City of Libby v. Hubbard

City of Libby v. Hubbard, 2018 MT 2 (Jan. 2, 2018) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether Hubbard’s conviction should be reversed because of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Hubbard and her cousin went to a Libby casino to gamble. Hubbard presented a fake ID to obtain a gambling coupon. An employee recognized her and called police. Upon investigation, the officers confirmed that Hubbard had no outstanding warrants, but that her Oregon driver’s license was suspended. She was not cited for using the fake identification.

Shortly after, the officers were on patrol when they saw Hubbard driving. Knowing her license was suspended, they initiated a traffic stop, and arrested her.

Hubbard was appointed a public defender, Charles Sprinkle. She was tried in absentia in city court an convicted. Sprinkle filed a notice of appeal in district court, requesting a trial de novo. Hubbard told Sprinkle she believed she was entrapped because the officer told her to drive from the casino. Before trial, Sprinkle filed an omnibus memo reserving the right to introduce evidence of entrapment as a defense.

Several months later, Sprinkle moved to withdraw from Hubbard’s representation, arguing a new trial would be “frivolous or wholly without merit.” In support of his motion, he attached the email from Hubbard explaining why she believed she was entrapped, and argued to the district court that the defense would be frivolous. The district court denied Sprinkle’s motion to withdraw.

The state moved in limine to exclude evidence of entrapment, using Sprinkle’s memo to support its position. The district court denied the motion, finding there could be an issue of fact for the jury.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Before trial, OPD removed Sprinkle and reassigned Hubbard’s case to another attorney. Hubbard presented her entrapment defense, but the jury found she was not entrapped and convicted her of driving with a suspended license and not having insurance. Hubbard appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Hubbard argues, and the State does not contest, that Sprinkle violated his duties of loyalty and confidentiality to her. Sprinkle supported his motion to withdraw with an email he received from Hubbard explaining her view on trial strategy, which is protected client information, and described her defense as frivolous. This falls below an objective standard of reasonableness and establishes the first prong of Strickland.

Hubbard argues that the second Strickland prong, prejudice, should be presumed. The Court disagrees, noting that this exception is narrow and not met here. OPD appointed new counsel for Hubbard before trial, which means Hubbard was not completely abandoned. Applying the test for prejudice, the Court finds that Sprinkle’s disclosure to the district court did not render the trial fundamentally unfair or unreliable.