PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The highest court in Maine on Tuesday upheld the robbery conviction of a man who was stripped of his right to a court-appointed attorney because he couldn't get along with five different lawyers.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that Gregory Nisbet waived his right to counsel through his actions, which included a threat against one of his lawyers. It also found that Nisbet forfeited his right to counsel through intentional acts that were detrimental to justice.
Nisbet, who's serving a seven-year sentence, may be the first criminal defendant in Maine forced to represent himself after being stripped of his constitutional right to an attorney.
But Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said the judge had no other choice after going out of his way to provide representation for Nisbet.
"Hopefully this decision might deter other defendants from using their right to counsel to manipulate the judicial system and defense counsel," she said.
Nisbet always maintained that he wanted to be represented by an attorney. But he couldn't see eye to eye on strategy, creating conflicts with his lawyers.
Three attorneys asked to be removed from the case before a final pair were appointed. They complained that Nisbet asked them to engage in unethical conduct and both were ultimately removed from the case after Nisbet threatened to shoot one of them in the eye with a BB gun.
The criminal case had stretched to three years by the time Nisbet represented himself at trial with two more lawyers serving as standby counsel.
An eighth attorney, Jamesa J. Drake, represented him during his supreme court appeal.
The supreme court found that the trial judge acted appropriately under two different sets of criteria, concluding that Nisbet waived his right to counsel through his actions and that he effectively gamed the system to gum up the judicial process.
Writing for the court, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said Nisbet had ample warnings that he was in danger of losing his right to a lawyer.
"Through his direct and vivid threat to cause serious bodily harm to one of his attorneys while his other attorney was present, Nisbet willfully engaged in conduct that, based on the clear warnings that the court had given to him, he must have known would inevitably result in the withdrawal of his attorneys and the loss of his right to counsel," he wrote.
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