By David Brand
June 11, 2019
A Queens Supreme Court judge said more information is needed before he makes a decision on an unusual request from Queens prosecutors: disqualify the defense counsel in the case of a man accused of murder in the death of an NYPD officer.
The Queens District Attorney’s Office argued in April that disqualifying the Legal Aid Society defense team is in the best interest of defendant Christopher Ransom, who is charged with felony murder for his alleged role in the February shooting death of NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen at a Richmond Hill cellphone store.
Prosecutors said that another Legal Aid attorney represented Elijah Hanley, a man who allegedly purchased a phone that Ransom stole in another robbery. Prosecutors may call Hanley as a witness, which would create a conflict of counsel, they wrote in their motion to the court.
Ransom’s attorneys filed a response stating that their Legal Aid colleague no longer represents Hanley, and that Ransom chose to retain them as counsel even after learning of their earlier representation.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder said he would not issue a decision until other issues are resolved, including whether Hanley and Ransom are fully aware of the circumstances.
“The point is, that if Mr. Hanley took the stand at Mr. Ransom's trial your agency would have to go all in against Mr. Hanley and do everything possible to render any testimony he proffers as unreliable,” Holder said.
“And the extent to which that is done or not done should concern your client since he is entitled to the effective representation of counsel,” he continued.
Holder scheduled a new hearing for June 26.
In their motion, prosecutors state that “two lawyers from the same law firm simultaneously representing two clients whose interests actually conflict cannot give either client loyalty,” the motion states.
Legal Aid said there is no conflict and questioned why the DA’s Office did not disclose the information about the representation issue until mid-April, nearly two months after prosecutors first learned about the connection between Ransom and Hanley.
“We are very concerned that the Queens District Attorney’s Office would seek to deny our client his Constitutional right to counsel of his choice,” said Jamal Johnson, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Homicide Defense Task Force last month. “We are further concerned that the Office withheld key information about the identity of one of their witnesses in what appears to be a transparent effort to manufacture a conflict for strategic advantage.”