“I’m trying to avoid involving your rights in a negative way.”
Expressing “great concern” over a misdemeanor incident, a judge said Tuesday he was appointing an independent counsel for the parents of accused Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumble to share the couple’s potential conflict of interest by sharing attorneys from the same law firm.
Both Jennifer and James Crumble have been charged with multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter at Oxford High School in the Detroit suburb of Oxford Township, beginning November 30, 2021.
During a brief hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Cheryl Matthews told Crumble that he would appoint an attorney to advise each of them, not necessarily to replace their current attorneys.
“The joint representation of co-defendants in criminal cases by the same law firm’s attorneys is unusual,” Matthews told the couple. “There is a great deal of concern that conflicts of interest could arise at any moment due to inconsistencies.”
The issue was first raised by prosecutors, who submitted a motion arguing that if Crumbley was found guilty, they could seek an appeal from their attorney’s representative on the grounds of conflict of interest.
Matthews delayed hearing the proposal and instead asked Crombley to meet with court-appointed lawyers to advise them on possible conflicts of interest.
Matthews told the couple he was trying to protect their rights and avoid the possibility of a misjudgment due to the conflict, adding that if that happened, “we’ll be back in Square One.”
Matthews told the couple, “I’m trying to avoid involving your rights in a negative way.” “I’m trying to avoid rebuilding or going backwards in this case.”
He scheduled the next court hearing for April 5 and told Crumble that he would ask for their written waiver if they decided to keep their attorney.
Jennifer Crombley is represented by Shannon Smith, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing due to illness. James Crumble’s lawyer is Mariel Lehmann. Both are partners in the Smith Lehman Farm in Bloomfield Hills, Mitch.
Each of the parents was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in December. Their son, 15-year-old Ethan Crumble, used a semi-automatic handgun that his parents bought when he was shot, killing four students and injuring seven.
Crumbley pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen MacDonald said in December that the couple “could have stopped it and they had every reason to know it was dangerous.”
Prosecutors allege that Ethan Crumbley was with his father when James Crumble bought the 9-mm Sig Sauer pistol on November 26, 2021. The teenager posted a picture of the gun on social media, writing, “I got my new beauty today,” prosecutors said. Jennifer Crumble posted online about testing a gun with her son, according to prosecutors.