Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole warned John "Cutthroat" Simpson. He suggested solutions, tried harsh threats and told the murder suspect in no uncertain terms that after six attorneys, he shouldn't try dumping his counsel again.
And when Simpson said he and his attorney couldn't come to an agreement the day before his murder trial was set to begin, Poole refused to give the man another attorney. It seemed as though Simpson was gaming the system, trying to delay a trial, he said. Simpson would represent himself.
"You've gone through half the Chattanooga Bar," Poole told Simpson.
Simpson is one of four men charged in the 2010 shooting death of Bernard Hughes, 46. Two others are already serving life sentences for Hughes' murder. Simpson took a plea deal once in the case, but that was withdrawn after he refused to testify against another man charged in the killing.
Attorney Mike Acuff, who has represented Simpson since he dismissed his fifth attorney last fall, filed to withdraw as Simpson's attorney Friday. He said new information came up that put him in an "ethical situation" and would not allow him to represent Simpson if he continued with his current strategy. Simpson said they had differences that they couldn't agree on. Poole said the two needed to work it out, or Simpson would be representing himself.
"Your honor, you can't make me represent myself. I did not fire him. I guess I just need a new lawyer," Simpson said.
Poole said no. He insisted that either Acuff could serve as his attorney or assist Simpson with representing himself, in a position called elbow council.
"That's not going to work, your honor," Simpson told the judge.
"That's not going to work?" Poole asked.
"It's not going to work at all," Simpson said.
"Then you're going to represent yourself," Poole said. "That ain't going to work either, is it?"
Simpson said he didn't want Acuff's representation if the man didn't want to represent him.
Simpson said he'd already gone so far as to write a letter of complaint to the Board of Professional Responsibility, a move defendants typically make when they've fired their lawyers.
"I didn't plan this," Simpson said.
Poole gave the two time to work out their differences, but ultimately allowed Acuff to withdraw. Simpson will represent himself at his murder trial. Jury selection is expected to begin today.
Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.