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Leon Houston decided to change course in his federal case on Monday.
He told U.S. Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley Jr. that he was unhappy with his court-appointed lawyer and wanted to represent himself.
“Is that really what you want to do?” Shirley asked.
“Yes, sir,” Houston responded. “That’s what I want to do.”
Shirley told him such a move is unwise.
“I honorably disagree,” Houston responded.
Houston faces one count of possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.
In January U.S. Magistrate Bruce Guyton appointed Knoxville attorney Joseph Fanduzz to represent him.
Monday’s hearing at the federal courthouse in Knoxville was supposed to be about four motions Fanduzz filed to suppress evidence in the case.
“He’s filed really good motions on your behalf,” Shirley told Houston.
Instead of expressing gratitude, Houston accused Fanduzz of being ineffective counsel.
He also said he was unhappy because Fanduzz wouldn’t file motions to address his allegations against court officials.
“I’m saying that me and Mr. Fanduzz has incompatible differences,” Houston said. “He’s refusing to disclose conflicts of interest between me and certain members of the court.”
Shirley quizzed Houston about his legal skills after he insisted on representing himself.
“Have you ever studied law?” Shirley asked.
“Yes,” Houston responded.
“Where?” Shirley asked.
“Roane State,” Houston responded.
Shirley also asked Houston if he was familiar with the federal rules of evidence.
“Quite familiar,” he responded.
Shirley expressed doubts about Houston’s knowledge of the federal rules, but granted his request to represent himself.
“I don’t think you have any option other than to let him proceed pro se, given what he’s said here today because no lawyer is going to file the motions he wants filed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings told Shirley.
Houston requested that Fanduzz be allowed to stay on as his elbow counsel to assist him in defending the case.
“I think he’s a smart attorney,” he said. “I’ve grown to like Mr. Fanduzz, but we have some differences on the way this case should be attacked.”
Fanduzz told Shirley he was unwilling to serve as elbow counsel.
“I think it might be best for the court to move on without me,” he said.
Shirley allowed Fanduzz to step away from the case and said he would try and find someone to serve as elbow counsel following the hearing.
“Good luck to you,” Fanduzz told Houston at the conclusion of the hearing.
Shirley gave Houston until March 22 to file motions in the case. He scheduled another hearing for April 17.
“You need to be prepared to argue all the motions that are pending,” Shirley said.
If convicted, Houston faces 10 years in prison. His March 25 trial date was rescheduled to Aug. 6.
Fanduzz’s reluctance to file the motions he wants wasn’t the only thing Houston complained about at Monday’s hearing. He spoke about conspiracies and said he was going to sue Shirley, Guyton, Jennings and the United States of America.
“Everybody’s in conflict that’s touched this case,” Houston said.
Houston and his younger brother Rocky Houston each faced first-degree murder charges in state court for the 2006 deaths of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along Mike Brown.
Leon Houston was acquitted of the charges in 2009. A state appeals court ruled that an error made by the judge during Rocky Houston’s trial in 2008 barred him from being tried again.
Rocky Houston also has a case pending in federal court and faces 14 counts of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms.