Thursday, November 20, 2008

Judge Denies Attorney's Request to Withdraw from Cuadra Defense Team

The Citizens' Voice reports that Attorney Stephen Menn will not be permitted to withdraw from the defense team representing accused killer Harlow Cuadra, despite his planned resignation from the county's conflict counsel pool, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said Thursday.

"The issue for you to resign from your position with the county as conflict counsel and your request to withdraw as counsel on this case are separate and distinct," Olszewski said.

Cuadra and co-defendant Joseph Kerekes are charged with the January 2007 killing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township.

Their trial was scheduled to start on Sept. 2, but the withdrawal of two other attorneys, Mark Bufalino and Paul Galante, forced a delay until Jan. 5, 2009.

Another attorney departure would delay the trial at least six more months, Olszewski said.

Menn said he would file a formal motion to withdraw from the case and indicated he could appeal Olszewski's decision to a higher court.

"You can make any motion you want," Olszewski said. "My obligation is that fairness prevail over this trial and that this case be tried in a timely and competent manner."

"All I know is, you're in, you'll continue to be in and I know you'll be prepared and ready to go," Olszewski told Menn.

Update 11/21/08: The Times Leader also carries the story: A Luzerne County judge on Thursday denied an attorney’s request to be withdrawn from the capital murder case of two Virginia men charged in the January 2007 slaying of a Dallas Township man.

At a pre-trial conference held before Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., attorney Stephen Menn said that because he is resigning from the county’s team of conflict counsel attorneys, he wishes to withdraw as co-counsel for murder suspect Harlow Cuadra.

“I will try this case in a timely and competent manner,” Olszewski told Menn. “Any motion (for withdrawal) is denied. I am not stopping this trial from happening on Jan. 5. … I have an obligation to this case, the defendants and the commonwealth.”

Menn said he will decide if he will appeal the ruling before a higher court.

Olszewski said that if he allowed Menn to withdrawal, it would delay the trial at least another six months. “You’re in. You’ll continue to be in, and I know you’ll be prepared for trial,” Olszewski said.

Previously, the trial was scheduled to begin in September but was continued to Jan. 5 after the withdrawal of attorneys Mark Bufalino and Paul Galante.

Cuadra, 27, and his co-defendant and partner, Joseph Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, are charged with homicide in the January 2007 death of their rival in the gay porn industry, Bryan Kocis, 44. Police said the two killed Kocis and then set his Midland Drive home on fire.

On Thursday, Olszewski also set a hearing date for Dec. 4 for prosecutors and defense attorneys to continue testimony on a motion to suppress evidence obtained from Kerekes’ vehicle on an unrelated Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case.

The hearing originally began in late September but was put on hold so that Cuadra’s attorneys, Menn and Michael Senape, could enter in a joint motion with Kerekes’ attorneys, John Pike and Shelley Centini.

Evidence seized from both the house and vehicle of Kerekes and Cuadra has been entered as evidence in the homicide case. Pike and Centini say Virginia authorities had no warrant for arrest, and Kerekes didn’t commit any motor vehicle offense that would authorize a traffic stop.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, who is prosecuting the case, said testimony from Detective Matthew Childress, of the Virginia Beach Police Department, needs to be completed, and that he will call an additional witness.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Kerekes and Cuadra if they are convicted.

Olszewski said that at the Dec. 4 hearing objections concerning evidence, including cell phone conversations and conversations between Kerekes and Cuadra in prison, will be discussed.

Olszewski said the trial should last about two weeks.