U.S. judge delays decision on Bailey's early release Prosecutors already reached deal with lawyer

April 19, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey was still in federal prison last night, awaiting word from a sphinxlike judge as to whether he can hope for early release from a six-month sentence for contempt of court.

But even though a federal prosecutor pronounced himself satisfied with an agreement whereby Mr. Bailey would win his freedom in exchange for handing over $3 million in stocks and cash owed to the government, the most that U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul would do yesterday was offer a curt promise to consider Mr. Bailey's plea.

"The court will take the matter under advisement," Judge Paul said, then strode out of the second-floor courtroom. He had agreed to hold the 2 p.m. hearing only after Mr. Bailey petitioned the 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta, saying his continued incarceration would be "unfair and unlawful" since he had agreed to meet all the court's demands.

But by 5 p.m. the judge had gone home for the day and Mr. Bailey was still at Tallahassee's federal correctional institution, where he was taken six weeks ago.

Mr. Bailey's attorney, Roger Zuckerman, pleaded with Judge Paul to release his prominent client, whom he portrayed as practically penniless and $1 million in debt to his friends.

"He does not presently have additional funds," Mr. Zuckerman said. "He has, in the main, only two large assets remaining. He has tried through his representatives extensively to liquefy these assets. He has made requests of many friends and colleagues and has raised without collateral $1 million."

Assistant U.S. Attorney David McGee told Judge Paul he still did not trust Mr. Bailey but had grudgingly decided to accept the agreement, which he likened to a "noose."

Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Bailey has already turned over $2.4 million worth of shares in Biochem Pharma, a Canadian company, as well as all his notes and records concerning the case of Claude Duboc, a former client of Mr. Bailey who is awaiting sentencing before Judge Paul on drug charges.

Meanwhile, the stock has increased in value from $6 million to $16 million. Mr. Bailey claims he took a risk in holding on to the stock and that prosecutors are trying to reap the rewards.

But because Mr. Bailey cashed some of the stock and pocketed $700,000, which he said he was owed in fees, he still has to come up with that sum and hand it over to the court. Toward this end, Mr. Bailey has promised to place himself under strict court ++ supervision for the next year, until the $700,000 debt is satisfied.

Under the agreement placed before Judge Paul yesterday, Mr. Bailey would have to turn over all the future proceeds of his New York law firm, report every expenditure he makes and get court permission to spend more than $10,000 on anything for a year after the agreement is accepted by the court. If he fails to abide by the agreement, or if he has not repaid the $700,000 within a year, he can be ordered back to jail.

A legal expert at the University of Florida said yesterday that Mr. Bailey has scant chance of getting the stock back, no matter how his case turns out.

"I doubt very seriously Bailey will see any of it," law professor Fletcher Baldwin predicted. "Now it's the taxpayers' money. It will probably go to the asset forfeiture fund of the government."

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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