Murder trial in flux after lawyer removed

A trial for a 2009 murder case was halted after a judge removed the lawyer for one of the two accused in the death of 22-year-old Zabiulluh Mojaddedi.

On Feb. 6, Superior Court Justice Nola E. Garton removed criminal lawyer Edward Sapiano from the case after finding him in conflict.

Tristan Lall and MacGyver Edwards are charged with the murder of Mojaddedi. Garton said Sapiano, Lall’s counsel, was in a solicitor-client relationship with Edwards following the shooting. At the time, Sapiano was retained as Lall’s lawyer and didn’t know the two men were charged with the same murder.

Counsel for both Edward and Lall agree there’s a chance the two will disagree during the trial.

After Edward was arrested in October 2009, Sapiano interviewed him at the Toronto East Detention Centre, said the judge. The purpose of their meeting was to discussed bail, and the interview lasted over an hour.

“In my view, there can be no question that a solicitor-client relationship between Mr. Sapiano and Mr. Edwards was formed as a result of the interview at the jail on November 4, 2009,” said Garton. “It is clear that Mr. Edwards’ dealings with Mr. Sapiano were for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.”

Sapiano had argued he and Edwards were not in a client-solicitor relationship. The lawyer said he receive no information during the interview that could be used in court to compromise Edwards, according to the ruling.

But the judge disagreed. Edward’s mother had contacted Sapiano seeking legal representation for her son, who was just 18 at the time. The judge ruled a formal retainer is not needed to prove a client-solicitor relationship.

“After the interview, it was Mr. Sapiano’s intention to act for Mr. Edwards. He communicated this intention to duty counsel at Mr. Edwards’ next court appearance,” the judge said.

Garton cited a line from Michel Proulx and David Layton in Ethics and Canadian Criminal Law about what constitutes retention of a lawyer: “A client-lawyer relationship is formed as soon as a potential client has his or her first dealings with a lawyer in order to obtain legal advice, and does not in any way depend upon the existence of a formal retainer.”

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