A pro hac vice motion for New Orleans-based lawyer John Fuller to officially join the legal team of Tristen Waller was denied by Judge Jack Barker on Tuesday, who was substituting for Judge Robin Carroll for the day’s docket.
Pro hac vice is a Latin term used in legal settings meaning “for this occasion;” it refers to instances where a lawyer who is not licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction is given permission to practice in that jurisdiction for a particular case.
Waller was arrested in June 2019 and charged alongside co-defendant Chancin Hooks with capital murder and attempted capital murder in the death of 27-year-old Brandon Parker and the shooting of Randy Miller.
On Tuesday, Barker considered the motion asking the court to allow Fuller, who is licensed to practice law in Louisiana, to fully participate in the case as a defense attorney for Waller.
According to court records, the motion was originally filed on June 9, 2021.
In his motion, Fuller lists a New Orleans address for his law firm and refers to Little Rock-based attorney Sylvester Smith, who is currently listed in court records as the lead attorney on Waller’s case.
Union County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carla Gibson responded on July 8 with a motion arguing against Fuller’s request and repeated many of the same arguments in court on Tuesday.
Fuller did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing; Smith, instead, argued on Fuller’s behalf.
In the state’s motion, Gibson argues that Fuller “has engaged in unauthorized practice of the law in violation of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct.”
The state’s motion alleges that, among other things, Fuller appeared in court on Waller’s behalf on August 20, 2019, October 15, 2019 and January 22, 2020 “with Vicky Ingram as counsel without the filing of a motion for pro hac vice admission” and also met with Waller twice in 2019 alongside local counsel and once, in November 2019, alone.
Ingram was Waller’s attorney, according to court records, until Smith replaced her on May 19, 2020. The state’s motion also alleges that Fuller “stated he was in the process of applying for admission pro hac vice” during the August 2019 court appearance.
The state’s motion goes on to allege that Fuller “has held himself out to the public, specifically the Defendant and the Defendant’s parents, or otherwise represented that he is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction” and goes on to detail the professional misconduct allegation.
This allegation states that Fuller approached an inmate of the Union County jail, referred to as “a 309 Inmate” in the state’s response, in “the parking lot of the Union County Criminal Justice Facility” on June 25, 2019.
The “309 inmate” classification is designated for prisoners of the Arkansas Department of Corrections who are released to counties and cities for work programs.
Gibson alleges in the response that “Mr. Fuller began asking [the 309 inmate] questions about the homicide, among which he asked if the 309 ‘knew who shot first’ and told the unnamed inmate ‘to keep his ears open to let him know and if he did he would put money on his books.’”
Also available in the state’s response is a report by Union County Sheriff’s Office investigator Josh Luman, who was approached by the unnamed inmate after the alleged incident and informed about it. The report specifies that the inmate was working in the wash bay of the jail when he was allegedly approached by Fuller.
Luman, according to the report, then found Fuller “in the presence of [Waller’s parents] and spoke with him.” The report also states that Luman later conducted a recorded interview with the unnamed inmate before producing the report.
Smith filed an affidavit on July 9 supporting Fuller’s pro hac vice admission to Waller’s defense team and argued in court for Fuller’s admission on Tuesday.
Smith stood by his affidavit on Tuesday, stating that “the state’s evidence is hearsay” and that Fuller has only acted as a consultant since Smith was added to the case in May 2020.
Smith said the state’s allegations against Fuller’s admission predate his knowledge of the case and that his argument for Fuller’s admission stem from his understand that Fuller is Waller’s “preferred counsel.”
Barker denied the motion after hearing Smith and Gibson’s arguments, saying that even putting aside the state’s allegations, “I think Mr. Fuller not being here is enough to deny the motion.”
“I can’t see how [Fuller] is ready to go [on this case] unless he’s operated in Arkansas without permission,” Barker said.
Barker also denied a continuance motion by Smith, stating that the motion would be “better in writing” for Carroll to review.
Waller’s trial is still currently set to begin August 2 based on all available court records. For the capital murder charge, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.