WILKES-BARRE — An attorney seeking to alleviate the caseloads he and other attorneys who work in the county’s conflict counsel pool brought his concerns to a Luzerne County judge Thursday.
Attorney John Pike previously had written a letter to all county judges suggesting conflict counsel attorneys be appointed only to cases in which the Public Defender’s Office has a true conflict – not just when a personality difference arises with their client.
On Thursday, Pike asked county Judge Lesa Gelb to reassign a public defender to the case of Samuel Reyes, citing it has become increasingly common for conflict counsel attorneys to be assigned to cases because of the personality difference.
Typically, a case might be assigned to a conflict counsel attorney when a public defender has either represented a co-defendant or a witness in the case, or another similar conflict.
Pike said of the 60 conflict counsel cases he is currently handling, at least five qualify under the personality difference argument, and that it seemed to be an increasing trend.
Chief Public Defender Steven Greenwald argued Gelb already had made her decision in Reyes’ case; she removed public defender John Sobota from the case in July and assigned Pike to represent Reyes, 36, of York, who faces five charges in connection with a May 2012 incident in Wilkes-Barre in which police say Reyes illegally possessed a gun.
Greenwald argued that state law says when a conflict exists between an attorney in his office and a client, a conflict exists for every other attorney in the office because it operates as a law firm. That calls for a conflict counsel attorney to be appointed, Greenwald said.
“You can’t just change the law,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald said attorneys in the office have switched cases from time to time if a client simply does not like their attorney, but that that was not the case with Reyes.
Gelb said she understood the arguments of both Greenwald and Pike, but that there had been an established conflict between Reyes and Sobota. Gelb said nothing Pike said could make her change her mind.
Reyes had claimed Sobota was ineffective, causing an irreconcilable difference.
Gelb said Reyes has written her a number of letters inquiring about when he can meet with an attorney about his case, and the judge instructed Pike to do so.
Reyes expressed concern that Thursday’s proceeding would hamper his relationship with his new attorney. Both Gelb and Pike assured Reyes it would not.