This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






Sara Staudacher, petitioner,





State of Minnesota,



Filed September 17, 2002

Klaphake, Judge


Rice County District Court

File No. C4001767


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN  55414; and


Mark D. Nyvold, Assistant State Public Defender, 46 East Fourth Street, 1030 Minnesota Building, St. Paul, MN  55102 (for appellant)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kelly O’Neill Moller, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN  55103; and


G. Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney, Rice County Courthouse, 218 NW Third Street, Faribault, MN  55021 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Parker, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Sara Staudacher appeals from an order denying her postconviction petition seeking relief from her 1990 second-degree murder conviction for killing her mother.  In her direct appeal, she challenged the sentencing court’s denial of her motion for a downward departure based on her mental illness; this court affirmed the imposition of the presumptive 300-month sentence.  State v. Staudacher, No. C3-91-277 (Minn. App. Aug. 6, 1991), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1991).

            In this postconviction proceeding, appellant raises a number of claims, including ineffective assistance of counsel due to her trial attorney’s alleged failure to disclose that he also represented her stepfather, who was in the process of obtaining a divorce from her mother at the time appellant murdered her.  Because the postconviction court did not clearly err in any of its findings or otherwise abuse its discretion in denying her petition, we affirm.


            On review, an appellate court will not reverse the denial of a postconviction petition absent an abuse of discretion.  Hummel v. State, 617 N.W.2d 561, 563 (Minn. 2000); Wilson v. State, 582 N.W.2d 882, 884 (Minn. 1998); Scruggs v. State, 484 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1992).  Great deference is given to the postconviction court’s findings, which are reviewed to determine whether there is sufficient evidentiary support in the record and will not be overturned unless clearly erroneous.  Dukes v. State, 621 N.W.2d 246, 251 (Minn. 2001).  The petitioner has the “burden of establishing, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, facts which would warrant a reopening of the case.”  State v. Warren, 592 N.W.2d 440, 449 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted); see Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 3 (2000).


            Appellant argues that she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because one of her trial attorneys, Thomas Neuville, failed to disclose that he was also representing her stepfather in divorce proceedings against her mother at the time she died.  At the postconviction evidentiary hearing, Neuville testified that while he had no recollection of a specific discussion with appellant, he assumed that he had disclosed his representation of appellant’s stepfather because it was his usual practice to do so and because the temporary order from the divorce proceedings became relevant during appellant’s omnibus hearing, albeit on the issue of the stepfather’s authority to consent to a search of the mother’s home.

            Based on Neuville’s testimony, the postconviction court found that it was reasonably likely that appellant knew of Neuville’s representation of her stepfather when she pleaded guilty.  The court was entirely free to make this inference and to reject appellant’s claim that she did not know of Neuville’s representation of her stepfather until 1997, particularly given appellant’s admission that she thought nothing of her discovery until she brought this petition three years later.  Because appellant made no objection at the time, she is deemed to have consented to Neuville’s representation of her stepfather.  See Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7 (even when lawyer’s representation of multiple clients is directly adverse, clients may consent).

            Even if Neuville failed to disclose that he was representing appellant’s stepfather, the postconviction court alternatively found that Neuville’s conflict did not adversely affect his performance.  Appellant argues that she need not show adverse effect because the trial court either knew or should have known about the conflict but failed to make any inquiry.  But a defendant must establish that an alleged conflict adversely affected counsel’s performance, even if the trial court knew or should have known about the conflict and failed to inquire.  Mickens v. Taylor, 122 S. Ct. 1237, 1240-46 (2002) (holding that where one of the defendant’s court-appointed attorneys represented victim at time of his murder, defendant must still establish that alleged conflict adversely affected counsel’s performance).

            Here, both Neuville and John Lundblad, appellant’s other trial attorney, testified that they discussed the issue with each other at the time, but that they did not believe there was a conflict of interest because Neuville’s representation of the stepfather was not adverse to his representation of appellant.  Neuville testified that he did not believe that his loyalties were divided by his representation of both parties.  Lundblad testified that he believed Neuville’s relationship with the stepfather was beneficial to appellant because the stepfather was “supportive” of appellant and her case.  Appellant merely claims that she did not believe that Neuville “put his all into defending [her] and looking out for [her] welfare, [her] benefit.”  Because appellant fails to show how any conflict on Neuville’s part adversely affected his performance, the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion in denying her relief on this basis.  See Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7 cmt. (“simultaneous representation in unrelated matters of clients whose interests are only generally adverse [is not conflict of interest and] does not require consent of the respective clients”).


            Appellant argues that she did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently plead guilty because Neuville misrepresented the length of her sentence and portrayed prison conditions as more favorable than they actually are.  In particular, she claims that Neuville told her that she would serve two-thirds of 17 years, not two-thirds of 25 years.  She further claims that Neuville told her that the Shakopee prison had a bowling alley and a swimming pool.  She asserts that Neuville’s misrepresentations coerced her into pleading guilty, or at least influenced her decision. [1]

            Minnesota law recognizes that when counsel makes promises to a defendant that go unfulfilled, even if those promises are made unilaterally and without the knowledge of the court and prosecution, a defendant may withdraw his or her plea.  State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 252 (Minn. 1983).  But claims of unfulfilled promises may be negated by the defendant’s signing of the guilty plea petition, by statements made by the defendant at the plea hearing, and by testimony to the contrary by the defense attorney.  Id.

            Here, the postconviction court rejected appellant’s claims as not credible on all of these bases.  First, the court found that Neuville and Lundblad both adamantly denied making any misrepresentations to appellant regarding prison conditions or the length of her sentence.  The court further cited appellant’s written plea petition and testimony at the plea hearing, at which she fully acknowledged the length of her sentence and did not claim that her attorneys told her there was an “under the table” agreement for her to serve a lesser term.  Thus, the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting appellant’s claims of unfulfilled promises and by refusing to allow her to withdraw her guilty plea.


            In a pro se brief and pro se reply brief, appellant challenges the postconviction court’s denial of her other claims.  Those claims include ineffective assistance by her trial attorneys because they failed to raise objections to (1) her isolation and lack of treatment in county jail while she was awaiting trial and before she pleaded guilty; (2) an alleged conflict of interest on the part of one of the examining psychiatrists; and (3) the sentencing court’s use of statements that she made after the murder.  She also claims that her guilty plea was invalid because given under duress and coercion due to the isolation she endured, in combination with her paranoid schizophrenic delusions.  Appellant finally challenges her appellate counsel’s failure to raise issues of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal.

            The postconviction court denied relief on these additional grounds because they “were or should have been raised in her prior appeal” or because the court “has no authority or jurisdiction to reduce [appellant’s] sentence * * * because she may now be rehabilitated.”  Based on our review of the record and consideration of these additional claims, we conclude that the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant relief.  See Hummel, 617 N.W.2d at 563.



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The state argues, and correctly so, that because these issues were known by appellant at the time of her direct appeal, she is procedurally barred from raising them now.  Dukes, 621 N.W.2d at 251; Zenanko v. State, 587 N.W.2d 642, 644 (Minn. 1998); Roby v. State, 531 N.W.2d 482, 484 (Minn. 1995).  At the evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court allowed appellant to “at least inquire about [these] two additional claims,” considering the fact that Neuville “will be at the hearing to respond to [appellant’s] conflict of interest claim.”  We address the merits of these claims only because the postconviction court chose to do so.