September 17, 2013
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
ANGEL VASQUEZ, Defendant-Appellant.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 16, 2012
Resubmitted August 13, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 03-04-0568.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Adam W. Toraya, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Andrew C. Carey, Acting Middlesex County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Nancy A. Hulett, Special Deputy Attorney General/ Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher and St. John.
Defendant appeals the denial of his post-conviction relief (PCR) petition. In a prior opinion in this appeal, we affirmed in all respects except we remanded in part, seeking the PCR judge's ruling on an issue omitted from his otherwise comprehensive oral decision, namely: whether defendant's trial attorney entered into an impermissible conflict of interest because he also allegedly represented the mother of defendant's child in a custody dispute that apparently concluded six or seven months prior to the attorney's representation of defendant in this criminal action. The PCR judge timely responded to our mandate and ruled against defendant. We thereafter permitted – and the parties have provided – supplemental briefs in connection with this remaining issue.
Following our remand, the judge gave the parties the opportunity to further argue the contention not addressed in his prior opinion. The judge then summarized the testimony from the original evidentiary hearing on defendant's PCR petition. The judge observed that defendant "firmly believe[d]" his trial attorney represented his child's mother in a custody dispute before Judge Kieser. On the other hand, the judge recounted that defendant's trial attorney testified he did not recall this prior unrelated proceeding. The attorney had also testified about the nature of the pool work in which he engaged, the scope of which would suggest he did not participate in the custody matter. And the judge observed that the attorney testified he had never appeared before Judge Kieser. The judge lastly noted that defendant failed to present any copies of pleadings or other materials from the alleged custody dispute to support his contention.
The PCR judge found defendant's trial attorney to be "credible and honest" and concluded that defendant must have been "in error" with regard to his claim that his trial attorney represented an adverse party in an unrelated case. Those findings are entitled to our deference. State v. Robinson, 200 N.J. 1, 15 (2009). Our deferral to the judge's findings is conclusive of the remaining issue on appeal.