Attorney steps down in Clovis dentist case

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The attorney for former Clovis dentist and homicide suspect James Smith filed a motion Wednesday to withdraw from the case, according to court documents.

Stephen Doerr cited two reasons for withdrawal in his motion to the court.

Doerr stated he was not retained to represent Smith in a death penalty case.

He also stated that Smith is without funds, assets or property, and is “unable to secure and/or pay for retained council to represent him,” according to the motion.

Requesting the court consider Smith to be indigent and in need of court-appointed representation, Doerr said he would continue as Smith’s attorney until a “death penalty legal defense team” can be appointed as stated in his motion.

Smith has been held at the Curry County Detention Center since Dec. 20 in connection with the strangulation death of Clovis waitress Laura McNaughton, a 30-year-old mother of two.

According to the motion, the District Attorney’s office notified Doerr on or about March 17 of its intention to pursue the death penalty against Smith in his first-degree murder trial scheduled for January.

Doerr expressed in his motion that a death-penalty trial is not covered under the initial retainer.

A call to Doerr’s office Thursday was not returned.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said he would not comment specifically on Doerr’s withdrawal from Smith’s defense.

With a four-week trial set Jan. 8, Chandler did say it will be up to Smith to work out his legal representation and that Doerr’s withdrawal will not affect his proceeding with the case.

Smith has entered a plea of not guilty.