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Trial begins for man stripped of right to attorney

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- A robbery defendant is standing trial without a defense lawyer after a judge stripped him of the right to counsel, saying he was abusive toward his five previous court-appointed lawyers.

Joshua Nisbet, who maintains his innocence, gave a brief statement at the start of his trial Monday and frequently leaned over to consult a stand-by attorney as he questioned witnesses. He addressed the witnesses while seated behind a table with a fabric skirt to prevent jurors from seeing that he was wearing shackles.

A judge had stripped Nisbet of his right to a lawyer after he went through five court-appointed attorneys, all of whom asked to be taken off the case. The last two attorneys withdrew after Nisbet allegedly threatened to shoot one of them in the eye with a BB gun. Nisbet denied the accusation.

"It's a strange situation for everyone to be in," said Luke Rioux, one of two attorneys appointed by the judge to advise, but not represent, Nisbet.

Nisbet, 36, of Scarborough, has been in Cumberland County Jail for nearly three years since he was charged with wielding a knife during a convenience store robbery in South Portland in July 2011.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Nisbet may be the first criminal defendant in Maine forced to represent himself after being stripped of his constitutional right to an attorney.

Rioux and fellow stand-by attorney Mark Peltier said they were aware of no similar case in Maine in which a defendant who qualified for a court-appointed attorney was not allowed to have one. Justice Thomas Warren ruled that Nisbet effectively forfeited the right to a lawyer through his actions.

"I am representing myself (over) my objection, and I am only doing this under duress in this crazy situation," Nisbet told the judge before the jurors arrived.

On Monday, convenience store cashier Diane Angers described how a man wearing a ski mask and wielding a knife approached her from behind and demanded a bag of money. She said she thought the man was joking at first.

"When I turned around, this gentleman had a knife in his hand," said Angers, who wiped her eyes as she described the encounter.

Nisbet claims he's the victim of a police conspiracy that includes forged documents.

The robbery trial will last several days in Cumberland County.

"He's not an attorney. He's never been trained in the law, but he's doing the best he can," Peltier said.

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sdhol6252 April 29 2014 at 8:40 AM

Besides shackles, put a gag on the guy. Any threats, slap him with terroristic charges and he'll go away for a longer period of time, hopefully. He's playing he system.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
tcenterllc April 29 2014 at 11:01 AM

Needs an attorney... what about one who went to jail, and has taken him or herself through law school. This should be tossed out of court on appeal as he was denied a fair trial, and attornies appt by court are just that .. people who may or may not give a damn about the defendant . In some cases there are good and some just take the excuse of a threat to get away from trial.. do I hear physco or mental hospital for this guy.. slashing knife.. shoot someone in the eye with a bb gun?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
msslongrider April 29 2014 at 6:15 AM

When he threatens to shoot an attorney in the eye,He's Guilty! Shoot the S.O.B and save the tax payer thousands of dollars!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
ffishb msslongrider April 29 2014 at 6:28 AM


Flag Reply 0 rate up
slackwarerobert msslongrider April 29 2014 at 10:18 AM

When they PROVE in a trial he threatened to shoot the lawyer in the eye he is guilty.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
travasham April 29 2014 at 11:28 AM

If he had taken a plea deal from the beginning he'd probably be out of jail by now.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
jneal11254 April 29 2014 at 11:33 AM

I've been a lawyer for 36 years. This story troubles me. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court ultimately rules on this issue. I sympathize with the judge and the lawyers, but at the same time, I just don't see how one can be stripped of a Constitutional right. Personally, it would suit me fine to see this order upheld, but I doubt it will be.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
4 replies
pllove49 April 29 2014 at 11:40 AM

If they quit would like to know why...and if he threatened them..why wasn't he charged...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
andrew norris April 29 2014 at 6:08 AM

i reckon the judge did the right thing it seems that the person in question must have thought he will get away with for the sixth time, good on the judge, The law in my eyes is to soft with anyone facing and found guilty of a crime, bring back national service and lets see how the criminals handle being ordered around by a loud mouthed sergeant in the forces they would begin to think twice before committing another crime. the criminal had his five chances to be represented and he blew them all by threatening behavior.

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lc5401 April 29 2014 at 5:59 AM

Trash like this guy should be rid of.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Ron April 29 2014 at 11:58 AM

He made FIVE lawyers quit ...... GUILTY !!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
rademps Ron April 29 2014 at 12:18 PM

GUILTY . . . of making five lawyers quit. But he isn't on trial for that. He is on trial for robbery and the "golden thread that runs through English law" that our Constitution wisely continues, is the presumption of innocence until proved guilty. You probably wouldn't want it any other way. North Korea, for example, has no such golden thread.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
justrose49 Ron April 29 2014 at 12:33 PM

Innocent until proven guilty..since the just violated his Constitution Rights, a mistrial is in order and the judge need to face Federal charges for violation of our Constitution..

Flag Reply +1 rate up
kregg April 29 2014 at 5:26 AM

"... and to have the assistance of council for his defence."
He still has that.
"Joshua Nisbet ... frequently leaned over to consult a stand-by attorney as he
questioned witnesses. "

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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