Bruce Bereano's fortunes improved yesterday when an appeals court ordered the Weinberg & Green law firm to represent the one-time lobbyist in appealing his federal mail fraud convictions.
In its ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by a three-judge panel, which said the firm could step aside since Mr. Bereano had failed to pay or make arrangements to pay more than $200,000 in outstanding legal bills.
The ruling said only that "circumstances had changed," but did not elaborate.
Efforts to reach Mr. Bereano yesterday were unsuccessful.
Charles O. Monk, managing partner of Weinberg & Green, said last night that, "Obviously we will abide by the court's order." But he said Mr. Bereano still hadn't made arrangements to pay off his legal bill or make a payment schedule.
Mr. Bereano has paid the firm $40,000 toward work on his appeal case, Mr. Monk said.
But still outstanding is more than $200,000 in past he said.
During his trial last fall, Mr. Bereano was represented by two Weinberg & Green lawyers who also were longtime friends -- Albert Figinski and Stuart Berger.
He was convicted of defrauding his lobbying clients by making illegal campaign contributions and charging the cost to them.
When sentenced last spring, he received what was regarded as a light penalty -- six months in a halfway house, a $20,000 fine and five years probation.
The billing dispute erupted soon after, with Mr. Bereano defending the skill of his two lawyers while vilifying their law firm's executive committee as money-grubbing bean counters.
Mr. Bereano's defense costs ran to $668,000. A former client -- G-Tech Corp. -- paid $445,000.
In July, Mr. Bereano announced the creation of a legal defense fund, saying he had no resources to pay Weinberg & Green. However, public records and a financial statement Mr. Bereano filed with the court indicated he owned more than $1 million in real estate equity, and owned three Mercedes-Benzes, a Porsche and a Jeep Wrangler.
In late August, he paid $10,000 and said he expected to pay another $2,000 by early September.