Book Two / 4
The court convened for a scheduled status conference in early April. Myers had already filed his motions for discharge of his current standby attorney, and for reassignment of his case to another court. He was insisting that the judge grant them both. Myers’ mental health examination hadn’t yet happened though, which meant that the judge couldn’t determine his competence to proceed. Until that determination was made, the court could take no action on any of his motions.
Myers, however, was unable to understand the judge’s explanation of the situation. At this status hearing the judge tried explaining to him one more time that he was required by law to reserve ruling on the two motions. He could not address them at this hearing, he instructed, but he would set them aside and rule on them as soon as the issue of his competency had been resolved.
Myers still could not understand. Rather than using the opportunity to check in with the judge and update him on the developments of his discovery, he instead spent half an hour accusing the judge of lying to him, and of using the pending competency evaluation as an excuse for refusing to rule on his motions. He left the courtroom convinced of the judge’s desire to rig the proceedings, and exercise bigotry and bias against him.
On April 13, a few days after the status conference, Myers wrote another letter to the court from his jail cell. In the letter he characterized the judge’s inability to address his motions as a willful refusal, and as part of an ongoing battle, “a complete ruse by the official of the court” to discredit him.
By this time Myers had motioned two separate courts on three occasions for a mental health examination to prove his incompetence to stand trial. He had finally obtained what he sought, and as a legal consequence the court had been required to put on hold any further action in the case until competence was established. Myers, however, could see in the court’s actions only an attempt to obstruct his defense and deny him justice. He seemed incapable of perceiving any motivation other than the one he needed to reinforce his belief in the corruption of the courts.
The examination that the judge had ordered back in March finally began on April 14. On April 30th the examining psychologist filed with the court a fourteen-page Forensic Mental Health Report. He began by noting that the first words out of Myers’ mouth had been complaints that the court was treating him unfairly and setting him up. Myers would return to this theme throughout the psychologist’s interview of him, defaulting to this perceived unfairness of others as the reason for his inability to get anywhere in his defense.
He explained, for example, that he had wanted to be evaluated at the state hospital so that he could “get what I need,” but when questioned further he refused to specify what that was. He said he’d been frustrated in court because the court was preventing him from obtaining the documentation he needed to manage his case, yet he would not identify the documentation. Whenever the psychologist would ask him to be more specific, Myers would simply repeat that the court was failing to meet his needs. If pushed further, he would angrily refuse to answer additional questions.
The psychologist’s description of Myers’ conduct during the examination fit the conduct we had observed in court whenever the judge’s actions ran contrary to his expectations or demands. Throughout the interview, the psychologist wrote, Myers’ sense of entitlement caused him to become “emotionally disrupted when ideas or events were incongruent with his thinking.”
As anticipated, however, the psychologist concluded that Myers did indeed have the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him. He also concluded from his two interviews that Myers had the capacity to assist with his own defense.
The court received the report on Myers’ competency at the end of April, with the conclusion that he did not suffer from any mental illness serious enough to render him incompetent to stand trial. In his report the psychologist had observed that Myers did not appear to have cognitive deficits, but did have “notable personality characteristics.” Although these personality characteristics were volitional, the psychologist wrote, they could nonetheless “interfere with his ability to manage himself appropriately in the courtroom or work with standby counsel.”
The report emphasized what the judge and I had observed and experienced. Myers’ narcissism, as the psychologist diagnosed it, created exaggerated needs and grossly unrealistic expectations. At the same time his antisocial character — whether truly volitional or a product of a deeper illness outside of his control — caused him to suspect and reject any assistance.
Ironically, Myers’ fragile condition was weakened further by the type of stress he experienced from his insistence on managing the situation he confronted alone. With no attorney to absorb the occasional shocks, Myers bore the full brunt of the system’s demands. In response, he had become increasingly likely to break down in court, and increasingly prone to exploding with rage under the pressure of prosecution.
The judge and I were watching the handwriting on the wall, observing the situation develop in our court as if in slow motion, but feeling incapable of intervening in a manner that didn’t deny Myers his constitutional protections or contribute to the prospects of a mistrial. The case was not just unruly and difficult on an administrative level. We were beginning to feel personally involved in Myers’ plight, with a sadness about the situation almost like grief in advance of a tragedy unfolding before us as if preordained. Given Myers’ deteriorating condition, we simply could not see any possibility other than a trial that would demean any dignity he preserved, and provide the result he seemed incapable of avoiding.
We felt trapped in a feedback loop, spiraling downward, and we just kept taking the next inevitable steps.
With the order on pre-assignment of Myers to our court back in January we had become responsible for bringing to trial a case in which the defendant would ultimately try the court rather than the other way around. Before the year was over the judge would finally recuse himself and we would return the case to the chief criminal court for re-assignment to yet another judge. But not before a total of three courts over a span of fourteen months had scheduled thirty hearings in the matter, entered fifteen orders to reschedule the trial date or trial readiness hearing, and authorized six withdrawals of attorney or standby counsel.
In addition to the attention that three courts had already bestowed upon Myers’ case up to the point of that final reassignment, our court alone would enter four separate orders for a mental examination upon Myers’ own motions. The examinations had first become necessary when he’d raised the issue of his competency, and the court had responded by ordering the requisite mental examination.
That first examination was meant to determine only the narrow issue of whether Myers was legally competent to stand trial and assist in his own defense. The examination was completed, the evaluation was received by the court, hearings were held on the matter, and the judge had entered his order finding Myers competent based on the recommendation he’d received. The trial Myers claimed he wanted could now proceed, we believed, as the obstacle of any incompetence had been removed.
Then, two weeks later, Myers moved for a judgment of not guilty by reason of insanity. With that motion he triggered the state’s statutory scheme governing the defense, and invoked a set of procedures that the court was obligated by law to follow.
Myers’ new strategy raised the prosecution to yet another level of complexity and delay. It also put into play one more tool with which he could maneuver and manipulate available resources. They were resources valuable to any attorney experienced with their purpose, but in the hands of a defendant representing himself — whose mental illness instilled in him a false confidence in his comprehension of the law at his disposal — the resources were not merely wasted, they became obstructive of the very goals at which they were aimed.