It came as no surprise that Judge Stan Strickland granted indigency status to Casey Anthony on Friday. Not to do so would have put the prosecution of her case in jeopardy. Nevertheless, the hearing on Thursday provided much more information about the case and how it is being pursued.
I watched the indigency hearing on Thursday, well, half-watched. The defense, in arguing their motion to have Casey declared indigent was doing battle with an attorney from the Justice Administrative Commission (JAC) who was calling in his portion of the hearing over the phone. Judge Stan Strickland tried mightily to make his questions audible. In the end, he was forced to have them taped separately from the court reporter due to terrible acoustics. The Judge could hear him and apparently the attorneys could hear. We couldn't!
In most situations, an indigency hearing is not a big deal. A person is arrested for a crime, fills out a paper, the Clerk of the Court declares the defendant indigent, and the judge essentially rubber-stamps it.
As usual, the case of Casey Anthony has to be different. When Casey Anthony was arrested on July 17, 2008, one of the first things she did was file for indigent status. In her application, Casey wrote that she had one dependent (Caylee) and had expenses of $600 a month. She wrote in and crossed out an income of $1400 a month.
However, less that 24 hours later, she had hired Jose Baez. To get an idea of how amazing this situation is, read Richard Hornsby's blog entry for December 28, 2009. In his article, entitled, Attorney of Record in Record Time, the Orlando attorney explains various theories as to how Casey could have had a private attorney in record time.
On March 25, 2009, there was a hearing in the case. Assistant State's Attorney Jeff Ashton argued in his Motion to Determine Potential Conflict of Interest, In a review of the motion the day prior to the hearing, I wrote:
This motion strikes to the heart of the mystery surrounding Casey Anthony's finances. Who is in control of her business deals? Who is signing the contracts for licensing fees for pictures and videos? What deals have been made for the future?
Essentially, that's what the State wanted to know. The following day, in a short hearing and an in camera session with the defense, Strickland pronounced himself satisfied that there was no conflict of interest.
T&T March 24, 2009
T&T March 25, 2009
Fast-forward a year, and we learn that Casey Anthony is broke and penniless having spent over a year in jail. At this point in time the defense comes forward and petitions for indigency.
New Attorney Joins the Team
The first "bombshell" of the hearing was the new defense team configuration. Veteran Orlando defense attorney Cheney Mason had joined the team. Mason, who is near retirement had been asked to join the team by Jose Baez. At this point, Casey was literally surrounded by her attorneys at the table. Present for the hearing, aside from Mr. Mason, were Jose Baez, Linda Kenney-Baden, and Andrea Lyon.
Mason, who has been referred to in the media as a "pit bull" defense attorney, is most recently remembered for the 2007 defense of quadruple murderer Nelson Serrano who was given four death sentences for his crimes.
Judge Strickland, upon addressing Mason at the beginning of the hearing said "What kept ya?".
Mason replied "(I) eventually get tired of seeing what's going on!"
With chuckles from all, Mason rose to address the court. It was immediately obvious that he was going to try and dominate the Court and establish his "good old boy" persona with the judge.
He first indicated that there was no dispute that Casey Anthony was indigent and that she deserved "entitled to the due process funding of her case". He also indicated that he was not asking for attorney's fees. He stated that he had taken the case pro bono and that there was no worry about a million dollars (which refers back to the statement he had made a while ago that he would only take on such a case for that amount). He compared her need for proper funding such as the State had for its prosecution. He referred to Mr. Wesley from the public defender's office as saying they were broke and could not handle the case.
At this point in the proceedings, Mason made clear that the financial issue would not be in open court because, "we'll deal with the necessary cost issues which we would like to take up in camera because I don't intend to argue things that has to reveal all the defense strategy to the press, to the State, or anybody else. We're entitled to do that.."
Mason continued, making the assumption that the judge was already aware that Casey was indigent. He only indicated concern with the JAC, which had stated in an un-publicized motion that they had serious concerns about Casey's real need for funding in her case.
After a lot of rapid-fire mumbling from the JAC attorney over the speaker phone and the futile attempt to fix the situation, Judge Strickland made an interesting comment to the garbled caller, that he would like to finalize "this" today so it would not require an in-person appearance by the gentleman.
Even though viewers could not hear what was being said, a very frustrating experience, Strickland finally settled on having a separate recording made to aid the court reporter. The poor lady will have to do double-duty when it comes time to transcribe this hearing!
There then ensued a long period of time when speaker-phone lawyer went on and on. The camera focused on the defense table and it was obvious there was an all-out effort to listen. At one point, Andrea Lyon could be seen shaking her head "no" and mouthing the word "no" at the same time. Judge Strickland broke the pattern by saying "Sir, you're into attorneys' fees, we're just talking about about costs here..". Sounds like the phone-attorney didn't do his homework!
About 25 minutes into the hearing, Assistant States' Attorney Frank George addressed the Court. He brought up the March, 2009 hearing concerning conflict of interest in the financial situation of the defense. He said that the amount of money discussed at that hearing didn't seem to "jive" with the amount being discussed in the hearing, that there was some money missing.
The representative from the public defender's office spoke briefly and said that there was indeed, not enough money in their budget to fund this trial. Much of what he had to say about money was difficult to hear due to poor acoustics.
Judge Strickland asked Cheney Mason if he was aware of the situation and Mason responded that he wasn't there but that he knew that the "little bit" of money that had been paid to the defense team" was all gone. He reiterated that none of the attorneys on the defense team were asking for payment from the JAC. All the defense team wanted was funding for experts, depositions, necessary travel, and "those things".
Judge Strickland pointed out to Mason that the accounting in the affidavits was "pretty thin". The only information provided by Casey Anthony in the hand-written forms was that she had personally paid Jose Baez $89,454.83 and Andrea Lyon $22,500. For sake of discussion, let's round off a bit and say that the total paid out so far in this case is indicated to be $112,000.
Mason responded that he thought that the accounting had already been done and again offered to meet in camera to explain the rest of the finances. I'm pretty sure that in the hearing last year, the judge had been apprised of the $200,000 Casey had available from the deal she had made with ABC. I would imagine that at that point in the hearing, that Strickland thought that about $78,000 from that deal was outstanding based on the affidavits. He may have known about other funds, but all of that was discussed in camera last year.
Strickland then told Mason that at this point, he was asking for public funds and that it was unclear where all the money had gone.
I'm not seeking any public funds today, judge, as I said, the lawyers are appearing pro bono, so therefore it's nobody's business about what we're doing and not doing...
Mason also indicated he thought that this business had already been taken care of, BUT... and again asked to go in camera.
Judge Strickland stated that at this point, the defense is asking for public funds and the information should be disclosed publicly in the courtroom. Mason asked the judge to "trust him" that they were broke. Strickland wisely informed Mr. Cheney that trust was one thing, the facts of the finances were another.
Mason asked for a brief break to speak to his team privately for a few minutes. Baez asked if Casey could accompany them. The judge said no, and after a few brief moments of discussing where they would meet, the defense lawyers left the court. Casey was escorted out by officers.
The Lawyers TestifyWhen the lawyers returned and Casey was in her seat, Cheney Mason called Andrea Lyon to provide testimony concerning the financing. Mason began by asking Lyon how long she had practiced law and her experience with death penalty cases. Lyon indicated she had practiced law for over 30 years and had taken 19 cases to the death penalty phase.
Lyon explained that she had worked pro bono on the case from the time that the State had decided to go for the death penalty last year and had only been paid for expenses. Lyon indicated she had spent about 1000 hours of time to the case. She also explained that she runs a clinic and raises funds to help poor people with their defense. She estimated the clinic had provided $70,000 to support the case. That amount included the money from Casey Anthony. She also stated that the clinic had no more money, was in fact "in the hole".
Lyon explained where she had spent the money. It had gone for such expenses as transportation, investigation, equipment, etc. She also indicated that she had 14 students working with her in a class. They receive grades, not a salary.
Lyon also indicated she had no book deals, movie deals, etc.
The man on the phone from the JAC had no questions. Mr. George asked for the details of the clinic. Lyon pointed out that she raises funds for the clinic, not for this case. She had expended about $70,000 on the case, less the $22,500 from Casey. George asked if she kept records. She indicated that she did. Cheney Mason said that material would be available to the Court, but not to the State.
Jose Baez was next to testify. I noticed that Mason did not ask about his legal experience as he had done with Andrea Lyon. All he asked was if Baez was an attorney licensed to practice in Florida and in good standing (with the Bar). He then asked if Baez was the lead attorney on the case. Baez responded, "for all intents and purposes". Mason asked Baez if he had represented Casey in the collateral check fraud case. Baez answered in the affirmative. Mason asked Baez if he had any knowledge of any deals in the works. To each, Baez answered, "absolutely not".
