Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Mandamus
consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.
BETH LANDAU JUSTICE.
Simon Fletcher, filed an application for writ of mandamus
seeking to compel the respondent county court at law judge to
(1) vacate the "Order Removing Appointed Counsel"
and the "Order Denying Defendant's Ex Parte Motion
to Reverse Removal of Court-Appointed Attorney" and (2)
reinstate Drew Willey as his appointed trial counsel in the
underlying criminal misdemeanor proceeding. The real party in
interest filed a response. For the reasons below, we
conditionally grant the petition.
spring 2017, Fletcher was arrested for the misdemeanor of
driving while intoxicated in Chambers County. See
Tex. Penal Code § 49.09(a). In July 2017, he was charged
by criminal complaint and information. Two months later, the
respondent, the Honorable Jimmy Sylvia, Chambers County Court
Judge,  signed an order finding Fletcher indigent
and appointing Drew Willey as Fletcher's trial counsel.
a year after his appointment, shortly before his scheduled
paternity leave, Willey wrote to the administrative assistant
in the County Judge's office, informing her that he
"did not want [his] name to be reactivated for potential
appointments in Chambers County." More than a month
later, the assistant emailed Willey asking him to complete
and return an "Attorney Affidavit" requesting
"Exclusion From the Appointment List." Willey
explained in his affidavit that "[t]he inadequate
compensation [for appointed counsel] and conflicts of
interests, namely, the [Chambers] County Attorney controlling
the judicial offices, makes it impossible to continue to
provide effective assistance of counsel." A month after
Willey handed in the affidavit, the assistant emailed Willey
asking him if he wished to remain as Fletcher's counsel,
and he responded that he did. Willey did not file a motion to
withdraw as counsel for Fletcher.
respondent, however, had already removed Willey from the
case. Three days earlier, the respondent signed an
"Order Removing Appointed Counsel." The order
stated that the respondent was removing Willey as
Fletcher's appointed counsel for good cause because
Willey was "no longer on appointment list" and that
new counsel would be appointed according to the Chambers
District and County Court Plan. The respondent signed another
order finding Fletcher indigent and appointing Chiquia J.
Roberson as Fletcher's counsel.
November 13, 2018, the respondent signed a letter to Willey
explaining his decision to remove Willey as Fletcher's
counsel and appoint new counsel. Because Willey had "not
withdrawn [his] affidavit," based on Willey's
"sworn statement," the respondent believed that he
"had no choice but to appoint counsel to [Willey's]
clients who felt confident in their ability to effectively
represent the clients." The respondent further explained
that if the two "differences [Willey had] with the
county truly prohibit [him] from effectively advocating for
any potential future client," then, in the
respondent's view, "they would also inhibit
[Willey's] ability to represent the clients to whom [he
was] already appointed."
December 3, 2018, Willey filed an "Ex Parte Motion to
Reverse Removal of Court-Appointed Attorney," seeking
reconsideration of the respondent's September 25, 2018
Order removing him as Fletcher's counsel. Three days
later, the respondent signed an order denying this motion.
weeks later, Willey filed this mandamus petition contending
that the respondent lacked authority to discharge appointed
counsel over Fletcher's and Willey's objections and
that no adequate remedy at law exists. Willey sought to
vacate the September 25, 2018 order removing him as
Fletcher's counsel and the December 6, 2018 order denying
his motion for reconsideration, and to reinstate him as
this Court's order, counsel for the respondent, Judge
Sylvia, responded. He contended that he had the authority to
remove Willey for good cause, or a "principled
reason," based on Willey's affidavit asking the
county to remove him from the appointment list. Because
Willey had stated that he could not provide effective
assistance of counsel in Chambers County, the respondent
argued that the order protected Fletcher's rights by
removing Willey and appointing new counsel who could provide
effective assistance of counsel, under Chambers County's
Indigent Defense Plan.
Relief for Sua Sponte Removal of Appointed Counsel
entitled to mandamus relief, a relator must satisfy two
requirements: (1) there must be no adequate remedy at law to
redress his alleged harm; and (2) the relator must have a
clear right to the relief sought. Buntion v. Harmon,
827 S.W.2d 945, 947 (Tex. ...