Is Task Force Blackballing Bourexis?

Drug Prosecutors Dislike Bargaining With Attorney

April 26, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

People accused of drug crimes in Carroll can often -- in exchange for information and cooperation -- cut deals with the county's drug task force.

That is, unless they are represented by prominent Westminster defense attorney Stephen P. Bourexis, say two members of the task force.

According to court testimony from two of the five Carroll County Narcotics Task Force officers, there is "an informal policy" of not making deals with Bourexis' clients.

They said "nothing ever seems to work out" for Bourexis' clients, and that working on any deal in which the East Main Street lawyer has a part is difficult and confusing.

And while Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, the head of the task force, said no such policy exists, he admitted that Bourexis is an attorney that the group does not like dealing with.

"We have experienced many problems with him," Walker said. "We are extremely cautious where he is concerned. You learn from doing."

Bourexis, whose flamboyant courtroom demeanor occasionally frustrates prosecutors and judges, is often an attorney for drug defendants.

Details of the task force's disdain for Bourexis came out during a bail revocation hearing last week for Gordon L. Cartnail, a 19-year-old Eldersburg man who has been charged with assault, attempted murder and various drug possession and distribution offenses.

Walker asked to have Cartnail's bail revoked earlier this month when a member of the task force -- Westminster Detective Sgt. Andrew McKendrick -- saidhe was threatened when he tried to serve an indictment on Cartnail.

From the Carroll County Detention Center cell where McKendrick delivered the indictments, Cartnail told the officer "that he would be released from jail the next morning and that if he got released, he would leave the area and change his appearance and would not appear forcourt," court documents show. "If he ever saw Sgt. McKendrick outside and if Sgt. McKendrick attempted to arrest him, he would resist andgive Sgt. McKendrick a 'double tap.' "

In front of Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. on Thursday, Cartnail denied ever talking about fleeing or resisting arrest in anything other than a joking manner. Part of his defense was the fact that McKendrick and another task forcemember, Tfc. Robert Heisles, told him that "all deals were off" because of the presence of Bourexis as his attorney.

"Did you make anycomment to Mr. Cartnail about not working with anyone who is represented by me?" Bourexis asked Heisles.

"That's probably common knowledge in the task force," the trooper answered. "We're not working with anyone who is represented by you, Mr. Bourexis. It's kind of an inner-office policy."

Inner-office policy or not, Bourexis said Friday morning that he finds such an attitude disturbing, not only to his livelihood but to the rights of defendants.

"My concern as a lawyer who aggressively fights for my clients is that because I am blackballed, my clients are denied the opportunity to be treated fairly or to have a chance to cooperate and make a deal," he said. "My right to work is obviously a very important issue to me. But a person should be able to choose his own attorney without pressure from the prosecution."

Walker says Bourexis is not blackballed.

"There is no way I would authorize or condone such a policy," he said. "But we have had frequent misunderstandings and miscommunications when it comes to Mr. Bourexis. There's a sense of frustration on the part of the task force officers."

In a frustrating episode for prosecutors, Bourexisunsuccessfully tried to vacate a guilty plea made by one of his clients as part of a deal with the task force. Fernando Hernandez -- who was charged under the state's drug kingpin statutes -- was forced to plead guilty to a lesser charge, Bourexis claimed, even though he andhis client said they believed they were pleading not guilty.

Thatargument was discounted in court, and was unsubstantiated by both the prosecution and by court documents.

The bottom line in making deals, Walker said, is that they are up to the drug task force.

"It's our prerogative," he said. "I'm in the business of prosecuting drugcrimes. If someone wants to come clean and help us, then we'll talk.But it works only on our terms.

"If you don't want to play by ourrules, then we won't play."

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