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The request of a defense attorney to be relieved in the middle of a criminal trial for his own ineffective assistance of counsel was properly refused, an appeals court in Manhattan has ruled. A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, 1st Department, found that the attorney’s failure to review a defendant’s arrest record did not compromise the defendant’s right to receive adequate representation. The attorney’s error opened the door to testimony about a prior claim that the defendant, Edwin Ramirez, abused his wife. But, the court said, testimony about the alleged abuse did not necessarily undermine the defense. It added that the evidence of Ramirez’s guilt was “overwhelming.” “Although counsel’s efforts to exonerate defendant proved futile, review of the record reveals that defendant received effective assistance of counsel under both the state and federal standards,” the court wrote in People v. Ramirez, 6149. Ramirez’s trial attorney, Jorge D. Guttlein, had his client’s arrest report before trial but did not examine it. Ramirez was accused of robbery and burglary in the first degree. Prosecutors alleged that he and another man robbed a woman and her two children at gunpoint inside their Bronx apartment. Ramirez had keys to the apartment, prosecutors contended, because he had previously helped the woman’s ex-boyfriend, who was his cousin, move in. At the time of the robbery, the woman and the boyfriend had separated. Ramirez allegedly entered the home with an accomplice, both of whom hid their faces. But the defendant’s mask — a T-Shirt — fell off during the robbery and he was recognized by the woman and her daughter. Both the woman and her daughter identified Ramirez in a lineup. Guttlein called Ramirez’s wife to the stand as an alibi and character witness. She said that her husband had never been violent toward her or anyone else. On cross-examination, however, prosecutors asked the woman about a time when she accused her husband of assault. She said they had a dispute and that she had exaggerated his actions and pressed charges against him. She added that there had been no further incidents since that time. During the cross-examination, Guttlein requested a sidebar and asked to be relieved for ineffective assistance of counsel. Supreme Court Justice Roger S. Hayes denied the request, saying to Guttlein: “You have been a competent, prepared lawyer. You’ve gotten adjournments when you needed them. And this is simply a matter that the witness and your client may not have been candid with you. So your motion for mistrial or to be released is denied.” Hayes told jurors that Mrs. Ramirez’s testimony could only be used to evaluate her credibility, not Mr. Ramirez’s propensity to commit a crime. Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. On appeal, the 1st Department noted in an unsigned opinion that Guttlein had made a vigorous defense, succeeding in suppressing calls to 911, “diligently” cross-examining witnesses and pursuing multiple defense strategies, including a theory that the victim’s ex-boyfriend committed the robbery. “The trial record, viewed in totality and as of the time of the representation, establishes that counsel provided defendant with meaningful representation,” the appeals court wrote. Guttlein was unavailable for comment. Justices Peter Tom, Angela M. Mazzarelli, Richard T. Andrias, David Friedman and James M. Catterson concurred on the ruling. Eunice C. Lee of the Office of the Appellate Defender represented Ramirez. His appeal was argued by Katherine A. Grainger, who is no longer with the office. Assistant District Attorney William K. Clark represented the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.

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