Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Broadens Evidence For Race-Based Conflict Of Interest And Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel Claims

lady-justice-g9a1c9e23d_1920To get race-based ineffective assistance of counsel, you usually have to prove that your attorney was racist toward you in relation to your case. I guess the rationale was “Sure there may be a video of them singing their favorite ditties from Birth Of A Nation at karaoke night, but everyone needs to do something to unwind after a hard day’s work.” In a freshly decided case, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules in Commonwealth vs. Anthony Dew that additional factors can be considered, like if your attorney is just generally racist toward a class you are a member of. 

Anthony Dew is a Black Muslim man whose was assigned counsel. His attorney, Richard Doyle, recommended a plea bargain. After signing it, Dew realized that his attorney was a bigot. And not just one of those run of the mill ones either — dude’s Facebook account was full of mean spirited posts about Black people and Muslims. Being in both camps, Dew naturally because suspicious of the circumstances he was in and argued that his appointed counsel was ineffective.

For this case, the court considered Facebook posts to paint an overall picture of the attorney rather than bracketing the behaviors strictly concerned with the case. Don’t get me wrong — his direct treatment of Mr. Dew was inappropriate, but the posts show that was just the tip of the iceberg:

I do wonder, will the reasoning of this case spread to other jurisdictions? Sure this line of thinking kicks in if the appointed attorney is virulently racist, but what happens if it is later discovered that counsel only dabbled in discrimination? At what point — if any — do you allow for a change of heart? Take Michelle Odinet for example. Sure there’s a video of her slurring a guy and likening him to a roach, but for how long should that stay over her head? Until some board decides that she is sufficiently not a bigot? The next black president? Ever? Looking past the particularity of Odinet working out of Louisiana’s odd legal system, it could be game changing if this new standard of ineffective counsel were to reach other states. My money is that the biggest impacts would happen in the states that were singled out by the VRA.

If you would like to read the decision, you may do so here.

Earlier: Judge Whose Medicine Allegedly Had A Side Effect Of Racism Found Not To Have Violated Ethical Conduct

Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s.  He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at and by tweet at @WritesForRent.


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