Mason then asked Baez if he had received money in the case and if he had revealed that information to Judge Strickland in camera. He then asks if there is any money left, and Baez replies, "zero". Baez then testified that he had received approximately $89,000 for all litigation and that, although he had never tracked his hours, he estimated he'd spent 2500 hours on her defense. Baez said that there was no one holding money for him and that he had asked Mason to join the team pro bono.
Baez also testified that the only lawyers who had been paid were himself and Adrea Lyon. The amount paid to him was for his fees and Andrea Lyon received only expenses. In addition, Linda Kenney-Baden had not been paid anything for her services. She was also working pro bono.
Mason asked Baez if there was any way Casey could have representation without being declared indigent. Baez responded, "I see absolutely no way that Miss Anthony can get any thorough representation unless she is declared..." at which point Mason interrupted to ask him if he could tell the judge how many scientific experts the defense would need to counter the State's experts.
There followed a long explanation by Baez of all the witnesses the State had that needed to deposed. With occasional prompts from Mason, he stated that these experts were spread out all over the country, including the searchers from Texas Equusearch. We never heard anything about how many expert witnesses the defense had!
Mason elicited again the fact that Casey Anthony had no money left, and had no knowledge of any more money available to her.
Judge Strickland pointed out that he recognized that Casey was indigent NOW, but needed a road map as to how the defense had arrived there. According to Mason, the defense had already provided a AAA route! I found that amazing because, at this point in the hearing, there was a lot of money unaccounted for. Strickland asked Mason if he had anymore questions. He said he didn't and Baez began to speak again. Strickland interrupted Baez immediately and turned the questioning to Mr. George.
To make a longer story a bit shorter, I'll get to the heart of the questioning.
When George asked about other deals, Baez indicated that he had hired an ethics attorney, Tim Chinaris, to advise him on deals that came to him.
Frank George then had an opportunity to question Baez. From his questioning, the court was informed about the sources of all the money that had been available to the defense. There was the $5000 from an anonymous donor, $70,000 from Todd Macaluso. There was $200,000 from ABC. This last bit of testimony seemed to cause Mr. Baez some pain as it took him a lot of hemming and hawing before he could say American Broadcasting Com.... Asked to repeat, he said, "ABC". Judge Strickland overcame the defense objection to speaking in open court by stating that NOW this information should be public!
George asked about the unaccounted-for money. Baez gave some vague references to where the money went, but could only state definitively that Marti McKenzie, former PR representative, had received $10,000.
When Baez finished, Linda Kenney-Baden spoke briefly and not under oath that she had a retainer agreement with Casey, but had "torn it up" since she had never received any money for the case.
With so much money being unaccounted for, Strickland decided to rule the next day and told the defense to bring in an accounting of the rest of the money Friday.
Obviously, the defense did so and the judge made his ruling. What remains to be seen is if this information will be made public.
Since the judge's decision, there has been a great deal of talk about the deal with ABC. According to Hal Boedeker, the Sentinel TV blogger, he had called ABC and had been told:
The deal was done with an attorney representing several owners of copyrighted content, ABC News spokeswoman Cathie Levine said. That attorney is Baez, she added.
Fox News reported on this situation with checkbook journalism. If Baez brokered the deal and received payment for it, he could be in trouble. I wonder if this will be investigated.
As for the new attorney, WFTV's resident legal commentator, Bill Sheafer opined:
This is the most significant event for the defense since the discovery of Caylee's body," Sheaffer said.
Cheney has tried 50 murder cases successfully and is a part of a number of anti-death penalty organizations.
"[Cheney] is a founding father of the Central Florida Criminal Defense Association," Sheaffer told WFTV. "This is a game changer."
The addition of Cheney to Casey's defense could mean there will be more changes to the team, including the dismissal of Andrea Lyon. However, that has not been announced and Lyon was in court for Thursday's hearing.
It is going to take a while for the full implications of the hearing to be known. Will Cheney Mason take over the lead, will Adrea Lyon stay on board with another death-penalty certified lawyer on the team? Will Jose Baez be willing to continue another year pro bono?
This is turning into a whole new case!