UKIAH 2/25/2017 — The Mendocino County District Attorney’s office filed a conflict concerning the attorney representing Charles Reynolds, who is charged with felony assault in the death of Kenneth Fisher. Reynolds currently being defended by attorney Justin Petersen, who also once defended a key witness in the current trial.
Reynolds stands accused of felony assault with intent to commit great bodily injury to Kenneth Fisher. Fisher died after Reynolds allegedly punched him in the head, in the parking lot of Boomer’s bar in Laytonville last summer. Reynolds was originally represented by Ukiah defense attorney Macci Morse-Baldock, but appeared in court earlier this month with Petersen. Deputy D.A. Luke Oakley filed the conflict of interest on Tuesday, out of concern that Petersen may have obtained confidential information from the witness during the course of their prior attorney-client relationship.
While such a proceeding is fairly rare, D.A. spokesman Mike Geniella said this isn’t the first time he has heard of such a case, especially in a small community with only so many lawyers to go around. He added that the matter is being addressed now so that if the D.A.’s office wins a conviction, that conviction would be less likely to be overturned on a technicality. Oakley is seeking the maximum penalty of seven years.
In an interview on Friday, Petersen said, “The key witness against my client is a fellow I have represented in the past,” and that, attorney-client privilege means that the prosecution does not know what he learned from the witness at that time. It is against the law for an attorney to use information that was previously gleaned under a confidentiality agreement against a witness. A possible scenario, Petersen explained, would be if an attorney learned that a client had a substance abuse problem. If that client then became a witness in a subsequent case and the attorney used this information to discredit the witness to the benefit of his current client, that would create a conflict. Petersen said, “I have to respond to that concern under penalty of perjury” by the close of business Wednesday, and wait for Judge John Behnke to rule on the matter on March 3.
The trial date is still scheduled for March 27. Petersen noted that jury selection may be difficult, as the case “has a lot of notoriety in the community. Lots of people are talking about it.”
Sarah Reith [email protected]