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Disciplinary Counsel v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 28, 2016

DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL
v.
JOHN R. WILLIAMS

          Argued March 7-2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Blue, J.

          Norman A. Pattis, with whom, on the brief, was John R. Williams, self-represented, for the appellant (defendant).

          Karyl L. Carrasquilla, chief disciplinary counsel, with whom was Desi Imetovski, assistant chief disciplinary counsel, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Charles Kurmay filed a brief for the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

          Lavine, Beach and Mullins, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The defendant attorney, John R. Williams, claims in relevant part that his right to due process was denied when the court failed to provide him with proper notice of a disciplinary hearing and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before rendering a judgment suspending him from the practice of law for twenty days. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a new hearing.

         The following facts, which are ascertained from the record and are not in dispute, inform our review. There are two underlying cases that are relevant to the instant matter; one is a state court case and the other is a federal court case.

         In the state court case, Williams represented criminal defendant Angelo Reyes during the course of Reyes’ trial in the judicial district of New Haven. In that case, Reyes had been charged with two counts of arson in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-112 (a) (2), two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-115 (a) (1), and conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-101 (a) (1).

         Before facing these charges in state court, however, Reyes had been tried in federal court on similar charges. He was acquitted of those federal charges.

         As jury selection was about to begin in the state court case, the court discussed with Williams and the prosecutor the federal court case in which Reyes had been acquitted. In particular, the court discussed the fact that counsel had met in chambers and agreed that the jury verdict in the federal case would not be mentioned during voir dire in Reyes’ state court case. The court then stated: ‘‘And second . . . during the trial itself, the federal jury’s verdict will not be mentioned by counsel or witnesses without prior permission of the court, and, if somebody wants to bring it up, it’s a simple matter to say, Your Honor, may the jury be excused, and then, you know, address me seeking permission if that seems appropriate.’’ The court then asked if that was agreeable to the parties, and both the prosecutor and Williams said ‘‘yes.’’

         Following jury selection, the court clarified that Williams had no outstanding motions on behalf of Reyes, which Williams confirmed, and it then addressed an outstanding motion in limine that the state had filed concerning the use of information from Reyes’ federal court trial. The court reiterated its earlier ruling that ‘‘there was to be no mention of the verdict in the federal trial without prior consent of the court, ’’ and it asked the prosecutor if he was seeking an order that was even broader than that. After further discussion among the prosecutor, Williams and the court, the court then stated: ‘‘I’m going to stick with my original order, which is that the outcome of the federal proceeding may not be mentioned in the jury’s presence without prior consent of the court.’’[1]

         On October 1, 2014, during the evidentiary portion of Reyes’ trial, the state called to the witness stand one of Reyes’ alleged co conspirators, Osvaldo Segui, Sr.[2]During direct examination, Segui testified in part about a specific plea agreement he had with federal authorities and his expectations related to his pending state criminal charges. On cross-examination, Williams inquired about, inter alia: Segui’s conviction in his federal criminal case; the plea agreement Segui had with the federal prosecutor for a sentence that was less than the mandatory minimum sentence; the fact that Segui had testified against Reyes in Reyes’ federal criminal trial as part of Segui’s plea agreement for, inter alia, a reduced sentence; Segui’s pending state charges; and Segui’s agreement with the state, which was contingent on his testifying for the state in Reyes’ state criminal trial. During cross-examination, the following colloquy occurred between Williams and Segui as Williams attempted to impeach Segui with a transcript from Seguis federal court sentencing hearing:

‘‘Q: Isn’t it true, Mr. Segui, that in your presence, Assistant United States Attorney McConnell said-and counsel, for your benefit, it’s page eleven: ‘. . . the verdict in the case is immaterial.’ Do you remember him saying that?
‘‘A: I don’t understand that-material stuff.
‘‘Q: You don’t know what the word immaterial means?
‘‘A: No, I don’t.
‘‘Q: It means it doesn’t matter.
‘‘A: Okay.
‘‘Q: That was, in fact, your-that was, in fact, what the government told you; isn’t that right?
‘‘A: I don’t recall it, but yes-yes.
‘‘Q: All right. And then the [federal] judge spoke, and Judge Shea addressed you directly as well as the other people in the courtroom, do you remember that?
‘‘A: Yes. . . .
‘‘Q: Do you remember that Judge Shea said, ‘I also want to add, I echo what Mr. McConnell said. While your assistance did not result in a conviction, the fact is-’
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: Objection.
‘‘The Court: Sustained. The jury will step out.’’ (Emphasis added.)
After the jury was excused, the colloquy continued:
‘‘The Court: Mr. Williams, I respect you a great deal, but you have expressed your outrage several times already at various things that happened. I think that this is actually pretty outrageous, because we specifically addressed the question of whether the jury should be informed of what [was] the outcome of the federal trial before, and it was agreed that you were not to mention that without the specific consent of the court, and you- you should know that if you wanted to get into this, you needed to obtain my consent prior to mentioning this in front of the jury.
‘‘Attorney Williams: You Honor, ...

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