SALT LAKE CITY — Curtis Allgier will receive a new team of attorneys for his capital murder trial — but not because of the conflict of interest issues his attorneys have detailed.
Instead, a frustrated 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan said in an order Tuesday that he is granting the motion for his attorneys to withdraw — one he had previously denied — because he feels the case wasn't moving forward "in a meaningful fashion."
"While the court is now inclined to reverse its initial ruling, it does so not based on any legal ground nor upon any evidentiary standard, but solely because the Legal Defender's Association has not moved this case in a meaningful fashion," Maughan wrote.
Defense attorneys, who feel there is a legitimate issue that should be resolved before the case moves forward, said the judge's stance is simply "ignorant" and "childish."
"If it's an attack on us for defending our client, then we accept," defense attorney David Mack told the Deseret News. "It's not our strategy to say every three, five, six months: 'There are conflicts.' There have been conflicts this entire time. And when those things happen, we have to act on them because these cases will be scrutinized for years and years to come."
The judge pointed to the fact that it has been almost four years since Utah Department of Corrections officer Stephen Anderson was shot and killed while escorting Allgier to University Hospital. Anderson was shot June 26, 2007.
Maughan said Allgier was ordered to stand trial on capital murder and other charges a full year ago in April 2010. Since that time, the judge said he has asked the attorneys with the Legal Defender's Association for completion of a mitigation report, which would be necessary should Allgier be convicted and a penalty phase held to determine whether he should receive the death penalty.
"The court notes that at nearly every hearing, the Legal Defender's have resisted this court's suggestions of timelines and deadlines in order to move this case to trial," Maughan wrote.
He writes that Allgier's attorneys "never fully committed" to the trial date that was eventually set for May 2011 and stopped working on the case after filing the motion to withdraw as counsel. The basis of the motion was a conflict of interest — as Allgier said he believed all of the attorneys at the Legal Defender's Association were friends of Anderson's — and communication issues.
In his ruling, Maughan says the three motions to withdraw can be attributed not to Allgier, but to the man's attorneys. Maughan said that after he denied the most recent motion, attorneys went to the Utah Supreme Court instead of giving him the evidence he asked for.
"It appears there has been no affirmative substantive action by Legal Defenders Association on the merits of the case since November 2010," he wrote.
He wrote that he is not convinced that, even after the possible year-plus delay that could be caused by an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, the case would move along.
"It is the court's hope that new counsel will timely and diligently engage in this case and pursue it to a speedy resolution in order to protect the rights of all parties concerned," Maughan wrote.
Mack said that while the judge ultimately granted the attorneys' request, he strongly disagreed with the comments made by Maughan relating to the work he and his fellow attorneys have done on the case.
"The reasons given are childish and not supported by what is happening in this case," Mack said. "It's insulting."
He said the case has moved at a pace that is typical when the death penalty is at stake. He said the conflict of interest issue has delayed proceedings almost since the time it was filed and needs to get resolved before the case gets too far — a sentiment that has been seconded in court by prosecutors.
"They don't want to try this case with these conflicts," he said. "They want a verdict that is certain and not reversible because of something so obvious as this conflict."
As far as the timeliness of the trial is concerned, Mack countered that there are over 50 defense motions still pending that need to be resolved before trial and have been with the judge since September.
"He hasn't ruled on anything," Mack said, noting that the withdrawal and a tattoo issue are exceptions. "All of the substantive motions are just sitting there."
He said the judge made numerous statements that were not supported by what has happened in court, including the statement that there wasn't an evidentiary hearing on the conflict of interest issue and that Allgier was not aware of the motion to withdraw.
"I don't know what's going on with him," Mack said. "I think he has just failed to understand basic procedure in the case."
He said that he is confident in whoever will be assigned to take the case and that he feels he and his fellow attorneys did what was best for his client.
"I'm sure subsequent counsel will be qualified and will fight as hard as we did for Curtis," Mack said. "I think that the judge is hoping he can just rush right along to a death sentence on this but I don't think that's going to happen. These things take time and that's because of what's at stake."