A federal court judge has refused to remove federal defense attorney Michael Donahoe from the Chris Williams marijuana case, saying that the arguments to do so are insufficient.

Last week, Donahoe had requested to withdraw from the case, saying in court documents that his client had lost confidence in his ability to seek the best possible sentence on Feb. 1.

It wasn’t that Donahoe, a senior litigator with the Federal Defenders of Montana, didn’t want to remain on the case; but after Williams learned about an Ohio State law professor and legal blogger who criticized aspects of his case and his inability to appeal to a higher court, Williams had second thoughts about his defense.

Donahoe feared that Williams would reject a carefully crafted plea agreement and cripple the case.

In particular, Professor Doug Berman had sent an email to another federal defender saying Donahoe was incapable of mounting a “full throated” constitutional challenge to Williams’ legal situation and had displayed an interest in becoming involved in the case. At that point, Williams wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen seeking advice.

Williams wrote that while he believes both Donahoe and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard have worked hard in this case, “the extraordinary circumstances of this case” made him wonder if he should take additional legal advice and possibly new legal counsel.

“Can you please tell me how to proceed?” Williams asked the judge. “I do not feel that the upcoming February 1st sentencing hearing will allow me enough time to prepare and consult additional counsel.”

In an order issued late Friday, Christensen notes that while defendants have a right to effective counsel, if he’s using a public defender he doesn’t have the right to be represented by an attorney of his choice unless a serious breakdown in communications can result in an inadequate defense.

Christensen wrote that Williams acknowledges Donahoe’s dedication to the case, and didn’t express dissatisfaction with him.

“While the Court appreciates Mr. Donahoe’s frustration at the recent events and their possible threat to that settlement, he has not met the standard necessary to withdraw as counsel,” Christensen wrote.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com

Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_EveByron

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