Published on: Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Just one day after being appointed a public defender due to indigency, Puerto Rican man charged in a criminal case has private counsel appear in the case. The gov't thinks something fishy is going on and asks for a hearing about the source of funds. Trial court: Agrees and puts one of the defendant's private lawyers on the stand. Lawyer: I don't think this is any of your business. Court: "So you're saying you've done something criminal?!" Well, lawyer is disqualified and must return his fees. First Circuit: Disagrees. District court over-flexed its authority when "a magistrate judge subjected Burgos [the defense lawyer] to examination under oath by prosecution counsel in an inquiry about who paid his legal fees." The lawyer should never have been put on the stand. The gov't's asserted reason for the hearing was potential conflict of interest, but there's no reason to believe there was a conflict here. The disqualification is not supported. Reversed!

The case is In Re: Burgos Amador v. United States, No. 19-2060 (1st Cir. Apr. 2, 2024).