Judge Expresses Concern about Defense Attorney Repeatedly Appointing Replacement

By Michael Apfel

MODESTO, CA – In an early morning case management conference, Judge Rubén Villalobos expressed concern in Stanislaus Superior Court after noticing a woman’s defense counsel had failed to appear on behalf of her client—instead, two other attorneys appeared on her behalf.

Matthew Becker was the attorney who appeared in court and represented the accused on Monday. He informed Judge Villalobos the attorney the accused originally retained had her secretary hire him for the conference, and he was the second attorney hired to represent the accused in her misdemeanor DUI case.

“Instead of having two different attorneys, I would have loved to see her at one of these hearings,” Judge Villalobos said after learning Becker was to represent the accused in the proceeding.

The original attorney had made zero appearances, previously having another attorney make an appearance in an arraignment hearing in June and an earlier case management conference in August, according to the court.

Becker reassured Judge Villalobos he had reviewed the necessary materials in the case with his client and was capable of representing her in the proceedings.

Following this, the conference began with introductions from the Deputy District Attorney, Zynal Aziz, and Becker.

Judge Villalobos assured the accused that his concerns were not directed at her.

The judge said, “I want you to know that nothing I’m about to say has anything to do with any delay or fault by you. You’re good. I just wanted to tell you that ahead of time, but there are a few things we need to figure out before I decide whether I’m going to accept your plea.”

Judge Villalobos first noted her arraignment hearing from June, commenting on his concerns that an attorney other than her original attorney or Becker represented the accused.

The original defense lawyer was to appear Aug. 29, but did not, with an attorney appearing in her place over Zoom. The original attorney-of-record finally agreed to appear on Oct. 3, Monday, but failed to appear for her client’s plea hearing.

“Mr. Becker, it seems to me that you have gone above and beyond to make sure [your client] is knowingly and intelligently entering her plea and maybe we’ll get there,” said Judge Villalobos. “My words are not critical of you. But before we get there, I want to make sure that she has in fact gone over everything and is prepared to enter a plea,” added the judge.

In the event that the accused felt she had enough time to go over her case with her attorneys and believed she understood the nature of the case and the consequences of her plea, Judge Villalobos informed her that she could have her plea accepted.

On the other hand, Judge Villalobos said if she was not ready to provide her plea and needed more time to be with her attorney, she could reschedule her conference, and he would personally order that Attorney McAllister be present for further hearings to guarantee her proper legal counseling.

The accused then conferred briefly with Becker, who assured her it was her decision alone whether to proceed, and the accused then agreed to enter a no-contest plea. The court found her guilty, and was given one-year formal probation along with other fines and promising to attend DUI education classes.

About The Author

Michael Apfel is a second year at USC majoring in Legal Studies and minoring in Sports Media Industries. He plans on law school after his undergraduate studies looking to work in social justice.

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