Judge denies Arenburg's bid to fire lawyer after violent outburst in court

Lee Greenberg, Ottawa Citizen

Published: Monday, March 24, 2008

Jeffrey Arenburg, 38, the man accused in the murder of well known sportcaster Brian Smith is seen in a 1993 photo



Marshals surrounded Jeffrey Arenburg in court Monday as the paranoid schizophrenic killer clashed loudly with a federal court judge who refused to let him fire his court-appointed attorney.

Mr. Arenburg, a former Ottawa resident who has been in U.S. custody since a Nov. 29 scuffle with border guards, interrupted yesterday's proceeding seconds after it began.

"I want to get rid of this assh----," he told Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, referring to defence attorney David Jay. "I don't want him as my lawyer."

Mr. Arenburg, who entered court shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, angrily accused Judge Schroeder of acting against his best interests when he silenced similar requests on two previous occasions. He swore several times during the encounter.

"Mr. Arenburg, we don't use that kind of language in this court," Judge Schroeder yelled, as additional armed marshals entered the court and surrounded the 51-year-old. "I'm not going to let you use profanity."

The marshals whispered into Mr. Arenburg's ear, apparently trying to calm him down. He remained defiant throughout the 35-minute hearing, during which he accused the judge of "giving him the runaround" and not giving him enough respect.

The hearing was scheduled to review a psychiatric report finished late last week, which concluded Mr. Arenburg is fit to stand trial.

Mr. Jay told court he agreed with that assessment when the two men sat down on Saturday.

"As of today, I'm not so sure he is," he added.

In 1995, Mr. Arenburg gunned down Ottawa sportscaster Brian Smith outside the television station where he worked, killing him with two shotgun blasts. The killing was the violent culmination of a series of outbursts designed to silence what Mr. Arenburg termed the voices in his head.

After a rigorous period of treatment lasting more than a decade, Mr. Arenburg was granted an unconditional release in November 2006. His success at the time was largely attributed to his willingness to take the anti-psychotic drug Olanzapine. Authorities now believe he had discontinued that drug when he was arrested one year later and accused of assaulting a U.S. border guard during a failed attempt to cross into Buffalo.

If indicted on a felony count stemming from that incident, Mr. Arenburg could serve between four and 20 years in prison.

On Monday, Judge Schroeder warned him that he risked a "substantial" sentence if found guilty of that assault. He then mulled the wisdom of allowing Mr. Arenburg's case to go to a potentially costly trial.

"It's a simple case. It's a case of assault," he said, wondering aloud if "the most expeditious way to resolve this case is to return him to his native land."

"This is a problem better handled by the Canadian authorities," he said, adding "I'm concerned about his mental state deteriorating" if he remains detained.

Mr. Jay has been making a similar argument since his client was arrested in November.

U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango said he was unwilling to let Mr. Arenburg walk, however.

"I can't take that position at this time," he said. "We are prepared to proceed with this case."

Now that he has been found fit to stand trial, Mr. Arenburg is scheduled to reappear in court in 10 days, where he will continue to be represented by Mr. Jay.

Judge Schroeder denied Mr. Arenburg's request to fire his lawyer, an event that would risk derailing a fair trial, he said.

He vouched for Mr. Jay's competence and encouraged the two sides to continue plea negotiations, which began yesterday morning.

It was unclear why the former Atlantic fisherman wanted his attorney gone in the first place.

"Every time I talk to him, he tells me lies," Mr. Arenburg said at one point during yesterday's hearing. At another point, he referred to Mr. Jay as "a jacket carrier for a friggin' lawyer."

Mr. Arenburg also passed a written note to Judge Schroeder requesting the removal of his cuffs at hearings (the request was denied in light of his "aggressive" behaviour), a pencil and pen, an explanation of how U.S. authorities got his Canadian medical records, the ability to put questions to witnesses at trial, medication to relieve his constipation, a haircut and beard trim and money for his commissary.

"I've been to five different jails. My stuff's gone, my clothes are gone, I don't even know where the hell I'm going tonight," he told the judge during the discussion the contents of the note.

Outside court, Mr. Jay defended his client's bizarre behaviour.

"That's a frustrated guy," he said. "He's been sitting in the pokey since late November, they took him down to New York City. They had him in six different jails on the way down. He's angry and I don't blame him frankly."