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State v. Rivera

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

November 13, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Appellee
v.
ANGEL RIVERA ELIEZER CLAUDIO DAVID PENA RUTH ROJAS-AVELO RAFAEL ESQUILIN ROLANDO CARTER JONATHON BARNETTE Appellants

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE Nos. 16-CR-093520 16-CR-093559 16-CR-09383116-CR-093558 16-CR-093557 16-CR-093675 16-CR-093560

          APPEARANCES: JACK W. BRADLEY and MICHAEL E. STEPANIK, Attorney at Law, for Appellants.

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and MATTHEW A. KERN, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          THOMAS A. TEODOSIO, Judge.

         {¶1} Appellants, Angel Rivera, Eliezer Claudio, David Pena, Ruth Rojas-Avelo, Rafael Esquilin, Rolando Carter, and Jonathon Barnette ("Clients") appeal from an order disqualifying their retained counsel, attorneys Jack Bradley and Michael Stepanik, in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. We affirm.

          I.

         {¶2} Following an investigation into a drug distribution network, thirteen individuals were charged with multiple felonies, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, felonies of the first degree. Ten of those individuals retained the services of Bradley & Stepanik Co., LPA, for legal representation. The State filed a motion to disqualify counsel based on Prof.Cond.R. 1.7, which governs conflicts of interest involving current clients. The trial court held at least two hearings on the matter and subsequently granted the State's motion. Clients appealed the trial court's order and filed nearly identical merit briefs. This Court consolidated their appeals because they arose from the same order.

         {¶3} Clients now appeal from the trial court's order disqualifying trial counsel and raise one assignment of error for this Court's review.

         II.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

         THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DISQUALIFIED DEFENDANTS'] COUNSEL OF CHOICE, IN VIOLATION OF THE SIXTH AMENDMENT OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 10, OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.

         {¶4} In their sole assignment of error, Clients argue that the trial court erred in disqualifying attorneys Jack Bradley and Michael Stepanik as their trial counsel in this case. We disagree.

         {¶5} We first note that a pretrial ruling removing a criminal defendant's retained counsel of choice is a final appealable order. State v. Chambliss, 128 Ohio St.3d 507, 2011-Ohio-1785, ¶ 27.

         {¶6} The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10, of the Ohio Constitution guarantee a criminal defendant the right to counsel for his defense. State v. Miller, 9th Dist. Summit No. 27048, 2015-Ohio-279, ¶ 8. "'[A]n element of this right is the right of a defendant who does not require appointed counsel to choose who will represent him.'" Id., quoting United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez,548 U.S. 140, 144 (2006). The right to counsel also includes "a correlative right to representation that is free from conflicts of interest." Wood v. Georgia,450 U.S. 261, 271 (1981). Joint representation is not a per se violation of the constitutional right to counsel, and multiple defendants may enjoy certain advantages from joint representation, as mounting a common defense often gives strength against a common attack. Holloway v. Arkansas,435 U.S. 475, 482-483 (1978). "A court commits structural error when it wrongfully denies a defendant his counsel of choice, so a defendant ...


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