Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today's Status Conference

Judge Peter Paul Olszewski has made the following rulings so far, in today's status conference for the murder trial(s) of Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes.

1. Attorney for Defendant shall pick up Discovery at DA's Office personally.
2. Commonwealth's Motion to Strike Joseph Kerekes' Omnibus Pretrial Motion has been denied.

Update @ 2:24 PM: A court watcher has informed me that the hearing is still on-going... I'll be able to provide more information as soon as it's over.

Update @ 5:40 PM: The hearing wrapped up at 4:30 p.m. for today. It lasted more than 7 hours. It will resume at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

Update @ 5:40 PM: There has been no decision made on Atty. Demetrius Fannick representing Harlow Cuadra.

Update @ 6:00 PM: The Times Leader is reporting that even if homicide suspect Joseph Kerekes says there is no conflict with attorney Demetrius Fannick representing a co-defendant, Kerekes should be ignored, an expert said.

Robert Davis, a legal ethics expert, said the events that have unfolded in the case, including a recent courtroom outburst by Kerekes, leads him to believe that the “fairness” and “integrity” of the proceedings could be impacted if Fannick remains on board.

“There should be a disqualification,” Davis said.

But his opinion, and the information he used to form it, was later vigorously challenged by other attorneys.

Davis was one of six witnesses assistant district attorneys Mike Melnick, Tim Doherty, and Shannon Crake called to testify Wednesday at a hearing on their attempt to have Fannick disqualified from defending Harlow Cuadra.

Cuadra and Kerekes are awaiting trial in the January 2007 slaying of Bryan Kocis inside his Dallas Township home. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for both suspects.

Prosecutors say Fannick should be removed from the case because he had previously met with Kerekes. But Fannick and Kerekes’ attorneys say there is no conflict because Fannick and Kerekes did not discuss anything confidential or material to the case.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. called a hearing on the issue Wednesday. The hearing lasted more than seven hours and will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Fannick might testify.

Update @ 6:04 PM: "The whole hearing was pretty much about the Fannick issue." The two other issues mentioned above were quickly resolved... according to a court watcher.

Update @ March 6 5:42 AM: The Times Leader added a little more to their story overnight: Prosecutors say a conflict is evident because of the eight meetings Fannick had with Kerekes before being hired on behalf of Cuadra. And it’s evident Kerekes discussed some confidential material with Fannick because of Kerekes’ courtroom outburst Feb. 20, Davis said.

The outburst occurred outside the presence of the judge and prosecutors. But court clerk Lindsay McFarland and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Gurnari rehashed the incident for Olszewski.

McFarland said Kerekes told Fannick he would have Fannick removed from the case if the attorney used anything they spoke about during their meetings. Kerekes seemed angry, Gurnari said.

That outburst was one of the issues Davis used in forming his opinion. It showed Fannick has “detrimental information” about Kerekes, he said.

But if Kerekes waives any Fannick conflict, like he has indicated he will, a judge could still disregard it, Davis said. Olszewski, in this case, should do that, Davis said. But Olszewski said he still needs to consider Cuadra’s right to counsel.

Update @ March 6 5:57 AM: Meanwhile, the Citizen's Voice also carries the story with much of the same information, but with a few more details: Kerekes was to pay Fannick $50,000 to defend him, $25,000 up front, said Robert Wallace, Kerekes’ former cellmate at Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Defense attorneys questioned Wallace’s credibility during cross-examination.

In other news, prosecutors will revise their list of witnesses who could rebut Kerekes possible alibi defense.