007).

“Whether the facts show an actual conflict of interest or a serious potential for conflict is a matter for trial court discretion....” Pippins, 661 N.W.2d at 548. We review these conflict-of-interest determinations for an abuse of discretion. Smith, 761 N.W.2d at 68. “We find an abuse of discretion only when the ... discretion was exercised on grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable.” State v. Vanover, 559 N.W.2d 618, 627 (Iowa 1997) ; accord Smith, 761 N.W.2d at 68–69; Pippins, 661 N.W.2d at 548.

III. The Parties' Positions.

The parties are not directly adverse on the disqualification issue. McKinley urges reversal of the disqualification order, reinstatement of Larson and Lauber as defense counsel, and remand for trial. The State, couching its position in furtherance of promoting error-free trials and protecting the finality of convictions, agrees the district court may have erred—but not because the district court found Larson and Lauber were burdened by a conflict of interest. Rather, the State expresses concern that if McKinley is convicted, the verdict might be overturned on appeal because the district court accepted the county attorney's suggestion to override McKinley's choice of counsel. See Gary T. Lowenthal, Successive Representation by Criminal Lawyers, 93 Yale L.J. 1, 52 (1983) [hereinafter Lowenthal] (“Even when the court appoints counsel for an indigent defendant, it cannot discharge the lawyer over the defendant's objection absent compelling justification.”). Thus, the State asks for guidance about the balance between conflict-of-interest rules and a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights and requests

860 N.W.2d 879

a remand for a new hearing on the conflicts issue.4

IV. Analysis.

We conclude the circumstances of this case do not rise to the level of an actual conflict. We further conclude the present record evidences no serious potential conflict likely to divide Larson and Lauber's loyalties or otherwise compromise their duty to provide zealous representation for McKinley. Thus, the potential conflict presented in this factual scenario does not override McKinley's interest in continuing his attorney-client relationship with Larson and Lauber.

A. McKinley's Interest in Continuity of Appointed Counsel. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have the Assistance of...

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20 practice notes
  • Iowa Ins. Inst. v. Core Grp. of the Iowa Ass'n for Justice, No. 13–1627.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 12, 2015
    ...principle of statutory interpretation is that “[w]e presume statutes or rules do not contain superfluous words.” State v. McKinley, 860 N.W.2d 874, 882 (Iowa 2015) ; see also Iowa Code § 4.4(2) (setting forth the presumption that “[t]he entire statute is intended to be effective”).Iowa Code......
  • Dempsey v. State, No. 13–0543.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2015
    ...claims.IV. Conclusion.Dempsey has failed to establish the necessary prejudice to succeed on his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel 860 N.W.2d 874claim. Counsel may have been ineffective for failing to accurately inform Dempsey of the exact terms and sentencing outcomes of the first plea offe......
  • In re Detention of Matlock, No. 13–2022.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2015
    ...without the parties requesting that it do so and without the benefit of any briefing or argument by the parties. See State v. McKinley, 860 N.W.2d 874, 884 n. 6, 2015 WL 1087972 (Iowa 2015) (declining to address nondispositive 860 N.W.2d 910but important issue where parties agreed case coul......
  • People v. Rainey, Court of Appeals No. 17CA1133
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 18, 2021
    ...representation applies equally to indigent defendants and collecting state and federal cases applying the rule); State v. McKinley , 860 N.W.2d 874, 879-80 (Iowa 2015) (adopting Harlan ’s view and collecting cases). ¶ 15 In light of this case law, we reject the People's position that if a d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Iowa Ins. Inst. v. Core Grp. of the Iowa Ass'n for Justice, No. 13–1627.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 12, 2015
    ...principle of statutory interpretation is that “[w]e presume statutes or rules do not contain superfluous words.” State v. McKinley, 860 N.W.2d 874, 882 (Iowa 2015) ; see also Iowa Code § 4.4(2) (setting forth the presumption that “[t]he entire statute is intended to be effective”).Iowa Code......
  • Dempsey v. State, No. 13–0543.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2015
    ...claims.IV. Conclusion.Dempsey has failed to establish the necessary prejudice to succeed on his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel 860 N.W.2d 874claim. Counsel may have been ineffective for failing to accurately inform Dempsey of the exact terms and sentencing outcomes of the first plea offe......
  • In re Detention of Matlock, No. 13–2022.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 13, 2015
    ...without the parties requesting that it do so and without the benefit of any briefing or argument by the parties. See State v. McKinley, 860 N.W.2d 874, 884 n. 6, 2015 WL 1087972 (Iowa 2015) (declining to address nondispositive 860 N.W.2d 910but important issue where parties agreed case coul......
  • People v. Rainey, Court of Appeals No. 17CA1133
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 18, 2021
    ...representation applies equally to indigent defendants and collecting state and federal cases applying the rule); State v. McKinley , 860 N.W.2d 874, 879-80 (Iowa 2015) (adopting Harlan ’s view and collecting cases). ¶ 15 In light of this case law, we reject the People's position that if a d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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