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Lawyer proclaims incompetence in case

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POSTED July 9, 2014 8:00 p.m.

MODESTO (AP) — A Central California defense attorney dropped his client in the middle of a murder trial, saying he’s incompetent to represent the man any further.

Attorney Steven O’Connor, 48, told a Stanislaus County judge on Tuesday to hold him in contempt of court and report him to state bar officials because he believes he failed his client and refused to proceed with the case.

Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden advised O’Connor to consult with an attorney himself and consider the ramifications.

“You’re an officer of the court, and you’ve taken an oath to represent your client’s interests,” she told him.

O’Connor represented Nicholas John Harris, of Turlock, who pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity. A jury had already found Harris guilty and was returning to court to decide Harris’ punishment — state prison or a mental hospital — when O’Connor signaled he wished to step aside.

McFadden set a hearing July 15 to consider possible court sanctions against O’Connor. The judge said she has never reported an attorney for misconduct, but she reluctantly suspended the case and appointed the county public defender’s office to represent Harris.

O’Connor told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he made errors at trial, but it’s up to Harris’ new attorney to reveal them or not.

O’Connor said Harris is a “decent man” involved in a “horrible incident” who faces a state prison sentence of more than 16 years to life. O’Connor said that punishment outweighs any penalties he may now face for stepping aside.

“I believe he has to come first,” O’Connor said. “I can deal with my own problems.”

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