The Essex County Courthouse.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Michael Rivers, the man convicted on May 30, 2013 of first-degree manslaughter and gang-assault in the death of Keeseville resident Robert M. Rennie requested new counsel at his sentencing Thursday, Jan. 9 at the Essex County Courthouse. The request once again delayed sentencing for the third and final individual to be charged in relation to the father of two’s death.
When Essex County Judge Richard B. Meyer asked Rivers’ defense attorney Alexander Schulsky if there was a reason not to proceed with sentencing, Schulsky responded in the affirmative and asked to be relieved of counsel due to a “breakdown” between himself and Rivers.
“I can’t advocate on his behalf,” said Schulsky.
When asked if he agreed with Schulsky by Meyer, Rivers said that he and Schulsky “couldn’t agree on anything” and “I wasn’t advised of anything.”
At the center of Rivers’ dissatisfaction appeared to be a delay in Rivers’ obtaining of court transcripts.
Meyer countered that the transcripts of the trial, held this past May, were very lengthy, but Rivers claimed his counsel didn’t “file the proper motions.”
Rivers further claimed that Schulsky “didn’t talk to him” and only travelled to the county jail “three or four times” to confer with his client.
“Why should I appoint new counsel?” asked Meyer, while Rivers had to be prompted to sit and stand by Schulsky while addressing Meyer.
“I don’t know nuthin’ about the law,” Rivers responded repeatedly to Meyer’s probes. “I’m not a lawyer.”
“I think you’re playing games.” said Meyer. “What do you want me to do?”
Following several long silences, Meyer sternly reminded Rivers of the attorney-client relationship and agreed to assign new counsel for Rivers.
However, Meyer said he would strip Rivers of the right to choose new counsel if another breakdown occurred that would alter the “fundamentals” of the attorney-client relationship.
Rivers confirmed that he understood that if he “thwarted” his replacement, then he would lose the right to be assigned council and would be forced to represent himself.
Rivers was remanded to the custody of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department without bail.
“With such a serious case, the judge has to make sure Rivers has adequate counsel. That will be one less issue during the appeals process,” said Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague to assembled reporters after the hearing.
“It’s especially sad for the family because they have to keep going through this again and again,” Sprague said.
A new date for sentencing hasn’t been determined.
Rivers’ pending sentencing will be the final one in connection with Rennie’s death which took place in Keeseville on Aug. 26, 2012. Conspirator Scott E. Denno was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree gang assault in Aug. 2013 and was sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in state prison. Paul J. Taylor, the leader of the three, was convicted in Essex County Court and sentenced on Monday, Dec. 23 to the maximum 25 years to life in prison.