The ruling from U.S. Magistrate David P. Rush came after Cantin filed a Motion to Withdraw on Monday (2/4), and defendant Scott J. Wells filed a pro se Motion to Vacate Counsel -- including a copy of Cantin's letter -- on Tuesday. (The Cantin letter is embedded at the end of this post; Cantin filed his withdrawal motion on the same day I reported about his letter to Wells.)
Rush, during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Springfield, clearly was displeased by the turn of events and asked Wells a series of pointed questions about why he wanted Cantin off the case -- as if being told your own lawyer was convinced of your guilt and had no real plans to defend you wasn't enough. Wells pointed out that Cantin had done nothing to have him released from detention, where he has been for almost two years, without being convicted of anything; that Cantin had not taken any depositions, and had not lined up any expert or character witnesses.
Prosecutor James J. Kelleher, in what probably sounds like an absurdity to most normal humans, is seeking to have complaining witnesses from an earlier child sexual abuse case he brought in state court against Wells -- that's the one where my brother, David Shuler, provided ineffective assistance of counsel, and a conviction was overturned when one witness was found to have lied under oath about scars on Wells' penis.
Kelleher has filed the motion under Federal Rule of Evidence 414, and if granted, it would mean Wells could be convicted based on allegations with which he is not charged now -- and for which his earlier conviction was overturned. A number of legal scholars and commentators have written scathing reviews of Rule 414, including this article for the Alabama Law Review. An article in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal calls Rule 414 "fundamentally unfair," violating the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
For those interested in a scientific response to the dubious politics that led to Rule 414, we strongly recommend "Empirical Fallacies of Evidence Law: A Critical Look at the Admission of Prior Sex Crimes," from the University of Cincinnati Law Review.
An in-depth look at the problems with Rule 414 is an issue for another day. But for now, we can say that Cantin did file a Motion to Preclude the Government from Using 414 Evidence. But other than that, and his Motion to Withdraw, the record shows Cantin has done pretty much nothing on U.S. v. Wells. God only knows how much he will charge taxpayers for his "services."
In a moment that almost made this reporter guffaw, Judge Rush said he felt Cantin had "vigorously represented" Wells -- and that the case clearly did not amount to "ineffective assistance of counsel."
On the first point, a check of the court docket and Cantin's own letter show Rush's assessment is way off target. On the second point, I agree with Rush. Cantin's work on Wells' behalf would have to improve to reach the "ineffective assistance of counsel" level. It could more accurately be deemed "no assistance of counsel."
Rush did not say who he would appoint as Wells' new lawyer and gave no clue when that decision might be forthcoming. It appears the current trial date of Feb. 12 will have to be changed.