LIMA — The strain placed on the legal system in Allen County by the COVID-19 pandemic was evident Monday in an Allen County courtroom. Frustrations were expressed by an inmate awaiting trial, by his court-appointed attorney and by the presiding judge himself.
John Sanders, 47, appeared before Allen County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Reed on Monday for a pre-trial hearing prompted by a letter the Lima man wrote to the judge asking that his attorney be removed from his case. Sanders told Reed his court-appointed counsel, Steve Chamberlain, has failed to adequately communicate with him.
“(Chamberlain’s) phone number is not accessible to inmates at the jail and I haven’t been able to get hold of the (Lima’s) Public Defenders Office at all,” Sanders told Reed. “There’s been a total lack of communication. That’s why I’m asking for a change.”
The judge bristled when Sanders said he’s been told that Chamberlain has a poor record of taking cases to trial. “There is no one in this county who has more trial experience than does Mr. Chamberlain,” Reed said.
Chamberlain said he was uncertain why calls from the jail are not reaching his cell phone and admitted he has not spoken in depth with Sanders about his case.
“The issues come down to what we’re all having right now, and that’s having the ability to spend quality time on these cases” as the virus limits court hearings and jail visitations, the attorney said. “I’m more than willing to meet with my clients.”
Reed said he is attempting to eliminate some of those obstacles by setting up additional access between attorneys and defendants, be it through meetings held via Zoom or face-to-face sessions in a closed courtroom setting.
But Reed warned that the issues that have left the legal system hamstrung likely will get worse before they get better.
“We’re still going to have some big problems when this (virus) is all done,” the judge said of scheduling complications when trials and mass gatherings do resume. The judge did, however, withdraw Chamberlain as court-appointed counsel for Sanders and said he will find a replacement soon.
Sanders is charged with felonious assault with a firearm specification, a second-degree felony, and a first-degree felony count of kidnapping, also with a firearm specification.
Court records allege that he placed a semi-automatic handgun in the mouth of his girlfriend in September of last year and later fired shots at her through a closed door. Investigators found two spent 9mm shell casings and two bullet holes in the front door, supporting the victim’s allegations and prompting Sanders’ arrest, according to court documents.