The trial of a Moncton man accused of shooting a Riverview teacher on school grounds three years ago has been delayed after a dispute over who will represent him.
A four-week trial of Janson Bryan Baker, 27, was scheduled to begin Monday. He faces more than two dozen charges, including attempted murder in the shooting of Christopher Leger with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun on Jan. 5, 2021, outside Riverview High School.
Before the start of the trial Monday, Baker spoke up and told Court of King's Bench Judge Jean-Paul Ouellette that he had dropped Charles Bryant as his lawyer. He said he wanted to be represented by Alex Pate.
"I've had zero contact with my defence counsel to talk strategy," Baker said, standing up to address the judge. "We have not had one discussion."
Pate, who was in another courtroom on another matter at the time, would be his third lawyer.
Bryant, his second lawyer, was in court, however, and said he'd been informed that Baker wanted Pate to represent him. Bryant said he didn't understand why he was still listed as the solicitor of record.
Baker addressed the judge again, telling him he terminated Bryant as his lawyer on Nov. 24, shortly after a pre-trial conference.
"He has nothing prepared for today. He's not my lawyer," Baker said of Bryant. "It seems like an unfair prejudice to myself in the right to a fair trial."
Repeated delays in case
As the judge went back and forth addressing Bryant and Baker, a packed courtroom, including several witnesses, looked on.
Ouellette outlined previous delays in the case and reminded Baker he had already been granted an adjournment to change lawyers in December 2022.
"Sir, your trial was to start this morning," Ouellette said. "So you want this court to adjourn again?"
The judge then turned his ire on Bryant, asking him why the court was not notified Baker had a new lawyer.
"I do think this was avoidable," Bryant said. "However, we are here now. And it's unfortunate. I can't express how much I feel that."
'We cannot adjourn and adjourn'
Crown prosecutor Malika Levesque told the court she was ready to proceed with the trial.
Levesque said both sides made it clear during the last pre-trial conference, in November, that the case would be going ahead as scheduled.
"Witnesses are anxious to get this underway, so they can put this experience of testifying in court behind them," she said.
"I don't know if there is any way out of this quagmire that would please all the parties."
Ouellette then addressed Baker again.
"This matter has been ongoing for more than three years, and we cannot adjourn and adjourn and adjourn," the judge said.
Ouellette pointed his finger at Bryant and said he was concerned about the implications of a delay, citing a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that most criminal trials in the Court of King's Bench should go ahead within 30 months of the accused being charged.
""I'm not sure that he's allowed to come in every week and every month and say 'We'll ask for an adjournment,'" Ouellette said.
The court was "ambushed" on Monday, Ouellette said to Baker before again turning to Bryant.
"He had you as counsel and you did nothing. You have to accept responsibility for this mistake."
Ouellette said the trial could now be delayed by more than a year because of the miscommunication.
"You had the responsibility to be ready this morning, so that is very serious."
The court then took a brief recess.
Trial postponed for new lawyer
After the hearing resumed, Ouellette began by playing a recording of the Nov. 24 pre-trial conference.
Afterwards, Baker stood up and said he fired Bryant right after that hearing concluded.
"Bottom line, I'm not taking Mr. Bryant as a lawyer," Baker said.
The court took a second recess to request the presence of Pate to discuss his availability.
Pate confirmed he had accepted the case but said he had yet to see anything related to it and was unprepared to proceed. Pate said it could take many months before he is ready.
"I'm not asking till the end of time," he told the judge. "I'm asking for a reasonable amount of time."
Ouellette repeatedly asked about Pate's availability in the coming weeks, attempting to reschedule the trial right away.
Pate said he would have to see the disclosure before he could agree to a new date.
The case will return to court on Jan. 22 at 10 a.m. to set new trial dates.