Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pretrial Hearing (Day 2) Update

Update @1:29 PM: The hearing has been postponed, and will be rescheduled in about 3 weeks. No witnesses took the stand.

The hearing finally started a 11:00 AM, PPO has agreed to the dismissal of Joseph Kerekes' attorney Bufalino, and Harlow Cuadra's attorney Galante. The hearing will resume at 1:00 PM to determine if Harlow and Joe's remaining attorneys are prepared to hear witness testimony.

Look for a complete run-down later today.

Meanwhile, the Times Leader reports that Two defense attorneys involved in the capital murder trial against Joseph Kerekes and Harlow Cuadra were removed from the trial citing a conflict of interest.

Attorney Mark Bufalino, one of three lawyers representing Kerekes, and Attorney Paul Galante, one of three lawyers representing Cuadra, are employed privately by the same law firm.

Bufalino and Galante separately submitted requests to withdraw from their roles in the case.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. granted their request.

"I concur that there is a conflict," Olszewski said.

The conflict issue was raised during a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Olszewski suspended Tuesday's hearing to allow the attorneys and prosecutors to research the ethics and legal ramifications of the conflict.

Attorneys met with Olszewski Wednesday morning, and held a phone conference with ethics lawyer Robert Davis.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick explained Davis stated there would be a conflict regarding loyalty and confidentiality to their clients.

Olszewski said he is "disappointed" that the conflict issue wasn't brought to his attention in June, when Bufalino and Melnick spoke about the potential problem.

Olszewski suspended the hearing to allow the remaining lawyers, John Pike and Shelley Centini, to meet with Kerekes, and Steven Menn and Michael Senape, to meet with Cuadra.

Melnick said he expects to call three witnesses to testify. Olszewski will make a ruling later today if the hearing will continue or reschedule the pre-trial hearing at a later date.

... and the Citizens' Voice is reporting that Attorneys Mark Bufalino and Paul Galante have been removed from serving as court-appointed defense attorneys in the capital murder case against Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes, citing a potential conflict of interest.

Bufalino, who represents Kerekes, and Galante, who represents Cuadra, are members of the same law firm - the Wilkes-Barre office of Elliott Greenleaf.

Both attorneys requested they be removed after meeting with Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. and the other attorneys on the case at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Bufalino raised the possibility of a conflict midway through the first day of a pre-trial hearing Tuesday.

"I concur that there is a conflict of interest," Olszewski said. "I believe that the most appropriate remedy is to grant the motions for removal of Mr. Bufalino and Mr. Galante."

The attorneys and the judge conducted a conference call with a legal ethics expert, Robert Davis, who said the conflict could raise questions of the attorneys' loyalty and confidential dealings with their respective clients.

By removing himself from the case, Bufalino said he was ensuring that Kerekes' "ability to receive a fair trial is not remotely jeopardized."

Olszewski heard arguments on the request for the removal of Bufalino and Galante before ruling.

Bufalino assured Olszewski that the law firm relationship between himself and Galante, as well as the sharing of office space with Cuadra attorney Stephen Menn, had not created a conflict in the past.

Bufalino and Galante joined Elliott Greenleaf in May and Bufalino spoke with Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick in June about a possible conflict of interest, Olszewski said.

"Those issues and that conversation, for whatever reason, were not brought to the attention of this court," Olszewski said.

"That should have been reported to the court," Olszewski added later. "I'm disappointed that did not happen."

Olszewski adjourned the hearing around 11:30 a.m. to allow the remaining defense attorneys time to consult with their clients and determine if they are able to continue when the proceeding is set to resume at 1 p.m.