Defense lawyer's delays irk judge

December 27, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Troy Lynn Brooks has been sitting in the Howard County Detention Center awaiting trial on murder charges for more than a year.

Adel George Hagez was jailed following his conviction for first-degree murder in May, but he still has not been sentenced for the crime.

But the string of postponements in the cases cannot be blamed on the slow wheels of the criminal justice system. Most of the postponements were brought on by their attorney, William H. Murphy Jr. of Baltimore.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage is ready to argue for a life sentence for the 45-year-old Hagez. She just needs Mr. Murphy to show up for a Howard Circuit Court hearing so she can make her argument.

Likewise, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said he's prepared to move ahead with the Brooks case, with a string of witnesses set to testify, including a co-defendant who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in a plea agreement.

"It's very frustrating," Mr. Murtha said.

Trials, even for serious cases, usually go through Howard's court within a year. Most sentencing hearings occur within two months of a defendant's conviction.

But the Brooks case has been bumped from Feb. 16 to April 27 to July 7 to Oct. 25 and then to Nov. 22, a date specifically requested by Mr. Murphy but one he later scuttled.

Court records indicate the defense requested at least three of the delays.

Judge James Dudley took the unusual step of issuing a court order that schedules Mr. Brooks' trial for Feb. 22 to make sure the defense attorney is ready to proceed with the case.

If Mr. Murphy fails to meet the new date, he could face contempt-of-court charges that carry fines and even prison time.

"We have taken some unusual precautions to ensure that everybody is sitting in the right chair," Judge Dudley said. "I don't expect there to be any problems. Mr. Murphy knows me. . . . I have a solution."

Judge Dudley bristles at the way he had to go about setting the new trial date.

He said he had to call Mr. Murphy's office four times to get an acceptable date to start the four-day trial for Mr. Brooks.

The judge also requested Mr. Murphy and Mr. Murtha to acknowledge the new trial date in writing within seven days of the Dec. 2 order.

While Mr. Murtha sent his acknowledgment, Mr. Murphy has yet to do so.

Mr. Murphy said his office never received a mailed copy of the order.

Judge Dudley charges that the defense attorney "just ignored it," adding that Mr. Murphy had to be served the order by sheriff's deputies when he appeared in court on another matter.

Mr. Murphy also that said Mr. Brooks -- accused in the execution-style slaying of a Baltimore man outside the Woodstock post office in October 1992 -- is not opposed to the delays.

In the Hagez case, the Richmond, Va., man convicted of first-degree murder was originally scheduled for sentencing on June 11, when he was represented by Richard O'Connor of Ellicott City.

When Mr. Murphy took over the case in May, the sentencing was postponed to Sept. 8.

The sentencing hearing was then moved to Dec. 14. The hearing is now scheduled for March 11 -- which will be about 10 months since Hagez's trial. Mr. Murphy said he sought the postponements because of trouble getting transcripts of Hagez's trial.

Ms. Gage, the senior assistant state's attorney, said that Mr. Murphy told her he had sought the Dec. 14 postponement because he didn't have time to review the transcript, because he was handling a trial in U.S. District Court that ended four days earlier.

"I can't argue with that," Ms. Gage said. "I don't think it's unreasonable."

Court officials said they don't have a problem with most postponements. It's just the way Mr. Murphy goes about getting them.

Ms. Gage noted that Mr. Murphy did not submit a request in writing, or appear in court, for the Dec. 14 postponement. Instead, the defense attorney called the judge's chambers on the morning of the day the case was scheduled to say he would not make it.

"No formal request was made," Ms. Gage said. "Yet again the court accommodated Mr. Murphy."

Mr. Murtha said he believes part of Mr. Murphy's problem with keeping court dates is that he is "overwhelmed" by his schedule.

Mr. Murphy, now representing embattled Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, acknowledged that's part of the problem. He said that he handles many drug and murder cases that can take several weeks to try in court.

"I do have one of the busiest trial schedules in the state," Mr. Murphy said. "I try a tremendous number of cases that are protracted."

Mr. Murphy said he will meet the new court dates for the Brooks and Hagez cases.

"I have every reason to think that we will," he said. "[The dates] have been carefully selected."

Despite the postponements, Mr. Murphy has troubled few people other than his clients, Judge Dudley said.

He noted that when one case is delayed, court employees are freed to work on other cases.

Court officials in Howard County are not the only ones who have experienced Mr. Murphy's postponements. Judge Dudley said Mr. Murphy is "notorious" for seeking last-minute delays across the state.

In one instance, Mr. Murphy was fined $1,000 for contempt of court after he failed to meet the trial dates for two cases scheduled on the same day in Dorchester County in 1979. The defense attorney took the contempt charges to the state Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the fines.

"He, more than any other lawyer, always manages to find conflicts in his schedule," Judge Dudley said. "This goes on and on and on."

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