Thursday, November 27, 2008

Menn Files Petition to Withdraw as Counsel

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that while Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. denied attorney Stephen Menn’s request last Thursday to leave the court-appointed team representing accused killer Harlow Cuadra, he advised Menn against pressing the issue with a written request or an appeal to a higher court.

“You can make any motion you want,” Olszewski said at a hearing on pre-trial motions and scheduling. “My obligation is that fairness prevail over this trial and that this case be tried in a timely and competent manner.”

Menn made the motion on Wednesday, filing a written “Petition to Withdraw as Conflict Counsel” an hour before the Luzerne County Courthouse closed for a two-day Thanksgiving holiday.

Menn, who gave notice two weeks ago that he plans to resign from the county’s conflict counsel pool at the end of the year, said the intense county workload — including five homicide cases — has precluded him from focusing on his private practice in West Pittston.

“(Since August), due to the economic turndown and being a solo practitioner, this attorney advised the president judge that he would be unable to be out of the office for four to six weeks, which is the anticipated time for jury selection, trial and penalty phase,” Menn said in the motion.

Cuadra, 27, and co-defendant Joseph Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, Va., are accused of fatally stabbing Bryan Kocis, a rival film producer, in Dallas Township in January 2007 and later setting fire to his Midland Drive home.

They face the death penalty and are scheduled to be tried together beginning Jan. 5.

Cuadra and Kerekes were originally scheduled to stand trial beginning Sept. 2, but the removal of two other attorneys, Mark Bufalino and Paul Galante, forced a postponement.

The departure of another attorney would delay the start of the trial for least six more months, Olszewski said last Thursday.

“That’s not going to happen,” Olszewski said.

Meanwhile the Times Leader says an attorney for homicide suspect Harlow Cuadra has filed another petition to withdraw as co-counsel from the capital murder case against the Virginia man.

Attorney Stephen Menn filed court papers Thursday asking a judge to withdraw him from the case, citing economic hardship.

Menn said in court papers that Cuadra, 27, has agreed the appointment of a new attorney to represent him in this case would be in his best interest and agreed to sign a waiver to his right to a speedy trial.

Cuadra and co-defendant Joseph Kerekes, 34, are charged with homicide in the January 2007 death of Bryan Kocis, their rival in the gay porn industry. Police said Kocis, 44, was stabbed to death and his Midland Drive home set on fire.

At last week’s pre-trial hearing, Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. denied a petition by Menn to withdraw, stating he wouldn’t further delay the trial. The trial was moved from September to January after two other attorneys were withdrawn from the case. The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 5.