State v. Smith, 241 N.C. App. 619 (Jun. 16, 2015)

(1) Where appointed counsel moved, on the sixth day of a bribery trial, for mandatory withdrawal pursuant to Rule 1.16(a) of the N.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing withdrawal upon counsel’s citation of Comment 3 to Rule 1.16 as grounds for withdrawal. Comment 3 states in relevant part:

Difficulty may be encountered if withdrawal is based on the client’s demand that the lawyer engage in unprofessional conduct. The court may request an explanation for the withdrawal, while the lawyer may be bound to keep confidential the facts that would constitute such an explanation. The lawyer’s statement that professional considerations require termination of the representation ordinarily should be accepted as sufficient.

In light of the Comment, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by accepting counsel’s assertion that his withdrawal was mandatory in light of professional considerations. (2) After allowing the withdrawal, the trial court was not required to appoint substitute counsel. Under G.S. 7A-450(b), appointment of substitute counsel at the request of either an indigent defendant or original counsel is constitutionally required only when it appears that representation by original counsel could deprive the defendant of his or her right to effective assistance. The statute also provides that substitute counsel is required and must be appointed when the defendant shows good cause, such as a conflict of interest or a complete breakdown in communications. Here, counsel’s representation did not fail to afford the defendant his constitutional right to counsel nor did the defendant show good cause for the appointment of substitute counsel. Nothing in the record suggests a complete breakdown in communications or a conflict of interest. Indeed, the court noted, “there was no indication that [counsel]’s work was in any way deficient. Rather, [his] withdrawal was caused by [defendant] himself demanding that [counsel] engage in unprofessional conduct.