On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 99-02-0085.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Baxter and Coburn.
Defendant appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR"). Because defendant was entirely denied the effective assistance of counsel in pursuit of his PCR, we reverse and remand for a proper PCR hearing.
In 2001, defendant was tried to a jury, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment with thirty years to be served without parole. On direct appeal, we affirmed, State v. Gannone, No. A-0407-01T4 (App. Div. March 19, 2004), and the Supreme Court denied certification. State v. Gannone, 180 N.J. 453 (2004).
Defendant, acting pro se, filed his PCR petition in May 2005. The Public Defender sent him a letter on August 29, 2005, advising that he would be represented by a named attorney. Despite numerous efforts by the defendant, the attorney never came to the state prison to speak with defendant or even communicated with him by mail. As a result of defendant's complaints, the Public Defender wrote to the attorney on October 13, 2006, instructing the attorney to contact the defendant. In February 2007, after further unsuccessful efforts to reach the assigned attorney, defendant asked the Public Defender for new counsel.
Four days later, defendant was brought to court without any notice indicating the nature of the planned proceedings. The attorney conferred with the defendant in court for about ten minutes. Upon learning that it was to be his PCR hearing, defendant complained to his assigned attorney that he did not have his paperwork with him and was completely unprepared to proceed. The attorney took responsibility for his client's unpreparedness and asked for an adjournment, which was denied. He admitted that he had not visited defendant in prison, while asserting that he had sent defendant a copy of his brief. Defendant denied receiving anything from the attorney.
The attorney's brief was three pages long. It made one argument that was procedurally barred because it had already been rejected on direct appeal by the Appellate Division. Although the judge found that defendant had received proper notice, there is no evidence to support that finding.
A discussion ensued regarding defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during the trial. Defendant's PCR attorney then said this: "Judge, if I may say something, I did have some of those points. I beg to differ with the merits of some of those points, and that's why I didn't include them." (Emphasis added).
After some further discussion, the judge said that defendant and his counsel could submit further briefs. The attorney said he would submit a brief. Later, defendant asked for the attorney's assistance on his pro se brief, but received no help. Defendant filed his pro se brief without the attorney's assistance, and it appears that the attorney filed nothing more with the trial court.
On September 18, 2007, the trial court entered an order denying relief, while also indicating that defendant could file another PCR petition asserting ineffective assistance of counsel on the first PCR petition. The trial court's opinion rejected defendant's claims of ...