A judge last week granted a lawyer’s request to withdraw from representing a Utah death row inmate after the appellate attorney said payment issues were causing a conflict of interest.
Attorney Samuel Newton asked for the withdrawal in June after lamenting a financial cap that Weber County officials had put on him to represent Douglas Anderson Lovell, who was sentenced in 2015 to be executed for killing 39-year-old Joyce Yost in 1985 to keep her from testifying that he had previously raped her.
The funding dispute centered around an upcoming multiday evidentiary hearing, where Newton was expected to question witnesses about what work Lovell’s trial attorney did on the case — and whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint interfered with the trial by limiting what bishops who worked with Lovell at the prison could say on the stand.
Newton argued in court papers that the hearing would require hundreds of hours of investigation and preparation, which he estimated would cost more that $37,000. The county, however, had authorized payment of only $15,000. The attorney said concerns about inadequate pay on Lovell’s case and another death penalty appeal was causing him stress-related heart problems.
Second District Judge Michael DiReda, who is presiding over the evidentiary hearing that was ordered by the Utah Supreme Court, ruled on Tuesday that Newton could withdraw, finding there was a conflict of interest because of Newton’s health concerns. DiReda ordered Weber County to appoint a new attorney for Lovell by Sept. 20.
Newton told The Tribune on Friday, “It is unfortunate that I was placed in a position where I had to chose between supporting my family and representing Mr. Lovell.
“I hope that the state of Utah and Weber County will commit in the future to adequately and fully paying for these necessary appellate reviews in such serious matters.”
It is unlikely that the evidentiary hearing, currently scheduled to begin Sept. 25, will go forward.
Ahead of DiReda’s decision, Lovell, himself, typed two letters to the judge, pleading with him to keep Newton on the case and asking the judge to order Weber County to renegotiate Newton’s contract.
“For the first time, I got an attorney who represented me to the fullest,” Lovell wrote, “who knows my case inside & out & now the county had pulled the rug on funding him. I am left, in the middle of my appeal, with numerous delays that are not my fault, but the state’s fault. I do not feel I will get a better attorney and, like before, I will be stuck with someone who won’t work properly on this case.”
In another letter, Lovell listed many of the attorneys the county has appointed to represent him during the past two decades.
There was a lawyer in 1992 who represented Lovell for $49, whom he met once or twice.
There was another attorney who represented him sometime in the 1990s, according to court records, but Lovell doesn’t remember ever seeing him in the courtroom.
And after his case came back to the district court on appeal in 2011, he was appointed two attorneys that Lovell said he liked, but who asked to be taken off the case because they weren’t qualified.
That’s when he was appointed the attorneys who represented him in a 2015 trial, Michael Bouwhuis and Sean Young. The work that Young did preparing witnesses in the penalty phase is at the heart of the upcoming evidentiary hearing, as Newton claims Young did not contact a number of character witnesses who wanted to testify on Lovell’s behalf.
“On appeal, we discovered that Mr. Lovell’s trial attorney committed serious errors when he failed to interview and call dozens of witnesses who would have testified that Mr. Lovell has tried to change his life,” Newton said, “that he feels tremendous remorse, and that he has tried, to the best he is able, to repay some of the the debt he owes to society and to the Yost family.”
Bouwhuis, who oversees Weber County’s contracts for public defenders, wrote in an affidavit that Young’s public defender contract was terminated after Lovell’s trial.
A Utah judge ruled last month that Young violated attorney rules in Lovell’s case by failing to contact the witnesses and by refusing to provide Lovell’s case file to Newton until a judge ordered him to do so. Young also faces discipline for an unrelated immigration case. A sanctions hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Lovell in April 1985 followed Yost home from a Clearfield restaurant, kidnapped her from her apartment parking lot and sexually assaulted her in the parking lot and at his home, according to trial testimony.
After she reported the crime, Lovell began to plot the woman’s death to keep her from testifying. He tried twice to hire men to kill the woman, then decided to do it himself.
On Aug. 10, 1985, he kidnapped Yost again from her South Ogden apartment and took her to the mountains east of Ogden, where he strangled her and left her body under handfuls of dirt and leaves.
Her body was never found, despite an extensive search to the area by police in 1993, after Lovell struck a plea deal that spared him the death penalty if he could lead authorities to her body.
After the fruitless search, an Ogden judge sentenced Lovell to death by lethal injection. But he was allowed to withdraw his plea in 2011 after the Utah Supreme Court ruled he should have been better informed of his rights during court proceedings. A jury again convicted him to death after the 2015 trial.