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Clester v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

DOMINIC CLESTER, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Mark J. Smith, Judge.

         Dominic Clester appeals the district court's dismissal of his application for postconviction relief.

          Timothy J. Tupper of Tupper Law Firm, Davenport, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Dominic Clester appeals the district court's dismissal of his application for postconviction relief (PCR). The court dismissed the PCR application as a sanction for appointed counsel's failure to comply with its order to compel a response to the State's discovery requests. Because the court made no finding Clester's noncompliance was due to willfulness, bad faith, or fault, we reverse the dismissal of his PCR application.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In May 2015, Clester pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and second-degree burglary. At his plea hearing, the twenty-three-year-old advised the district court he was taking three prescription medications: one antipsychotic and two for seizures. As a factual basis for his guilty plea, Clester admitted a woman asked him to leave her apartment and he instead assaulted her with the intent to commit a theft. The district court sentenced Clester to indeterminate terms of ten years and twenty-five years, to be served consecutively.

         In December 2016, Clester filed a PCR application as a self-represented litigant. The court appointed an attorney to represent Clester. In March 2017, that attorney filed an amended application, alleging trial counsel was ineffective in three ways: (1) by failing to fully investigate the case, leaving Clester to plead guilty based on inaccurate information; (2) by failing to fully investigate the possibility of a diminished-capacity defense based on Clester's "extreme intoxication at the time of this offense as well as [his] numerous mental health issues"; and (3) by failing to fully investigate whether second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary were subject to the merger doctrine.

         The State answered Clester's petition the following day. On April 4, the State filed its notice of discovery: six interrogatories, including a request Clester sign a waiver allowing the State to access his medical records from the Muscatine County Jail. The PCR court set trial for November 1, 2017, requiring all written discovery be served no later than ninety days before trial-a deadline falling on August 3.

         By July 1, Clester and his PCR attorney had yet to respond to the State's discovery requests. So the State filed a motion to compel asking the court to require Clester to respond to the interrogatories within thirty days. The State's motion went unresisted.[1] On July 24, the court granted the State's motion to compel, giving Clester until August 11 to answer the State's interrogatories and sign the medical waiver.

         August 11 came and went, and the State still had not heard from Clester. On August 13, the State filed a motion to dismiss Clester's PCR application as a sanction for his failure to comply with discovery. The State's motion again went unresisted. So on September 5, the PCR court granted the State's motion to dismiss.[2]

         Two weeks later, PCR counsel filed a motion to reconsider asking the court to reinstate Clester's application. Counsel assured the court the failure to respond to the State's interrogatories fell "solely on [his] shoulders" and was not his client's fault. Counsel pointed to his "extreme workload" in explaining his unresponsiveness. Counsel filed a response to ...


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