By Shereen Siewert
A man who took his case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court over lengthy delays in the judicial system is once again finding legal representation elusive.
As Wausau Pilot & Review previously reported, Nhia Lee was jailed in 2018 after police discovered more than 40 grams of methamphetamine in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Lee, now of Wausau, took his case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, alleging his rights were violated due to delays caused by a lack of legal representation. Ultimately, he was sentenced in December to time served on two felony charges: possessing methamphetamine with intent to deliver and misappropriation of ID to avoid penalty. He was released and ordered to remain on extended supervision for three years.
Less than two months later, Lee was jailed again after allegedly admitted he sold “pounds” of methamphetamine in the area. To put the amount in perspective, the typical dose of methamphetamine is comparably small. Like other street drugs, meth is sold in various measurements. An ounce of meth sells for between $700 and $1,500, depending on the quality. A half gram of meth: $15 to $80, according to the Northeast Treatment Center.
According to a criminal complaint in the most recent case, officers tried to stop Lee’s vehicle just before noon on Jan. 25 on the city’s west side. The stop was prompted by a tip one day earlier that suggested Lee, who goes by the nickname “Money,” was in Wausau and had brought a large quantity of methamphetamine to the area with two alleged accomplices – Jenna Slaby and Sam Emmerich. Police say they also had information that Lee had traveled to Wausau from Minnesota on several prior occasions to sell drugs – and they were aware Lee had a history of weapons violations. Lee was arrested after a police pursuit with speeds topping 100 mph.
Lee was charged Jan. 27 with first-degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, manufacturing or delivering amphetamine, fleeing an officer and possessing drug paraphernalia. He was ordered held on a $150,000 cash bond and remains behind bars.
A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 1. But on that date, the hearing was reset because counsel had not been appointed for Lee, who qualifies for a public defender. The situation was not resolved in four subsequent review hearings. Then on March 28, Circuit Judge Scott Corbett had no choice but to find cause to extend time limits again for a preliminary hearing after learning that the Wisconsin State Public Defender’ and Assigned Counsel Division’s Office made more than 2,000 contacts but has so far been unable to find an attorney to represent Lee.
The SPD is responsible for contracting with outside counsel to represent indigent clients. There can be a variety of reasons that outside counsel is difficult to secure, according to justice officials, and although an attorney may meet the criteria for a case type certification, they may not be competent to represent every client whose case falls within that case type.
Wisconsin law requires the court to hold a preliminary hearing within 10 days of an initial court appearance when a defendant’s cash bond is higher than $500, unless time limits are waived or a judge finds cause for delay. In Lee’s prior case that went to the state’s Supreme Court, 113 days went by before a preliminary hearing was held.
For now, Lee remains behind bars, with a review hearing set for April 28.