AUGUSTA, Maine — The lawyer for a man who was stripped of his right to a court-appointed attorney because he couldn't get along with five previous lawyers faced skeptical justices on Wednesday who were concerned the defendant was simply gaming the legal system.
Several supreme court justices suggested that defendant Joshua Nisbet had been trying to delay his robbery trial, giving the judge in his case little other recourse, especially after Nisbet threatened his fourth and fifth lawyers.
"This is a person essentially playing games with the system to avoid trial," Justice Donald Alexander said.
But Justice Andrew Mead also expressed his concern with the idea of a precedent that defendants with the "volatile personalities, temper issues and a tendency to shoot their mouths off really can't have attorneys."
Nisbet, who's serving seven years in prison for robbing a convenience store, ended up handling his own defense last year with two standby attorneys who later agreed to represent him at his sentencing.
His lawyer at Tuesday's supreme court proceeding was No. 8, Jamesa Drake, who said the trial judge had other options to punish "abusive and manipulative behavior" rather than ruling that Nisbet forfeited his right to counsel.
She even suggested that Justice Thomas Warren's efforts to indulge Nisbet's concerns were part of the problem. She said the 13 hearings ordered by the judge to address Nisbet's concerns gave the impression that some of his concerns were valid, encouraging him to further dig in against his court-appointed lawyers as the case dragged on.
"We have a borderline delusional person engaged in a dispute over the meaning of the law who's been in jail for three years and he's understandably frustrated," she said.
Nisbet, who wasn't in court Wednesday, may be the first criminal defendant in Maine forced to represent himself after being stripped of his constitutional right to an attorney.
He always maintained that he wanted to be represented by an attorney. The problem, Drake said, was that they couldn't see eye to eye on strategy.
"I am representing myself (over) my objection, and I am only doing this under duress in this crazy situation," Nisbet told the judge during his trial last year.
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