HELENA, MT — The defense attorney for former Montana medical marijuana dispensary operator Chris Williams filed a motion Tuesday to withdraw from the case less than a month before sentencing on federal drug charges.
Defense attorney Michael Donahoe believes that Williams learned of an Ohio State law professor and legal blogger criticizing aspects of thecase, causing his client to lose confidence in Donahoe’s ability to continue to present the best defense possible, as Williams’ sentencing hearing looms on February 1.
Donahoe has asked U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen to set a hearing to Donahoe’s withdrawal from the case.
“… given the fundamental disagreement between the undersigned (Donahoe) and the defendant as to what arguments should or should not be made at sentencing the court has no alternative but to hold a hearing in order to get to the bottom of that disagreement,” Donahoe wrote in a motion filed Tuesday in federal court in Helena.
Williams’ case gained national attention following his September conviction, when outrage emerged over a potential 80 year-to-life sentence for the former owner of Montana Cannabis.
Williams was convicted of eight federal drug and weapons charges in September, including the conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute marijuana, but a recent post-conviction plea deal led to six of those charges dropped.
Williams was in charge of Montana Cannabis’ Helena greenhouse, where federal agents confiscated 950 plants in March 2011. Williams had legal, licensed shotguns in his possession at the time of the raid, and although he did not brandish the weapons or use them against police, federal weapons charges added decades to his potential sentence.
Under his plea, Williams will face 5 to 10 years in federal prison, instead of the potential 80 year mandatory minimum sentence. In return, Williams agreed not to appeal his conviction.
It was the post-conviction plea that was the base of Berman’s criticism.
In his Jan. 2 blog titled “Plead Guilty or Go to Prison for Life,” Berman wrote that the “new novel ‘sentencing settlement’ for Williams was disturbing from various perspectives.” In particular, he criticized federal prosecutors for dropping 75 percent of the charges after conviction.
“Prosecutors here are not merely nullifying many jury convictions, but they are doing so only after essentially blackmailing the defendant to give up his rights to contest his other convictions on appeal,” Berman wrote.
He also wrote that Donahoe allowed Williams to be “coerced by the threat of an extreme (and I think unconstitutional) sentence into giving up his appeal rights.”
Donahoe is concerned that as a result of Berman’s blog, Williams may decide to revoke his post-conviction agreement with the government — which could possibly lead to a much longer sentence than what he’s facing now. The conviction also could be reversed or remanded upon appeal, but that typically is a lengthy process.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen not yet set a hearing on Donahoe’s withdrawal from the case.
Williams was one of four partners in Montana Cannabis. Partners Chris Lindsey and Thomas Dauberts were each sentenced to probation for their roles in the dispensary operation. The fourth partner, Richard Flor, died in federal custody in August while serving a 5 year prison sentence.