Around New England

Mother Who Fired Four Court-Appointed Lawyers Must Get A Fifth, Massachusetts Appeals Court Says

June 7, 2024

A mother who fired four court-appointed lawyers in a row during an attempt to regain custody of her son is entitled to another one and a new trial, the state’s second highest court said.

The woman, who is unnamed in court papers, couldn’t get along with the lawyers because they refused to file certain motions she demanded, leading her to describe them as “nasty,” according to the court’s decision.

The Suffolk Juvenile Court judge expressed exasperation with the woman after she fired her third lawyer, telling her that the fourth lawyer would be the last one she got because the state doesn’t have what the judge called an “endless supply of attorneys.”

The judge also warned the woman that lawyers “cannot file frivolous motions.”

When the woman got rid of the fourth lawyer, the judge refused to appoint a fifth, and instead appointed the fourth lawyer as standby counsel, leaving the woman to conduct her case by herself.

Representing herself, between April and October 2022 the woman filed 49 motions in the case, all of which were denied, according to the court decision.

The mother represented herself at trial, which ended with her losing custody of her son to the boy’s father.

The problem, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said this week, is that the trial court judge did not make it clear enough to the woman that the fourth lawyer would be the last and that not having a lawyer might be disastrous for her case.

“We have serious concern whether the warnings the judge gave the mother were adequate to alert her that she would waive her right to counsel if she was unable to work effectively with her fourth attorney,” the state Appeals Court said.

The Appeals Court said it feels the trial court judge’s pain, but only to a certain extent.

“We are mindful of the frustration inherent with repeated refusal by a party to cooperate with court- appointed counsel, including the resulting delays in the orderly progress of the case toward resolution. But such frustration, or even a well-founded belief that a party appears unlikely to be able to work effectively with any counsel that may be appointed to represent that party, cannot be substituted for the procedural safeguards required prior to finding a waiver of the right to counsel by conduct,” the Appeals Court said.

The case is called Care and Protection of Ollie. (It’s docket number 2023-P-0579 of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.) It was decided Thursday, June 6, 2024.


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