NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. - A court hearing to discuss a suspect’s competency to stand trial turned into an open argument with the defendant, her attorney, and the Nassau County.
Kimberly Kessler is the only named suspect in the disappearance and murder of her former co-worker, Joleen Cummings.
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The Nassau County mother of three has not been seen since May of 2018 after failing to pick up her children and is presumed dead, according to deputies.
After a series of hearings a physical evaluations, Kessler was ruled incompetent to stand trial at the beginning of July in Nassau County. She was committed to a state hospital.
“We look forward to moving ahead on this case for Joleen’s family and the people of Nassau County," David Chapman, the communications director at the State Attorney's Office, 4th Circuit, said.
NEW: Kessler just asked the judge for a new attorney.— Elizabeth Pace (@PaceAnJax) November 7, 2019
Her attorney to the judge, "When we stepped up to the podium, she told me I'm a piece of garbage."
Judge says it's now up to the public defender's office on if they want to assign Kessler a new attorney. @ActionNewsJax pic.twitter.com/3RDrf0pMZT
About three months later in October, the judge received a letter from Waylon Lewis, with the Institutional Counsel. It stated the treatment staff believes Kessler is "competent to proceed and no longer meets criteria for continued involuntary commitment."
Thursday, a hearing was scheduled to further discuss Kessler’s competency to stand trial. Instead, Kessler asked the judge for a new attorney with the public defender’s officer.
Her attorney, Teresa Sopp, told the judge her client walked up to the podium and told her, “You are a piece of garbage.”
Action News Jax cameras were rolling but the court’s microphone did not pick up the audio. However, in the video, it appears Kessler made that statement to her attorney. She did not deny it in court.
Sopp told they judge she and her client have an “ethical conflict”. She said she does not believe she can continue to represent Kessler because of the “failure of attorney-client relationship.”
The State asked for further evaluation on Kessler’s competency.
The judge would not give his permission for Sopp to leave this case. He said there appears to be no evidence of ineffective assistant of counsel. It is up to the Duval County Public Defender’s Office to decide if Kessler will get a new attorney.
Cummings' family was in the courtroom Thursday. Action News Jax spoke with her mother, who did not want to make a public comment at this time.
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