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10/05/90 DERRICK J. BASS v. UNITED STATES

October 5, 1990

DERRICK J. BASS, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Trial Judge.

Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

After a jury trial, appellant was convicted of first-degree murder while armed *fn1 and carrying a pistol without a license. *fn2 His only contention on appeal is that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a hearing and make factual findings, as required by Monroe v. United States, 389 A.2d 811 (D.C.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1006, 58 L. Ed. 2d 683, 99 S. Ct. 621 (1978), and Farrell v. United States, 391 A.2d 755 (D.C. 1978), on his pre-trial request for new counsel. We agree that the trial court committed error and remand appellant's case for further proceedings. *fn3

I

On November 11, 1988, three months before appellant's trial began, his mother, Brenda L. Bass, wrote a letter to the trial Judge stating that she and her son had lost confidence in his court-appointed counsel. The seven-paragraph letter, which Mrs. Bass said she had typed on the instructions of her son, gave several reasons for requesting that a new attorney be appointed for appellant. Specifically, the letter alleged (1) that counsel was "not accessible to at the jail"; (2) that counsel had not "communicated on a regular basis" with appellant about his defense strategy; (3) that counsel was frequently late for court appearances; (4) that counsel had "taken the liberty of waiving" appellant's right to be present in court, despite appellant's express desire "to be in Court for any action concerning his case"; (5) that counsel had insufficiently responded to appellant's several requests to "pursue a third-party bond"; and (6) that counsel's "investigation and questioning of witnesses concerning this case leaves a lot to be concerned about." Mrs. Bass ended her letter with the assurance that she and her son had "no personal hard feelings" against counsel, but felt that he was "not the enthusiastic and supportive that we had hoped for. . . ."

The trial Judge responded with the following letter to Mrs. Bass, dated November 16, 1988:

By copy of this letter I am forwarding copies of your November 11, 1988 letter to me about your son's case to . . . your son's court-appointed attorney, and to government counsel, Mr. Charles Cobb, for such action as either of them may wish to take.

You are, of course, free at any time to hire an attorney of your own to represent your son. I note that this case has been pending since June. There frequently is only so much an attorney can do in any given case. Repeated visits to the jail may not help in the least. I note, for example, that Judge Morrison already denied a bond review motion in August.

No further action was taken on appellant's request for new counsel. The same appointed attorney eventually represented him at his four-day trial. *fn4

II

In Monroe v. United States, supra, this court held:

When a defendant makes a pre-trial challenge to the effectiveness of counsel -- whether court-appointed or retained -- and requests the appointment of new counsel on the ground that counsel, due to lack of investigation, preparation, or other substantial reason, is not rendering reasonably effective assistance, the trial court has a constitutional duty to conduct an inquiry sufficient to determine the truth and scope of the defendant's allegations.

389 A.2d at 820 (citations omitted); accord, Farrell v. United States, supra, 391 A.2d at 760-762. The requirement of an "inquiry" in such circumstances, which has come to be called a "Monroe-Farrell hearing," has been reaffirmed by this court on numerous occasions. E.g., Robinson v. United States, 565 A.2d 964, 968 (D.C. 1989); Matthews v. United States, 459 A.2d 1063, 1064 (D.C. 1983); cf. Pierce v. United States, 402 A.2d 1237, 1244 (D.C. 1979) (hearing required when defendant requests appointment of co-counsel).

In the case at bar, the letter that Mrs. Bass sent to the trial Judge included a charge that appellant's attorney was not investigating his case properly. This type of complaint was among those specifically listed in the Monroe opinion as requiring a hearing. 389 A.2d at 820. We therefore hold that Mrs. Bass' letter was sufficient to trigger a Monroe-Farrell hearing, *fn5 and that the trial Judge erred ...


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