By TRUDY TYNAN, Associated Press Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Thomas P. Budnick says his lawyer's incompetence was to blame for his assault conviction. The funny thing is he was representing himself.

He took his case before the state Appeals Court on Wednesday, arguing that the trial judge never should have allowed Budnick to defend himself against charges of trying to poison a friend by lacing a bottle of beer with nitric acid.

Budnick was charged in 2002 with trying to poison friend Ryan Gauthier by spiking a 40-ounce bottle of beer.

Budnick, who claimed he had accidentally given Gauthier a bottle of acid he kept in his garage for cleaning his collection of meteorites, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to two years in prison.

But he was cleared of the more serious charge of attempted poisoning because the liquid spilled on Gauthier's leg and burned him before he could drink it.