Lawyers Argue About Scheduling a Murder Trial Pending Furloughs by Public Defenders

Thank you for reading D.C. Witness. Help us continue our mission into 2024.

Donate Now

The impact of an upcoming furlough in the DC Public Defender’s office weighed heavily during a hearing for a murder defendant before DC Superior Court Judge Robert Okun on May 23.

The question was when would Tyree Irving’s trial begin since it appeared Irving’s attorney, Madalyn Harvey, would not be available on the proposed start date of Aug. 19.

Irving, 27, is charged with first-degree murder murder while armed for allegedly shooting 22-year-old Davane Williams on Jan. 25, 2019, on the 1200 block of North Capitol Street, NW.

While a Public Defender work stoppage hasn’t been officially announced, a source at Superior Court tells D.C. Witness, it’s been widely mentioned by several Public Defense lawyers as well as prosecutors. The plan as described would be for the lawyers to avoid any trial or client work for one day a week.

The furlough situation has “prompted this hearing,” according to the prosecutor. If the furlough turns out to be on Mondays, that would reduce available trial days to three-a-week since Fridays are reserved for hearings.

“Essential trials must continue for the court to function,” said the prosecutor concerned about the large number of cases scheduled on the docket.  He mentioned that there is a plan in place to provide resources during a government shutdown.  

“That’s a government shutdown.  This is a furlough,” said Harvey. She alerted the court that the situation is “out of control” and, “That’s where we are.”

Judge Okun said if Harvey were precluded from being in court as a result of the furlough, Irving couldn’t appear without representation.  While the prosecutor insisted Irving’s trial should start on a Monday, Judge Okun said he was “not convinced.”

The prosecutor continued to press his case saying, “This is a new problem but the court has an obligation to move forward to trial.”  He chided the public defenders’ plan to reduce their work schedule as “unprecedented,” that they should be expected to spend extended hours and suggested bringing in part-time defense lawyers on a special panel to fill the void. 

As to the staffing problem, the prosecutor said it was “a self-inflicted wound” for not properly managing the agency’s money

“It was a mistake on behalf of Congress,” said Harvey and rejected any attempt to malign executives in her office as “unjustified.” According to a 2023 National Public Defense Workload Study, “Public defenders face extremely heavy workloads that prevent them from providing effective legal representation to people accused of crimes.”

Judge Okun said he wouldn’t issue an order compelling Public Defenders to work on Mondays because it “might be unlawful.”  

Ultimately, Irving’s trial was supposed to start on Monday, Aug. 19 but was pushed back one day, setting up a three-day-a-week proceeding.

D.C. Witness made multiple attempts to contact the Public Defender’s Office for comment but have not heard back. 

Another issue in the hearing was a defense motion to compel all information about a prosecution witness, who is currently incarcerated and could testify in exchange for a significantly reduced sentence.

Harvey characterized the witness as a “cooperator” who is out to “help himself.”  Further, she claimed he has a bias and is desperate to curry favor.   She said she wanted disclosures about the witness’s past efforts to help law enforcement in murder, extortion and robbery matters in Maryland.  

“This man has been trying for a decade to get his sentence reduced,” said Harvey. “There’s no reason the government can’t provide specifics about witness 11,” she argued.

The prosecutor contended that his office has provided everything that’s necessary.  “They’re not entitled to every case in which he’s been a cooperator,” he said.  “We’re not trying to hide the ball.”

While denying the defense motion to compel, Judge Okun agreed that the prosecution should turn over information about the witness’ efforts to provide prosecution evidence, as long as his safety wasn’t compromised by releasing the material.

Follow this case