Submitted December 12, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Camden County, Municipal Appeal No. 32-15.
Anderson argued the cause for appellant.
A. Shashoua, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for
respondent (Mary Eva Colalillo, Camden County Prosecutor,
attorney; Linda A. Shashoua, of counsel and on the brief).
Judges Alvarez, Nugent, and Mawla.
September 18, 2015, defendant Nasir A. Finneman was found
guilty of the petty disorderly persons offense of harassment,
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(c). During the municipal court hearing, he
was represented by a public defender. See Municipal
Public Defender Law, N.J.S.A. 2B:24-1 to -17. On his appeal
de novo to the Law Division, Rule 3:23-8(a)(2),
defendant was assigned a first, then a second, pro bono
attorney. Both successfully petitioned the court to withdraw.
As a result, the conviction was affirmed in the absence of
any counsel, or in fact, any argument by anyone on
defendant's behalf. We now reverse.
underlying facts are not necessary to the disposition of this
appeal. It is necessary, however, to describe the trial de
novo record regarding the assignment of counsel, and the
final hearing. Defendant's first assigned attorney
alleged that defendant wanted him to raise issues in
violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct
(RPC). The attorney added that he had "no prior
experience in state-law criminal matters." Defendant was
not given notice of the hearing at which his first attorney
was relieved of the assignment.
second attorney sought to withdraw because defendant refused
to meet with her in either her larger Philadelphia office or
the courthouse, and she claimed she did not feel comfortable
conferring with him in her small New Jersey office. The judge
did not propose that counsel then and there discuss the case
with defendant, or otherwise explore counsel's
application. She too was relieved.
who had been noticed and was present in the courtroom, said
he did not understand the reason his second attorney did not
want to meet with him, suggesting perhaps it was the volume
of his voice over the cell phone. Defendant also complained
that Sheriff's officers followed him "around the
courthouse and . . . did bad things to [him]." He added
that they used "excessive" force on him even though
he was disabled, they did not assist him, and that they
"all work[ed] together[.]" He did not say he wanted
to represent himself.
last page of the nine-page transcript of this proceeding,
presumably after the judge left the bench, defendant asked:
"[n]ow what about counsel? He's going to assign me
to counsel or I have to[.]" His attorney responded:
"I would believe that he would assign you new counsel
then." Defendant asked if he has to sign something, and
the prosecutor responded that the clerk will provide him with
a signed order, but did not "know if [the court was]
going to assign [counsel] or not."
next and final hearing was scheduled some three months later.
Defendant told the judge that he spoke to someone in the
clerk's office after the earlier hearing and was advised
that he would be assigned counsel, or that someone from the
public defender's office would represent him. The
prosecutor interjected that it was her understanding that
defendant "at that point . . . was going to proceed on
his own." Additionally, the prosecutor pointed out that
defendant missed the deadline for filing written submissions
in support of his appeal.
denied having conflicts with either counsel. He did not
understand why his second attorney withdrew, or why he was
not notified of the hearing date for his first attorney's
withdrawal. He told the judge that he had never said he
wanted to represent himself and that he did not "have
the education at law to represent [him]self." When the
judge said that he was ready to address the matter, defendant
tried to object. The judge went on to say that defendant was
"unable to get along with counsel and the two counsel
have withdrawn, and I'm going to decide the case."
judge made findings of fact and law, and summarily found
defendant guilty. He sentenced defendant to a thirty-day
suspended sentence, probation for six months, and required
him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and comply with
recommendations for treatment. He also imposed monetary
penalties including a $150 fine under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3, and
refused to stay the sentence. The sole point of error
defendant raises on ...