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State v. Egerson

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District I

July 17, 2018

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Terrance Lavone Egerson, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from a judgment and an order of the circuit court for Milwaukee County No. 2015CF1075: JEFFREY A. KREMERS, Judge. Affirmed.

          Before Kessler, P.J., Brennan and Brash, JJ.

          BRASH, J.

         ¶1 Terrance Lavone Egerson appeals from his judgment of conviction, entered upon a jury's verdict, as well as an order of the trial court denying his postconviction motion. Egerson argues that his right to self-representation was violated when the trial court denied his request to proceed pro se during an exchange with the trial court at a motion hearing. The State argues that Egerson's request was not clear and unequivocal and, therefore, he did not invoke his right to self-representation. Accordingly, the State contends that there was no violation and thus no error on the part of the trial court. We agree and affirm.

         Background

         ¶2 In March 2015, Egerson was charged with stalking and several counts of violating domestic abuse injunctions as a repeat offender. These charges stemmed from Egerson's repeated contact and harassment of his wife in spite of the injunctions: he made numerous phone calls to her, both while he was in jail and out; he sent her numerous letters, some of them threatening; he made calls to the Milwaukee Police Department pretending to be a reporter to obtain information about the domestic violence case against him; he called his wife's landlord pretending to be a police detective investigating his wife; and he was arrested-while out on bail after a previous arrest for a domestic violence incident-when he was found hiding in his wife's basement. Several additional counts for domestic violence injunction violations were subsequently added.

         ¶3 In August 2015, Egerson's first attorney, Justin Singleton, requested to withdraw as counsel. He cited a disagreement over trial strategy regarding whether the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, Nicolas Heitman, should be called as a witness; Attorney Heitman had observed certain conduct by Egerson that was set forth in the complaint. The trial court refused to allow Attorney Singleton to withdraw based on a "trial strategy showdown[.]"

         ¶4 However, in October 2015, Attorney Singleton again moved to withdraw as counsel for Egerson. Attorney Singleton explained that Egerson did not have "sufficient faith in [Attorney Singleton's] efforts or … abilities" to defend him, noting that Egerson was speaking to the media against Attorney Singleton's advice, preparing motions on his own behalf, and accusing Attorney Singleton of working in concert with the District Attorney's Office and against him. Thus, Attorney Singleton declared that his attorney/client relationship with Egerson was "irreparably destroyed" and that he did not believe that he could effectively represent Egerson any longer. The trial court also heard from Egerson, who stated that Attorney Singleton's representation had been "totally deficient" and that there had been a "total breakdown" in communication.

         ¶5 The trial court granted Attorney Singleton's motion to withdraw:

THE COURT: I'm going to let Mr. Singleton withdraw. But you know what, Mr. Egerson, you may get a lawyer that will come close to being as good as Mr. Singleton, but you won't get one who's better. That's a fact. He's a very good lawyer. I'm very impressed, in the short time I've been back on the bench, with Mr. Singleton's abilities in a number of cases. In fact, he's been more than good, especially on constitutional level issues.
THE DEFENDANT: I've been impressed.
THE COURT: So-no, apparently you haven't been, Mr. Egerson, since you-no, Mr. Egerson, you're done talking this morning.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. Yes.
THE COURT: I'm going to let you have another lawyer. You think you know so much more about trial strategy and how to prepare a case and how to get ready for trial, we'll see how you do with your next lawyer. But here's the thing, Mr. Egerson. You're heading down a slope, based on this record, where you're going to find yourself … in a position where a court says you're waiving your right to ...

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