The attorney for Michael Rae, the man accused of stealing a vehicle then crashing it into the Alaska Brewing Company building, asked to be recused from the case Friday following an altercation between the two during a meeting the same day.
Public defender Natasha Norris asked Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez to withdraw from the case during an already scheduled status hearing.
“Based on what happened today, Your Honor, I’m out,” she said by telephone from Anchorage.
Norris told the court she and Rae were in a meeting in a contact room in the Anchorage Correctional Complex just about an hour before the 3:30 p.m. hearing when “Mr. Rae became hostile, very hostile.”
“I had to leave the room,” she said, without specifying what the argument was about, or if she was injured.
A sergeant at the jail, who was also at the hearing via telephone, told Menendez he was not there to witness the incident and wasn’t entirely sure if the altercation was a verbal one, a physical assault, or both.
“He might have slapped her hand, or something,” he said, adding Rae was placed in handcuffs and escorted away from the room. Only the sergeant’s last name — Marvel — was given in court.
Marvel added officers at the jail were currently in the process of writing up a report about the incident and that Rae would placed in segregation.
Norris told the judge she has contacted the Office of Public Advocacy, a division of the state of Alaska Department of Administration that provides legal advocacy and helps with conflict cases received from the Public Defender Agency, so that they could find Rae a new attorney. She also contacted the state prosecutor’s office to let them know she wishes to withdraw.
Menendez told Norris that she would have to file a motion to withdraw, and until that motion is approved by him, she would have to remain Rae’s attorney. He also requested her to participate in a rescheduled hearing on Monday. The hearing was rescheduled since Rae was unavailable to attend via telephone.
In an interview with the Empire on Friday, before the incident, Norris declined to comment on Rae’s level of cooperation with her, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
Rae has expressed his desire to represent himself in the case ever since he was arrested by Juneau police on April 29.
Norris was appointed to defend him on May 13 shortly after his arraignment, and he almost immediately filed a request to waive counsel. That request was denied by Judge Warren Matthews in June. Rae renewed his request that same month, and visiting Judge Pro Tempore Larry Card allowed it despite strong objections from District Attorney Dave Brower who thought that Rae would make a “mockery of the court” based on his past behavior, including one instance in 1994 when a trial judge ordered Rae to be bound and gagged during trial. Card had said in June if Rae became disruptive, he would be appointed counsel against his wishes, since self-representation under the Constitution is not an absolute right.
Norris, who was originally appointed to defend Rae on May 13, advised him during this period.
But in late June, the state filed a motion to reconsider whether Rae should be allowed to represent himself, arguing he was incapable of presenting his case in a coherent fashion and there have been repeated instances of “Interruption and obstreperous behavior.”
Rae did not object to the motion by deadline, though it was explained to him he was missing that opportunity, and Judge Thomas Nave granted the state’s motion to re-appoint an attorney to Rae on July 28. Norris was re-appointed to represent him.
“The record in this case is illustrated by constant interruptions in court with each judge before whom he has appeared, refusal to appear and participate in a hearing and the fact that defendant has filed many motions that seem to have little basis in reality, are nearly incomprehensible and are not addressed to any particular issue in the case,” Nave’s ruling read. “He quotes the Uniform Commercial Code and employs Latin to describe notions of common law. This and issues of behavior lead this court to the conclusion that a trial will be much of the same absent the guidance of counsel.”
Nave continued, “This court agrees with the State that defendant’s pleadings are unintelligible, irrational and incoherent and that his obvious personality disorder and courtroom behavior suggest his trial presentation will also be unintelligible.”
Online court documents show that Rae filed 10 motions in June, five of which have been denied. A judge, however, did grant a motion to evaluate Rae’s competency as requested by Norris. Those evaluations were provided to the court earlier this week, and since they are confidential documents available only to parties of action, counsel and court personnel, the Juneau Empire was not able to review them.
Norris said earlier this week she would not request a competency hearing.
Rae is charged with first-degree vehicle theft, second-degree burglary and third-degree criminal mischief, all class ‘C’ felonies. He also faces a misdemeanor count of third-degree theft. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday before Menendez for a status hearing.
Norris’ private practice, the Law Offices of Natasha Norris, is based out of Anchorage, and her website indicates that she has 10 years experience of litigating Alaska sex crimes and criminal law.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.