U.S. District Judge Robert Jones has rejected the petition for a writ of habeas corpus for convicted murderer Darren Mack, citing procedural violations by his lawyer.
Mack, a former Reno pawnshop owner, is serving 20 years to life in prison for the June 2006 stabbing death of his wife, Charla, and a consecutive 16 years to life for the attempted sniper-style murder of Chuck Weller, the Family Court judge handling their acrimonious divorce.
Mack’s lawyer, Richard Cornell, filed the petition, but the state filed to disqualify Cornell from the case. After Cornell failed to respond to that motion within 45 days, he was ordered by the court to explain why he shouldn’t be disqualified. After he failed to respond to that order as well, Jones ordered him disqualified.
Cornell then filed to set aside the order for “excusable neglect,” arguing that he didn’t see that motion to disqualify because it was stapled to the bottom of the motion for more time in the federal case handed to him by his assistant.
Jones rejected that argument, saying, “even if the court could excuse this effort, Attorney Cornell does not explain why he did not read the pleading that he admits his assistant handed to him other than to note that he typically does not read motions for extensions of time.”
Jones pointed out that the orders also were emailed to Cornell.
“The court does not believe Attorney Cornell is acting in good faith in this matter as his explanations are not credible,” Jones wrote.
He said if the disqualification order were set aside, it would open he door to an argument that counsel in Mack’s case was ineffective.
“Permitting an attorney to argue the ineffectiveness of his own co-counsel’s work crosses the line and would create a dangerous precedent,” he said, adding that such a scenario would effectively allow a lawyer to argue his own ineffectiveness at trial as a reason for granting appellate relief.
That, he said, “would be a perversion of the justice system and a mockery of the doctrine of ineffective assistance of counsel.”
He denied both the petition to reconsider disqualification and the motion for a stay.
Mack, 52, is housed at Ely State Prison, Nevada’s maximum-security prison.
Mack was reportedly angry over the divorce decree issued by Weller directing him to pay child support of $849 a month and $10,000 a month for spousal support.