LANCE WARGO v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19231
Judicial District of Rockville at G.A. 19
Habeas; Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; Whether Criminal Trial Counsel Ineffective due to Conflict of Interest Arising from Representation of Petitioner in Connection with Insurance Claim. The petitioner was convicted of murder in connection with his wife’s death and with arson in connection with a fire at his house. He brought this habeas action claiming that his trial attorney rendered ineffective assistance due to a conflict of interest that arose when he represented the petitioner both in a fire damage claim against his homeowner’s insurance carrier and at his criminal trial. The parties entered into a contingency fee agreement for the insurance proceeds claim. The petitioner argued that his trial attorney advised him to cooperate with the insurance carrier’s investigation because he wanted to be paid under the agreement, even though the results of the investigation were shared with the state and used against the petitioner at his criminal trial. The petitioner also argued that his trial attorney’s conflict adversely affected his performance at the criminal trial because he wanted to conceal his ethical misconduct and therefore failed to move to suppress the evidence from the investigation on the ground that it was obtained as a result of that misconduct. The habeas court rejected the petitioner’s ineffective assistance claim and denied his petition. The Appellate Court (144 Conn. App. 695) affirmed the habeas court’s judgment. It concluded that the habeas court did not err in finding that the petitioner’s trial attorney had advised him regarding the risks in cooperating with the insurance carrier’s investigation, but that the petitioner was adamant in pursuing his insurance proceeds claim and maintaining his innocence. It also concluded that the habeas court did not err in determining that, regardless of whether the petitioner’s trial attorney had a conflict, his failure to file a motion to suppress did not constitute ineffective assistance because there is no legal authority for the ground suggested by the petitioner. The Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the judgment rejecting the petitioner’s claim that his attorney was burdened by a conflict of interest arising out of his representation of the petitioner on a contingency fee basis in connection with his claim against his insurance company for payment for the losses he sustained as a result of the same fire that formed the basis for the arson charge.