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Trial still on track despite attorney removal in Lori Vallow Daybell case

Dec 30, 2021, 12:59 PM
For a second time, Lori Vallow Daybell has been ruled competent to stand trial. She faces counts of...
Lori Vallow Daybell, front, second right, and her defense team wait to leave the courtroom during her hearing on Friday, March 6, 2020, in Rexburg, Idaho. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool)
(John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool)

ST. ANTHONY, Idaho — The trial of Lori Vallow Daybell should not face major delays as the result of the removal of her attorney, said a legal analyst and defense attorney unrelated to the case on Thursday. 

Greg Skordas, a former prosecutor and public defender who now works as a defense attorney in private practice in Utah, responded to the removal order from Judge Steven Boyce in a conversation with KSL NewsRadio. 

Lori Vallow Daybell attorney removed over conflict of interest

Attorney Mark Means previously represented Lori Vallow Daybell’s husband and fellow defendant, Chad Daybell, in the case. While he no longer represents Chad Daybell, prosecutors argued his continuing to represent Lori Vallow Daybell posed a conflict of interest.

Tuesday, District Judge Steven Boyce agreed, as reported by East Idaho News, and ordered the removal of the attorney as a member of Lori Vallow Daybell’s defense team. The order is effective immediately. 

If the government, for example, wants to go to Chad or go to Lori and say, ‘Look, we’ll give you a deal if you’ll testify against the other,’ and this attorney has represented both of them, that’s a huge conflict and he can’t advise his client on how to proceed because he or she would be testifying against his other client.

In analyzing the decision, Skordas pointed to the reasons why an attorney should not represent two separate defendants in the same case. 

“The problem that an attorney has when he or she represents two parties to a homicide — in this case, having some level of representation for Chad and Lori — it’s that you can’t adequately advise one client if it relates to whether she should take a deal and testify against the other client.

“I mean, that’s an absolute conflict. If the government, for example, wants to go to Chad or go to Lori and say, ‘Look, we’ll give you a deal if you’ll testify against the other,’ and this attorney has represented both of them, that’s a huge conflict and he can’t advise his client on how to proceed because he or she would be testifying against his other client,” Skordas said.

“That’s just a red flag that’s so obvious — that I assume that’s why the judge is so upset about this.” 

Private plus public defenders, an unusual setup

Skordas described the situation as unusual to begin with. Lori Vallow Daybell retained not just Means but also a public defender, something Skordas said courts typically avoid. 

However, he did not anticipate any delays to the planned January 2023 trial, in part because of that unusual arrangement. 

“You would expect it would cause a delay,” he said. “Although, Lori does have another attorney. The court appointed her counsel, and you’d expect that attorney to be up to speed and ready to go.” 

Strongly-worded court order rebukes attorney

The order contained language that appeared as a sharp rebuke to Means at times. At one point, Boyce wrote that he had ethical concerns about Means waiving his attorney-client privilege in reporting comments made by Lori Vallow Daybell while housed at an Idaho hospital for mental illness. At the time, the proceedings were on hold over concerns about her competence to stand trial. 

“This is precisely the situation that ethics rules caution against, where the rules stress that lawyers should avoid becoming witnesses in their clients’ cases,” he wrote in the order removing Means.

Boyce also took exception to some of Means’ court filings in the case. 

Means’ “practice of submitting declarations under penalty of perjury have called into question his ability to competently and effectively represent Vallow going forward, despite the pending stay in this case,” Boyce wrote. 

Skordas described that strong language from the judge as also somewhat unusual in criminal proceedings. 

“It’s very unusual that a judge would rebuke an attorney in the way that’s happened here,” Skordas said. 

Mistrial unlikely, analyst and attorney says

Skordas did not anticipate the proceedings ending in a mistrial as a result of what he described as attorney “shenanigans.” 

“I think the prosecution has to regroup. They have to make sure that she’s treated fairly and that she doesn’t come back after a verdict or after a trial and claim that she was inadequately represented by her attorney,” Skordas added.

“The judge and the prosecution absolutely want to avoid that. They don’t want to have two trials and have an appellate court tell them that they’ve done something wrong. So, they may just regroup, make sure that her current attorney is competent, is up to speed, and knows everything. And that the former attorney who was conflicted is just out of the case, and not involved in the case, and doesn’t do anything that could further disrupt the proceedings.” 

Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell both face murder and conspiracy charges in Idaho related to the disappearance and death of her two children, Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow. Investigators found the children’s bodies nearly a year after they vanished on property owned by Chad Daybell. Both also face suspicion in the deaths of their previous spouses. 

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Trial still on track despite attorney removal in Lori Vallow Daybell case